Last night at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, CA there was a screening of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan to celebrate the film’s 35th anniversary. Director Nicholas Meyer was on hand for a Q&A before the showing and he was joined by Nichelle Nichols (Uhura), Ike Eisenmann (Peter Preston), and Alan Howarth (sound effects technician).
The discussion focused on Meyer’s work on Star Trek II and other Trek films in the 80s so there was no updates on Star Trek: Discovery or his other mysterious Star Trek project (exclusively revealed at TrekMovie). But the discussion did have some interesting moments (some of which have been covered previously in various behind the scenes books including Meyer’s own A View from the Bridge, but are still worth sharing).
When Meyer was asked to recall a story about working with producer Harve Bennett he described how when he was working on Star Trek II (his first major movie as a director) Bennett helped him learn how to relax and deal with the demands of a star, in this case William Shatner.
Nicholas Meyer: When I was up at ILM having these meetings and they called and said it was Harve and he said “Bill Shatner hates the script” and I was “my script?” and he said “yeah, that’s the script we are talking about, we will talk about it when you get back.” And I went back to this meeting thinking there is no movie. Then I got back and Bill came in very excited: “the script is a disaster!” I didn’t even hear what he was saying. My bladder kept filling up. I kept having to have to go to the men’s room. Whatever it was, my humiliation, my panic, it was all coming out in pee. And finally he swept out and I looked at Harve and I said “what are we going to do?” and he said “we don’t have a problem.” And he breaks it down into bite-sized pieces and by god he sliced and diced the thing and I thought “oh, give me 24 hours” and in 24 hours I fixed it. Bill walking in when you first answer the door. He was Captain Kirk! And I learned how to write for a star.
He also had some more detail about one specific change Shatner wanted to make, but it was something he entirely understood, explaining:
Nicholas Meyer: The cast of the Enterprise had been in show after show and dealt with all different writers and they were very good and very tactful at dealing with whoever was stepping into the commander’s chair and very diplomatic. And yes this was a different script. It was definitely stretching and much more on a personal level and there was not a big debate. They went with it. The only thing Bill [Shatner] said to me was – because originally I specified how old Kirk was – and he said “do we have to do that?” And I understood. If we specify that an actor is such and such age in a movie and then he is up for a role in another movie where he is supposed to be a younger person and they say “you are already on the record as being this.” So it is simple to say that was vanity, but it was professional clear thinking.
- Meyer says that as he was finalizing the script for Star Trek II the themes for the film emerged which he saw as “friendship, old age and death.”
- Ike Eisenmann said he was a “dream” for him to be in a Star Trek movie and when Star Trek II started casting he “hounded” his agent to get the role of Peter Preston.
- Meyer also offered an “apology” to Eisenmann who asked why (unlike Spock) they never showed the fate of Peter Preston’s corpse after his death in Star Trek II
- The ambient sound on the Enterprise was suggested by Nick Meyer to be the like the air conditioner thrum from Screening Room 13 on the Paramount lot which was recorded and used.
- Meyer notes that Director’s cuts of films are generally longer “but not necessarily better” and he had discouraged Paramount from using the term for his Star Trek II Director’s Cut because he “didn’t change that much.”
- Meyer notes that with the severely cut budget for Star Trek II they ‘were never going to afford” bringing back Jerry Goldmith to score Wrath of Khan but he was impressed by a demo tape from James Horner leading to him being selected.
- Meyer recalled he was against the final scene with Spock’s coffin on the Genesis Planet which he originally thought of as a “hustle” but changed his mind when he heard Horner’s music for it, which also brought Harve Bennett to tears.
Here is the full video (courtesy of Mad Monster Magazine who hosted the event).
More Star Trek II 35th
For more from Meyer on the 35th anniversary of Star Trek II, check out TrekMovie’s recent exclusive interview.
We also compiled some of the best pop-culture references for the film.
And in last week’s Great Links column we compiled some more Wrath of Khan celebrations/lists from around the web.