‘Star Trek’: Nicholas Meyer explains his Roddenberry regret

June 10, 2011 | 11:33 p.m.
nicholas meyer leaonrd nimoy william shatner Star Trek: Nicholas Meyer explains his Roddenberry regret

Nicholas Meyer, Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner on the set (Paramount Pictures)

If Nicholas Meyer could do it all over again, he would be kinder to a dying Gene Roddenberry, he told the audience after Friday night’s screening of “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” at the Hero Complex Film Festival.

“There are moments in one’s life where you look back and you say, ‘Well, I wish I had done this differently,” Meyer told a full room at the Chinese Six theater in Hollywood.

Meyer, who directed “Khan” as well as “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country,” described one such moment.

Before Meyer started shooting “VI,” Roddenberry was unhappy with the script.

hcffteaser2 Star Trek: Nicholas Meyer explains his Roddenberry regret“If I’m interpreting him correctly and if I’m believing what he said, Mr. Roddenberry really believed in the perfectability of man, of humans, and I have yet to see the evidence for this,” Meyer said. “So ‘VI’ is a film in which the crew of the Enterprise has all kinds of prejudice, racial prejudice, vis-a-vis the Klingons. And some of their remarks, including how they all look alike and what they smell like, and all the xenophobic things which we grappled with — that was all deeply offensive to him because he thought there isn’t going to be that. In fact, in his original ‘Star Trek’ concept, there wasn’t any conflict. So he always had problems with writers who were trying to write conflict, because that’s what drama is, so he was very distressed with the world of the Enterprise – the kind of ‘music’ I was writing.”

Meyer went to see Roddenberry – a meeting he said he regrets.

“His guys were lined up on one side of the room, and my guys were lined up on the other side of the room, and this was not a meeting in which I felt I’d behaved very well, very diplomatically,” Meyer said. “I came out of it feeling not very good, and I’ve not felt good about it ever since. He was not well, and maybe there were more tactful ways of dealing with it, because at the end of the day, I was going to go out and make the movie. I didn’t have to take him on. Not my finest hour.”

Meyer also described the challenge of rewriting “Khan” from five jumbled scripts in 12 days, saying it was an intuitive process of fitting different plot and character elements together — “like fiddling with a Rubik’s cube” — to form the story that was ultimately about Capt. James T. Kirk‘s emotional journey and relationship with Spock.

“While I was working on it, it occurred to me that this was a movie about friendship, old age and death, and how you deal with it,” he said. “Kirk thinks he knows about death, but he doesn’t know.”

Meyer also spoke about his evolving relationship with “Star Trek,” the franchise’s relevance in changing times and the literary influences that helped him shape the story of the Enterprise. Here are some highlights:

On deciding to make a “Star Trek” film having never been a fan of the show: “I’ve always wanted to make a movie with submarines and destroyers and people torpedoing each other — a sort of case of arrested development — but I thought, ‘Oh, OK, this is about the Navy. I know how to do this. … And Khan, because I’d seen that episode ‘Space Seed,’ and I thought, ‘Oh, that guy must be pretty angry by now.'”

On taking the baton in an already successful franchise: “The Catholic Mass has a text, but various composers have set these words to very different music. … When you listen to various versions, they don’t sound the same at all. … All these ‘Star Trek’ movies, including J.J. [Abrams’], is the result of different composers putting different music to the same basic thing.”

khan on star trek Star Trek: Nicholas Meyer explains his Roddenberry regret

Khan (CBS Entertainment)

On the actors in “Khan:” “I think actors have a very hard job. … Actors have to go places deliberately that the rest of us spend our time avoiding if we can. When firefighters see a burning building, they rush into it. And actors, in order to drudge up real feelings, have to go to some hairy places. So yeah, maybe it makes them a little high-strung or hot-tempered; it’s a weird profession to do that. And these people are even more strange in that way, because they were the crew of the Enterprise, and by and large, I don’t know what else and where else they were.They were joined at the hip by fate a thousand years ago. … I did get very heavily emotionally involved with Bill [William Shatner], who I think gives the best performance of his life in this movie. I look at it, and I think, ‘There’s absolutely no [nonsense].’ … And certainly [Ricardo] Montalban, who I consider to be a very, very, very good actor … but I looked at this and thought, ‘Well he should be playing Lear, he shouldn’t just be playing a guy who thinks he’s Lear.’ … And that’s his chest. That’s always the No. 1 question. It is his chest.”

