Review: Nicholas Meyer’s ‘The View From the Bridge: Memories of Star Trek and a Life in Hollywood’

27 years ago Nick Meyer’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, set the standard for Star Trek movies that is still the pinnacle today. That began a decade long relationship for Meyer with the franchise, which he writes about in his new memoir "The View From the Bridge: Memories of Star Trek and a Life in Hollywood." See below for our review

 

The View From the Bridge: Memories of Star Trek and a Life in Hollywood
by Nicholas Meyer
Viking Press – Hardcover

Most any Star Trek fan knows the name Nicholas Meyer. He was, in the early 1980s, a young director/writer whose balance of respect for Star Trek’s characters and disavowance for literally everything else from the franchise (from its costumes to the clean, perfect utopian future heralded by Gene Roddenberry) was a key ingredient in the revival of Star Trek. He had no apotheosis for Star Trek, yet became one of its most important auteurs. It is easy to forget how radically different Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was in music, costuming, set design, language, and themes. Yet at its heart, the characters were true and honest to what makes Star Trek great. It is arguable that Meyer is a main reason Star Trek survives to this day. Along with Michael Piller and Harve Bennett, Meyer belongs to the short list of those who followed in the footsteps of Gene Roddenberry to make Star Trek workable for subsequent generations. This is why his memoir, whose title "The View From the Bridge: Memories of Star Trek and Life in Hollywood" is a riff from the famous Arthur Miller play, is essential reading for any Star Trek and movie fan. The book chronicles Meyer’s experiences in Hollywood, beginning with his comedic telling of being a publicist for films during the 1970s (hilarious and ridiculous corporate decisions abound), all the way to his latest Teddy Roosevelt biopic screenplay. Along the way, there are many thoughtful and controversial commentaries about politics, actors, filmmaking, limitations of artists and art, and of course Star Trek.

For the passionate Trekkie who has listened to Meyer’s excellent commentaries on the Star Trek films or read interviews, there are many good details here that Meyer hasn’t really talked about before. Even the most devoted behind the scenes aficionado will learn new details. For example, Meyer provides all kinds of information on the making of both Star Trek II and Star Trek VI, as he was most intimately involved with these films. There is information about narrative design (including arbitration of credit and battles with Roddenberry), why James Horner and Cliff Eidelman were chosen as composers, the sets, and general musings about the history and philosophy of Star Trek. His discussion of directing Ricardo Montalban is both moving and revealing (as is his excellent tribute to Montalban on the Blu Ray versions of Star Trek II if you haven’t seen it yet). Reading Meyer’s book in 2009, when another young director/writer JJ Abrams, with his own naivety towards Star Trek, has helped reinvigorate the franchise adds to the enjoyment because the active mind will see the same themes of 1982 (TWOK) repeated again in ST09.

Meyer refuses to hold audience’s hands, and his argument in the book (oft repeated in interviews) is that the artist’s interpretation of their art is but a voice. The audience’s interpretation of the film or book is equally valid. Therefore, readers shouldn’t expect to get a detailed discussion of what Khan’s single glove means (although Meyer does give a joke explanation). Instead, learning about Meyer’s past experiences helps readers to appreciate why he may have made certain choices during his Star Trek days. For example, Meyer has had a lifetime affinity for both Horatio Hornblower and Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Star Trek II and VI nautical feeling (from naval language to Horner’s music) has some roots in these personal fascinations. He is an avid Sherlock Holmes and HG Wells fans, something that has influenced both his novels and films (and whose themes resound in Star Trek VI especially with both its obsessions about time (Wells would appreciate "Kronos," the ever present Enterprise bridge clock, the race to Khitomer, the notions of retirement) and its mystery themes (even indirectly referencing Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as an ancestor of Spock)). Of course, none of these connections are explicit in the book which is why it is enjoyable, because Meyer doesn’t make all the connections for the readers. He trusts the audience to make its own decrees. That the book is structured as telling Meyer’s life history "Part 1:Pre Trek", "Part 2: Trek" and "Part 3: Post Trek" reveals both the importance of Star Trek on his public image and professional experiences, and how his past affected his time with Star Trek.

