By Ciarán McNulty
I first became aware of Nicholas Meyer back in 2002, when I got hold of the collector’s edition DVD of Wrath of Khan.
Aside from being aware of the Trek actors occasionally hopping into the director’s chair, at that point I hadn’t given much thought to the folks who helmed the movie outings.
But then, in this DVD’s special features there were interviews and commentary with this droll, funny, even prickly middle-aged man, who 20 years earlier had stomped onto the set of the Wrath of Khan as a relatively young upstart.
Very soon, as I became aware of his name cropping up as a writing credit on Voyage Home and noticed him returning to the director’s chair for Undiscovered Country, the man’s Midas Touch when it came to Star Trek was all too evident. Whilst I’ve never given credence to the snarky, hipster nerd opinion that only the even numbered Trek flicks are good, it did seem clear to me that the ones where Meyer had any involvement were always a cut above the rest.
His bravado in raging into Gene Roddenberry’s world and sort of throwing away the bible in a manner, could be compared to JJ Abrams’ approach to his additions to the world of Star Trek. Yet why do I feel a horrid sick feeling in my stomach and a sense of personal insult when confronted with Abrams’ changes, whilst to this day, I hail Meyer’s cavalier approach to the series’ style and canon as so heroicly inventive?
Well for one, he didn’t entirely throw away the guts of Star Trek’s high sci-fi concepts and socio-political allegories (in fact he revelled in the latter) and secondly, the changes he made were somewhat necessary. Namely in regards to action.
Yes, the Abrams stuff gets labelled the most action-packed and it’s normally a guy like me who complains at its use at the expense of story but Meyer introduced just enough. Enough that he really allowed Trek- and specifically these spaceships we would see in near-pornographic slow-mo all the time- to finally “let their balls hang out there”, to use the parlance of Horatio Hornblower.*
The Motion Picture’s huge scientific concepts and stern-faced contemplation of them would’ve been an interesting 40-50 minutes of TV but for our beloved crew’s first big budget outing on the silver screen, it’s pretty rough-going. Meyer identified the need for a few buckles to be thoroughly swashed as he approached Trek as Horatio Hornblower in space. A concept not that far removed from Trek, as Roddenberry had indeed grown up, obsessed with those very books.
I laughed recently watching Comic Book Girl 19’s YouTube review of Fake Trek Into Lens Flares, where after a few “OMG”s and thorough recommendations to go see the most hated of all Trek movies, she declares(at 14:38) that Wrath of Khan is slow! Oh my. So, just how short is the attention span of the average youtube-authenticated movie expert?
Well, slow it ain’t. Is it motivated by where the next explosion’s coming from? No. Is it character-driven? Hell yes. But this thing put naval battles in space, man! There’s genius in Meyer’s levelling the playing field by hiding starships in a nebula so sensory equipment and even viewscreens were useless, reducing the battle to the sort of tense, nail-biting duel that logic dictates simply wouldn’t happen in the 23rd century.
And that’s the joy of Meyer’s attitude to the suspension of disbelief. He throws in a montage of crewmen crowbarring floor-panelling apart on the Enterprise to manually load a photon torpedo for firing- something he admits in the commentary would be pointless- but it doesn’t matter coz it’s a great visual and adds to the momentum of the scene. A momentum clearly lost on internet-educated film reviewers born years after the fall of the Berlin wall.
Hmm. The Berlin Wall. That was an interesting time. I recall being about 4 years old as it came down, and not really understanding what it all meant. But luckily, Nicholas Meyer and Star Trek came along to explain it all….with Klingons!
The metaphor of an exploding moon representing Chernobyl and the near-collapse of the Klingon Empire representing the USSR, helped me understand the Cold War before I even knew what any of these things were. Of course, I wouldn’t really fall in love with the movie for about another 10 or 12 years but boy, is this a Trek flick to sink your teeth into. Political intrigue! Captains racing so hard against time they threaten to fly their ships apart! Christopher Plummer chewing up Shakespearean lines! It’s. The. Tits. Light up a cigarette. Nicholas Meyer just gave you great Star Trek. Usually you pay double for that, but he’s a classy guy.
Between these two directorial efforts, he penned the middle section of Voyage Home, wherein Harve Bennett’s writing stops once they travel back in time and resumes once they return. So Meyer is the scribe who gave us most of the fun stuff in 1986 San Francisco, although it must be noted Steve Meerson and Peter Krikes worked on drafts- I’m just not sure whether their generation of the script was before or after Meyer’s.
So, as far as Trek goes, Meyer is my guy. Meyer’s right there with Ronald D. Moore, Brannon Braga, Manny Coto and Ira Steven Behr as guys who have really thrilled me with Trek stories through the years and frankly he’s my favourite of them. And so we come to some recent news.
Nicholas Meyer will be involved in the CBS Star Trek show set for 2017. He will be a consulting producer and some sources are already tentatively crediting him as a writer- though take that with several grains of salt.
What will this mean? Well, the sad thing for me and I’m sure many like me is that I just haven’t mustered up any excitement for this series. For me, the last bit of Star Trek we got was back in 2005, with a disappointing Enterprise finale. It slumbered for a few years before finally being killed in it’s sleep by a spectacled, lens flare-obsessed Star Wars fan who, damage done to Trek, rode off on his merry way once he got the keys to the kingdom he’d actually been after all along. He left a Star Trek franchise stranded in continuity no man’s land, where the 40 years of beloved canon that had been pain-stakingly put together to our delight, was sadly now thrown aside as old stories were polished off and made sexier, dumber and soulless.
As a result, the cynic in me finds it hard to believe that the bigwigs would now decide to go back into the original world and continue the story. And that means that even with a Star Trek great like Meyer given some sort of role(ceremonial or participatory), I doubt it will make me happy. As I said, what has been the man’s strength in the past is his ability to cast tradition and continuity aside for the sake of story and that means he might happily go along with an alternative continuity- one that might actually be very well written but that simply won’t be the Star Trek I’ve known and loved.
The news has, however, given me a glimmer of hope. Nowadays with Trek, I first want continuity taken care of, then I want story quality attended to. But I at least know that, with Meyer involved, we definitely have a good shot at the second one.
*- Horatio Hornblower never said that