The festival continues through Sunday at the Hollywood & Highland complex. Other guests include Richard DonnerGeoff Johns and Jim Lee and screenings of “Superman” and “Superman II: The Donner Cut” on Saturday, as well as Mike Mignola for a free poster signing and a statue that pays tribute to Christopher Reeve and his classic Superman portrayal; and Jon Favreau on Sunday with a screening of “Iron Man” and “Iron Man 2,” as well as an exclusive new preview of “Captain America: The First Avenger” — plus some interesting surprises.

The purchase of an all-day Sunday ticket is now also the only way to get a seat in that day’s sold-out noon screening of “The Incredibles,” which will be followed by a special sneak preview of footage from “Cars 2” and an interview with Dave Mullins of Pixar. Buy tickets for individual days right here.

— Noelene Clark

FOR THE RECORD: An earlier version of this post had incorrect caption information on the top photo. Meyer’s name was also misspelled once.


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23 Responses to ‘Star Trek’: Nicholas Meyer explains his Roddenberry regret

  1. DaBear says:

    Roddenberry was an idealist kook. Mankind will only get WORSE if left to it's own devices.

  2. Andrew says:

    Judging by the lines on Nimoy's face and the grey in Kirk's hair, I'm thinking that photo is from Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, and not, as the caption says, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

    • Robert Szekely says:

      There is no caption that says, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. All the caption says is 'Star Trek" : Nicholas Meyer explains his Roddenberry regret.

      • Jim Griffith says:

        For what it’s worth, Andrew is correct. Kirk is wearing a captain’ s rank badge on his sleeve.

  3. Karl Hungus says:

    The photo of Meyer, Nimoy and Shatner above is not from Star Trek II, but rather Star Trek VI. You can tell by the Enterprise set, with its post-Trek V support beams and post-TNG touch panels. And by Shatner's gray hair and girth, of course.

  4. MichaelRyerson says:

    'His chest'? His chest?? Jesus, I am so old.

  5. Joel Engel says:

    If Meyer is regretful about being unkind to Roddenberry, how's he going to feel at some point about completely omitting the incredible work done by Harve Bennett, who came in as producer after the disaster of ST 1 to captain the franchise. Had the film been yet another disaster, that would've been the end of ST. He made the movie–and helped write the script, and, for that matter, hired Meyer–on less than a fourth of the first movie's budget. It's easy to be magnanimous to a dead man. But how 'bout the living, Nick. Geez, what an egoist.

  6. Joel Engel says:

    Whatever regret Nick Meyer has about his meeting with Roddenberry, a man who was renowned for his own imperious behavior toward others, particularly underlings, they're likely to be doubled or tripled somewhere down the line when Harve Bennett is gone, too. After the disaster that was ST 1, Paramount brought in Bennett as producer in order to salvage the franchise. Had Bennett not succeeded so well, that would've been the end of ST. For less than a fourth of what the first motion picture cost, he pulled off ST 2: Wrath of Khan (as well as the following three films; and by the way, the prequel idea that Abrams later produced originated with Bennett). He also co-wrote the script and, for that matter, hired Meyer. Yet listening to Meyer, you'd think that he was the product of a virgin birth. It's easy to be magnanimous to a man who's been dead 20 years, but harder when you're such an egoist to be gracious toward the living. He owes Bennett a bow at the waist today, not another oops 20 years from now.

