Nicholas Meyer on the Making of ‘Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country’

Nicholas Meyer on the set of Star Trek VI

WRITER’S NOTE: This article was originally written back in 2011.

With “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country,” co-writer and director Nicholas Meyer described it as being different from the previous films in the franchise due to it being “political in context.” At a Q&A which was held after a screening of it at the Egyptian Theatre, Nicholas said the story came about when he met with Leonard Nimoy. The story focuses on the Federation making an uneasy truce with their longtime enemies the Klingons, and it deliberately reflected the relations between the United States and Russia at the time the film was made.

Nimoy described the idea of having an “intergalactic Chernobyl” and of “the wall coming down in space” to Meyer, and the story came out from there. As it happens, the coup which took place in Russia happened around the time “Star Trek VI” was released, and Meyer said his dentist saw how the film predicted it would happen. His response was to see “The Undiscovered Country” again as he didn’t realize this was the case.

Watching it today made Meyer realize there was no way anyone could have anticipated the changes coming, be it the collapse of the Soviet Union or the current events in the Middle East. He said it all makes the Cold War seem good in retrospect. Indeed, with the wars being fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, the scene where Spock forces a mind meld on Lieutenant Valeris to get information now seems like torture. Although Meyer said Spock’s intention in the scene was to just get information, he winces at it now and says it’s hard to watch when Valeris moans in Vulcan agony.

For the character of Klingon General Chang, Meyer freely admitted he wrote the part with Christopher Plummer in mind. This was largely due to how he loved listening to Plummer’s recording of “Henry V,” and he made it clear to the film’s casting director, Mary Jo Slater, that she should not come back to Hollywood without him. Incidentally, Mary’s son, whom you just might recognize, makes a cameo in the film as an officer aboard the Starship Excelsior.

“Star Trek VI” was the last movie which featured the original crew of the starship Enterprise. Meyer described every day as being “normal” until the last one. At that point, the whole cast became very cranky, and they forgot lines of dialogue which some of them did not like in the first place. The whole cast had been together for 30 years, and since they go back a long way, they approached the end of it all in a very “bewildered” state. One thing’s for sure, the signatures from the cast at the movie’s end were not hokey in the slightest.

This also turned out to be the last “Star Trek” movie which series creator Gene Roddenberry got to see before he died. Meyer said his interactions with Roddenberry were “minimal” as Roddenberry was not officially involved with the movies after “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” and was relegated to being an “executive consultant.” Apparently, Roddenberry was incensed that the screenplay for “Star Trek VI” made the crew out to be racist, but it did give this movie its much needed dramatic conflict. He died three days after he viewing a rough cut of it, and the movie is dedicated to his memory just as it should have been.

Looking back, “Star Trek VI” questions whether we have reached the end of history, and it is clear we have certainly not. It served as a perfect swan song for the original cast and was a much better movie than its predecessor (“Star Trek V: The Final Frontier”) which almost destroyed the franchise. It also provided us with one of the greatest pieces of dialogue ever in a “Star Trek” movie:

“You’ve never experienced Shakespeare until you’ve read him in the original Klingon.”

So true!

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All-Time Favorite Trailers: ‘Naked Lunch’

William S. Burroughs’ “Naked Lunch” is a novel you may not have read, but you have definitely heard of it. Due to its subject matter which involves drug addiction (be it heroin, morphine or hashish) and obscene language which people back in 1959 had yet to become numbed to, it was banned in the American states of Boston and Los Angeles. Still, the more people tried to suppress the novel’s existence, the more people came to discover it. Eventually, filmmakers became keen to adapt this controversial novel into a motion picture, and it makes perfect sense David Cronenberg would be the one to successfully do so.

