A look back on the development of the seventh Star Trek film is less a study in creativity than an example of a film made by committee. The strong team assembled by Rick Berman, with their years of experience on The Next Generation, enabled the movie to rise above the constraints of its creation and become as good as it turned out to be.
Paramount made one demand: the film needed to be accessible to the general movie audience. That meant characters and situations had to be fully understandable to someone who had never seen a Star Trek episode.
Also, Rick Berman was determined that the film in some way involved a “passing of the torch” from the original crew to The Next Generation. Patrick Stewart was equally convinced that the first Star Trek crew had to share the spotlight with their successors.
These two requirements raised the specter of a script with fourteen main characters, each of whom would have to be introduced to an audience before the story could even get started.
It seemed an impossible set of demands. Even the previous previous six films had struggled to highlight more than the three main characters of Kirk, Spock and McCoy.
Berman commissioned two scripts with two different approaches to a transgenerational story.
The first was written by Maurice Hurley, a seasoned producer of the series’ first two seasons; the other by first-time feature writers Ron Moore and Brannon Braga, who had been two of the most influential writers on The Next Generation.
The second story was ultimately chosen by Berman and the studio. As it underwent revision, it became apparent that both sets of crews could not be handled in the same script. A draft with only Kirk, Spock and McCoy was prepared and, drawing on a lesson from the past, Berman approached Leonard Nimoy to direct.
However, Nimoy’s role as Spock was little more than a walk-on: a brief appearance in the first few minutes of the film. As an actor, Nimoy felt that since any of Spock’s lines could easily be said by other characters without changing the nature of the scenes Spock was in, there was no dramatic reason for the character to be there. As a director, Nimoy also wanted to have more input.
Nimoy declined to be involved. DeForest Kelly also declined to make a cameo as McCoy, feeling that he had made an effective farewell to his character in Star Trek VI. James Doohan and Walter Koenig agreed to reprise their roles as Scotty and Chekov, providing the sense that the torch was being passed from one crew to another as Berman had desired.
William Shatner’s involvement as Kirk was never in contention. He had been involved from the start and given the project his blessing; a blessing that turned out to be Kirk’s death warrant.
Director David Carson remembered that the extras were starstruck during the first rehearsal of the scene on the Enterprise-B bridge, telling Cinefantastique in late 1994 that one told him:
Look, you’re English, first of all, so you don’t understand what it’s like for somebody at my age to stand on the bridge of the Enterprise with Captain Kirk! I’m an actor, I’ve worked with stars, but this is an emotional experience. The man is an icon.
The main difference with the series, Stewart told Cinefantastique in 1995, was time:
Instead of being involved in a shooting day, which would be putting on film seven to ten pages, we were putting on film two to two-and-a-half pages each day, which means everything can be done more slowly, more carefully, many more rehearsals, many more takes and there would be no moving on until everyone was satisfied that he had done as well as he could.
Another difference was budget, which allowed shooting on location — notably on board a three-masted sailing ship off the coast of California and in Nevada’s Valley of Fire State Park — and the introduction of a spectacular new set: Stellar Cartography. Over three stories tall, it was one of the largest every built on the Paramount lot at the time.