A piece of news more than a month ago lifted my spirits immensely. As CBS' All Access prepares to go into production on the sixth live-action* Star Trek TV Series, showrunner Bryan Fuller is assembling his team. While Fuller is the mind behind many recent TV triumphs, including Pushing Daisies and most-especially Hannibal, he made his bones in the Final Frontier during the famine years towards the end of Star Trek: Voyager. Mild concern, I'm sure, but Fuller completely nullified any concerns I had when he made the best hire since Jimmy Smits appointed Alan Alda his Secretary of State**.
He hired Nicholas Meyer as a writer and consulting producer.
This is like Johnny Carson hosting The Tonight Show again, or Michael Jordan finding the fountain of youth just in time to re-sign with the Bulls, or even Michael Keaton playing Batman just one more time. This is an absolute master of a particular field returning to contribute once again. I couldn't be more excited for this new series.
I know. You're asking, "Who?"
For shame. Nicholas Meyer wroter and directed The Wrath of Khan (1982)*** and The Undiscovered Country (1991). He also co-wrote The Voyage Home (1986). In essence, when people say the even-numbered Star Trek movies are the good ones, he is the constant factor.
His influence goes beyond those three films for which he may be most likely be known. Many moments from modern blockbusters are stolen directly from Khan. In The Dark Knight Rises (2012), when Commissioner Gordon quotes from A Tale of Two Cities at Bruce Wayne's graveside, I can't help but think of Kirk speaking similarly as he watches the Genesis Planet form beyond. When, in Batman v Superman (2016****) the funeral of (REDACTED) is filled with the sound of Bagpipes belting out "Amazing Grace," maybe that's just a thing that people do at funeral,s but I can't help but think of Scotty in a kilt and photon torpedo caskets. At the end of X2 (2003), as we are exposed to just hint that the recently departed may not be permanently gone, just as the opening narration is echoed by the deceased, I would bet anything I have that Bryan Singer was thinking of Nicholas Meyer's masterwork. Had Singer been given the chance to follow up his Superman Returns (2006), he would tell anyone who would listen that his first order of business was to, quote, "get all Wrath of Khan on it." Meyer is everywhere, even if hasn't directed a film since Vendetta (1999) for HBO.
All too often, the imitators in Meyer's wake are just, to borrow a line from Star Trek IV that he didn't write, mimicking the sounds, but not the language. When the sequel needs a big bad from the past, or the current political climate is a thin inspiration for the action, or even when a beloved character is only mostly dead as the final credits roll, I can't help but think some people are just trying to imitate what happened before*****. Don't even get me started on Star Trek Into Darkness.
But there are several less-remembered works from the maestro that you should check out:
The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (1976)
Sherlock Holmes meets Sigmund Freud. Correction, Sherlock Holmes desperately needs the help of Sigmund Freud. If the popular conception of Holmes is as a deeply troubled, it entered the popular zeitgeist by way of Meyer's typewriter.
The novel that first brought Meyer notoriety made a terrific film starring Nicol Williamson and Robert Duvall. I'd write more about it, but it’s a deeply fun story with a lot of surprises. You should go watch it now. The Seven-Per-Cent Solution also received a recent graphic novel adaptation, which is definitely worth a look.
Time After Time (1979)
H.G. Wells chases Jack the Ripper through time. Not enough of an argument for Meyer's directorial debut? Malcom McDowell plays against type, making the author of War of the Worlds into a sprightly nerd for the ages. Anything else you need? David Warner is in it. If that's enough for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, then it should be enough for you too.
Tom Hanks is a complete, unrepentant asshole. It's a rare thing, but also a glory to behold in this movie, bridging the gap between Meyer's Trek gigs. In an age when it was thought Tom Hanks and John Candy were thought of as a new Hope and Crosby, Meyer produced his most obviously commercial film outside of the Star Trek milieu. Despite all of this, it also manages to be one of both Hanks' and Meyer's strangest movies, somehow managing to mix The Bridge on the River Kwai and a Marx Brothers movie. It also sports a score by James Horner in his bombastic prime, and that is something that will be in tragically short supply from here on.
I could go on and on about his work, but that would take away time from your own discovery of his work. He is far and beyond the number one influence on my work. Who's the bedrock of your output? Let me know in the comments.
*Yeah, there's an animated series. It's on Netflix. All of the original series cast (save Chekov) are back from the proceedings. It isn't the worst thing in the world.
**That's an entirely different blog entry, one I'm sure I'll get to soon enough. In the mean time, kids, ask your parents.
***The screenplay for Khan is credited to Jack B. Sowards, but every source who would be in a position to know indicated that Meyer took the disparate parts from the development of the first sequel (a large share of which were from the Sowards draft) and over twelve days gave them life in a new draft where the film finally took shape.
****Man, the conventions of writing about film seem silly sometimes, don’t they?
*****Myself included. At its core, Orson Welles of Mars is a Nicholas Meyer mixtape. My only hope is that I understand the language and the sounds more than most. Small ambitions get more work done, if you ask me.