Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 15, 2020)
Although Star Trek struggled during its original 1966-1969 run, it pretty quickly found a good audience in syndication. However, this didn’t do much to help series creator Gene Roddenberry’s career in the short term.
Roddenberry returned to the tube in 1973 with a TV movie as a pilot for a new show. Though it apparently did fairly well in the ratings, CBS chose to throw its support behind a TV version of Planet of the Apes, so that looked like the end of Roddenberry’s franchise.
Possibly because Roddenberry recalled that it took two pilots for Star Trek to stick, he reworked Genesis II into 1974’s sequel Planet Earth. This one aired on ABC and also failed to produce the desired new TV series.
After fits and starts, live-action Trek would finally rematerialize via 1979’s feature The Motion Picture, itself resurrected from the remains of a proposed new Trek series called Phase II. (A Trek animated series briefly ran in 1973-74.) Given their sci-fi orientation, Genesis and Earth offer an intriguing look at Roddenberry’s time in flux.
Set in 1979, Genesis II introduces to Dylan Hunt (Alex Cord), a scientist who puts himself in suspended animation to see if this technique can be used to preserve astronauts during long missions. He plans to snooze for two days and then pop back into action.
However, damage from an earthquake buries Dylan in the rubble, and he doesn’t emerge from slumber until 2133. He enters a world at war in which various factions attempt to establish dominance.
Earth continues Dylan’s (John Saxon) adventures in this future world, as part of a scientific society called PAX. In search of a missing colleague, Dylan enters an area called the Confederacy.
A matriarchal society, these women use all males for their own means. Dylan becomes captured and enslaved, so he searches for a way to escape.
Would anyone remember or care about either of these films if they didn’t emerge during Roddenberry’s “in-between Trek” period? Probably not, as they would likely remain lost to the collective memory without this connection to the Great Bird of the Galaxy.
I can’t claim that would’ve been a tragedy. If we ignore the films’ connection to the Roddenberry legacy, they offer fairly forgettable 1970s sci-fi.
As I’ve opined elsewhere, this era’s sci-fi largely hasn’t held up well, as movies from the pre-Star Wars period tend to seem silly and campy. Those issues impact these two flicks – especially Genesis, easily the weaker of the two efforts.
Genesis just offers a mess, as it feels more like a collection of themes than a coherent movie. Dylan’s adventures feel pedantic and we rarely get a particularly interest take on characters or a logical story.
Really, Genesis is more about Roddenberry’s societal concepts than anything else. We don’t get a clear sense of the civilizations on display beyond basics, and the movie can’t figure out how to make any of this compelling.
As such, Genesis meanders across its 74 minutes and fails to find a groove. Like Star Trek: The Motion Picture, we’re stuck with a banal semi-intellectual journey that bores most of the time.
I suspect Roddenberry realized that if he wanted his project to succeed, Earth needed to be more exciting and less high-minded, as it presents a substantially more visceral affair. While it nods to social concepts at times – especially related to gender domains – it more fully embraces an action orientation, and that makes it considerably more engaging.
Though not radically less silly. Both movies suffer from the 70s sci-fi goofiness I mentioned, and that damages Earth.
That said, Earth feels less dopey than Genesis. Everything about the latter’s costume and production design seems unintentionally campy, whereas these aspects of Earth fare better. While they clearly reflect their era, they’re not quite as laughable.
All of this makes it sound like I endorse Earth, which stretches the case. Yes, it presents a superior effort when compared to Genesis, and the fact I watched them back-to-back probably helps it, as the action of Earth feels refreshing after the static dullness of Genesis.
However, at no point can I claim Earth actually becomes a good movie. Though clearly superior to the downright boring Genesis, Earth feels more like a mediocre episode of Star Trek than a compelling tale in its own right.
Footnote: it seems ironic that Genesis lost out to the Planet of the Apes series since both it and Earth clearly reflect the Apes franchise. This seems more obvious during Earth, but Apes seems like a clear influence for both projects.