Review: Nicholas Meyer’s ‘The View From the Bridge: Memories of Star Trek and a Life in Hollywood’ August 24, 2009by John Tenuto , Filed under: Books,Feature Films (TMP-NEM) , trackback
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.
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.