Metamorphosis

Filmed May 1967

My second voyage on the Enterprise, METAMORPHOSIS, written by the incomparable Gene Coon, was my favorite voyage of the seven STAR TREKs I directed. It was a strange tale, beautifully written with a potent message. I was really anxious to make this voyage. When you look at the lineup of my voyages, it seems as if I went from one trek to another. Actually there was a three month lapse between THIS SIDE OF PARADISE and METAMORPHOSIS. Part of that time was television’s annual spring hiatus. I also managed to squeeze in the impossible mission of THE TRAIN (which I will write about later). After that jarring trip I was ready for the sanity of outer space.

METAMORPHOSIS had no location work. The planet we would be visiting would be created on the studio soundstage. This actually was the usual standard operating procedure for the show. Of my seven adventures, only two left the studio for location filming, THIS SIDE OF PARADISE (my first) and upcoming BREAD AND CIRCUSES.  But the planet created for this production, I think, was one of the finest of the whole series. And it was the director of photography, Jerry Finnerman, who was most responsible for its unique look. I was impressed with his work on THIS SIDE OF PARADISE. With his contributions to this voyage I knew I was working with an artist. A cyclorama for the sky was the backing for the set pieces that would be placed in front of it. It was Jerry who decided that the sky would be purple. It was also Jerry who introduced me to the fish eye lens, the wide angle 9mm. The soundstage we would be shooting on was not very large; it was one of the smallest soundstages I had ever worked on.

For our opening sequence on this foreign planet, the use of the 9mm lens made the shuttlecraft on the ground seem a great distance away. But use of this lens posed a problem; we were shooting off the set; in fact, we were seeing the ceiling of the soundstage. So Jerry brought in large rocks in the foreground to mask the overshoot.

Paramount has recently remastered the series for a new DVD distribution. In the new version of METAMORPHOSIS the rocks have been removed and replaced by an open vista of the horizon.

I know it is fashionable for directors to object to “improvements” made to their films, and usually I am totally in fashion; but I have to admit, I like what was done in this remastering. It just shows what we could have done forty-five years ago if we had had computers (or more money).

There was another problem created by the use of the fish eye lens.  When Cochran entered the foreground and ran toward the group at the craft, it seemed as if he had on seven league boots; he was covering what seemed like a football field distance in about five paces. I solved this by filming his approach from several angles, which were then joined together in the editing room.

There was yet another challenge connected with this set. The sky cyclorama was not a complete circle; it was 180 degrees max. So any reverse angle shots had to be filmed against the same cyclorama. That meant we shot everything toward the shuttlecraft and then created other arrangements of rocks and trees against the same cyclorama for the reverse angles.

In the clips you will be viewing, the sky is not always the deep purple I have described. These clips are from an old off the air transcription to which time has not been kind. There are a few shots where the purple has survived, so use your imagination. I do think even faded, Jerry Finnerman’s photography is exemplary.  (The color of the sky in the remastered still shot is the purple we filmed.)

Once all of the scenes involving the shuttlecraft were filmed, that set was struck. Cochran’s home, exterior and interior, was erected, the set dressing crew came in, moved trees, plants and rocks around and overnight, in that same small space against the same cyclorama, we had a totally new set.

I was and still am very impressed with Gene Coon’s script. Two years prior to this he was producing and writing THE WILD WILD WEST. I had directed one show for Gene on that series, and at that time he told me that he didn’t have time to write all of the shows, but that show was so special (as was STAR TREK) that he needed to write them. So what he did was have writers come in and submit their ideas which he would buy, and he would have them write their script. That gave him a first draft which he would then rewrite. I know he didn’t take writing credit for many of those scripts.  METAMORPHOSIS was not a rewrite; it was an original Gene Coon script as was THE DEVIL IN THE DARK, that first script that was assigned to me and then replaced. Compare the wild comic lunacy of THE WILD WILD WEST with the subdued dramatic intensity of METAMORPHOSIS — I guess what I’m trying to say is the man was talented!

Jerry Finnerman also contributed another effect for the set. He thought our sky should have clouds, so when we were ready to film, the doors to the soundstage were closed, the fans were turned off, every person was instructed to stand perfectly still, there could be NO movement. The special effects people then came in with their bee smokers and wafted smoke up above the trees. Presto — we had clouds.

The Companion was going to be a matte added in post production to what I filmed. The producers asked me to plan my shots to avoid the necessity of a traveling matte. Let me explain. If I shot a wide shot with Cochran standing at one end of the frame with the Companion superimposed at the other end of the frame — when the Companion moved across the screen to envelop Cochran, that would be a traveling matte. That would be more costly than a stationary matte. So instead I shot a full figure wide shot of Cochran, panned the camera left across the set and stopped, held frame long enough for the matte to be superimposed in the center of the frame, then panned back to the original shot of Cochran. The Companion, superimposed and centered in the frame, now enveloped Cochran.

