Nicholas Meyer was the guest of honor at New Beverly Cinema on August 12, 2012 where “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” was being shown. This classic sequel was being screened as a double feature with John Carpenter’s “The Thing” as part of the New Beverly’s tribute to movies from the summer of 1982. Meyer thanked the sold-out audience for showing up and admitted it was “preferable to being outside in this weather” where the temperature was inching closer to triple digit territory.
Actually, seeing Meyer appear in person for a screening for “Star Trek II” was a bit of a surprise. Last year, American Cinematheque presented a film program of the first six “Star Trek” movies, but Meyer politely declined to appear for the “Star Trek II” screening because he felt his head would explode if he was asked another question about it. In a sense, you have to be sympathetic to him because this is now a 30-year-old movie, and he has probably been asked every conceivable question about it. Meyer even went out of his way to tell audiences at the start, “I’m sorry if you’ve heard all these stories before. These stories can also be found in my memoir entitled ‘The View from The Bridge: Memories of Star Trek and a Life in Hollywood.’”
Meyer recalled how, after directing “Time After Time,” he wanted to do an adaptation of a Robertson Davies novel and would not consider anything else. But one evening while he was “flipping burgers” in his backyard, Meyer said a friend of his, an executive at Paramount Pictures, encouraged him to meet with producer Harve Bennett about the new “Star Trek” movie. Meyer ended up asking his executive friend, “Is that the show with the man with pointy ears?”
He met with Bennett who had gotten his start as a television producer on shows like “The Mod Squad” and “The Six Million Dollar Man,” and Meyer said they both remain friends to this day. Bennett ended up getting Meyer to watch “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” and episodes of the original “Star Trek” series so he could get familiar with the show and its characters.
Watching the show, Meyer said, “reminded me of something I loved as a kid” but he couldn’t recall what exactly. But it was late one night when he woke up at 4 a.m. in the morning that Meyer suddenly remembered: “Star Trek” reminded him of Captain Horatio Hornblower, a fictional sea captain who sailed the sea during the Napoleonic Wars in novels written by C.S. Forester. Meyer then envisioned this movie as “Captain Hornblower in space,” and from there he said he got a “hard on for doing a space opera.”
Four drafts had already been written for “Star Trek II,” and Bennett told Meyer Paramount was currently waiting on number five. Meyer said he had asked Bennett for the fifth draft and eventually got it after a delay, describing it as being 180 pages long and that he didn’t understand what he was reading. Meyer said he then asked Bennett if he could read the fourth draft, and he said Bennett ended up telling him, “Look kid, you don’t understand, all those previous drafts were just attempts at making a second ‘Star Trek’ movie.”
Meyer said he then suggested to Bennett they get all the previous drafts, read them over and then make a list of things they liked so he could try and weave them into a new script. The only problem was Industrial Light & Magic needed a script in 12 days so they could prepare the special effects for the opening. Meyer said he then asked Bennett, “What opening?”
“Star Trek II” already had a date it was set to arrive in theaters on, and this made writing a new script problematic. Bennett said it would take too much time to make Meyer a deal to get an additional writing credit, and Meyer ended up telling him, “Look, forget about the deal, forget about the writing credit, forget about the money. We don’t work on this new script now, there will be no movie.” Among the ideas kept from the previous drafts were the Genesis Device, Lieutenant Saavik (played by Kirstie Alley), and Captain Kirk as a dad.
When asked about what it was like working with the “Star Trek” actors, Meyer responded, “Have you seen the movie ‘Galaxy Quest?’ That movie was made for me!”
Meyer said the actors were very helpful in terms of crafting the script as they had already inhabited these characters for many years. Much of the talk, however, was on William Shatner whom Meyer described as “a very good actor.” Meyer also said Shatner was “very protective” of Kirk and that he is always the hero and in your face. In directing Shatner, Meyer described him as getting better the more he did a scene because he started getting bored to where he stopped striking an attitude and just became Kirk. This led Meyer to creating excuses to shoot scenes with Shatner over and over again like saying, “The sound’s not right there…”
There was also much talk about the late Ricardo Montalban who played Khan, and Meyer recollected he gave Montalban a copy of “Moby Dick” when they first met to talk about the movie. As an actor, Meyer said Montalban “hit all his marks” perfectly, but that he had to rein the actor in during Khan’s introduction. The character’s opening scene sounded like a rant, Meyer said, when Montalban first performed it, and he ended up taking the actor to the side and told him about a famous piece of acting advice once given by Sir Laurence Olivier:
“You shouldn’t show the audience your top because if you do, then you will have nowhere to go.”
When asked why Kirk and Khan never shared a scene together, Meyer said he didn’t realize this was the case while he was writing the script, and he found it impossible to put them together in a two-shot. Meyer then joked that these characters have Skype and that their conversations had to take place this way. He also answered the question he is most asked when it comes to talking about Montalban, “Yes, that is his real chest.”
Looking back at “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” these days, it does appear to represent one of Hollywood’s first attempts at a franchise reboot as the original, while a commercial success, was not well-received critically. While he probably has answered every conceivable question regarding this movie, it was still great to see Nicholas Meyer at New Beverly Cinema as he has been responsible for some of the very best “Star Trek” movies made so far, and his talent as a writer and director remains strong to this day.