Saturday, July 30, 2016

So CBS and Paramount have released test footage of the new Star Trek: Discovery series. This show will debut in 2017. So far, CBS has released a trailer which shows the camera whizzing among planets in a style similar to the end credits in the J.J. Abrams movies, and now this trailer. Admittedly, the CGI is not very good, but then the show is still a full year from debuting.

What's interesting is the design of the Starship Discovery. This is a design first created by Ralph McQuarrie for the never-produced film Star Trek: Planet of the Titans back in 1975.

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Gene Roddenberry had been pestering Paramount to develop a second Star Trek series, but the studio wasn't interested. So in May 1975, Roddenberry pitched a feature film instead. The studio liked that idea, and green-lit preproduction. Roddenberry's title was Star Trek: The God Thing (later retitled Star Trek: Planet of the Titans). The treatment by Chris Bryant (a British television screenwriter) and Allan Scott (a Scottish screenwriter and Bryant's writing partner) had the Enterprise investigating the disappearance of another starship, during which time Captain Kirk is apparently killed by electromagnetic waves while piloting a shuttlecraft. Three years later, a new captain returns to investigate the site of Kirk's death, and discovers that a planet lies hidden near a black hole. Kirk has been trapped there for three years, and believes (based on his archeological investigation) that the planet was home to the legendary race known as the Titans. The planet's current occupants, the Cygnans, killed off the Titans. The Klingons arrive to claim the planet, and our heroes fight them off. But during the battle, the Enterprise and the planet are sucked into the black hole. The Cygnans die and the Enterprise slingshots out, only to find itself in Earth orbit during the Paleolithic era. Too damaged to return to the future, the crew set down on Earth and teach Cro-Magnon man about fire -- essentially becoming the Titans themselves.

Roddenberry was given a fairly low $5 million budget, and told to begin principal photography in July 1976. Extensive script problems forced the studio to push principal photography to 1977. Paramount CEO Barry Diller, appalled by the lousy script, cancelled the movie in August 1975. Roddenberry continued to work on the script and design concepts until June 1977, when Paramount green-lit a Star Trek: Phase II television series. (It, too, was cancelled in favor of a new movie, Star Trek: The Motion Picture.)

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Now, the exact sequence of events is pretty muddled here. But by my reconstruction, noted British production designer Ken Adams (who'd done many of the Bond films) was hired to oversee design of Planet of the Titans, including the redesign of the Enterprise. It appears that Adams disliked the round, tubular engineering secondary hull, and decided to flatten that into just a three-to-five story structure. Most of his designs show this being triangular (as seen from above), to create "wings" onto which the warp nacelle pylons could be placed. In other areas, Adams was not sure what to do. Most of his warp nacelles are round, but in one drawing they are flatten ovoids. Sometimes his nacelle pylons are upright, other times they are raked forward. Sometimes the nacelles are small, sometimes large, and sometimes he placed them way, way back away from the dorsal. His dorsal was invariably raked forward, but sometimes he put it on the front of the engineering hull and sometimes amidships and sometimes toward the rear. He did some preliminary sketches, below:

Legendary illustrator Ralph McQuarrie, just coming off his work on Star Wars, was then hired to help refine and create final designs. Star Wars was nowhere close to release in 1975, so no one yet knew what kind of work McQuarrie had done for George Lucas. Initially, McQuarrie relied on Adam's design. The script called for the new Enterprise to emerge from spacedock, so McQuarrie decided to place the spacedock inside an asteroid.

McQuarrie continued to work on Adam's designs, and finally came up with one of his own. McQuarrie's final design reflected his soon-to-be-seminal design for the Star Destroyer in Star Wars. Instead of Adam's flat hull, McQuarrie's engineering hull was diamond-shaped in cross-section -- higher in the middle, tapering almost to nothing on the edges. He slung the impulse engines below the engineering hull in a long box. These engines jutted out behind the ship, their top serving as a kind of receiving flight-deck for the shuttle bay. His warp nacelles were small; oddly, they looked much like the Romulan nacelles designed by Wah Chang for Star Trek: The Original Series.

Two "study models" of the McQuarrie design were then constructed. They are quite similar to one another, with one having a very elongated engineering section and short, upright nacelle pylons, and the other having a short engineering section and raked-forward and much longer nacelle pylons.

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It was all moot, because Planet of the Titans was cancelled just three months after it was greenlit. Although Roddenberry wanted to use McQuarrie's design, he jettisoned it in June 1977 when Paramount green-lit the TV series, Star Trek: Phase II. The concept behind Phase II was to return to the simpler era of the original television show. That meant no radical ship redesign. Roddenberry commissioned the original designer of the Enterprise, Matt Jeffries, to update the ship. This redesign would die when Phase II was cancelled in August 1977 in favor of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Motion picture art director Richard Taylor used Jeffries' design and refined the nacelles. Concept artist Andrew Probert refined the rest of the ship redesign.

McQuarrie's flat-hull Enterprise can be seen in the spacedock in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. All you can see of it is the back half, but it appears to be the long-engineering hull version. Allegedly, this is one of the study models created in 1975, but this has yet to be proved.

It's alleged that McQurrie's flat-hulled Enterprise design was seen in in the Wolf 359 battle scene in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Best of Both Worlds", but it has never been identified. The short-hulled study model does, however, appear the episode "Unification", and production personnel have verified that this is the 1975 study model.

The asteroid spacedock later showed up as a Tholian spacedock in the Star Trek: Enterprise episode "In a Mirror, Darkly".

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