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.
“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.”
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 Donner, Geoff 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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