Before Star Trek: The Motion Picture as we now know it took shape, an entirely different movie, Star Trek: Planet of the Titans, was written and began to be developed for production. What exactly the plot of this film involved gets complicated fairly quickly, making it likely a blessing that it never got to the screen. But the bizarre story in both its original version and its rewrite would have made for a wild ride.
Star Trek: Planet of the Titans was the first attempt at bringing Star Trek to the movies.
The original version of Star Trek: Planet of the Titans was written by Chris Bryant and Allan Scott and was set after the Enterprise crew completed their five-year mission. The Titans of the film’s title were a technologically advanced race who were believed to have gone extinct and over whose supposed homeworld the Federation was in conflict with the Klingons. But to pursue this claim on the planet, which was pulled into a black hole, the Enterprise had to contend with the Cygnans, the alien species who had caused the Titans’ disappearance.
Star Trek: Planet of the Titans then becomes about the Enterprise journeying into the black hole in pursuit of the Cygnans, which sends the ship and its crew hurtling back in time millions of years. They discover themselves to be orbiting Earth, where early humans are living. Perhaps the writers decided that the Prime Directive somehow did not apply in this circumstance, but whatever the case, Captain Kirk somehow introduces the primitive humans to fire.
Eventually, it becomes clear that the Planet of the Titans is actually Earth and that the Titans are actually the crew of the Enterprise, who have come from the future. This aligned the film very much with the popular 1968 book Chariots of the Gods by Erich von Däniken, which postulated that visitations from advanced aliens inspired stories of gods visiting Earth in ancient times. The book, though widely dismissed as nonsense, actually had a good bit of influence on Star Trek, providing the basis for several stories, particularly in the Animated Series.
In this case, the concept of Planet of the Titans was that the gods were not just aliens, but actually humans.
In this case, the concept of Planet of the Titans was that the gods were not just aliens, but actually humans. The 23rd-century crew of the Enterprise had become the ancient astronauts who are central to the Chariots of the Gods mythos. Casting humans as gods is actually not surprising, given Roddenberry’s philosophical and spiritual beliefs, but doing so quite this pointedly might have been a step too far in that particular direction.
Planet of the Titans was heavily influenced by Chariot of the Gods and would have seen Kirk become a future Prometheus.
But the story of Planet of the Titans would be altered and further complicated by a rewrite from Philip Kaufman, who’s writing and directing credits include the 1978 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Right Stuff. Changes in Kaufman’s version of the story seem to focus largely on the lead-up to the black hole encounter and include Klingons having flashes of the future, Kirk and Spock getting into a fight, Spock killing a crew member, blackouts, memory loss, and seeming madness. Part of the strange behavior spreading among the Enterprise crew includes a romantic attraction between Spock and one of two aquatic alien visitors.
So, if you want a Star Trek movie about black holes, lost civilizations, Kirk playing Prometheus, mounting insanity, and a romance between a fish lady and a murderous Spock, Planet of the Titans is the one for you. For the rest of us, the next time someone says something derisive about Star Trek: The Motion Picture, just send them this article to remind them what could have been.