I love how this movie trailer starts off with black and white footage of Burroughs back in the 1950’s as we hear him (his voice was done by an impersonator) talking about how “Naked Lunch” was described by critics as being “disgusting,” “pornographic” and “un-American trash.” Upon its publication, it became a subject for discussion at town hall meetings and book burnings, the latter which is in itself deeply un-American. Burroughs in his impersonated laconic voice, revels at how big a mark his novel made on the American public, and I loved how he talked about how Hollywood in its “infinite wisdom” decided to make a movie out of it 30 years later.

From there, the trailer shifts into color mode as we watch scenes from Cronenberg’s movie which feature Peter Weller, who turned down “Robocop 3” to do this, Judy Davis, Roy Scheider and Julian Sands among others. The visuals Cronenberg gives us here make this motion picture seem wonderfully unique among so many others released back in the 1990’s, and the Canadian filmmaker was still riding high on the success of his remake of “The Fly” which led him to make this and the deeply unsettling “Dead Ringers” with Jeremy Irons.

Why is this movie trailer among my favorites? Well, it makes “Naked Lunch” out to be a unique motion picture like no other, and it revels at how such a controversial novel could still be made into a movie even when so many tried to squash its existence from our collective consciousness. Plus, you don’t see trailers like this anymore as Hollywood is playing it safe now more than ever. Studio executives would not be quick to green light such a controversial tale in a time when superheroes continue to reign supreme at the local multiplex. Then again, the sight of Burroughs wearing a cape would be a fascinating sight in this day and age.

Sadly, Cronenberg’s “Naked Lunch” was a box office bomb as it grossed only $2.6 million against a budget of around $18 million. Then again, it didn’t help that 20th Century Fox put it out in a limited release and put little effort in expanding it beyond five theaters. Regardless, it has since become a cult film and garnered a special release on DVD and Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection. After all these years, many continue to empower what they do their damndest to resist.

Naked Lunch movie poster

Worst Movie Trailers Ever: ‘Return to the Blue Lagoon’

Return to the Blue Lagoon poster

I still vividly remember watching the trailer for this sequel at Crow Canyon Cinemas where it played before a screening of “Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey.” I could hear and feel the audience’s disdain for “Return to the Blue Lagoon” to where I kept waiting for them to erupt into a chorus of boos. This trailer made this sequel to “The Blue Lagoon” look infinitely lame as well as completely unnecessary. The trailer’s narrator talked of how the 1980 original was “the first movie to explore the innocence of natural love,” and my eyes immediately rolled up in the back of my head. Oh lord…

Seriously, was anyone begging for a follow up to Randal Kleiser’s 1980 film which starred Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins? While “The Blue Lagoon” was a huge hit which made almost $60 million and only cost between $4 and $5 million to make, it was critically eviscerated in a way few movies were at the time. Indeed, its portrayal of these two kids living an idyllic existence and developing outside of what is considered civilized society is laughable to say the least, and the overly dramatic score by the late Basil Poledouris made things even more cringe-inducing to where watching this movie on mute made it slightly easier to digest.

The trailer for “Return to the Blue Lagoon” made this sequel look like it will be an exact photocopy of its predecessor as it features Milla Jovovich (in her breakthrough performance) and Brian Krause going through the same motions as Shields and Atkins did before them. When Jovovich tells Krause how she realizes she is now a woman, I did my best to stifle a laugh and failed. When the narrator says “through the eyes of innocence, they discover their sensuality,” I did a facepalm. Remember those unintentionally hilarious videos we watched in health class? Watching this trailer reminded me of them.

Movie trailers are supposed to get you excited about what they are advertising, not give you a reason to avoid it altogether. The one for “Return to the Blue Lagoon,” however, gave us more than enough reason to not bother taking a second trip to that deserted island. The sequel opened in theaters on August 2, 1991 and grossed only $3 million dollars against a budget of $11 million. Jovovich has since said this was the worst movie she has ever done, and I imagine any of the “Resident Evil” sequels are vastly more entertaining to sit through.

