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
"The Cage" might have ended up as a TV-movie had NBC decided not to try again with a 2nd pilot and then go to series. If so, then "The Cage" would have been the best sci-fi movie since "Forbidden Planet" (to which it is clearly indebted)--all the more remarkable because it was made on a limited television budget and the poor facilities of Desilu Studios.
Yet Roddenberry's vision yielded a story that overcame the plastic and wooden sets and the hastily put together special effects, to give us our first look into his "Star Trek Universe"--a futuristic united Earth, which has finally been put right enabling mankind to set out for the stars.
We're so accustomed to that ST Universe by now, that we may forget how truly visionary it was for 1965: A giant warp-powered starship that looked truly futuristic and beautiful, not some cliche rocket shape. The bridge, the very model of a well-designed command center, to be eclipsed only by the sets of "2001: A Space Odyssey" three years later. The transporter. A female second-in-command and a mixed-gender crew. And most important of all, believable, multi-dimensional characters who are supported by all that futuristic technology and special effects, rather than playing second fiddle to them. Roddenberry's staunch insistence on believable characterization was what separated all the Star Trek series from any other sci-fi series--and is what has enabled the Star Trek franchise to last nearly 40 years.
While the Captain Pike character didn't survive into the second pilot or the series, it also represented a fascinating departure from the TV heroes of most past TV series--something you might see in a big-budget first-run movie rather than a TV pilot film. Pike is depressed and just plain burned out from the constant strain of command, and he is seriously contemplating resigning from Starfleet altogether because he just can't take it anymore. Like any harried, burned-out white-collar worker of today, he has unrealistic dreams of just going home at a young age to retire early, or maybe starting his own business, or anything to get him out of that captain's chair. The adventure he has in "The Cage" acts as his redemption, giving him a live demonstration of Dr. Boyce's statement that no matter how tempted a man may be to pack it in and give up on life, he must find a way to meet life on its own terms, not run from it and hide in daydreams of a life that in the end isn't really for him.
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