This is the only one of the first ten Star Trek films to feature no Klingon characters. (Klingons also do not appear in the theatrical cut of Star Trek (2009) although they can be found in deleted scenes.)
This is the Star Trek film with the lowest production budget ($11 million). The series premiere for Star Trek: Voyager was more expensive in absolute dollars (between $13 and 23 million, depending on the source).
Actor-Inspired Element: The final interaction between Kirk and Spock was written, word for word, by William Shatner, even down to the blocking of the scene and having them be physically separated at the moment of Spock's death. Although, Shatner's original concept was that Spock would be behind frosted glass and visible only in silhouette — this was changed to transparent glass in the film.
Content Leak: A draft of the screenplay leaked out, which meant that the Spock's shocking demise leaked out well before the release of the film. Fans objected to this plot point, to the point where they actively petitioned the filmmakers to change the film. Which they did — originally, the death scene came in the first half of the film, but it was later decided to save it for the ending. The entire Kobayashi Maru test was added during filming, complete with a fake-out death for Spock, in part to trick audiences who knew about the leak into thinking that this was the death scene that they'd worried about — only to be blown away with the ending. In the end, the fans still got what they wanted with the movie hinting at Spock's resurrection, which would be followed up in the third film.
Matt Jefferies, designer of the original Enterprise bridge (and namesake for the "Jefferies tubes" used throughout the franchise), said that after The Motion Picture he "never watched" subsequent films or incarnations of Star Trek, remarking that they had turned his Navy-esque bridge into "the lobby of the Hilton."
Forget Khan; by now, the real villain of Gene Roddenberry's life had entered the stage: Nicholas Meyer. Gene Roddenberry hated the militaristic framing of WoK as it developed (though he later praised/claimed credit for the "Hornblower in space" theme, it was not his idea), accusing it of not staying true to his ideals of what Star Trek should be. Meyer was then a young man, a newcomer to Hollywood, full of vim and vigor, and in no mood to take crap from a fossil like Roddenberry. Their struggles, which threatened to overshadow the film itself, are chronicled in Meyer's memoir, A View from the Bridge. After it came out that Gene had been sick, and was being fed orders from his parasitic attorney, Meyer regretted losing his cool at him.
Many people, including Harve Bennett, believed that Roddenberry was responsible for Spock's death being leaked to the public, knowing the backlash it would receive. (Meyer got death threats, probably hoping to scare him away from the film.)
Nicholas Meyer had some difficulties as a relative neophyte director (and as someone very new to Star Trek) clashing with the established stars he had no choice in casting:
Meyer was able to fairly deftly deal with William Shatner and his notoriously hammy acting style simply by forcing take after take from him until Shatner grew annoyed and started delivering lazy, half-hearted line readings in order to hint that Meyer ought to move on. And move on he did - because his "lazy" line readings read as "subdued" and gave off exactly the right energy Meyer wanted Kirk to convey.
Leonard Nimoy and Nicholas Meyer very nearly got into a shouting match during the filming of Spock's death scene, according to Nimoy's autobiography I Am Spock. The cause was that they had differences on how gory the scene should be. Meyer wanted Spock visibly bleeding green from open sores and leaving a very visible green handprint from his Vulcan salute, while Nimoy thought that would be undignified, borderline narm and would distract from the gravitas of the scene. Add into the mix that Nimoy recalls being physically distressed at killing off Spock (as mentioned below under What Could Have Been, he had rekindled a desire to keep the character going), and the fuse was lit. In the end, Meyer backed off and toned down the blood.
Ironically, although Meyer was dubious about Ricardo Montalbán's ability to cast off his "Mr. Roarke" persona (it didn't help that Montalban was literally filming his scenes between seasons of Fantasy Island) the two collaborated very well together and would always compliment each other in subsequent interviews.
During the scene where Kirk tricks Khan by using the Prefix Code to lower Reliant's shields, William Shatner kept delivering the line "Here it comes" in a sing-songy, mocking manner. Meyer felt that Kirk would NOT do this, as that's pretty blatantly telegraphing your intentions to your enemy. In the end, Meyer hit on a plan—he had Shatner do several takes of the line. On the last take, Shatner, finally sick of the multiple attempts, thought to just phone it in and delivered a blank, emotionless reading of the line, hoping that Meyer would get the hint and move on. Meyer indeed moved on after that takethe exact reading he wanted for the line, and the reading that was included in the finished cut. In fact, Meyer often used this tactic when dealing with Shatner.
It wasn't hard to get everyone in the right mood to shoot Spock's death scene because, by Nicholas Meyer's own account, everyone on his crew was weeping at the death of the character they all loved so much, up to and including his Director of Photography, Gayne Rescher. Everyone, that is, except for "Mrs. Meyer's oldest". Meyer, famously not a Star Trek fan, could only react with bemusement at his crew, wondering to himself "What am I missing here?" (Years later, he would reflect, "I was missing everything.")
According to Meyer, lawyers decided who got credited, and paid, for the screenplay. "I just wrote it and they put somebody's name on it."As for the whole story The full story: before Nick Meyer was hired as director, there had been five different previous drafts of the script (four written by Jack B Sowards, one by Samuel Peeples)—all with considerably different plots and all unsatisfactory. The special effects company needed to have a proper screenplay for the film within twelve days or the movie basically wouldn't happen, so Meyer volunteered to write a definitive screenplay within twelve days which would combine all the best aspects of the previous drafts. Upon being told they wouldn't even be able to organize a screenwriter's credit for him in twelve days, Meyer decided to do it anyway and try to organize a deal later. In the end he actually did complete the screenplay within twelve days but ended up going uncredited and unpaid for it, with Sowards getting the sole credit.
