When Star Trek was reborn

As regular TG readers know, we’re big fans of writer/director Nicholas Meyer.

He gave us the delightful sci-fi gem Time After Time, and saved the Star Trek franchise from oblivion with Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan.

Having interviewed Meyer for the anniversary of Khan, I can attest he’s not only very intelligent, and a great writer/director, but a hell of a nice guy as well.

Meyer wrote a wonderful memoir called The View From the Bridge, which retold how he came aboard the Enterprise and revised the franchise.

Reading it certainly answered a lot of questions for me, particularly why Paramount was willing to give Star Trek another shot on the big screen, especially considering the first one was a crashing bore that was the most expensive film of all time way back when ($46 million, which is chump change today). 

Simply put, the film made $82 million, even though it wasn’t very good. Now just imagine how a sequel would do at a lower price that was actually a good movie. 

Meyer wasn’t a fan of Trek, he just knew it had the guy with pointy ears, but he met with producer Harve Bennett, and once he learned about the villain Khan, he knew he’d be a great hook to hang the next movie on. But he had to write a script and fast, because the film already had a release date set in stone, so Meyer wrote one in twelve days, long hand on legal pads, and typed out on a Smith Corona.


The film started shooting on November 11, 1981 for a June 4, 1982 release date. Khan was intentionally done with a tight budget, and of course, the big twist was Spock would die, sacrificing his life to save his shipmates. Barry Diller, who was then the chairman of Paramount protested, telling Meyer you can’t kill Spock. Of course you can, Meyer argued, “But you have to kill him well.”


Diller and Meyer had a showdown over this right down to the wire with less than a month from the movie’s release, and Meyer stood up to Diller, who’s always been a tough customer. “I filmed the script we all agreed upon,” Meyer said. “This is where I draw the line. If any further cuts or reshoots take place they will take place without me, and if this film is further touched, I will get a sandwich board and picket Paramount Pictures when the film opens.” After Diller stared Meyer down for what must have felt like an eternity, he finally said, “Well, if you feel that strongly, it’s your movie.”


As Meyer continued, “On June 4, 1982, the film opened to the biggest weekend gross to date. At the National Theatre in Westwood, I was stunned to see lines around the block with folks seated before TV trays, eating their dinner. The biggest surprise was how many of them were already wearing the brand-new uniforms of the Enterprise crew. This was long before all the Internet sites that now render any secrecy impossible. How had these people learned about and copied our uniforms?”


Meyer was also especially pleased that indeed Star Trek got a wonderful, fresh start at the movies, and he loved the review in the New York Times, which opened with the line, “Well, this is more like it.”