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The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one

Well, I’ll grieve the loss of one of my childhood heroes in my own way, by identifying him with some aspects of my faith. Even secular science fiction can be sublimated to have redemptive quality.

When he was asked to direct the sequel, Nick Meyer didn't know anything about Star Trek except for Spock's iconic pointed ears, so in order to connect with a general audience, he decided to start the first shot of the film with Spock's ear. image: Paramount Pictures

When he was asked to direct the sequel, Nick Meyer didn’t know anything about Star Trek except for Spock’s iconic pointed ears. So in order to connect with general audiences, he decided to start the film with a shot of Spock’s pointed ear. image: Paramount Pictures

But first, some background. In 1980, Paramount engaged Harve Bennett to begin writing the screenplay for the second installment in the revival of the franchise, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. They also sought a new director, Nicholas Meyer, and sidelined Gene Roddenberry, the series’ creator, whom they blamed for the lackluster critical and commercial response to Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Bennett and Meyer had never seen a single episode of Star Trek before they were hired to write its second film. Their fresh perspectives, creative influences and lack of fear for bending Roddenberry’s sacrosanct rules might have been the reason that 1982’s Star Trek II was the sterling success of the series, and catapulted Paramount’s biggest franchise into a decades-long saga.

After Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Leonard Nimoy had not intended to reprise his role as Spock for the second film. He was enticed back by the studio with, “How would you like to have a great death scene?”

Star Trek II, despite its limited budget, was popular and hugely successful, grossing $14 million in its opening weekend of theatrical release. image: Paramount Pictures

Star Trek II, despite its modest budget, was popular and hugely successful, grossing $14 million in its opening weekend of theatrical release. image: Paramount Pictures

“Who could resist an offer like that?” Nimoy responded. He accepted this offer from the studio, likely comfortable knowing that since death is inevitable, to go out well is a high honor.

Of course, the character of Spock was resurrected in the next picture — hence the eponymous title, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock — to the disapproval of Director Nicholas Meyer. This writer must side with Meyer instead of Nimoy on this point, that the resurrection of Spock was in poor dramatic taste — but definitely not out of a dislike of the character. The fan base truly was and still is fanatical, and in the months leading up to Star Trek II‘s release, fans wrote in to Paramount and to Leonard Nimoy protesting the rumor that Spock was going to die in the movie.

“You don’t make an audience cry, and then turn around and say, ‘Oh, we were just kidding.’ … It’s not whether you kill him. It’s whether you kill him well,” Director Nick Meyer observed, who helped finish the screenplay for The Wrath of Khan. Meyer has often said, “Art thrives on limitations,” and he attributes the creative success of the film to the fact that Paramount did not give the production crew a lot of money to work with. He helped the movie be so successful that he was invited to come back to direct Star Trek III, but he declined the job on ethical grounds. “I told them, ‘This is not a subject matter that I can relate to [killing off a character then bringing him back to life]. Maybe I can help with another story someday, when he [Spock] is back.'”

 

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