It Doesn't Take A Trekkie
They call him "the man who saved Star Trek," and it's a pretty accurate assessment. Nicholas Meyer was the right guy at the right time to give Star Trek its greatest moment. And ironically, he wasn't even much of a fan when he started.
In fact, that might have been his secret weapon.
Meyer had a history of shaking up well-established literary franchises for the better. After scripting the schlock classic Invasion of the Bee Girls, he stepped up his game to write and direct The Seven Percent Solution, based on his own novel, which took a long, hard look at Sherlock Holmes's cocaine addiction.
He repeated the trick a couple of years later with Time After Time, a nifty science fiction movie speculating what might have happened if H.G. Wells actually built the time machine he wrote about in his famous novel.
So you take a guy with a knack for coming at things from an interesting angle, and you hand him Star Trek. The franchise was not in the best shape when he found it. Yes, the original Star Trek: The Motion Picture had made money, but it was a critical disaster and didn't become the monster hit that the producers clearly hoped it would. The cast was getting older, the TV show was a decade in the rear-view mirror, and if this second effort didn't work, Paramount was likely going to pack up the whole circus tent and try something new.
Star Trek? Never Saw It.
Enter Meyer, who had seen a few Star Trek episodes, but was hardly what anyone would call a Trekkie. Because of that, he didn't view these characters as sacred cows, which meant he could take them in some really interesting directions. (Like, oh yeah: kill one of them off.)
He also had a nifty notion for the action scenes that got away from the Star Wars-style dogfights that were all the rage at the time, as well as the rather clunky laser battles of the original series. He claimed that Trek reminded him of Horatio Hornblower—a series of swashbuckling naval combat novels set during the Napoleonic Wars—and set out to make the Trek universe resemble an outer-space update of those 19th century ship-to-ship battles.
He gave the series a creative shot in the arm by still throwing in a nice throwback feeling. We find this creativity mostly in the script and in the new, exotic setting. But the most important thing he brought back was the sense of character and fun that the first movie lacked.
We get to see McCoy and Spock bicker like they used to:
McCOY: Why you green-blooded, inhuman…
We get to see Kirk make eye contact with the ladies and make them weak in the knees. We even get to listen to Scotty's whimsical stories about outer space venereal diseases. This was the stuff fans remember from the original series.
Ironically, the people closest to it were too close to see what they had lost. Either that, or they were too busy trying to imitate other science fiction movies (like Star Wars and 2001) to remember that they didn't have to imitate anyone.
That's what Meyer brought to the party. He never saw these characters as untouchable, and so he was able to have a little fun with them and restore the human dimension that the first film lacked. In the process, he turned Paramount's $11 million budget into a $78 million profit…good enough to make for a bona fide hit in the summer dominated by E.T., and keep the franchise going into a very bright future.
Meyer became something of a good luck charm for the series. He wrote the screenplay for Star Trek IV (which Leonard Nimoy directed), and returned to write and direct Star Trek VI, which are considered two of the better entries in the franchise.
Along the way, he also directed the apocalyptic The Day After for television, as well as the Tom Hanks comedy Volunteers and the Pierce-Brosnan-fights-the-Thuggee extravaganza The Deceivers. But Star Trek II is the one he's best remembered for, the one that made him a pillar of one of the biggest science fiction franchises of all time.