    • John says:

      I can't speak to what Nick did or did not say at the Hero Complex Film Festival, but in numerous print and television interviews I've seen, he's been quite solicitous toward Harve Bennett and credited Bennett for his role in the series and for bringing him (Meyer) into the fold.

  7. Sophie says:

    Wrath of Khan is one of those few films that is still entertaining to watch so many years later. I've always been a Star Wars over Star Trek fan, but Star Trek II has my respect.

  8. The One says:

    I think the important part of Roddenberry's vision of our future is on full display at the end of ST VI, and that's what was important. The notion that all of mankind ceases to be prejudiced by the 23rd century really does not hold up at all. To be human is to be fallable. What is important, is to show that we are capable of change. Of admitting when we are wrong. That is a logical progression for a society that is becoming more 'enlightened'. Humans realizing their faults and making the right choice after the fact is one of the central themes that is executed very well by Meyer in ST VI. I think Roddenberry's take was not very realistic or interesting for mass consumption, as noble and optimistic as it was.

  9. jtbwriter says:

    I'm glad Nicholas Meyer is regretful-he was handed the best opportunity in the world, and he slapped the man who helped create Star Trek in the face by his egotism! I'm only glad "Wrath" survived and is a testiment to the creative genius of both Gene Roddenberry and the actors who made it. I hope JJ Abrams learns a little of this bitter lesson, then maybe I'll spend a dollar or two on his "take" on the Star Trek universe.

    • jjjjjjjjjjjjj says:

      Gene Roddenberry started believing in his own bullshit between TOS and TNG. Also, after the first movie, Roddenberry had no creative control over the movies! Wrath of Khan was all Meyer.

      Also, There's a reason why the first two seasons of TNG were utter crap – cause Gene was still in charge! Once Rick Berman took over, then TNG fired on all cylinders. (I know, Berman sucks, but only because he overstayed his welcome. He should've quit at the start of Voyager.)

  10. Matthew M says:

    I am still not exactly clear on what Mr. Meyer is regretful about. So he doesn't believe in the perfectibility of humankind or alienkind for that matter, who honestly does? Humans have not improved morally or ethically in 10,000 years and sure won't by the 23rd century. Technological progress has not improved us in that respect only made living our immoral, unethical lives easier.
    So what happened at the meeting? I'm missing it. Sorry.

    • Geoff Boucher says:

      Matthew, the answer is that Meyer regrets being harsh and perhaps even insulting during that meeting with the ailing Roddenberry: "This was not a meeting in which I felt I’d behaved very well, very diplomatically. I came out of it feeling not very good, and I’ve not felt good about it ever since. He was not well, and maybe there were more tactful ways of dealing with it, because at the end of the day, I was going to go out and make the movie. I didn’t have to take him on. Not my finest hour.”

  11. Scott G says:

    Star Trek II is a great movie, but Star Trek VI is my favorite of the original cast. They really went out in style.

  12. anderson says:

    I was at this screening and for the record, Meyer did talk a great deal about Harve Bennett and was very fond and congratulatory to him. I think he even called him a genius producer and gave him a lot of credit for resuscitating the franchise.

    • Joel Engel says:

      Well, that's good to hear. So let me apologize to Meyer for actually, you know, believing what I read in this paper. I think I'm safe in saying that the reporting made it appear that he'd hogged credit. In any event, it's good to know that he's a mensch and gives credit where it's due. Good for him. And bad for the reporter for omitting important context.

  13. Brad says:

    I never really felt like the original series was missing actual prejudice at all. True, people had moved on in a lot of respects which was probably due to the fact that technology had made the planet Earth and even part of the universe seem a lot smaller but the people never really looked perfect. I think Trek has always focused mainly on our ability to eventually grow and learn from our mistakes. If Mr Meyer is reflecting on his own personal mistakes or perceived mistakes then maybe he got the point of what Gene Roddenberry was trying to say in the first place.

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