When Nicholas Meyer saved Star Trek
With JJ Abrams's Star Trek 2 getting ready to roll this January, it certainly has a lot to live up to. The first Abrams Trek reinvented the franchise, and the second film is going to have to be as good, if not better, than the first.
The original Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan didn't have this problem considering the first Star Trek film was a crashing bore, but it did have the disaster of the first film to overcome, and Khan got over that hurtle splendidly.
Nicholas Meyer, who had previously written and directed the wonderful sci-fi classic Time After Time, was chosen to helm Khan, and at the time he wasn't familiar with the show at all. "It's a guy with pointy ears, yeah?" He went down and met producer Harve Bennett, they got along well, and as Meyer recalls, "I was completely stoked on this idea of making my outer space opera, and I had the idea that Star Trek was really the space version of the Captain Hornblower novels. Hornblower was about an English sea captain during the Napoleonic wars, and I loved those novels when I was a kid."
Khan was shot low budget, $11.2 million, and Meyer says, "There was a very tight rein kept on this movie." Meyer also discovered Kirstie Alley, and gave her a substantial role in the film, not to mention he also gave the Trekkies a great unanswered element, his suitcase in Pulp Fiction if you will: Khan's glove.
"Khan only wears one glove, and people wonder what's under it. 'Ah ha, good question. What do you think?' The two questions you get right away are is that Ricardo Montalban's rest chest, and the answer is yes, it's his. As for what's under the glove, you're not gonna get it from me, because I don't believe that artists should be treated like equations in the back of the math book. How do you get the audience involved? You've got to give them something to do."
The fact that Meyer came fresh to the Trek universe may have made Khan a better movie in that Meyer had a different perspective that a Star Trek fanatic wouldn't have.
As to whether or not this indeed made Khan a great movie, Meyer says, "I can only speculate as to the degree that my lack of familiarity with Star Trek played in what I brought to it. I think my irreverence allowed for a lot of the comedy because I thought the first film took itself so seriously, and I was obviously reacting to many things that I saw in it that I didn't quite understand. It seemed to be missing something. So in that regard, as far as my opinion whatever my opinion is worth, then yes my lack of familiarity stood me in good stead. I was never really troubled by it.
"I was also the author of three Sherlock Holmes books," Meyer continues. "And like Star Trek, there are sixty original Arthur Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes stories. I read them all, I read them all more than once, but I didn't have them all in my head when I wrote my own pastiche. I was less concerned with being 100% faithful to all the incidents that are in there than I was to finding a space in the chronology where I could insert my own story.
"Interestingly enough, Arthur Conan Doyle, who wrote the sixty stories, also frequently forgot the details. The land-lady whose name is Mrs. Hudson is once mentioned as Mrs. Turner, and Watson sometimes alludes to the wound in his leg, which other times is the wound in his arm, and it didn't seem to matter a lot. And I suppose my attitude towards fidelity to the Star Trek material as if it were holy writ is similarly, 'Alright, we're in the ballpark but we don't have to be 100%.'"