The only other thing which may have kept audiences away from “Return to the Blue Lagoon” was perhaps sheer jealousy. Krause got to make out with Jovovich while we sat back and watched. Deep down, you had to feel jealous about that. Rod Stewart was right, some guys have all the luck.

Feel free to check out the misbegotten trailer below.

Soundtrack Review: ‘Grand Canyon’ Extended Edition

Grand Canyon soundtrack cover

Anybody who knows me best knows I am a huge fan of film scores and soundtracks, and James Newton Howard’s score to “Grand Canyon” is one of my all-time favorites. I knew at some point this score would get an expanded and remastered soundtrack, and La La Land Records finally came through with this limited-edition release. While he is better known for his music to “The Prince of Tides,” “The Fugitive,” “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight” which he worked with Hans Zimmer on, “Grand Canyon” remains my favorite work of his as the music provides a soothing heartbeat to this movie.

The movie “Grand Canyon” came out in 1991 and was directed by Lawrence Kasdan and written by him and his wife Meg. Its story revolves around six different Los Angeles residents whose lives intertwine with one another over the course of a few days. It all starts when Mac (Kevin Kline), while driving home from a Lakers game, drives into a bad neighborhood where his car breaks down. Just when it looks like he’s about to be killed by a gang, tow truck driver Simon (Danny Glover) rescues him and the two end up becoming unlikely friends. Many called it “The Big Chill” of the 1990’s, but “Grand Canyon” more than stands on its own as it observes the lives of Los Angeles residents who are dealing with personal issues which are tearing them apart.

What I love about Howard’s score is how it combines so many different kinds of music, be it orchestra, electronics, rock, jazz or percussion, to create a film score so unique to where I have a hard time comparing it to any other. It captures the coldness of big city life while giving the characters stuck in it a sympathetic voice which understands how they feel. The “Main Titles” hooked me right away and made me feel so at ease even though I knew this movie was not going to be a fairy tale.

La La Land Records limited edition release of “Grand Canyon” includes twenty-five minutes of music not included on its original release. Soundtracks, back in the 1990’s, were limited to having only forty to fifty minutes of music on a compact disc, so a lot of great stuff got left out as a result. It’s been over twenty years since this movie came out, but the music remains as powerful as ever. In addition, there are some bonus tracks which are alternate takes on certain themes as well as some source music for a violent film which Davis (Steve Martin) has produced with an unrestrained glee.

As usual, La La Land Records has provided an informative booklet on the making of “Grand Canyon” and its music which is entitled “Scoring the City of Angels” written by Daniel Schweiger, soundtrack editor of AssignmentX.com and Filmmusicmag.com. Schweiger writes extensively about the making of the movie and of how Howard came up with the music for it, and I’m not sure we have had as much detailed information on the creation of this score previously. Each track on this disc gets an individual write up, and it’s nice to see someone, let alone anyone, give this soundtrack the attention it deserves.

If there’s any downside to this edition of the “Grand Canyon” soundtrack, it’s that it doesn’t include the song “Searching for a Heart” by the late Warren Zevon. Usually La La Land Records is able to get all the songs from a movie’s original soundtrack, but I guess there was an issue with the rights this time around. It would have also been great to have the other Zevon song featured in this movie, “Lawyers, Guns and Money,” included as well. Mac plays it while he’s driving home from the Lakers game, and the lyrics turn out to be quite prophetic for him.

“Grand Canyon” is truly one of the unsung cinematic masterpieces of the 1990’s, and what’s sad is most people don’t know about this movie today. This proved to be my introduction to the work of James Newton Howard, and it is one of the main reasons why this movie is so great. I am thrilled to see La La Land Records has taken the time to make Howard’s score sound better than ever before. While he didn’t get an Oscar nomination for his work here (he was instead nominated that same year for “The Prince of Tides”), there’s no doubt in my mind this remains his most memorable film score to date.

This limited edition has only 2000 units available, so be sure to order yours before it goes out of print.