SANTA MONICA, California — This past weekend, $76.5 million worth of people saw Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto and Leonard Nimoy onscreen in J.J. Abrams' blockbuster "Star Trek" reboot. The one person they didn't see, however, is larger-than-life "Trek" icon William Shatner.
During the course of the film's production, a bizarre battle of words erupted between Abrams and the 78-year-old original Captain Kirk over a never-filmed, top-secret scene. Recently, we got the spoiler-heavy details on the very different ending once intended to be Nimoy and Shatner's final time together onscreen.
"We did write a Shatner scene," Roberto Orci, one of the film's writers and producers, explained. "And we were ultimately split internally. We didn't want it to be a gimmick; we wanted to really bring him back in the right way."
If you've seen the new "Trek," you know that Nimoy portrays the original Spock in a series of scenes that has the character traveling to an alternate dimension and making contact with younger versions of the Enterprise crew. In one heart-tugging moment, "old" Spock addresses "young" Spock and explains their eventual friendship with Kirk; in the Shatner version, however, young Spock was to be more skeptical.
"Elder Spock tells young Spock, 'I couldn't tell you the truth about what's happening, because if I had, I would have robbed you of the benefit of realizing the greatness that you and Kirk will achieve together — and the amazing friendship that you'll have. You had to discover that for yourself, and I couldn't get in the way of that,' " Orci's writing partner, Alex Kurtzman, revealed. "And in our original version, younger Spock says, 'I'm still not sold.'
"Elder Spock said, 'Well, don't take my word for it,' and he handed him a little disc — a DVD, really — that projected a hologram, and then he walked away. And the hologram was of Kirk," Kurtzman continued. "It would've been Shatner."
The scene was an attempt by the writers to adhere to "Trek" canon — which depicted Shatner's Kirk as being killed in 1994's "Star Trek: Generations" — yet still give him a presence in the film via a final recording he had taped before his death.
"If you follow 'The Next Generation' [TV show], elder Spock went off to Romulus to be an ambassador in two episodes called 'Unification 1' and '2', and [our] idea was that it was a long, long mission, and Kirk would have died by the time he returned to Earth [because they] just wouldn't have the same lifespan," Kurtzman explained of the Vulcan. "And so [this DVD] was essentially Kirk sending Spock a goodbye."
"His final message," Orci interrupted.
"It was a 'happy birthday' message [with Kirk saying], 'This is the last time I'm going to be able to wish you happy birthday, so I want to tell you how much you've meant to me and how amazing it was that we had all these adventures together,' " Kurtzman said of the alternate ending, which would have provided the last act with a powerful voice over the film's final scenes.
"That narrative, that voice-over," Kurtzman said, "became a link [to be heard] over [scenes of] this new crew coming in ... a young Kirk accepting the medal and becoming captain of the Enterprise."
"The entire ending of the movie, where you're seeing young Kirk being promoted," Orci added, "all that was going to be [played out with Shatner's] voice-over."
Ultimately, the Shatner ending of "Star Trek" was abandoned for a whole variety of reasons. "Whereas our elder Spock had a very organic reason to be there, we didn't have that same benefit with Kirk," Kurtzman explained. "Because Kirk died in the movies — he died in canon — it was very hard to come up with a way to bring him back in the movie that didn't feel contrived."
"Ultimately, we decided internally that we were split," Orci remembered of the decision to abandon the Shatner ending. "The decision was that it wasn't quite enough to justify wasting his time."
Still, it's pretty obvious where Orci fell in the internal debate. "It was a nice voice-over. It was more than a scene," he explained. "I think it could have worked, personally."
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