The View From The Bridge: Memories Of Star Trek And A Life In Hollywood book review

James reviews writer/director Nicholas Meyer’s memoir of his work in Hollywood and on the classic series Star Trek, and finds a compulsively entertaining read…

Lauded in geek circles for his work in a Hollywood career that has spanned some thirty-odd years and taken in influential work on/around such pop-cultural lodestones such as Star Trek, Sherlock Holmes and HG Wells’ The Time Machine, Nicholas Meyer is a writer/director whose influence spreads wider than many would imagine, taking in filmmakers as diverse as Quentin Tarantino, Bryan Singer and JJ Abrams in the process.

The View From The Bridge offers us a schematic, yet absorbing account of Meyer’s life and Hollywood career, with a particular focus paid to his contribution to the Trek franchise.

The son of New York Jewish professionals (his Father was a psychoanalyst and his Mother a concert pianist), who counted Albert Einstein as a one-time dinner guest, Meyer was raised in a bookish, intellectual environment, but was a voracious devourer of the works of genre writers such as Jules Verne, Alexander Dumas, Arthur Conan Doyle, HG Wells, and the popular movies of the time.

However, despite Meyer’s love for the more pulpy adventure material, it’s actually the collision of those influences with a more literary/high culture strand that is the real signifying stamp of his work.

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Whether it be Spock and Kirk discussing Dickens’ A Tale Of Two Cities in The Wrath Of Khan, HG Wells struggling with the concept of fast food in Time After Time or Sherlock Holmes hanging out with Sigmund Freud in The Seven Percent Solution, this interface between pop culture and high culture is what marks them out as being smart, witty and, perhaps more importantly, very human scaled.

These characters, despite their iconic status, are not treated as untouchable gods, but rather as flawed and weak human beings, who overcome their failings to become truly heroic. As Meyer himself says in the book, “I believe in heroes, not superheroes,” and nowhere is that more evident than in his work onscreen.

The two longest sections of the book follow Meyer’s work as writer/director of both Star Trek 2: The Wrath Of Khan (1982) and Star Trek 6: The Undiscovered Country (1991),with a brief diversion in the middle to cover his quite significant scripting work on Star Trek 4: The Voyage Home (1987). The story of the Star Trek movies is an interesting, but oft-told one and many of the anecdotes have been repeated on various DVD commentaries/documentaries over the years.

Despite this problem of familiarity, Meyer manages to bring some new material to the table and his revelation about his falling out with Leonard Nimoy and his observations about the whole Trek phenomena and attitude of the broader cast towards it are interesting. As are his own (ambivalent) feelings towards the franchise.

Meyer clearly feels akin to Arthur Conan Doyle, who was bemused by the adoration of the public for Sherlock Holmes as opposed to his other works. “I can do it, but I don’t get it,” seems to be the maxim that Meyer, like Conan Doyle before him hews to when discussing the pop culture phenomena that has come to define his career and body of work.

Aside from the Trek sections, there’s also plenty of other anecdotal material on offer, including a not particularly flattering portrait of Gene Hackman from the set of the author’s 1991 Company Business, which covers Meyer’s writing and directing work on such movies as Sommersby, The Human Stain, Elegy, The Day After, Time After Time, The Seven Percent Solution, Fatal Attraction, Volunteers and The Deceivers.

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However, despite the fact that Meyer boasts a very impressive CV, the fact remains that, when placed against this other work, his best and most successful pieces are still Treks II and VI, Time After Time and The Seven Percent Solution.

Perhaps that’s just this particular reviewer’s personal preference (although I must confess a fondness for Elegy, his adaptation of Philip Roth’s The Dying Animal). But one can argue quite strongly that the further Meyer has strayed away from that interface between high culture and pop culture, the weaker and more indistinct his work becomes.

Is Meyer happy about this? Probably not. But then he’s also too smart a writer to let any bitterness cloud proceedings, and wisely focuses on the successes in his career, of which there have been many.

Interesting, well written and entertaining, The View From The Bridge is very much a reflection of both its author and the movies he makes. Here’s hoping he gets back behind the camera soon. 

The View From The Bridge: Memories Of Star Trek And A Life In Hollywood is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.

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4 out of 5