Nicholas Meyer

Nicholas MeyerThe great film writer and director Nicholas Meyer is 69 years old today. You probably know him because he wrote and directed the two best Star Trek movies: The Wrath of Khan and The Undiscovered Country. They are probably the best ones because Meyer was not a Star Trek fan. Of the former film, he got to the heart of what’s wrong with the series (and even more so the later versions), “I didn’t insist that Captain Kirk go to the bathroom, but did Star Trek have to be so sanctified?” Clearly not.

Meyer hasn’t worked as a director in a long time. I think he’s always seen himself as a writer. He did recently write that four-hour History Channel series Houdini. I didn’t see it, but my father really enjoyed it. It’s interesting that he should have come to prominence because of the Sherlock Holmes novel, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution. Houdini and Arthur Conan Doyle were friends — at least until all the mystical stuff ripped them apart.

What I’m most interested in is Meyer’s made-for-television film, The Day After. That was the one that was about nuclear war and how horrible it would be. I never saw it. I didn’t feel the need. Didn’t we already know? Plus, Threads provided more than enough information. (My understanding is that The Day After is rosy compared to Threads.) After the film, I guess they had a discussion with Carl Sagan on the anti-nuke side, and William F Buckley, always on the wrong side of history, pushing for the importance of nukes.

Normally, these kinds of issue films are totally worthless — preaching to the choir. But in this case, the film had a very special viewer: President of the United States Ronald Reagan. Apparently, it is not true that Reagan sent a message regarding the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty to Meyer saying, “Don’t think your movie didn’t have any part of this, because it did.” But Reagan (along with much of his staff) was apparently greatly affected by the film. He wrote in his journal that it was “very effective and left me greatly depressed.”

Let’s revisit Khan’s great Melville death:

Happy birthday Nicholas Meyer!

3 thoughts on “Nicholas Meyer

  1. Hell, they should hire Meyer to do another “Trek.” Allow him to use a plot about Kirk being stuck in a wormhole somewhere and make the movie about Spock & McCoy, the only interesting actors in the new bunch. (Just as they were the best characters in the old bunch.) Oh, wait, Meyer’s already done a new “Trek.” The one that was a complete ripoff of his old script.

    When “Day After” aired, our school gave every kid a letter to bring home about how our parents should NOT let us see the movie; which made every kid want to see the movie. I think I caught a few minutes before my parents switched the channel, and it gave me nightmares for decades.

    I watched it as an adult and it’s not very good. It’s most effective in the post-attack scenes, where the survivors seem to have little worth surviving for, and I understand this is what affected Reagan most about the film. Of course, it’s exactly how intelligent people had been describing the aftermath of nuclear war for decades, but probably not the ones who briefed Reagan.

    You’d think Reagan’s handlers would know enough NOT to let Ronnie see a message-y anti-nuclear-war movie. He got much of his political philosophy, such as it was, from message-y anti-Commie movies he was in and message-y scripts people gave him to read on radio/TV. But they let him see it, and the results were good. Thanks, Meyer!

    • I don’t know what to think. My image of Reagan is that despite everything, he was still always a dream factory guy. So stopping him from watching a big TV event just wasn’t going to happen. But according to one source, his advisers were as affected as he was.

  2. Your posting of the Melville quote a couple of weeks ago reminded me of this. Having read neither, I assumed the quote was from Milton. The Space Seed ends with a Milton reference, Khan’s commentary on his exile that “It is better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven”. Meyer, you probably know, decided to write Kirk as Horatio Hornblower. His change in tone and style really saved the franchise. And of course Roddenberry hated it. I gather he was deposed in a palace coup around season two of Next Gen. Roddenberry ridiculously insisted that Starfleet was not a military organization. They operate under military discipline, use armed space craft to carry out the political will of their state, even to the point of prosecuting war against enemies of the state, but we’re going to call it a “piano limb” instead of a leg. I suppose that sort of thing is harmless.
    Didn’t Meyer also direct Time After Time with David Warner as Jack the Ripper?

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