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Following the screening of Star Trek III over the weekend I had a short (and very frank) chat with Ralph Winter, who worked on five of the Star Trek films and he gave his assessment as to why Star Trek IV was so successful and why Star Trek V was a failure.
Winter: on success of Star Trek II and IV and failure of Star Trek V – "we almost killed the franchise"
Ralph Winter was both a participant and witness to Trek history, as he rose through the ranks at Paramount during the original series era of Star Trek films in the 80s, eventually becoming producer for Star Trek VI in 1991. He has since gone on to have a successful career as a producer in Hollywood, including producing all four X-Men movies.
After the Star Trek III Q&A over the weekend (see previous story) I had a few extra minutes with Ralph Winter and asked him which of the five Trek films he worked on was his favorite, and this launched into an interesting contrast between Star Trek II & IV vs. Star Trek V.
Ralph Winter on success of Star Trek II and Star Trek IV:
Winter: Star Trek II was a favorite. Nick [Meyer] was fun to work with and I loved Time After Time, so it was my first movie to get really involved with, so it was a lot of fun. But on Star Trek IV we were firing on all cylinders. We got to go on location. The script was a little more light-hearted, Star Trek III was a really heavy story. I just think [director] Leonard [Nimoy] learned a lot, he was firing on all cylinders. We finished a little early. We saw the film a few days after we wrapped and we were all poking each other going "this is pretty good, this is going to work". We came in under budget. All the stars aligned for Star Trek IV.
Original crew in "Star Trek IV" – a film Winter sees as the most successful
Ralph Winter on failure of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier:
Winter: We had fun and felt good about IV, that wasn’t the case on V. I think on V we were smoking our own press releases. We made the mistake of searching for god. That is what the first movie did. What did we think we were going to find? What did we expect? We were focused and we wrote a good script. Larry Luckinbill (Sybok) was terrific. There were a lot of good things about it. I think we were, not delusional, but we almost killed the franchise.
And, unfortunately I almost killed the franchise in terms of the visual effects. We felt like we got taken advantage of by ILM and so we shopped to go to other places. We found a guy in New York, Bran Ferren, who had a pretty good approach to doing the effects, but ultimately they were horrible. And the combination of a story that was not working, it just wasn’t commercial, the effects were terrible – we almost killed the franchise, it almost died.
Nimoy, Luckinbill, Kelley and Shatner look at ‘god’ in "Star Trek V" – Winter thinks bad story and effects almost doomed franchise
William Shatner has stated that some of the problems with Star Trek V were due to Paramount not provided the film an appropriate budget. I asked Winter if he felt that the film was short-changed by the studio:
Winter: I don’t agree that Paramount short-changed the movie. They didn’t give [Shatner] as much money for the story that he wanted to tell, but remember Star Trek II was done for $12 Million, and III was done for just under $16 Million, and IV came in a million under budget at $21 Million – I have a letter at home from the president of the studio that shows that. And I think we did the fifth movie at around or just under $30 Million, so it was more. But what he wanted to do was a big grander thing. But I don’t think more money would have made the movie better.
‘Rock Man’ test for "Star Trek V" sequence cut for budget – Winter says more money wouldn’t have helped
Of course the franchise didn’t die. Winter and Star Trek came back in 1991 with the successful TOS era finale, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Following the poor financial and critical performance of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, in 1989 Paramount went into a debate on how to proceed with the franchise. Harve Bennett, producer of Star Trek II, III, IV and V decided the best route would be to do an academy film prequel, and he even co-wrote a "Star Trek: Starfleet Academy" script with Star Trek V scribe David Loughery. However, Paramount felt that they wanted to celebrate the 25th anniversary with just one more film with the original crew. Bennett dug in his heels and eventually left when Paramount wouldn’t go his way, which allowed Ralph Winter to rise to full producer on Star Trek VI. You can see Winter talk more about this, including how Bennett wanted Winter to join him in his protest walk-out, during our Star Trek III Q&A (click
Final moment of "Star Trek VI" – Winter returned to produce the original crew’s successful finale
So Ralph Winter has weighed in, what say you?