It is refreshing to read a Star Trek biography that doesn’t "talk trash" as so many of those from the casts have (although not every Star Trek experience with Roddenberry, Leonard Nimoy, William Shatner, or the studio were pleasant and Meyer does provide his version of events). Indeed, Meyer speaks candidly about his limitations as a director and writer. He mentions how he is too verbal and thinks in words not images (a real struggle for a film director). His film scripts often need entire sections removed because a single moment on film could be as effective as pages of dialog and it has taken him time to learn this. In both the book and the TWOK Blu-Ray commentary with Manny Coto, Meyer discusses the idea that while he is often praised for the economical camera movements in Star Trek II, it was really the result of his inabilities, not his abilities and accidental art. Meyer’s book shares secrets such as it was producer Robert Salin who thought of and designed Kirk’s dramatic first appearance in Star Trek II. Meyer’s original version was mundane and he is willing to give credit where credit is due.

There is also much to enjoy here for the newer Star Trek fans or for those who just enjoy a good film biography. Meyer has a special place in film history because of Star Trek and non-Star Trek experiences. There are many cool "did you know" moments (such as his directing the famous television movie The Day After, writing scripts for films such as Sommersby, why he is distraught with the alterations made to his screenplay for The Odyssey, and what is like to direct Tom Hanks and John Candy in Volunteers (which is also the film where Rita Wilson and Hanks met). This is an intelligent, often funny, sometimes academic and erudite, and occasionally heart breaking biography. There are some sad moments, especially when Meyer describes losing his wife in 1992 to breast cancer, left to care for his two daughters and there are some jubilant moments, such as the sale of his first book. All in all, there are good lessons about Star Trek, filmmaking, writing, and occasionally even about life.
 

"The View From The Bridge – Memories of Star Trek and a Life in Hollywood" by Nicholas Meyer is out now.


Available at Amazon

Meyer Book Tour
Starting tomorrow Nick Meyer will be touring to support the book at these locations:

  • August 25 at 7:00 PM Book Passage (Corte Madera, CA)
  • August 27 a 7:00 PM Book Soup (Los Angeles, CA)
  • September 2, 7:00 PM Borders Northridge (Northridge, CA)
  • September 10, 7:30 PM Warwick’s (San Diego, CA)
  • September 14,7PM Prairie Lights (Iowa City, IA)
  • September 15, 7PM Barnes & Noble, East 86th St. NYC (New York, NY)
  • October 4, 12:45 PM West Hollywood Book Fair (West Hollywood, CA)

Book Soup offers those not attending the signing event a chance to get a signed edition of the book. Details are at booksoup.com.

 

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Christine
August 24, 2009 3:35 pm

Look REALLY good. I have to check this out!

August 24, 2009 3:36 pm

Big fan of both II and VI. Saw Meyer in LA when they did a little Q&A with him before showing II at Mann’s. Very cool stuff. I dig his commentary on the DVDs too. I shall definitely be reading this!

Harry Ballz
August 24, 2009 3:41 pm

Sounds like Meyer gives a candid recollection of events!

Now, that’s refreshingly different!

conscienceoftheking
August 24, 2009 3:42 pm

Yep-sounds like I’ll be picking this one up.

August 24, 2009 3:46 pm

Read most of it this week, and it really is excellent stuff. Highly recommended for all Trek fans.

However, there are a few factual errors here & there that a good proofreader really should have caught (At one point Meyer refers to TOS as having 66 episodes…). Nothing that really interfered with my enjoyment of the book, but noticeable nonetheless. Hopefully the errors will get fixed in the paperback edition.

OneBuckFilms
August 24, 2009 3:48 pm

I think this is going on my wish list.

The man who made Star Trek II, and describes JJ Abrams’ Star Trek as “Ingenius, but not Genius.” seems like one of the most intelligent, imaginative and literate writer/director in Star Trek.

