Nicholas Meyer recalls the making of 'Star Trek' II, IV, VI

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Had Paramount put a number on this summer's "Star Trek," it would have been XI, an instant indication of just how valuable the franchise has become.

Those 11 installments have grossed more than $1 billion domestically since 1979, including $256 million from the new one. It's a success story that might never have happened had Nicholas Meyer not come on board for 1982's "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" when the series' future was in doubt.

Meyer's recollections about directing "Khan" and 1991's "Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country" and co-writing 1986's "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home" are among the best chapters in "The View From the Bridge: Memories of Star Trek and a Life in Hollywood," just published by Viking.

It's an engaging read that's all the better for his insights into directing "The Day After," which aired Nov. 20, 1983, on ABC and vividly dealt with a fictional nuclear attack on Kansas. Meyer also writes about adapting his best-selling novel "The Seven-Per-Cent Solution," for which he was Oscar nominated in 1977, and making his directorial debut with 1979's "Time After Time."

When I suggested that without him there might never have been a "Star Trek" movie franchise, Meyer replied, "I would like to think so. I am, as I concede in the book, vain enough to want to think so. But I'm not 100% certain."

Why not? "How many more scripts were they prepared to lay out money for to try to get a second 'Star Trek' movie if what I had done hadn't worked?" Had Paramount been willing to keep on spending, he added, they'd have eventually come up with something.

Meyer's childhood friend Karen Moore, then a Par exec, suggested that since he wanted to direct he should meet Harve Bennett, who was producing the second feature spinoff from Gene Roddenberry's "Star Trek" TV series.

"That was sort of love at first sight. I didn't really know what 'Star Trek' was. I might not have hung around to find out, I suppose, if I hadn't liked him so much."

After they spoke, Meyer saw the connection between "Star Trek" and C.S. Forrester's novels about the English sea captain Horatio Hornblower. Having enjoyed those books as a teenager, Meyer understood "Star Trek" was really just Hornblower in space.

When he shared his Hornblower idea with William Shatner, Meyer recalled, Captain Kirk knew exactly what he meant.

Shatner (to Meyer): "Oh well, that's what Gene always said it was."

Not everything else went as smoothly for him with Shatner, who called the screenplay -- rewritten by Meyer, who didn't get a credit -- a disaster. The trick to resolving Shatner's unhappiness about how the script treated Kirk was that "when you actually broke it up into manageable pieces, what he was asking for was not that difficult or that extraordinary. In fact, it was probably 36 hours or something for me to turn it around."

Meyer also writes about Bennett's unhappiness after realizing his mistake in naming himself the film's executive producer and making Robert Sallin its producer. Bennett came from TV, where EPs run the show and just didn't know it wasn't the same with movies.

Bennett asked Meyer what to do about it.

Meyer (to Bennett): "You have to stick with what you said, and at the end of the day, if you do the job right, everybody's going to know it's your movie."

Meanwhile, Meyer discovered from his assistant that Par's then distribution chief Frank Mancuso had changed the film's extended title from "The Undiscovered Country" to "The Vengeance of Khan."

"Since the movie did deal ultimately with the death of one of its characters and since Hamlet refers to 'the undiscovered country' as where you go after you die, I thought this was a rather elegant idea."

In what Meyer calls "a rather surreal phone conversation," Mancuso said from New York that he "was only trying to do what was best for the movie -- at which point I wondered if George Lucas, who was then making a movie called 'Revenge of the Jedi,' would be entirely pleased with this title."

Lucas, whose "Indiana Jones" franchise with Steven Spielberg was at Par, wasn't happy about the similar title. But then Lucas decided his Jedi really weren't vengeance seekers anyway and renamed his movie "Return of the Jedi."

In the end, Meyer said with a laugh, he had Par's then chairman Barry Diller yelling at him: "Who the heck knows what 'wrath' means?"

A sequel column about Meyer's memoir will run here next Friday, Sept. 4.

See Martin Grove's Zamm Cam movie previews on www.ZAMM.com.
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