Gene Roddenberry is best known for creating Star Trek, but he tried his best to bring another television hit to the screen. Warner Bros. has released Genesis II, one of Roddenberry’s attempts at a new science fiction show. The pilot originally aired on CBS in 1973 and never spawned a full series. Star Trek also originally had a failed pilot, but Roddenberry’s attempts to make the story of Genesis II work in subsequent incarnations generated a couple of additional TV movies but no series. It would have been interesting to have those other failed pilots (Planet Earth and Strange New World) on the DVD for comparison’s sake, but nevertheless this old curiosity from the Warner Archives is a nice treat for Roddenberry fans.
Directed by John Llewellyn Moxey and written by Gene Roddenberry, Genesis II is a quaint morality tale typical of the era. Dylan Hunt (a competent if not necessarily earth-shattering performance by Alex Cord) is a scientist conducting an experiment in suspended animation when an earthquake causes a deadly malfunction that keeps him asleep a la Rip Van Winkle until he is brought back to consciousness 154 years later. He finds himself caught up in a “cold war” between two societies, the seemingly utopian PAX and the more aggressive Tyrania.
The supporting cast is quite good. Mariette Hartley plays the beautiful but awkwardly named Lyra-a, a Tyranian spy who tries to convince Hunt to use his twentieth century scientific knowledge to fix their nuclear power plant. Percy Rodrigues, Harvey Jason, and even Star Trek icon (and Roddenberry’s wife) Majel Barrett solidly execute their roles. My favorite actor in Genesis II is Ted Cassidy – as always, a towering and powerful presence as Isiah, a Comanche Native American.
As he did with Trek, Roddenberry makes a noble effort to present some diversity in his characters, but the show suffers from some common stereotypes (like Isiah’s “injun” speech patterns) and some sexist portrayals of women. Still, Genesis II is an intriguing showcase of Roddenberry’s idealistic vision and sci-fi imagination. Lyra-a is a mutant like all Tyranians with two bellybuttons and is exceptionally strong due to also having two hearts. The Tyranians use slave labor and control them with Stims, rods that inflict extreme pain but can also provide immense pleasure. The major plot point of the pilot episode is the philosophical conflict between pacifism and the use of force, leading to the climactic choice that Hunt has to make.
Genesis II tends to be a bit talky as it explores that clash of aggression and passive resistance. It might sound like a simplistic tale that’s been told countless times before, but while it does fall into the trap of sappy preaching at times, it also has moments of depth and complexity. From how the enslaved servants deal with their oppressive masters to the PAX code to sacrifice one’s own life rather than take another, there is plenty here to spark discussion.
Roddenberry tries to tell an intelligent science fiction story. When Hunt wakes up from his century and a half slumber, it feels real. He has trouble seeing and speaking, his skin is pale. Hunt’s initial attempt to ask how long he’d been asleep implies that he may have been aware of the passage of time during all those years, his mind still very active as his body slept.
There are some laughable moments, like how everyone in the future has 1970s hairdos and how when the future folks shave the slight beard that Dylan grew during his cryogenic sleep they decide to keep his '70s mustache!
The sliding doors, the elevators, some sound effects and music, plus the matte shots of Tyrania and its nuclear power plant will remind viewers fondly of classic Star Trek. The most nostalgic element of the show, however, is the tone of the story which is totally Roddenberry-esque. One character states early on, “Looks like Mankind has finally grown up,” but as we see, the flaws of the human condition are ever present, and Roddenberry hoped to use the future setting of Genesis II to explore those universal themes.
A worldwide subterranean transportation system called a Sub-Shuttle connects cities throughout the world, and that would have been the obvious storytelling device if Genesis II had been turned into a full series, as Dylan Hunt would inevitably visit other places and come into contact with people from other societies. The pilot episode hints at what could have been, showing a woman from a colony where men are treated as pets. As one character says to Hunt, “My century has many surprises for you.”
Sadly, we’ll never know all the surprises that Gene Roddenberry’s imagination might have brought us. But Genesis II provides a little peek at what could have been.