But then came a sequence where there was no way to avoid a traveling matte.

I was not present in post production when an actress recorded the speeches of the Companion. But I was there to view the film after her speeches had been integrated into the assembled footage. And nobody disagreed with me when I declared the performance, which had been uttered in a robotic monotone, was unacceptable. Another actress was hired, and this time I was present to direct the performance; this time the actress played the MEANING, the humanity of the scene.

At the viewing of the dailies the day after we filmed the scene between Kirk and the Companion, Gene Coon said, “And that’s why we pay him the big money.”

I have read in an interview of Elinor Donahue that she said she was called back to the studio for a retake. I did not direct that retake. Under the agreement between the Directors Guild and the Producers Association, if there had been any major scene to be refilmed, I would have had to be contacted. Obviously the retake was minor. I have studied the film carefully and think I have spotted what was reshot — the long zoom into Nancy when she stands in the doorway. If you look closely I think you will see that her face shows a loss of weight.

When in the arts, if you copy someone, that’s plagiarism, unless you copy a large amount, then it’s a tribute. What is it if you steal from yourself? Because that’s what I did for the final sequence in this episode. The genesis for the opening shot of the scene was an episode of THE FBI (THE ESCAPE) that I had filmed the previous year. In that lakeside scene, the young girl, having made love to her fugitive lover, looks at her surroundings through a pink chiffon scarf. Maybe life now would be rosier for her.

I needed something to start the final scene between Cochran and Nancy. I decided I would have this cloud, recently turned into a human, look and marvel at the scarf that Nancy had in her possession. I would like to take credit and say I planned the unexpected added dimension this gave the scene, but I have to admit, not knowing at that time what the Companion was going to look like, that was not my motivation in doing this. At that point the fact that the vision of him through the scarf was as she was used to seeing him when she was a cloud had no significance for me. As it turned out it was an unforeseen bonus that added a stunning nuance to the scene.

One day walking back to the office after a screening of the completed film, Gene Coon said to me he was just amazed; how had I created that wonderful moment of her looking at Cochran through the scarf as a remembrance of how she had once seen him when she was a cloud. And I had to admit it was just one of those freak wonderful miracles that can happen in film. Now from the vantage point of forty-three years later, I can wonder –  when did the lab start working on the effect for the Companion. We didn’t shoot the Cochran-Nancy scene until the final day; in fact I think it was the last scene to be filmed. Did the lab start work on the Companion before or after that sequence was in the can? Did they see that scene before or after? We’ll probably never know. But who cares! It worked!

There was another question that remains unanswered. Gene Coon told me one of the advantages of being on STAR TREK was that he was able to deal with issues that he couldn’t do on any other series. For instance he had written an episode that emanated from his own anti-Vietnam War feelings. The race issue was a major issue of the sixties. I never asked Gene, but I have since wondered if the cloud-man love story in METAMORPHOSIS was his way of dealing with that issue.

There was something else I didn’t know then but was to learn when I returned for my next flight. Desilu Studios had been sold to Paramount Pictures, a new regime was about to take over, and life in outer space was going to take a sharp turn for the worse.

The journey continues

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20 Responses to Metamorphosis

  1. Dave Eversole says:

    Always one of my favorite Trek episodes. Just a lovely, thoughtful story wonderfully directed. The scene wherein Hedford bemoans the fact that most people futiley wait their whole lives for love, yet Cochrane doesn’t accept it when it is offered to him has remained in my memory since I first saw it nearly forty years ago.

  2. Lisa M. says:

    Definitely a great episode that seems to not land in Top Ten lists but it certainly belongs there. Wonderful acting. You brought such quality to it, and we’re so glad to hear that you insisted on a good actress for The Companion, because her readings are perfect. Lovely bit with the scarf, so memorable.

  3. Daniel Rudolf says:

    Aside this one, Gene Coon wrote a much more direct story dealing with the race issue, entitled “Portrait in Black and White”. Unfortunately, by the time it got produced, it was completely ripped apart by Fred Freiberger and his people, and became a mediocre episode of the third season, “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield”.

    • Blair Schirmer says:

      I couldn’t disagree more with your assessment of Battlefield. Most of us understand the absurdity of racism, but expressing that absurdity is not always an easy task. As clearly as I’ve ever seen it portrayed is in the look on Kirk’s and Spock’s faces when a deadly earnest Bele says “Lokai is white on the right side. All of his people are white on the right side.” Their uncomprehending stares illuminate wonderfully well the sheer preposterousness of Bele’s (and any racist’s) claims.

