Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Valley Trekkies, prepare for warp speed

Library to screen Trek II and host Q&A with producer

Express Staff Writer

Robert Sallin, the producer of “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,” stands next to the film’s “genesis device,” a gizmo capable of both creating and destroying life on a massive scale. “When they lit it up for the first time, they called me over to the shop, and I said, ‘I’ve got to get a picture of this!’” he said, describing the photo.

    Wood River Valley “Star Trek” fans will soon be treated to a very Trekkie evening. Next week, the Community Library in Ketchum will host a screening of “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,” featuring a Q&A session with producer Robert Sallin, a longtime Wood River Valley homeowner, after the film.
    The free screening will take place Wednesday, Feb. 13, at 6 p.m. The 113-minute, 1982 film features William Shatner as Admiral James T. Kirk, Leonard Nimoy as Capt. Spock, Ricardo Montalban as antagonist Khan Noonien Singh and the so-called Genesis device—capable of spontaneously generating or destroying life—as the movie’s ultimate doomsday weapon. The film also features some absolutely foul earwig-like creatures that crawl into people’s ears and control their brains, and (spoiler alert!) the controversial “death” of an iconic Star Trek character.
    The library is encouraging attendees to dress up as their favorite members of the Enterprise’s crew, or other Star Trek characters before beaming themselves to the event. Sheridan Brett, the library’s program coordinator, stated in a recent press release that the library will provide some
“23rd-century” sips and snacks.
   “I’m going to make some kind of Klingon refreshment,” she said. “And I’m going to wear Spock ears. I’m encouraging people to dress up because that’s always more fun.”
    On Stardate 66553.7 (aka Friday, visit to calculate today’s date as a Stardate), Sallin responded to transmissions from an Idaho Mountain Express reporter and agreed to a pre-screening Q&A session. Here’s what he said:

IME: What was it like working with Shatner, Nimoy and Montalban?
    Ricardo Montelban was absolutely fantastic, a complete professional, total gentleman, an absolute joy to work with. Shatner and Nimoy had been around a long time, great actors, but they had a tendency to be a little casual. When Ricardo arrived, everything he did on his first day was first rate. He just nailed it. The next day, Shatner and Nimoy showed up on time, they had their lines learned. It was like they realized they had to play ball with an ace tennis player. Their performance sharpened right up. But they were all great guys.

Those earwig things are pretty gross. What’s the deal with those?
    (Laughs.) That was some of the most fun I had with the entire film. Harve Bennett, the executive producer, came up with an idea of having a creature that attaches to a person’s neck and controls them. I said that had already been done in an old Star Trek television episode. He told me, “You think of something then.” I saw a slug on the sidewalk the next day and thought, “That could crawl into your ear and take over your brain.” Then we started sketching the creatures. People have told me they’re the grossest things they’ve ever seen. That’s exactly the reaction I wanted.

What was the biggest obstacle you had to overcome in making the movie?
    The studio was always worried about the budget. The first “Star Trek” movie went way over its about $25 million budget. It cost about $46 million, as I recall, but it made money. Most of the extra cost was special effects. I had my own commercial production company, so I was used to managing costs. I told the studio it would cost $12 million, they said, “Take it down a million.” I was really annoyed and angry, but a friend told me, “They do that all the time, just tell them it’ll cost eleven.” I ended up coming in just under twelve, still less than my original budget, and I came in under the $3 million that was budgeted for visual effects.

What was it like to produce a space movie in the early ’80s? What were the technological limitations?
    Computer-generated imagery was very new at the time, but one of the things I pushed was the use of computers. I believe the Genesis Planet creation scene was the first major sequence ever done in a major film with computers. We were very pleased with it. It just knocked us out. But it took forever to render that stuff. Today, there’s so much rendering power. Before, you had to link about 400 computers and they would churn over night. It wasn’t efficient by today’s standards, but for its time it was quite something.

Can you tell me more about Spock’s “death?” Why kill him off? What was the reaction?
    What I’m going to tell you, most people don’t know. [Nimoy] said he didn’t want to put the ears on again. Whether that was a negotiating ploy or a genuine feeling, I don’t know. He didn’t want to do the sequel. Jack Sowers, the screenwriter, said, “Why don’t we kill him off?” We all thought, “Yeah, what a neat idea.” On that basis, Nimoy agreed to do the picture. However, it got leaked to the fans and there was such a huge backlash against it, that Nimoy reversed his decision to abandon Spock. Then, we had to figure out a way to make it so Spock didn’t really die. That’s why we included the closing scene. In science fiction there are many kinds of death and many kinds of life, and that’s the way I left it.
    When the word got out that Spock dies, I got death threats. One was left on my answering machine. The message said, “If you kill Spock, we’ll kill you.” I have a wife and children. We had to increase security. I just wanted to make an entertaining picture, not get involved in life-and-death situations.

Brennan Rego:

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