Daoud
August 24, 2009 4:01 pm

#5 Don’t have a copy yet… was he referring to the 66 episodes, as in “1966” episodes? The ’66 episodes makes sense.. those were some of the best.

mdbchud
August 24, 2009 4:31 pm

Mr Meyer might think in words rather than images, but some of his Wrath of Khan images are among my very favorite in the series. Perhaps my favorite sequence of all the Trek films is the “Genesis Countdown” scene where each shot is a slow zoom in on each character as they say their lines. The effect really heightens the tension of the scene and works perfectly with the score.

Will have to read his book.

Spockish
August 24, 2009 5:09 pm

#7 Daoud one question, how come you say there is 66 episodes and since 1984 Paramount has been marketing the 79 TOS episode DVD set, and before that since the 70’s there has been VHS. I first herd of Betamax tapes in 1975 which at the time cost almost a weeks pay for one episode.

And also on STARTREK [dot] COM they have 79 episodes also listed and their air dates. And this same info is on many other Trek based site.

Spockish
August 24, 2009 5:17 pm

And until JJ Abrams started Star Trek Movie #11, Nick Meyer was the biggest name in Star Trek Movie world. And he was very good if not great at his work. But them Meyer might be seen by today’s groupies as of the Shatner era crowd. But I still think if he was given the bank funds he can make a Star Trek Movie that would live up to JJ’s efforts.

Meyer’s candor and frankness about Trek was what made his work with the franchise so successful. Probably the very best thing he had going for him as he took the Wrath of Khan project was the fact he had *no* Trek “history” of his own to overcome.

Spockish
August 24, 2009 5:19 pm

opps it’s then not them. no ones perfect at typing.

August 24, 2009 5:43 pm

I saw Meyer a couple years back when he did a Q&A for the Director’s Cut Trek VI DVD. Fascinating speaker. Took me a few minutes to figure out why he autographed it “Nicholas Meyer, BSI”, but it’s all elementary! Thanks for the heads up about Book Passage tomorrow. I might have missed it if it weren’t for this site.

August 24, 2009 5:45 pm

It’s not a bad book, but it’s not exactly mindblowing either. It’s a fast and breezy read that skims lightly over a lot of stuff that could have been covered in greater detail.

Oh, and my copy’s a hardcover, not a trade paperback. Did John get an advance reader copy?

Lord garth, Formerly of Izar
August 24, 2009 5:48 pm

If JJ passes directing the next one Meyer must direct!!!!{ Star Trek (II?)}

August 24, 2009 5:50 pm

RE: Hardcover

Yes this book is now in hardcover. That was my error. The advance galleys sent to John and I were TPB.

Also look forward to John’s exclusive interview with Nick Meyer, that should be up next week.

AJ
August 24, 2009 6:08 pm

16:

Anthony. Can’t wait for that. I hope he asked him about the “Robot Chicken” TWOK opera. LOL.

Brett Campbell
August 24, 2009 6:59 pm

Looks like a very interesting read. Very nice review, Mr. Tenuto.

August 24, 2009 7:00 pm

Got it and read it the same day. Highly recommend. I was a fan of his even before TWOK and that made it all the better when he ended up making my fav Trek flick.

TonyD
August 24, 2009 7:43 pm

I posted some of this in another thread but it fits better here. I picked up the book over the weekend and am almost finished (only need to read the post Trek segment).

Meyer has a very conversational and self-deprecating style that makes the text accessible and keeps the reader interested in the narration.

In reading his very lengthy chapter on TWOK, its amazing just how little he knew or cared about Trek when he took on the job. One gets the impression that he was doing it more from instinct and that any similarities to past Trek were more coincidence or serendipity rather than the result of careful planning.

His chapter on TUC is also a good summation of the trials endured to get that movie to the screen and how so many elements had to line up just right to make it happen; I’d forgotten just how much I’d hated the suits and bean-counters at Paramount from that era.

For the hardcore Trek fan, there really isn’t that new much info in the book that hasn’t been discussed before in other books and nitpickers beware as he does get some facts wrong (67 episodes?) but in spite of that it has still been a good read and I never realized that he had been involved in some of the other movies mentioned in the piece.

Definitely worth a read and I can’t help but wonder if he’d be interested in a collaboration with this new Trek crew.

Daoud
August 24, 2009 7:53 pm

Spockish: 1966. With “66 episodes” he might have been referring to ’66, the original season of Star Trek, the first season, which began in 1966. R.I.F.!

