And now, with the fight scene in the can, and nothing else to distract me, I rode through the blackness of the night desert night into the neon haze of Las Vegas, back to my hotel, where I spent the night sleeplessly mourning the death of Captain James T. Kirk.
This is a better book than Shatner's earlier memoir Star Trek Memories. The writing is tighter. The stories have more depth. And he spends less time quoting other cast members. We get the stories behind the films, and we learn why Star Trek: The Motion Picture was such a terrible film.
The writing team has improved. In the previous book, you could tell which paragraphs Shatner wrote and which paragraphs Kreski wrote. Don't worry though, Shatner is still Shatner and we still get gems like this:
My sleep became tortured., haunted by highly sensual dreams: pouty-lipped grilled cheese sandwiches beckoning me to dive into their rich, creamy goodness, voluptuous mounds of angel-hair pasta steaming for me and me alone, seaweed rolls busting out of their seams and driving me mad with their exotic Oriental beauty.
NASA's calling. They need my help, fast. I spring into action immediately, jumping the first jet east. Six hours, three bags of peanuts and one truly horrendous chicken a la king meal later, I'm in Florida, where immediately upon landing I'm glad handed by a pair of aviator-sunglassed NASA representatives and shoved into a Jeep. I'm then shuttled off to Cape Canaveral , where I've been assigned the task of serving at the "surprise guest" at a party honoring one thousand of the agency's engineers . It's a difficult mission, one that could very well involve a lot of forced smiling, waving and schmoozing. Still, as any good captain can tell you, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one, and with that in mind, I rise heroically to the occasion, sacrificing my personal comfort for the good of the United States space program.
The difference is the writing flows smoothly from one paragraph to the next with no jarring change of tone. Shatner and Kreski became an actual team.
The book begins with Paramount cancelling the Star Trek TV series. Then it follows Shatner through some of the darkest time in his life. He got divorced at the end of season 3, and suddenly was living by himself with no job.
I learned that there's nothing more disheartening than the luxury of forced free time.
Eventually he starts working again for a touring theater company. He's broke, so he lives with his dog in a camper on the back of his pick up truck. And he toured the east coast doing plays for a summer.
The book then moves on to the movies, giving each film from Star Trek: The Motion Picture to Star Trek: Generations its own chapter.
I have now survived a one-hundred-day sentence in purgatory, with no exit from a shallow, transitory, empty place, wherein your entire life is kept at arm's length, where you work all the time because you simply have nothing else, where business acquaintances have to pass for friends. It's not an unpleasant world, it's merely devoid of any real human contact, devoid of passion. It's a place where everybody likes you, but nobody loves you.
The production of what had now been officially entitled Star Trek: The Motion Picture continued like the tortoise, slow, but…well, slow anyway.
One of the most interesting aspects of the book is how the authors dissect the cinematic disaster that was Star Trek: The Motion Picture. It's a beautiful movie but extremely boring. Gene Rodenberry created Star Trek as a Wagon Train to the stars – an exciting western type show. And yet, he took a talented group of actors, a rich and exciting Star Trek universe, an effects budget they could only have dreamed of in the TV days, and somehow made science fiction and the impending destruction of Earth boring. It was an incredible way to squander the francise.
For the second film, Paramount knew better and the tried to keep Rodenberry as far away from the movies as their contract would permit.
Eisner, however, was taking no chances this time around. Robert Wise, as talented as he is, wasn't offered the director's chair. Gene Rodenberry, whose contract bade such banishment, was eventually kicked upstairs and given the largely ceremonial title of "executive consultant." Paid handsomely and allowed to comment on every story idea and scripted draft of the sequel, Gene was nonetheless stripped of his formerly ironclad "top dog" status.
Harve Bennet, who would go on to produce most of the early Star Trek movies, came to the francise without having seen most of the TV series. So he began studying it. Finally he decided Star Trek II would be a sequel not to the first movie, but to an episode of the TV series.
Hence, I was stuck with the following problem: "Why was I so bored by Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which was skillfully manufactured and beautiful tale?" I began to analyze it and realized that the film wasn't really Star Trek at all. It was more of a tone poem, a think piece about God, a very religious essay about the ironies of V'ger returning to search for its creator. The action and the characters that had always been the foundation of the very best Star Trek episodes were really just along for the ride, shoehorned into a story in an attempt to make this rich philosophical disputation seem more like a large-scale adventure story
Second, "Space Seed had a clear, ballsy, theatrical antagonist, which I felt was almost always present in the best episodes of Star Trek, and missing from The Motion Picture. There, V'ger ultimately shaped up to be more of a misguided spiritual force than a clear-cut antagonist. So I knew we needed a black-hat villan whose reasons for being a villan were clearly defined and motivated. I wanted a classic tale of vengeance, a real "revenge is the best revenge" kind of story.
