It takes a certain amount of chutzpah to take on the task of rebooting the venerable Star Trek franchise in the first place. It takes an extra-special brand of crazy to tackle arguably the greatest villain of the franchise, who starred in arguably the greatest film of the franchise. But that’s precisely what director J.J. Abrams and screenwriters Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Damon Lindelof did with last year’s controversial Star Trek Into Darkness. Trek fans have certainly let the world know how they felt about nü-Khan, but does the guy who actually directed The Wrath of Khan think?
Director Nicholas Meyer (seen above, with actor Ricardo Montalbán) was recently doing the rounds to promote the History Channel’s Houdini miniseries, which he directed. At one of those press conferences, a reporter asked the very question we posed above. At first Meyer deflected by recalling a story about how he gave J.J. Abrams a copy of The Annotated Sherlock Holmes for his Bar Mitzvah, but one of CraveOnline’s journos pressed the question by asking, “So, you liked his movies, or…?” Meyer’s response was both diplomatic and insightful:
I think, and I’ve made this analogy before, that Star Trek is a bottle into which different vintages can be poured. Over the years a lot of different vintages have been poured. Give you another way of looking at it: if you know the Catholic Mass, you know that many, many composers have set that mass to music. You know that the Brahm’s German Requiem has no relation to the Mozart Coronation Requiem, or the Haydn Mass… you would never know you were listening to the same piece because the music transforms the words, and the vintage may transform the bottle.
So my reaction, and I remember somebody saying ‘Not your grandfather’s Star Trek‘ when they were talking about J.J.’s stuff. And I was thinking, I can’t really be a judge of this because it is so different from what I understood. I made a lot of changes when I came to that Star Trek thing, because I used to say, ‘Well, why are they all wearing pajamas?’ I made it into the Navy. It was about the Navy in space. But I didn’t think I changed the characters. I thought Kirk and Spock and those people were who they were.
And I think the biggest thing that shocked me about J.J. was Spock beating the shit out of somebody, and thinking, ‘No, that’s changing the shape of the bottle.’ And it may be very entertaining, and it may make a gazillion dollars, but that’s changing the shape of the bottle. I guess that was my thought.
That’s about as eloquent a criticism of the flaws of the Abrams’ Trek as I’ve heard. I enjoyed the movies for what they were, while also recognizing their flaws and completely understanding why they pissed off many long-time fans. I think the cast is the strongest part of the reboot movies, but there’s no question that, especially with Spock, there have been some fundamental changes to their characters. Now, you could argue that he’s younger than we knew him in the original timeline, and he’s all messed up by having his homeworld blown up, but still — I can’t picture Leonard Nimoy screaming “Khaaaaaaaannnn!”
Abrams has occasionally been accused of making Star Trek movies that were a lot more like Star Wars, and I think that’s a valid observation. Now, of course, he’s actually making a real Star Wars movie with Episode VII, and Star Trek 3 has screenwriter Roberto Orci in the director’s chair, who co-wrote the last two Treks, as well as co-creating Fox’s Fringe and Sleepy Hollow. He also co-wrote the first two Transformers movies with his writing partner Alex Kurtzman, as well as Cowboys & Aliens and The Island. Kurtzman won’t be involved on Trek 3, nor will co-writer Damon Lindelof; instead, Orci will be partnering with newcomers Patrick McKay and John D. Payne (who also penned a script for a new Flash Gordon movie).