We all know damn well how many episodes there are. I can understand if Meyer refers to the ’66 episodes of Trek being the best. Those *15* episodes were all gems, and even if Trek had only been those eps and cancelled before January 1, 1967, it still would have been a superb oeuvre.

Ho Hum De Dum
August 24, 2009 8:25 pm

I look forward to reading the book and insight into the production of several of the Trek movies. Unfortunately, I do not share the view that Meyer singlehandedly “saved the franchise.” Sure, he took it into a different direction but to save something denotes the fact that the prior effort, in this case The Motion Picture, was a total and complete disaster, which it was not.

So, lets not color history by looking backward with fogged up glasses shall we?

The Weary Professor
August 24, 2009 8:30 pm

“Meyer speaks candidly about his limitations as a director”

Is that why the cover of his book is out of focus?

Spockish
August 24, 2009 8:41 pm

to #21, sorry for the miss understanding, when I first read your posting in #7 I was being bugged by my cat that wanted attention. She loves rubbing up against my face and brushing her big bushy tail in my face. I guess she has learned how to get attention in return and is a good distractor.

I think TOS first aired on Sept. 14th, 1966, the first one I saw was in the fall of 1968, called Omega Glory. And in the 70’s watched the series daily until it stopped airing on either of the two channels it was on at diffrent times. The channels were KOA/KCNC ch#4 and KWGN ch#2. KCNC or at the time was labeled KOA the first 3 years from 73 to 76 the KWGN every year after. It also had TNG & DSN then UPN started in 95 and had Voyager and Enterprise.

I wonder if there ever will be a Star Trek Channel in the Net and air all the time one of the 636 shows or movies for free with out the cutting of time. Like now the TOSe episodes are only 36 minutes and they were made as 50 to 48 minutes long. They can still have TV ads but need to show full shows and not be limited to hour segments that TV is set on.

Joe Coatar
August 24, 2009 9:14 pm

If anything Meyer paved the way for under-budgeted Trek to flurish, a trend that JJ seems to have reversed

KMart
August 24, 2009 9:15 pm

#14, Steve,

Is this just sort of a rehash of all the old interviews and such?

In the review above, it mentions the REVELATION of Sallin designing Kirk’s intro, but that’s not really giving away credit, because Meyer has always said he had Kirk outside in the hall reading before it got changed. So he never took credit for it before (I thought it was from Minor’s boards myself.)

If this is just MeyerTrek101 for those who missed some earlier articles, then is it just a cash-in, or is there any value in it for those of us who have read all that came before?

I

AJ
August 24, 2009 11:01 pm

George Lucas saved Star Trek.

captain_neill
August 24, 2009 11:42 pm

I hope a lot of the new fans see TWOK and realise it is a much better film than the new one.

Nick Meyer is a much better director than JJ Abrams in my opinion.

Steamblade
August 25, 2009 1:21 am

27. Boy, did you just unleash Hell. I’m not arguing your point, but you went THERE.

Anyway, let Meyer direct the next movie. At least it won’t be a trip through Blinding Lights “R” Us.

Spacecraft Guy
August 25, 2009 5:21 am

I read the book last night, and honestly I think that your money is better spent getting the Trek DVDs and listening to Mr. Meyer’s commentary.

Most of what he relates in the book I’ve read somewhere before, and the errors in the book don’t reflect well on Mr. Meyer’s memory – he states that ILM was “across the Bay from San Francisco, in San Mateo” (It was north of SF, in San Rafael – San Mateo is 20 – 25 miles south of SF on the Peninsula), that ” the Genesis Device Explosion was filmed at Candlestick Park” (Which was an outdoor baseball/football stadium without a roof – the explosion was filmed indoors at the Cow Palace, a few miles away from Candlestick).

I thought that the most interesting parts of the book were the commentaries that he makes at the end of the chapters about the Trek films, reflecting about those experiences from today’s perspective.

MJD
August 25, 2009 5:28 am

Meyer’s influence on Trek cannot be over estimated. Can’t wait to get it.