      I’ve also heard people claim the episode is too obvious, but is it? We’ve made minimal progress in this country with regard to racism, and any gains there have been seem lost to religious intolerance. As to other prejudice, we won’t see gay marriage legalized in all 50 states for decades, except through judicial decree. How far have we come, really?

      The episode also has the justly famous self-destruct sequence, and two spectacular performances by Frank Gorshin and Lou Antonio. I’ve heard complaints about the scenes of Bele and Lokai running through the ship and superimposed over buildings in flames, but the time it gives us to see their weariness and desperation is well spent, and that those buildings in flames are from the then-recent Detroit riots gives the episode real pungency.

      For me Battlefield is easily a top 20 episode, and sad to say, is entirely relevant today.

      Cheers.

  4. Kathy Tasich says:

    This was my favorite episode!The story was so romantic and original. The clips were marvelous except that I wish you had included the scene where clueless Cockran is informed by Kirk and the others that the creature has been making love to him. The men were snickering at him, and he really got upset. That was very memorable because he felt he had control. The acting and directing showed great sensitivity. Thanks again for the fascinating details, Ralph!

  5. Ralph says:

    You have fine taste, Kathy. It was my favorite episode also.

  6. Christopher Brent says:

    This was my mother’s favorite episode. I can understand why. Eleanor Donohue and the late Glenn Corbett did an excellent job in this classic Star Trek adventure.

    If anything, I could relate to Cochrane on a couple of levels: his wishing to pass on in space and having had enough of honors.

    Overall, an excellent episode with an excellent storyline.

  7. Josh Lee says:

    When I was a kid, this was not one of faves because there wasn’t much action but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve changed my tune. One of the main things Trek is about is love. This is one of its most unusual love stories and one of its nicest. I think one element sometimes overlooked is the musical score and this one had original work by George Duning. (The main love theme was reused a little later for Sargon and Thalassa in Return to Tomorrow.) Really meaty guest star roles and fine performances all around. A simple (on the surface) script ends up having much depth with a lot to say. A very well-realized episode.

  8. Ralph Adler says:

    Hey Ralph — At least three of your Star Treks has either full or partial original scores written for them (Metamorphosis, Is There in Truth…, and Return to Tomorrow). Did you as the director have any interaction with the composers–giving direction about tone/style/feeling? I know Bob Justman was the main contact with most of the Trek composers, so I’m wondering if you ever got a chance to put your stamp on this important part of the storytelling.

    C. Ralph

    • Ralph says:

      No, I didn’t have any contact with the music composers. At the beginning of my career on DR. KILDARE I always went with Harry Sukman to the music spotting sessions. But I didn’t get a chance to do that later, as I would usually be gone by the time post production got around to scoring.

  9. Ralph Adler says:

    Sorry, I should have said “have either,” not “has.”

  10. Plaid Adder says:

    I’m so glad to have found this website! You directed many of my favorite episodes, including “Metamorphosis,” which I think deserves to be better-known and better-loved. I loved the business with the scarf; it’s hard to believe you didn’t plan that, but regardless, it’s a beautiful moment.

  11. Alex Weinberg says:

    Recently I re-watched this episode on DVD (the remastered version). It really is an unusual story.
    One thing I found inexplainable (and a bit disturbing) is the way in which Kirk behaves regarding to Spock: he often seems to be really angry with him, for whatever reason. And the reason for this cannot be that Kirk is just under stress, because his behavior to the others doesn’t change in a similar way.
    I’m just wondering whether there were any parts of the original script/plot/concept of the episode explaining how Spock made Kirk angry, which just didn’t make it to the version I’ve seen. I would really appreciate an answer. (Sorry for my English.)

    • Ralph says:

      First, you needn’t apologize for your English; you’re doing fine.
      To answer your question: “I’m just wondering whether there were any parts of the original script/plot/concept of the episode explaining how Spock made Kirk angry, which just didn’t make it to the version I’ve seen.”
      No, the final version you viewed is what we filmed. The strange thing is I have never been aware of the situation you question. There was always a different approach to matters between Kirk and Spock, (Kirk being emotional, Spock’s Vulcan side keeping emotions on the sidelines) and usually Kirk would smile as he recognized their difference. If under the circumstances of this episode Kirk seemed impatient with Spock, I find it totally understandable.

