William Shatner Shares Some Great Behind-the-Scenes Stories About Making ‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan’

     September 1, 2017

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We live in a day and age where no one can agree on anything. People are divided on almost every subject imaginable and it’s incredibly rare when a group of people can come together on anything. But if you get a group of Star Trek fans together, no matter their political background, no matter what they think is the best Star Trek show, I’d wager every person in the room would agree with this one statement: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is the best Star Trek movie.

Released in the summer of 1982, The Wrath of Khan was made on a fraction of the budget compared to the first Trek movie (Star Trek: The Motion Picture) by using tons of cost-cutting techniques to keep the budget down including reusing models, sets, effects footage, and costumes from the first film.

star-trek-2-khan-poster-tyler-stoutBut while the film might have done things on a tight budget, what sets it apart from the slow-moving first installment is director Nicholas Meyer’s focus on action and a great villain. In addition, while Khan (played brilliantly by Ricardo Montalban) is a fantastic antagonist, I think what many people overlook is the decision by Meyer and the creative team to not have a stereotypical fight scene in the third act. In most movies, you’d have the two main characters on a collision course towards the eventual fight scene, but that’s not The Wrath of Khan. While you might not realize it, all the stuff between Captain Kirk and Khan Noonien Singh is done on view-screens and communicators. It’s what a futuristic fight scene would actually be and it’s one of the many reasons I love The Wrath of Khan.

With the film celebrating its 35th Anniversary, Fathom Events and Paramount Pictures are going to bring back the classic film to more than 600 theaters throughout the U.S. on Sunday, September 10th, and Wednesday, September 13th, at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. (local time) each day.

To help celebrate its Anniversary and also to promote its return to theaters, I recently landed an exclusive interview with William Shatner. During the wide-ranging conversation, he shared some great behind-the-scenes stories from the making of the film, how the film had the highest opening weekend of all time when it first opened, how they all thought it could be the last time making a Star Trek film while shooting, his friendship with Ricardo Montalbån, how he was first told about Spock’s death, and so much more. Check out what he had to say below.

Finally, if you’ve never seen The Wrath of Khan on a movie screen, I’d definitely recommend checking it out. You can buy tickets to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan here: www.FathomEvents.com.

Collider: How are you doing today, sir?

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Image via Paramount Pictures

WILLIAM SHATNER: So well. What about you?

Anytime I can talk to you about Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan is a great day.

SHATNER: Oh my gosh, that’s great Steven.

I’ve been a fan of yours a very long time so I want to thank you for talking about the film with me.

SHATNER: Thank you.

A lot of people won’t remember because it was 35 years ago, but when Wrath of Khan came out it had the biggest opening weekend of all time up to that point. Did you have any inkling that it was going to do that kind of business?

SHATNER: Nobody had any idea. We were holding our breath. It came on the heels of Star Trek: The Movie which today has made money and is looked on a little more fondly than it was when it was received. But because it was so rushed, I can remember we had the opening in Washington D.C., and the film, because they were carrying film around those days, the film hadn’t arrived to be played in the theater in Washington til late that afternoon. It came handheld on a commercial airplane accompanied by the studio person.

That’s crazy.

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Image via Paramount Pictures

SHATNER: Yeah. So Star Trek: The Motion Picture was not well received because it was so rushed and didn’t have the final editing time. So to all intents and purposes, that was it. The reviews weren’t that great, business wasn’t that great, that was going to be the end of it.

The owner of Paramount Studios at that time whose name I can’t remember… his wife, so everybody said, “Okay, that’s it, we’ve done it. We’ve made a movie of Star Trek.” That guy’s wife said to her husband, “You’ve got to try again. It’s such a great series,” and she convinced him to bring in Harve Bennett who said, “I could make it for less,” and then he hired Nicholas Meyer, who had written a really great segment, and it was done much more efficiently, much more like a TV show. Smaller, contained, and when it opened, we were thinking, hoping, that it wouldn’t follow the same fate as the prior movie.

Well one of the things that I love about the film, and I think people won’t realize, is that you and Khan never do the stereotypical fight scene. It’s all done via view screen or a communicator. Did you ever want to do one of those fight scenes, or were you sort of like, “This is really cool that we’re not going to just do what normally happens in a movie.”

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Image via Paramount Pictures

SHATNER: To the best of my recollection, I don’t even remember being conscious of it. There was so much dialogue between us, it never occurred to me until after we had done it that I never set foot on the same set. I had known Ricardo [Montalbån] prior to working with him on the movie, but only slightly. In fact, the story is that as a teenager, I was from Montreal, and I’d come down with my parents every so often to New York City just to see New York City. And now I was in my late teens, and I was down in New York for the first time by myself and I went to see a musical. And I saw this dancer who really was good, a handsome man, dancing, and I thought, “Well, what a remarkable dancer, and you don’t see good looking men dancing.” And then I went to a movie and I saw the same guy and he was a good actor, a Latin lover, thought, “Wow, this guy is really terrific.” So I noticed Ricardo Montalbån before I met him. I was aware of this guy who looked really good on film.

Then I met him, and then we worked together, and he had ridden horses and I was so interested in horses, and he was quite an athlete, and he had a sore hip. And then it just degenerated into, he totally became totally incapacitated. And the fact that I didn’t do a scene with him together has only latter day been aware and sad about.

I think it’s one of the reasons why the film is so good. Because normally, a film would build towards you guys having some sort of scene where you’re fighting. That’s what every movie does. And I think it’s stronger that it’s this futuristic kind of fight scene, where it’s just via communicator and view screen.

SHATNER: I agree, there’s a tension there that remains throughout the movie.

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