This is the pilot to the series that would star William Shatner. Only in this version there is different Captain, Christopher Pike, and with the exception of Mr. Spock, an entirely different crew. Now it begins when the Enterprise receives what appears to be a distress message. But when they get to the planet where the message was sent from, they discover that the supposed survivors were nothing more than illusions created by the inhabitants of the planet, for the purpose of capturing a mate for the one genuine surviving human, and Captain Pike is the lucky winner. While Captain Pike tries to cope with the experiments and tests that the aliens are conducting on him, his crew tries to find a way to rescue him. But the aliens' illusions are too powerful and deceptive (at first). Written by
After the pilot aired, the studio told Gene Roddenberry to get rid of the guy with the ears, Mr. Spock. But Roddenberry wanted an alien presence on the bridge and had to fight to keep the character on Star Trek (1966). See more »
As Pike retreats up the stairs from the warrior on "Rigel VII", you can see the blade of his spear bend as it pushes against the warrior's chest. See more »
Captain Christopher Pike:
I'm tired of being responsible for 203 lives, and... I'm tired of deciding which mission is too risky and which isn't, and who's going on the landing party and who doesn't. And who lives... and who dies. Oh, I've had it, Phil.
To the point of finally taking my advice, a rest leave?
Captain Christopher Pike:
To the point of considering resigning.
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Watching Star Trek's first pilot episode The Cage is like watching a historical what if taking place. Famously deemed "too cerebral" at the time of its production The Cage is where one of the most popular television programs of all time got its beginning. While it might be the beginning that never went much further, forty-five years later it is still a compelling piece of entertainment.
To begin with The Cage features some nice performances that make it a tragedy that never got to be developed past this one story. The best example of this is Jeffrey hunter as Enterprise captain Christopher Pike. Hunter's Pike comes across as being perhaps more sensitive then the later Captain Kirk yet just as tough. It's also interesting to note Leonard Nimoy as Spock and contrast his performance here with his later performances as the Spock of The Cage seems a bit less logical and a little more emotional. There's also a nice performance from Susan Oliver in the multiple guises of Vina which show off some considerable talent. Not to mention performances from Majel Barrett and John Hoyt amongst others.
The Cage is also blessed with some nice production values. In particular in the make-up and costumes of the Tallosians which stand-up relatively well even forty-five years later. The sets and the vast majority of the other costumes, while definite sixties creations like many of those in Star Trek: The Original Series, are nice guesses all things considered. There's also an exciting and well staged fight sequence in the middle of the story. Last but not least there's the score by Alexander Courage which shows off not only the Star Trek theme but Courage's skills as a composer. Together they show an inkling of what might have been if this version of Star Trek had not been aborted.
That said everything isn't perfect. If anything can be said to be a major drawback to The Cage it is the special effects. While most of them are passable and still work, some don't. This is especially true of the shots of the Enterprise itself which are far from convincing most of the time. There's also the matter of the warp sequence which looks to be incredibly cheaply done. That said there's also some fine effects like the sequence with Vina at the episodes end. The effects might be questionable but they serve the story well for the most part.
If any single element of The Cage stands out today it is the Gene Roddenberry script. Once you get passed some of the clunky techobabel and some of the dated dialog (like Pike's "women on the bridge" line early on in the episode) there is an intriguing and compelling tale. Beneath the surface it is a tale of a society so lost obsessed with illusion it has lost its other knowledge and its morality (an unintended metaphor for fandom perhaps?). It is also the tale of a man (Pike) who seeks to escape his responsibility and rebels when given the chance. It also contains a Nice little romance in the midst of a nicely constructed story that is far from intrusive and rather compliments the story by giving it an emotional anchor. It's no mistake that The Cage in a later form (the Original Series two-part story The Menagerie) won the Hugo Award which convinces me that, given some editing, The Cage would be just as compelling and watchable today.
The Cage stands as an interesting piece of television history. With nice performances, good production values and a script as impressive now as it was then The Cage represents the beginning of one of television's most popular series. It also stands out as a fascinating what if of how Star Trek might have been.
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