For many fans of “Star Trek,” the second film in this series of 13 movies ranks at number one. The movie they cite for being the best of them all is “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.” Some say that this is the film that saved “Star Trek,” especially after the tremendous effort and cost to bring Trek to the silver screen in 1979.
The beloved stars from the television show returned to their roles for “Wrath of Khan.” Perhaps the best-known story of a Trek star who was hesitant to return to the Enterprise was Leonard Nimoy. His character, Spock, was even recast when the film was supposed to be a television series — “Star Trek: Phase II.”
According to author Kim Masters, when asked to return to Trek, Nimoy said: “I just can’t do that. I’m sorry.” Masters wrote about Nimoy’s interactions with Paramount’s Jeffrey Katzenberg for her book, “Keys to the Kingdom: The Rise of Michael Eisner and the Fall of Everybody Else.”
Nimoy on ‘Wrath of Khan’
Nimoy eventually came back to “Star Trek” after settling some outstanding issues with Paramount. He told Masters that part of the reason why he returned to the franchise was so he would not have to answer some fundamental questions.
“How could I answer those questions? I didn’t like the script? I hated Gene? I was angry at the studio?” Nimoy said to Masters years later. “I would be carrying that negative s*** around with me for the next five years at least.”
Nimoy also didn’t want to return for “Star Trek II” either, until writer Jack B. Sowards asked: “Leonard, how would you like to play Spock’s death scene?”
Thanks to reporting from writer Robert J. Elisberg, fans can now read why Nimoy slowly agreed to commit to “The Wrath of Khan.”
But, what is less well-known is that William Shatner too protested at the start of production. Shatner never waffled when he decided to return as Captain James Tiberius Kirk, but he did have some problems with the final script, as it was handed to him.
Nicholas Meyer, known more as a writer before “Khan,” was installed as the film’s director. Shatner said that he felt that Meyer was one of the very best.
“He wrote beautifully,” Shatner told Nerdist in an interview from 2017. “If a writer can imagine all that, he needs to be given a chance to bring his conception to light.”
“But that also requires moving people around and taking command of the set. He would stand on a ladder — I have a vision of Nicholas Meyer standing on a ladder in a cape and a top hat taking command of the set.”
Shatner’s ‘Wrath’ of ‘Star Trek II’
Though Shatner praises Meyer’s talent now, there were some sparks between the two before the shooting started. Thanks to the “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” Blu-ray edition, Meyer explains what happened between him and the star and how he smoothed everything over.
“When Bill Shatner read it, he came in and said ‘God this is terrible — this is a disaster!’” Meyer said. During this time, Meyer was at Industrial Light and Magic, talking about creating some of the special effects.
“[Executive Producer] Harve Bennett called me and said ‘We have a real problem — Bill doesn’t like the script,’” said Meyer. “And I remember… it was only the second movie I had ever directed, going back and talking about these special effects shots and thinking, ‘I’m just acting here. There’s no movie. He doesn’t want to do it.’”
Meyer quickly had a meeting with Shatner and said that he reconsidered some of the star’s points about the story. He then went to work on the script.
“It was something that I was able to fix in 24 hours,” said Meyer. Shatner eventually called Meyer to say that he was happy with the changes, and Meyer said Shatner called him a “genius.”
What Exactly Upset Shatner?
Thanks to an interview filmed by Mad Monster in 2017, fans might understand one of the reasons behind Shatner’s displeasure with the “Wrath of Khan” script. Meyer was part of a Trek panel that included Nichelle Nichols (Uhura).
“The only thing that Bill said to me was… because originally I specified how old that Kirk was,” said Meyer during the panel. “And he said, ‘Do we have to do that?’ Because if we specify how old an actor is in such-and-such a movie, and then he’s up for a role in another movie, where he’s supposed to be a younger person, they’ll say ‘Well, you’re already on the record as admitting to this.’”
“So, it’s simple to say that [it] was all about vanity, but it was professional, clear thinking — I think,” said Meyer.
It might strike some as ironic that, along with “Star Trek,” Shatner may be remembered for being the oldest person to ever venture into space.