      • Alex Weinberg says:

        Thank you for your quick response. However, I’m still not completely satisfied.
        You mention the “circumstances of this episode”, which made Kirk seem “impatient” with Spock. Here my problem starts: there is barely one episode of Star Trek without some special circumstances, and many earlier episodes deal with the fate of the whole crew of the Enterprise, or even with the populations of whole planets, yet Kirk doesn’t get angry at Spock there. Why are Kirk’s nerves more afflicted by him being stuck with three other people one of whom may probably die, while he can easily keep professional calm when the whole Enterprise with everybody on board may very likely be destroyed? I just fail to see why the situation in this episode should be worse than so many others.
        Also, I cannot agree with you that it would be impatience which Kirk shows to Spock.
        Take the scene in which Kirk orders Spock to readjust the universal translator, for example. Just after a calm, civilized talk with McCoy he abruptly orders Spock to make use of that device. Spock just mentions that the translator may not work and inexplicably Kirk gives him a hateful look and spews: “Adjust it! Change it! The problem with immortality is it’s boring! Adjusting it will give you something to do!” (As if it would be possible to even imagine a bored Spock.) When Spock thinks aloud about a possible way how to proceed, Kirk interrupts him hatefully: “Right down your alley, Spock! Get it here and get it to work!” After that Kirk turns to McCoy and talks to him in a very tempered, civilized manner about the health of the patient.
        Now, where would impatience come in here? Kirk asks of Spock some kind of a technical miracle. Spock mentions in very short words the possible problems and a way to overcome them and does in no way delay the solution (what he surely would have done, had he been emotional about it, lamenting about not having enough time for that etc.). Yet he is treated as if he were about to sabotage Kirk’s plans or his authority, as if he needed to be kept busy to prevent him from plotting against Kirk. That would be the only thing that would have explained Kirk’s behavior.
        So the core question remains unanswered: what did Spock do to provoke this hatred? Was there really nothing in previous versions of the script that would explain Kirk’s hatred?

        • Ralph says:

          Alex, there were no other scenes to accommodate your concerns. Gene Coon, who was producing at the time, wrote the script. He had been aboard for almost a year and was a sensational writer. He knew the characters. Obviously he did not have the problem you are having. And frankly I don’t have them either. This was my second trek with the company. That was the script I was given. That was the film I delivered.

  12. C. Ralph Adler says:

    This addition to the conversation about Alex’s concern over Kirk’s behavior towards Spock in this episode comes very late! It’s been awhile since I’ve visited the site, so I apologize. However, I have a small thought. Throughout the series I have often thought that Kirk found, or felt, that he could be more abrupt or impatient with Spock because he knew that, more or less, Spock would shrug it off. It seemed to me that Kirk allowed some of his irritation with a situation to “leak out” in his responses to Spock, rather than McCoy or someone else. Not exactly a nice way for one friend to treat another, but it’s certainly a human response–I know sometimes I speak more directly, openly, honestly, with friends who I know have a thicker skin. And, of course, sometimes that’s a miscalculation causing its own set of problems!

    Best wishes to you, Ralph, and I hope you’ve been well and happy since that last time we exchanged messages here!

  13. LG says:

    As much as I consider Star Trek-TOS among the best shows TV ever did, none of the episodes, exciting though they are, ever make me tearful, except for this one. The Companion is willing to sacrifice her immortality out of love for Cochran and it’s an extremely moving gesture. I realize that the script was by Gene Coon and that your direction may have concentrated more on technical matters, but you seem to have had the ability to bring out the best qualities of the script despite the low-budget, one-set situation you were faced with.

  14. Phil says:

    For some reason, I have no memory of this episode as a kid…not enough action and danger, I guess.

    I’m curious how George Duning was selected to do the music, which is noticeably different from the “stock” ‘Star Trek’ music. I’ll bet someone said, “We need a guy who will make the audience reach for the Kleenex box.” I think this quality is common in most of his eight ‘Star Trek’ episodes, particularly in “The Empath”. Until I checked IMDB, I had no clue who he was or that he had FIVE Oscar nominations.

    I haven’t seen all of the re-mastered ‘Star Trek’ episodes, but I like what I’ve seen so far…EXCEPT that still shot you posted of Cochran and the high sky. They didn’t improve the rocks…they erased them! What’s wrong with rocks?! It was established in the title credits that the shuttlecraft landed in a rocky area.

    The issue of overshooting the top of a soundstage would never occur to us civilians. I wonder if I spotted another instance while watching “The Night of the Juggernaut” episode from ‘The Wild Wild West’ for the umpteenth time. During the first act, we see the CBS/Studio City indoor Western street. The camera appears to be shooting through an open door of a building at one end of the street and aimed at the opposite end. The top of the picture is cut off by what looks like the roof or canopy overhanging the open door. It’s the start of a six-second scene where the unusually small figure of Mr. West on horseback is coming down the street towards the camera.

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