This year marks the 25th anniversary of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. The film is considered by many (including J.J. Abrams) to be the best of the 10 film series and the benchmark by which other films are compared. The film was directed (and written) by Nicholas Meyer, who went on to co-write Star Trek IV and VI (which he also directed. Meyer recently appeared at the screening of the film (part of Geek Magazine’s ‘1982 Geekiest Year Ever’ Series). I had a moment to talk to Mr. Meyer at the event about his views on the film so many years later, if he would make any CGI changes, why he isn’t credited as a writer and his views of the franchise going forward. (Interview below)
TREKMOVIE.COM: Can you sit back and enjoy the film like an audience member, or do you still see it as a film maker and worry about all little details?
NICK MEYER: It is interesting that you ask right now, because I was just watching and I was aware of the hairs rising on the back of my neck. I was genuinely thrilled as the Enterprise leaves spacedock. I was very excited and had a bag of popcorn in my hand and I don’t think my reaction was different than anyone else’s.
TREKMOVIE.COM: But you probably weren’t so relaxed on opening night?
NICK MEYER: All works of art, good bad or indifferent, time does something to clarify what they are. When Stravinsky’s “Le Sacre du Printemps” was premiered there was a riot in the theater and Stravinsky had to sneak out of Paris, but fifty years later it is the soundtrack to Fantasia and no one thinks anything of it. Artists tend to be ahead of the curve and everybody else has to sort of catch up. That doesn’t mean that the artist is wildly conformable or secure with what they are doing…at least not for me. You go with your gut.
TREKMOVIE.COM: When you got the job for Khan, how much freedom did you have? What was your mandate from Paramount?
NICK MEYER: Barry Diller said to me that one of his most wrenching moments as head of Paramount, was seeing lines around the block for Star Trek The Motion Picture and knowing that in his opinion the movie didn’t deliver. The movie made a profit not withstanding that it was a runaway production at the time…it went up to $45million in 1979. So my mandate was to make a movie for a lot less money. That was the only mandate that I had.
TREKMOVIE.COM: You made a lot of changes from the original film in both the characters and the production design…Did you have in mind that you were setting a new tone for the franchise?
NICK MEYER: No absolutely not. All I was doing was making a movie they way I thought it should be made. Because all the studio cared about was that we weren’t breaking the bank. People read the script when I turned it in and they were very pleased.
TREKMOVIE.COM: You have told the story about how you were originally only going to direct the film, but you had to write the script because you and Harve Bennett didn’t like any of the five previous attempts at a script. So why are you are not credited as the writer?
NICK MEYER: It is long silly story. Basically when I made the suggestion that I take all the things we liked from the other scripts and put them together in a new script Harve Bennett and Bob Salin, said that ILM said that if we don’t have a script in twelve days they cannot guarantee delivery of the shots in time for the opening. I said ‘I can do this in twelve days lets get on with it.’ And they said ‘we couldn’t make your deal in twelve days’ and I said ‘forget my deal, forget the credit, forget the money…I am here as the director, but if I am not here as the writer right now there is not going to be any movie.’ So I just wrote it and they put somebody’s name on it. In fact I think they put Harve’s name on it first, but he later told me he lost the arbitration.
TREKMOVIE.COM: One of the recent trends is to go back to original work and to add new CGI effects. Lucas did it, CBS is doing it with the Original Series, Robert Wise did it with the first movie. Paramount will get around to re-releasing your Trek movies in HD…what do you think of the trend of adding new effects and is that something you would be interested in?
NICK MEYER: The only reason I would do it is to control what was being done, but I don’t really believe in it. It is like saying ‘there are synthesizers now, we should take Beethoven’s Fifth and re-orchestrate it for synthesizer’ I think works of art ought to have some kind of integrity where you don’t sort of fuck with it.
TREKMOVIE.COM: In the case of the first film, Robert Wise felt that he never got a chance to finish the film the way he wanted to. With his ‘Director’s Edition’ there were things he could do digitally that he wished he could have done originally…
NICK MEYER: Did it make it better?
TREKMOVIE.COM: Many would say ‘yes’…especially with the final scenes do now fit more with the original plans
NICK MEYER: The only scene I would tinker with is there is a wide angle scene with them on the planet that is very hokey. We didn’t have the money to do it right so if their stuff could improve it I would say OK, but I really think some of the charm about pieces of art is that they are from a certain time. It is like colorizing black and white movies. I don’t want black and white movies colored, I think it is an insult. And it is rewriting history finally…rewriting history is very dangerous. Are we now going to take out anti-semetic references in this movie or anti-black references in that movie because it unpalatable now. We have the technology we can make them say something else. I don’t think so.
TREKMOVIE.COM: Do you know JJ Abrams?
NICK MEYER: Yes I was at his bar mitzvah. He is the son of my friend Jerry [Gerald Abrams]
TREKMOVIE.COM: Did you know Star Trek II is his favorite Trek movie
NICK MEYER: No I didn’t but I am glad he likes it.
TREKMOVIE.COM: Some have said that this moment is like when came in with a new team 25 years ago, even calling Abrams ‘the new Nick Meyer.’ So do you have any advice for young JJ?
NICK MEYER: Go with your gut.
TREKMOVIE.COM: Apparently the plan is for them to get back to basics and return to the Original Series. What do you think are the basics of Trek…what is at the heart of Trek?
NICK MEYER: Gosh…men against the universe…a Howard Hawksian idea. I don’t know, I am not a very analytical person. I am more intuitive, that is why I say ‘go with your gut.’ I have never been able to account for the success of this. I think its optimism, its belief calls to us. The notion that people can work together and that at the end of the day everybody is human. Whether that is true or not is another question, but I think that it’s a pleasant daydream. But beyond that I can’t presume to give him advice [laughs] He is very successful.
VIDEO: Watch One Hour of Nick Meyer talking Star Trek and much more
GeekMonthly.com have put up videos of the post film chat between Nick Meyer and Trek geeks (and Free Enterpise creators) Mark Altman and Robert Meyer Burnett. The chat was very entertaining and informative and MUST SEE TREK TV for any fan of Meyer’s work.
The videos are in three 20 minute parts
what changes if any he would make, Time After Time, working with limited budgets, working with Trek egos, writing the STII script
working with Montalban, directing Shatner, why didn’t Khan & Kirk meet in person, STII’s place in the Trek franchise, the death/resurrection of Spock
the future of the Trek franchise, the music of Star Trek VI, the differences between his vision and Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the future, and the naming of Trek movies