WHICH “CAGE” IS WHICH? ANALYZING THE DIFFERENT VERSIONS OF THE ORIGINAL STAR TREK PILOT
In the history of television, no television series has had the unique opportunity of seeing not one but two pilot episodes produced other than STAR TREK. Had it not been for “The Cage”, shot at the end of 1964 and submitted in early 1965, we would have not had “Where No Man Has Gone Before” and everything that followed.
“The Cage” remains to this day unique in not just television history but STAR TREK history as well, in that the nucleus of what would be explored in the original series would be laid out for all 79 classic episodes as well as the myriad spinoffs over the next four decades. “The Cage” is also unique in that what was originally produced in 1964-65 would not survive intact at all, as it would be edited, reassembled, restored, and in some cases even lost forever.
Thanks to the advent of home video technology, we now have no less than four different versions of “The Cage” that have been commercially released to the public since 1986, due to the many VHS, laserdisc, and DVD releases, as well as two versions that have never appeared on video in any form. But along with those releases, there are some people who remain confused as to which version of “The Cage” is which. In this exclusive report, I will attempt to lay bare once and for all the facts behind the many variations of the original “Star Trek” pilot episode.
Where do we begin? Well, for starters, we must go back in time to 1966, when the series was in full production in its first season. Once STAR TREK was in full swing, Roddenberry wanted to present “The Cage” during the series’ run but couldn’t conceive of a convincing story in which to integrate the pilot. He soon came up with the idea of a framing story which saw Spock on trial for his life in abducting his former captain, Christopher Pike, and transporting him to Talos IV. For his evidence Spock presented a video testimony of the mission logs from thirteen years before – in reality, excerpts from “The Cage” were incorporated into the episodes which became the series’ only two-part tale, “The Menagerie”.
This is where the problem begins.
To account for the clips pulled from “The Cage”, Roddenberry loaned out his only color print of the pilot with the assumption that the print would be duplicated, the master returned to him, and the duplicate used for footage pulls in “The Menagerie”. Somewhere along the way, someone thought that Roddenberry had prepared a color duplicate of the pilot and retained the original color master. This obvious miscommunication led to one of the great injustices in TREK history: the near destruction of the original color print of “The Cage”. The footage that was used in “The Menagerie” would be the actual master footage from the pilot and not a duplicate print. It was believed that the remaining color clips were destroyed and forever lost.
Over the next 20 years Roddenberry would travel to numerous science-fiction conventions and show his only surviving print of “The Cage”: a black-and-white work print version of the pilot with complete visual effects and music. This rare work print was the only way STAR TREK fans would be able to view the complete, original version of “The Cage”, and it has never been released on home video in any format.
Then a new technology appeared on the market: home video. For the first time, television shows and movies could be recorded and viewed at home, or they could be pre-recorded and sold to interested buyers. As the technology increased and prices decreased, among the early home video releases were several videotapes of STAR TREK episodes, including a slightly edited version of “The Menagerie”. This continued boom in the home video market found, for many TREK fans, an attractive way to record their favorite shows for all time.
It would be during the 1980’s that the first official release of “The Cage” appeared.
In 1986 Paramount Home Video had been issuing episodes of the original STAR TREK series, with individual episodes per tape and two episodes per laserdisc. At this time, because of the many fans’ requests, Paramount prepared a special home video release of “The Cage”, complete with introductory and closing bookend segments narrated by Gene Roddenberry on the Enterprise movie sets. Labeled Episode #1, this home video version ran 74 minutes in length and featured a reconstructed version of “The Cage”. According to Roddenberry, the black and white portions were taken from the work print version of the pilot, while the color portions were taken from the surviving color footage used in “The Menagerie”. This early version of “The Cage” proved very popular with the home video market and STAR TREK fans everywhere, bypassing the television market and making it one of the first direct-to-video releases ever produced. It was believed at the time that the remaining color footage was lost forever.
Flash forward to 1988. With the premiere of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION the previous year, fans everywhere had even more adventures to enjoy. But the series, like all others, had been hampered by the Writers’ Guild strike, which delayed the premiere of many shows until late in 1988. TNG was no exception. To tide the fans over, Paramount prepared a special two-hour syndicated special entitled “The STAR TREK Saga: From One Generation to the Next”, which premiered October 4, 1988. (Some markets would not premiere the special until later in the month, on October 15, 1988.) Hosted by Patrick Stewart, this two-hour program featured numerous interviews with Roddenberry and the casts of the original series and TNG, a STAR TREK history, and the first-ever premiere of footage from the second season premiere episode “The Child”. But the crown jewel of this program was a full-color reconstruction of “The Cage”, utilizing clips that had been located after the 1986 video release.
Divided into four acts, the reconstructed pilot (which Stewart labeled “a rare color print”) followed in the same vein as the 1986 home video version, but with a few exceptions. For one, to account for missing clips, footage was either borrowed from other portions of the original color footage to bridge necessary gaps. More notably, in other places, footage was slowed down to bridge the gaps between the original footage used in “The Menagerie” and the recently restored footage. The sound track for this full-color version of “The Cage” was the same identical audio track used in the 1986 version, complete with sound scratches from the black-and-white portions and the variations in the Talosian keeper’s voice (the male voice portions were taken from actor Malachi Throne’s voiceover, while the higher-pitched voice portions were heard in “The Menagerie”). In addition, the color balance was slightly off between the restored color footage and the remaining footage. This imbalance led some people to conclude that the restored color footage had been colorized by computer; this is not the case. If you examine colorized films from the 1980’s and 1990’s, you will notice that colorization is frequently off in many places. The color balance in the restored clips of “The Cage” is too precise in many places to be colorized footage, which leads us to conclude that this is indeed the missing color footage that was edited and originally lost in 1966 and rediscovered after the 1986 video release.