Rodenberry had forgotten what Star Trek was really about.
Fans of the TV show Star Trek: The Next Generation may see some parallels here. Rodenberry was directly involved in the first season of the show. He made it beautiful. He tried to make it philosophical. How does he do this? He gives us a pilot episode about two space jelly fish in love. He badly rehashes an episode from the original series where people lose their self control. Except in this show, instead of Spock breaking down in tears over his deep human-vulcan identity, or Sulu running around with a sword, we have a security chief who has sex with a robot. Later on that same season he kills off the security chief. She dies when a pool of tar kills her. Why does it kill her? Because it can. It's mean and angry that people keep leaving it.
Eventually Rodenberry got yanked from the day-to-day activities of the new TV show as well. TNG caught its stride and eventually gave us the Borg and Locutus story lines. And, of course, the brilliant Inner Light episode.
Rodenberry got pushed further away from the movies. Nick Meyer, who basically wrote the screen play for Star Trek III: The Search for Spock had this to say:
This Star Trek was much more militaristic than Gene's. He was a utopian, he believed in the perfectibility of man. I don't. That always put me at odds with Gene, but as far as I was concerned, except for Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Gene was never really involved in the movies. You'd just go in and meet with him and then get to work….Star Trek: The Motion Picture was his creation and that he was responsible for taking it up a wrong path someplace. So what I had, rightly or wrongly, was a very clear vision of what I wanted, and the freedom to make it happen. So I made Captain Hornblower in outer space, an adventure movie that was about friendship, old age, and death.
Rodenberry was also obsessed with President Kennedy. Almost every time they made another movie, Rodenberry wanted them to get involved in the JKF assassination.
Gene didn't like the script for Star Trek III at all, and he practically burst a blood vessel railing against Harve's plan to whack the Enterprise. Again, as he had done on Khan, Rodenberry proposed dumping Bennet's script in favor of his own (now slightly revised) time-travelling story in which the Enterprise ends up back in the early sixties mixing and mingling with …you guessed it, John F. Kennedy. This time it would seem, the climactic moments of the film would find Spock, standing on a grassy knoll in Dallas, firing that infamous "phantom shot" as a way of ensuring Kennedy's death and thereby guaranteeing a brighter future for all of mankind.
Shatner and Kreski continue these behind the scenes discussions and analyses about all the movies throughout the book.
While Star Trek: The Motion Picture may be the worst Star Trek Movie, Star Trek V: The Final Fronteir isn't far behind. You can hear us dissect this movie in the Play Cole Podcasts.
The Final Frontier was Shatner's baby. He conceived it, worked on the script, ordered the effects, and, of course, directed it.
Why on Earth would the studio let Shatner direct a movie? They had to. Years before, Leonard Nimoy and Shatner created a most favored nation clause in their contracts. Anything offered to one, had to be offered to the other. Nimoy did a great job as director on Star Trek III and IV. So now it was Shatner's turn.
Shatner concedes the movie is not good. He says the reason it was bad (beside the fact that he couldn't have 30 Rock Men) at the end, is because the scrip revisions process and budgeting restrictions destroyed the story. The end and the journey itself were completely changed and compromised from what Shatner envisioned.
Shatner takes us through his original vision and story line to prove his point. I didn't think it was possible, but his original version would have been worse. It was a terrible story intended to be a commentary on God, angels, demons, and hubris. Kirk would have been the only one in the story who wasn't an idiot.
Instead of making a truly awful movie, they made one that is merely terrible.
I was a little disappointed that Shatner didn't mention his daughter Liz in the chapter about this movie. Liz Shatner if prominently featured on Shatner's audio commentary about the movie. She knew more about the film than he did. Se deserved a mention in this chapter.
The is one of the best books I've read this year. While Shatner's first book was good, Star Trek Movie Memories takes the story to another level entirely. Granted, the material in this book is fresher to Shatner and should be more detailed. But it's more than that. This book isn't just a collection of fun stories painting simple caricatures of the actors and film makers. We get to know the characters. Shatner and Kreski go not for the anecdotes, but for the stories. Some people come off well (Harve Bennet, Nick Meyer, George Takei, Deforrest Kelly). Some come off poorly (Shatner's best friend Leonard Nimoy, Gene Rodenberry).
Shatner and Kreski put together a brilliant history of the Star Trek movies. It's detailed, insightful, and well told. And it never loses that iconic Shatner wackiness.
Tomorrow: I Am Spock, by Leonard Nimoy