THE VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE — book review

Published September 21, 2009

While most all of the cast from the original Star Trek series have written memoirs — each of which, like the Gospels, tell differing accounts of the same story — a few stand out from the rest. William Shatner’s Star Trek Memories (1993), and Star Trek Movie Memories (1994) are both extremely entertaining accounts of their titular topics. Likewise, Leonard Nimoy’s I Am Spock (1995 — updated from 1975’s I Am Not Spock) is, as his pointy-eared alter ego would opine, fascinating. Even Harlan Ellison’s The City On the Edge of Forever — The Original Teleplay That Became the Classic Star Trek Episode is a whip-smart, venom-laced, laugh-out-loud rant about Star Trek’s most famous hour.

Add another classic book to these with Nicholas Meyer’s The View From The Bridge: Memories of Star Trek and a Life in Hollywood (2009).
The View From The Bridge
Nick Meyer, as Star Trek aficionados will tell you, is just as responsible for the continuing success of Star Trek as any of those aforementioned gentleman. I would even include Gene Roddenberry in that statement — though the writer/director was often at odds with The Great Bird of the Galaxy.

Meyer, who in the 1970s had written the Sherlock Holmes-meets-Sigmund Freud novel The Seven-Percent-Solution (he also adapted the screenplay) and wrote and made his directorial debut with the H.G. Wells-chases-Jack-the-Ripper-through-modern-day-San-Francisco thriller Time After Time (1979), was called in to see if he could help the ailing Star Trek film franchise after Robert Wise’s bloated-but-profitable The Motion Picture left producers at a loss on how to boldly go forward.

Meyer was not a Trekkie (“Star Trek … is that the one with the guy with pointy ears?”), but after talking with producer Harve Bennett, and screening a few of the original episodes (especially Space Seed), he had an epiphany. Always a big fan of the classic Horatio Hornblower series, Meyer realized that Star Trek was simply Hornblower in space. Roguish Captain with a girl in every port (or on every planet), noble ship, gallant crew … all he had to do was turn up the military aspect a bit (“nautical but nice,” as Meyer says), and heave anchor. Well, that and take the best bits (Khan, the Genesis torpedo, Kirk’s bastard son, Spock’s death) out of five failed screenplays, add touching ruminations on aging and friendship, and in an unbelievable 12 days, write the script that became Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. 12 days — not even enough time to legally wrangle himself a screenwriting credit on the hard-dated production. Meyer also directed the film, and to this day it is considered the best of Star Trek’s cinematic journeys. If this second film had failed, there would have been no more movies, no Next Generation, nor any of the other series which followed — which is why Meyer, among others, can be credited with saving Star Trek. Again.

Meyer would also go on to co-write Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, and co-write and direct Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country — the original cast’s swan song.

Many of the anecdotes printed in Meyer’s memoir were previously related on the DVD director commentaries of these films, but the stories are so entertaining, and Meyer’s voice (whether spoken or read) is so good-humored and comforting, it is quite nice to have them in this form. A few of the dates mentioned are obviously wrong (did no one at the publishing house proof this?), but I quibble — this is a wonderful book. Meyer’s most oft asked question about The Wrath of Khan: is Ricardo Montalban’s chest real or prosthetic? Answer: it is real.

While this memoir covers Meyer’s other screenwriting and directorial efforts, like the telefilm The Day After (1983), Volunteers (1985) and The Deceivers (1988), it is smart enough to know who its core audience is, and so breaks itself up into three parts, Pre-Trek, Trek, and Post-Trek. There is a nice symmetry in having this memoir published in 2009 — the same year that J.J. Abrams saved Star Trek. Again again.

Intimate, informative and impossible to put down, The View From the Bridge is a must-read not only for Star Trek fans, but for anyone interested in the craft of screenwriting and filmmaking.

BOOK GRADE: A

For a fascinating conversation with Meyer, check out this Q&A at a recent book signing.