This restored version was originally shown in October 1988 and was followed a year later by its release on home video. This release was labeled Episode #99 for its release on VHS and laserdisc. To date this variation of “The Cage” has never been issued on DVD from Paramount Home Video.
In 2001 the next appearance of “The Cage” came as part of the 40-volume release of the original STAR TREK on DVD. At this point in time Paramount had yet to begin releasing television series in complete season sets, and TREK was no exception. In the final volume, “The Cage” accompanied the series’ final episode, “Turnabout Intruder”, on the DVD release. This time, however, two versions of “The Cage” were included on the disc. One version of “The Cage” featured on the disc was a newly remastered version of the full-color pilot episode. In this version the audio tracks were newly mixed in Dolby Digital 5.1 sound, with significantly clearer sound than in either of the previous home video releases.
However, there were a few significant differences than in the previous releases. For one, the Talosian keeper’s voice was digitally re-recorded to closely match the voice used in “The Menagerie”. While there were some differences in pitch, it closely matched the voice intentions used in the 1966 TV broadcasts.
A more significant difference is in the restored version of the music during Captain Christopher Pike’s encounter with the Kaylar on Rigel VII. The difference occurs just after Pike says, “Except for you.” Instead of the original Alexander Courage music that was recorded for the piece, this music was somehow replaced with a later re-recording of the piece. Compare this piece of music from the original 1965 recording, and you will notice some differences in pitch and movement. For that matter, during the same scene a portion of music has been restored to the pilot. The moment in question occurs as Pike knocks down the Kaylar. In the two previous home video releases the music that accompanies the scene is a portion of music that appeared in “The Menagerie” (when the shot was pulled from the pilot for the two-part broadcast), cross-blending into Courage’s original music as recorded in 1965. The remastered version of “The Cage” correctly uses the full segment of the cue as originally recorded. Why the music was altered for this version remains a mystery.
The color was more naturally balanced in this release and corrected to as close to its original intentions as possible. One of the most significant upgrades is the digital smoothing of the restored color footage in tandem with the clips that were originally broadcast in 1966. No longer did “The Cage” have slowed-down portions of color footage as first seen in 1988; now the footage seemed to blend seamlessly. However, in order to account for some of these smooth transitions, some frames of the pilot had to be removed from the previous assemblies in order to account for the restoration of the color footage into tandem with the existing footage.
The most important difference in the 2001 DVD releases of “The Cage” comes in the numbering. As opposed to the numbering used in the 1986 and 1989 video releases, the numbering was flipped around. The full-color restored version now sported the Episode #1 label (with a broadcast date of October 15, 1988), while the original 1986 release was given the Episode #99 label. These versions would be carried over into the Season Three set released in 2004.
Recently, there has appeared yet another version of “The Cage”, this one with the Season Three Remastered set. This variation of the full-color pilot, also labeled Episode #1, contains the same listing for a broadcast date of October 15, 1988, but also contains newly prepared visual effects for the episode. The changes in the pilot include newly digitized space shots of the Enterprise, along with a digitized version of the bridge and its crew in a brief transition from digital footage to original 1965 footage. Star fields were added throughout the episode, either on bridge monitors or in windows in Pike’s cabin. A newly added insert of the Enterprise sailing through space as the ship heads on course towards Talos IV also appears, significantly enhancing the shot. Added inserts of the Talos IV surface appear on bridge monitors, and new CGI versions of the planet appear in both exterior shots and a computer monitor screen. In addition, newly added versions of the computer library screen shots were upgraded and included into the pilot. Everything else in “The Cage” remains consistent with the 2001/2004 DVD release. This is the only version of “The Cage” that appears in a remastered format.
However, there are some 20 seconds of footage, perhaps less, that remain lost and unaccounted for. This includes brief trims of footage pulled from the 2001/2004 DVD release for editing purposes. More significantly, this includes frames of footage that were edited back in 1966 for use in “The Menagerie” and sadly remain lost forever.
Let us recap, in summary, the various versions of “The Cage” that have been accounted for:
The original 1964-65 pilot episode, edited and cut, with some footage lost forever (this original version has never been seen in its complete form by the public);
The complete black-and-white work print version of the original pilot (not issued in any video format to date);
The 1986 premiere video release in hybrid form, labeled “Episode 1” in 1986; labeled “Episode 99” for the 2001, 2004, and 2008 DVD releases;
The full-color restoration seen in “The STAR TREK Saga: From One Generation to the Next”, first seen in syndication in October 1988 and issued on VHS in 1989, labeled “Episode 99” (not issued on DVD to date);
The 2001 digitally restored version, first issued on the Volume 40 single-disc release, and reissued in the Season Three set in 2004 and 2008, labeled “Episode 1”; and,
The 2008 remastered version with enhanced CGI effects, first issued on the Season Three Remastered DVD set, also labeled “Episode 1”.
While the various restored versions of “The Cage” have been a blessing to STAR TREK fans everywhere, a number of pundits agree that the 2001/2004 release is probably the most complete and accurate representation of the pilot as possible, given its balancing and presentation on DVD. Everyone’s mileage may certainly vary, but it should not distract them from enjoying this earliest known version of the pilot episode in as best a representation as possible that comes close to Gene Roddenberry’s original version of the genesis of the STAR TREK universe as we know it.