Spockish
August 25, 2009 5:32 am

To AJ over comment post #27,

That comment is about as friendly as wearing a ‘I love G.W. Bush T-shirt at a Anti War Convention’.

Maybe we’ll make you go to a NAR Convention wearing a poster saying ‘Guns can only be used, owned, or bought by government’

It may be true that ‘A New Hope’ added in moving Paramount’s money from the future series of ‘Star Trek Phase Two’ in the winter of 1977 to a movie which became ST:TMP. But Star Wars is not the only thing in Star Wars, just as Star Trek is not either. I think that I have just as valid a statement as saying 2001 is more of saving Sci-Fi movies after Planet of the Apes movies may have almost stopped Good budgeted Sci-Fi moves.

I know 2001 came out between Apes#1 & Apes#2 and carried on until 1973 and I’ll guess the 2001 movie was no longer at the movies, and the TV series was in 73&74, but all that stuff would create many more disagreements.

kmart
August 25, 2009 5:49 am

Uh, folks, ONE MORE TIME … SW came out as the trek movie that Kaufmann was going to do — and already had a start date! — got CANCELLED. Phase II came about AFTER SW released, and was then abandoned months later.

TREK as a feature was going to happen whether or not SW happened, but if Par was smart, they’d have gotten their act together and gotten it out there BEFORE SW and really cleaned up like no trek ever has … the demand was there, just no product.

Michael
August 25, 2009 5:51 am

Unless this book hits audio, I’m out. I’d much rather hear this author’s word’s, than to read the same old revelations I’ve read in articles for years.

August 25, 2009 6:38 am

Meyer should be consulted for story ideas before they start penning the next script.

Daoud
August 25, 2009 7:05 am

#29 Fascinating point… Meyer’s tone used in TWOK and TUC is exactly the type of direction that Star Trek (Mark) 2 (use the digit, not the Roman) should take! After all, Vulcan has been destroyed. The tone should take a lesson from nuBSG (but not too much lesson!) and be a bit more somber and less lens-flare-flashy. It would “fit”.

The NERO I incident of 2233 and NERO II incident of 2258 should together have seriously altered the complexion of the fleet again. Perhaps to something more “recognizable”? If the 2233 incident altered the timeline, perhaps the denouement of Nero in 2258 alters it again back towards how we saw 2266 previously. In any case… bringing in Meyer is a great option for JJ if he chooses to focus on directing M:I:IV.

Also, Meyer is great with ship pieces, which an Axanar-focused story with the Laurentian system gathered fleet led by Garth; a Romulan wing led by The Commander Who Looketh Like Sarek (yep, cast Ben Cross ;); in a “war triangle” with the Klingons led by Kor or Kang would be. And of course you know that Ambassador Fox is the one who made the whole mess….

THX-1138
August 25, 2009 8:21 am

Finally, a new Trek book I will actually buy.

Demode
August 25, 2009 8:29 am

I really wish the powers that be would give him a TNG film to direct, to end that series on a high note.

August 25, 2009 9:43 am

@24, Spockish – Star Trek first aired on September 8, 1966 (my dad’s birthday – that’s how I know), after being pushed up a week from September 15 (there is an NBC Star Trek promo on YouTube with that date on it).

And you call yourself a Trek fan! :-)

Kobyashi_Maru (The Real One)
August 25, 2009 10:49 am

By far the best two star trek movies…II and VI.

Shatner_Fan_Prime
August 25, 2009 11:00 am

Fascinating. I remember reading in Cinefantastique, circa 1991/92, that the Rura Penthe scenes were originally supposed to include some of the guest characters from TOS. I always wondered who they considered.

captain_neill
August 25, 2009 12:24 pm

38

Apparently he was offered to direct Star Trek Nemesis as Rick Berman wanted him but Meyer understandly want input into the script.

Unfortunately Berman had promisedJohn Logan script control on that picture so Meyer turned it down. Perhaps if Logan was not promised script control Meyer could have done Nemesis.

I would have loved Meyer to do a TNG movie.

Author of The Vulcan Neck Pinch for Fathers
August 25, 2009 12:28 pm

@22 – ” Unfortunately, I do not share the view that Meyer singlehandedly “saved the franchise.”

