The director of “Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan,” which many consider to be the best “Star Trek” movie of all time, thinks the best “Star Trek” movie of all time is the 2000 film “Galaxy Quest.”
“I think in a way that’s a perfect movie,” Nicholas Meyer told IndieWire. “Because it satirizes aspects of it but it also delivers on it. You know, that’s the three hat trick.”
In addition, the 2000 film is about the former cast of a “Trek”-esque show meeting a group of alien fans so intense in their devotion they actually made the show into a reality. At its core, “Galaxy Quest” is a celebration of the fandom that surrounds “Star Trek,” which from Meyer’s point of view is what has sustained the franchise over the decades. “Without the fans, the show is nowhere, it would never have been revived, it would never have come back,” he said. “You cannot say enough from that standpoint about the fans.”
When Meyer came to the “Trek” universe as a writer and director for the second theatrical film, eventually released in 1982, he was not exactly a fan. “When I was a kid and ‘Star Trek’ was on TV, I had no use for it. I saw the people in pajamas, and the guy with pointy ears, and the paper-mache sets or whatever they were, and it meant nothing to me. I never watched it,” he said.
But “Wrath of Khan,” with its “Horatio Hornblower” sensibility, ended up revolutionizing the franchise to the extent where, well, we’re still talking about it. In fact, Meyer is continually impressed by how “something that I created, granted with help, was responsible for giving so many people so much pleasure over so long a period of time.”
And when people talk to Meyer about the film, it’s not specific moments they call out, but their own personal experiences. “Fathers and sons who tell me how powerfully the movie has affected them, that they make a ritual of seeing it together once a year and has for God knows how many years… The movie just exerts a powerful hold over their emotions,” he said.
“Wrath of Khan,” the second theatrical “Trek” film, finds Captain Kirk (William Shatner) confronting his own mortality on a number of levels while battling genetically enhanced superhuman Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalbán), who blames Kirk for the death of his wife and is out for revenge. During the climactic battle, Spock (Leonard Nimoy) sacrifices himself to save the Enterprise, one of the most moving moments of science fiction on film ever.
“You can’t help but be touched by the fact that the characters, the story, the performances, I don’t know what, all adds up to this potent brew that people seem to find different things in,” Meyer said. “Whether it’s the Kirk-Spock friendship or Kirk’s relations with his son or the oddly sympathetic villain, the abandoned Khan. It’s sort of the bits and pieces that mix together and create those sparks of feeling.”
In addition, he’s grown past his initial perception of “Trek” as just being about “people in pajamas.” “As I’ve become more mature, I’ve begun to understand that those things were all unimportant, and that the bigger things that were important,” he said. “The multiculturalism, the integration of different races and people coming together to work for a common good and an optimistic forward-looking idea, that human beings working together were capable of great and open-minded things. All of that increasingly has appealed to me. I don’t know that I share Gene Roddenberry’s optimistic vision of the perfectibility of Man, in fact I’m quite sure I don’t, but I like the idea of the possibility and the hope that is involved.”
While he’s now more of a fan, Meyer doesn’t necessarily think that fans should have a voice in the creation of the projects they love. “Art is a dictatorship, government by consent of the governed,” he said. “You don’t have to watch it, you can turn it off, you can not buy a ticket, but if you go to see a movie that I make or read a book that I write, then it’s mine and you either sign on for the cruise or you don’t.”
In fact, in a recent speech to a group of fans, he flat out told them: “With all due respect, I don’t care what you think, only because you don’t know what you think. If it had been up to you, Spock wouldn’t have died. You don’t know what you love until you get it.”
He doesn’t want to say that the fans don’t matter — in fact, he’s clear that “Trek” is deeply indebted to the fanbase. “Without vox populi there is no ‘Star Trek.’ Without hoi polloi there is no ‘Star Trek.’ There’s nothing. It’s not just ‘Star Trek,’ it’s anything that’s beloved, whether you’re talking about the Bach B Minor Mass or Renoir, it’s got fans. It’s about fans, it’s about who loves it, who loves it. And without that love it disappears,” he said.
“Star Trek” is currently the furthest thing away from disappearing, and Meyer’s a part of it, though like so many from the film world, he’s come to television in recent years to explore the rise in opportunities there. Right now, he’s not only working as a consulting producer on the upcoming “Star Trek: Discovery” but developing another unknown “Trek” TV project: “I find that television is much more prepared to go to the places that interest me, and the subject matter is more involving,” he said.
In the meantime, “The Wrath of Khan” is getting a special two-night theatrical run on Sept. 10 and 13 thanks to Fathom, in celebration of the film’s 35th anniversary. “It’s better [on the big screen],” Meyer said. Got the right size frame around it.” It’s an experience new fans and old can experience together.