After the original Star Trek TV series went off the air in 1969, the show went into syndicated reruns and became the type of hit it never was during its initial run. So Paramount Pictures, the studio behind the franchise, was keen on reviving Star Trek in some form and eventually did so with 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture directed by Robert Wise, best known for helming The Sound of Music.
But during the mid-‘70s, other ideas for reviving Star Trek were thrown around including a proposed second TV series as well as alternate film pitches. And if The Right Stuff director Philip Kaufman had been allowed to make his Star Trek movie, it would have starred legendary Japanese badass Toshiro Mifune (Rashomon) as the film’s Klingon nemesis.
Kaufman confirmed in a recent interview that he was indeed working on a Star Trek script (that never got made) and here’s what he said it would have been about:
My version was really built around Leonard Nimoy as Spock and Toshiro Mifune as his Klingon nemesis… My idea was to make it less “cult-ish”, and more of an adult movie, dealing with sexuality and wonders rather than oddness; a big science fiction movie, filled with all kinds of questions, particularly about the nature of Spock’s [duality]-exploring his humanity and what humanness was. To have Spock and Mifune’s character tripping out in outer space. I’m sure the fans would have been upset, but I felt it could really open up a new type of science fiction.
Kaufman may think his take would’ve turned off fans, but I disagree. Star Trek’s always been more “cerebral” than your typical sci-fi work so his idea wouldn’t have been completely foreign to the franchise. And have you actually seen the first Star Trek movie? It’s boooorrring—I doubt Kaufman’s version could’ve been worse. But the most compelling reason why this film could have been classic: Toshiro Mifune would’ve made an awesome Klingon!
Klingons are like space samurais—fierce warriors who have a strict code of honor. And there’s never been a cinematic samurai that comes close to touching Mifune. And how cool would it have been to see Mifune go “tripping out in space” with Spock to boot?
Obviously, this was a missed opportunity, but since many stories in the Star Trek universe are about time travel and alternate realities, perhaps in some other alternate world or timeline, Kaufman was able to make his Star Trek film with Mifune. And that world’s gain is our loss.
Finally, speaking of sci-fi, alternate universes and Mifune, artist Sean Hartter has designed a series of posters for movies that might exist in another world—familiar titles, but re-imagined with completely different casts and filmmakers (Ghostbusters starring Vincent Price, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee? Sign me up!). And in that other world, Stanley Kubrick’s classic 2001: A Space Odyssey would have been directed by the late, great Akira Kurosawa and starred, yup, Mifune. Check out the poster here:
And see the rest of Hartter’s creations here.