I didn’t think this was subject to debate anymore?

From Meyer’s and Bennett’s own words in the DVD Director’s Cut, Bennett was asked “can you make a better movie, and make it for less than 45 million (blanking) dollars?” And he, Meyer, and even Nimoy were working the movie “as if this was the end of Star Trek…”

…and when Meyer came on board, he changed EVERYTHING he could about the appearance of the film…costumes, music, theming, lighting, you name it, he changed it – everything short of the Enterprise herself.

It wasn’t until they started screening the movie that they realized they had a potential hit, and started thinking about a sequel.

If going from “this is the last movie” to “let’s do a sequel” isn’t saving the franchise, bless me if I know what is…

August 25, 2009 2:23 pm

#7 Daoud: Flipping through my copy again, I cannot find the exact page where Meyer refers to the number of TOS episodes. Your interpretation hadn’t occured to me, but it sounds plausible. Maybe this was just as simple as a missing apostrophe. :)

If I can find the exact reference, I’ll quote it here.

August 25, 2009 2:33 pm

OK, I found it!

Page 97, middle of the page, talking about the TOS cast: “For sixty-seven episodes, those roles had paid their bills (this was before residuals) before the show was cancelled.”

Seems like he’s definitely talking about the number of eps, not the year in which they were made. Not a vital error, but one that pops out to a TOS fan (which Meyer has never claimed to be).

PicardKirk Forever!
August 25, 2009 5:31 pm

Thank you for the information! I just reserved my copy. I wish that I could go to the event in person, but I am across the country.

Ho Hum De Dum Part II
August 25, 2009 5:41 pm
@43 You obviously were not alive when TMP first came out or obviously were not aware of things going on at the time. Gene Roddenberry was asked by the studio for sequel ideas even BEFORE the movie was released. Paramount knew it had a success at the time, so why do people now refer to that period in time as the end (beginning and end). Read Susan Sackett’s book on the Making of TMP and you will find in the last chapter about the future of Trek. I even remember watching Good Morning America and a Rona Barrett report, in Jan of ’80, where her inside sources indicated that Paramount was indeed planning on a sequel because of the success of the first movie. To some it was not the Star Wars that it was hyped to be, but this is not Star Wars. Again, we have an example of people picking up pieces and bits of information from a source or two, maybe five, but still getting it wrong. Do not get me wrong, I enjoy ST II as much as everyone, but due to the cheapness of which the film was made (remember this was made by Paramount’s TV Division), it perpetuates the joke that the movies are extended tv episodes. Shatner didn’t even cry when Spock died. His best friend! I don’t know about you but if my best friend died, I would cry. Its one of a few things that bothers me everytime I see that… Read more »
CarlG
August 25, 2009 7:00 pm

@47: Your mileage may vary — I thought Kirk struggling to keep it together over the eulogy, and his voice catching as he said “.. his was the most… human” was far more affecting and effective than if hed been a sobbing wreck.

This sounds like an interesting read. I really enjoyed Meyer’s DVD commentary on TWOK, but he’s a bit dry to listen to. Meyer in book form sounds ideal.

Dom
August 26, 2009 3:27 am

48. CarlG: ‘Your mileage may vary — I thought Kirk struggling to keep it together over the eulogy, and his voice catching as he said “.. his was the most… human” was far more affecting and effective than if hed been a sobbing wreck.’

Agreed: Kirk had too much dignity to blub and if he had, he knew that wherever Spock was, he would have been appalled. Kirk breaking down over the death of his son was more understandable.

47. Ho Hum De Dum Part II: ‘Read Susan Sackett’s book on the Making of TMP and you will find in the last chapter about the future of Trek.’

Susan Sackett is hardly an unbiased source and claiming there are sequels in the pipeline in a ‘Making of . . .’ book is hardly unusual, even if it’s untrue!

DGill
August 26, 2009 9:15 am

I should definitely pick this up. The review was pretty good, but I strongly disagree with the brief comparison between Meyer and JJ Abrams. I just don’t see them as being in the same league. I think Meyer handled the mythos and dynamics of Trek way better than Abrams did.

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