Fans of the original Star Trek will know that Nicholas Meyer is the mind behind two of the most popular movies in the franchise, Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. For those who don’t, well, it says so right on the cover of Meyer’s new book The View from the Bridge: Memories of Star Trek and a Life in Hollywood.
Broken into three parts (Pre-Trek, Trek, and Post-Trek) the memoir follows Meyer’s path as the son of a New York psychoanalyst up until the present day. The bulk of his story is taken up with his work on Star Trek, but there are ancillary stories about how Meyer got into the movie business, some anecdotes about some of the actors and production people who made the movies great (or nearly ruined them), and theorizing on the nature of art and the movie business. His paragraph on the creation of science fiction is especially poignant:
If fiction is the lie that tells the greater truth, it is as well to remember that fiction is a lie, what some folks call a whopper or stretcher or bullshit. How do we make a lie convincing? By loading it with circumstantial elements that are true…Without this kind of help – speaking for myself – much of science fiction will fail to convince. We try to blur the point at which the truth blends into the lie. If done correctly, the audience fails to notice the moment when they slip the bonds of reality and embark on the fantastic voyage. If done well, they are so involved that they miss the moment when they willingly agree to suspend disbelief.
Meyer writes in a completely accessible style. His story makes him human, able to make mistakes, aware of his faults, but also proud of his successes. He portrays himself as a slow learner, doomed to repeating others ideas, and then turns around and praises himself by highlighting his frenzy of creative ability. That humility comes through in unexpected ways, as is made clear when Meyer reflects on the filming of the scene of Spock’s death in Star Trek II:
The confluence of Gene Roddenberry, of Leonard Nimoy, Bill Shatner and the rest of the Star Trek ensemble, the work of many writers and directors, the devotion of countless legions of fans and, yes, my own happenstance contribution, all combined on that day. Some of us understood the significance (small s) of that eternal moment while it was unfolding; some were just doing their jobs. I am not prepared to argue that the Death of Spock ranks with Aristotle Contemplating a Bust of Homer, but I think it facile to altogether dismiss its significance. I am certainly pleased to have played my small part, even as the train called Life carried me inexorably forward.
Opposing that humility is his sometimes abrasive manner, such as the treatment he gave sick and near-death Gene Roddenberry over Star Trek VI.
In the case of The Undiscovered Country, Roddenberry’s opinions were many and heated. He was pained and angered by the script, which depicted bigotry not only among Starfleet brass like Cartwright but also among the Enterprise crew…the conversation degenerated into barely disguised acrimony. I suppose underneath it all was a conviction on my part that Roddenberry’s was a specious Utopian vision for which there was no historical evidence…I left the meeting and returned to work, leaving others to mop up the damage I had done.
This juxtaposition of a personality at times arrogant and sure of itself and in others humble, even gracious—”I have to admit that I am not always the person I like to believe that I am”—makes the memoir a joy to read. Meyer is conversational in his style, but you are always aware that this man is both gifted, capable, and intelligent. He is always able to relate the anecdote you are reading to a past experience, able to theorize large concepts on the one hand, and discuss interesting stories the next. (Such as the origin of Spock’s unusual V-shaped hand salute, even as on the very next page the Death of Spock is contemplated as above).
The memoir is by no means all Star Trek. After all, part of the subtitle reads “Memories…of a Life in Hollywood” and the entire work shows this is no false claim. Though he spends time talking about the two Star Trek movies he directed (as well as a little on the one he wrote but didn’t direct, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home) he also talks about his career as a novelist, making it to the New York Times bestseller list, his other movies, such as the H.G. Wells/Jack the Ripper time travel story Time after Time, and even his TV work in the made-for-TV movie The Day After, one of the most frightening apocalypse stories you may ever watch. Meyer states “The Day After is probably the most worthwhile thing I ever got to do with my life to date.”
The View from the Bridge is a great insider’s view to the industry of Hollywood, its ups and downs, the hows and whys and wherefores that is approachable and humorous. From the very first page, I was hooked on Meyer’s life story. The fact that there was some affiliation with Star Trek became tangential. Meyer is what interested me, the who and what of the person. The man who took it upon himself to become a screenwriter, but who was also a novelist, a film director, and who always, always sought the story. “I think storytelling is a worthwhile profession, and you try to tell the best stories you can in the best way you know how and you try to steer clear of the crap…I have been blessed to struggle with what I love, for what I love.”