Judson Scott (Joachim) doesn't appear at all in the credits, due to an overzealous agent trying to get him star billing without his knowledge.
First Appearance: The Miranda-class makes its debut, being a ship that's visually distinctive from the Enterprise and her Constitution-class sisters while still clearly built by the same Starfleet.
Focus Group Ending: Test audiences negatively react to Spock's death in the original theatrical cut, so Harve Bennett added the shot of the mind-meld (with a voice-over by Leonard Nimoy saying "Remember") and the long tracking shot of the Genesis planet that reveals Spock's casket resting intact on the surface, along with some serious Orchestral Bombing by James Horner.
Looping Lines: Spock and Saavik briefly discuss Kirk in Vulcan. Leonard Nimoy and Kirstie Alley shot the scene in English but Nimoy decided it would be more appropriate for the two Vulcans to have a private conversation in their native tongue. So, Nimoy developed Vulcan words that matched their mouth movements and he and Alley dubbed over the scene in post-production.
No Budget: Not completely, but given the cost overruns on Star Trek: The Motion Picture, they definitely had to save money wherever they could. There isn't much in the way of new sets; the remains of the Botany Bay, Regula I (even this was just a modified model from the first film), the USS Reliant (notably the only new model made wholesale for the film outside of some closeup sections of the Enterprise during the Nebula battle) and some corridors. The movie is largely a Bottle Episode. The Klingon ships in the training simulator, all of the Enterprise shots in drydock and the "beauty shot" after its launch were all recycled from the first movie. Several uniforms were reused as well—the thruster suits, engineering suits, and McCoy's medical shirt were reused straight-up with only minor tweaks, and the one-piece jumpsuit uniforms were dyed and tweaked into the cadet/noncom jumpsuits. Even Spock's black robe is from the first movie. The Enterprise model also returns, but with a modified (dulled down) deco in order to work with Industrial Light & Magic's use of bluescreen.
The Other Darrin: The character of Joachim, recast and slightly renamed, from his appearance in the original "Space Seed".note According to one novelization, it's actually the original's son.
Playing Against Type: Kirstie Alley as Saavik is a retroactive case, coming as it did before she established herself as primarily a comedy actress. It's especially ironic that she's a Vulcan, given that she would later be typecast as neurotic characters.
Promoted Fanboy: Kirstie Alley was a big-time fan of the original series who was extremely excited to be able to play a role alongside Leonard Nimoy. Apparently, she was quite apt at the Vulcan characterization, which helped to land her the role. Sadly, she did not come back for The Search for Spock, though exactly why is not clear. Some sources claimed that she chose not to return because she was afraid of being typecast as a "science fiction actress", while other sources claim that her agent demanded too much money without her knowledge or approval, hence her being replaced by Robin Curtis.
Production Nickname: The Starfleet uniforms introduced in this film were called "Monster Maroons" due to how difficult there were for cosplayers to replicate—the turtleneck, specifically were made using trapunto sewing machines that only existed as antiques in museums.
Pointedly shown with a background shot: when Chekov and Terrell are arguing about Carol Marcus's reaction about "transplanting" the life forms from Ceti Alpha VI, Checkov is standing beside a monitor showing the lower hull of the Enterprise.
Recycled Script: The cat-and-mouse space battles in this movie borrow considerably from the Original Series episode "Balance of Terror", with Khan in place of the Romulan commander.
Recycled Set: Sixty-five percent of the film was shot on the same set; the bridge of the Reliant and the "bridge simulator" from the opening scene were redresses of the Enterprise's bridge. The Klingon bridge from The Motion Picture was redressed as the transporter and torpedo rooms.
Separated-at-Birth Casting: Actor Merrit Butrick, who played Carol Marcus' and Jim Kirk's love-child David, really does kind of resemble a young William Shatner at times. His hair is also the exact same color as Bibi Besch (who played Carol), and had the same curl that Shatner was "wearing" at the time.
Shrug of God: Nicholas Meyer has constantly been asked why Khan wears a glove only on his right hand, and has never given an answer, often saying "Why do you think he wears it?".
Saavik crying at Spock's funeral was not scripted or planned. That's Kirstie Alley crying for real at the thought of the character being killed off. It was allowed to remain in the final cut after Meyer was informed that Saavik should not be seen crying as she was a Vulcan, only for him to reply "that's what makes her such an interesting Vulcan".
Troubled Production: Filming wasn't nearly as troubled as the first film, but it had its problems:
Despite everything that had happened on the first film, Paramount were willing to let Gene Roddenberry produce a sequel on condition that it be produced for only around half the budget, that Roddenberry share the producer's job with Jon Povill, and that Paramount would have approval on the storyline and choice of screenwriter. Roddenberry responded by rejecting all their demands except for their proposed budget and told them that he would write a sequel based on an idea he'd had involving Kirk and Spock getting involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and that Paramount could either take it or leave it. They opted to leave it, kicked Roddenberry upstairs, and replaced him with veteran TV producer Harve Bennett.
Bennett had expected a budget of around $20 million to make the film with, but when meeting the Paramount executives, happened to quip that he could make four movies for the money that had been spent on the first film. The executives responded by saying "thanks!", and sent Bennett on his way with a small even at the time $11 million budget; still enough to make a film with, but it forced savings to be found throughout the production.
Writing was the hardest part of the process. Bennett chose to make a sequel to the classic episode "Space Seed", with initial writer Jack B. Sowards producing several screenplays that were decent, but somehow lacking. TOS veteran Samuel A. Peeples was then brought on-board to produce a new draft, only for the resulting screenplay to turn out to be complete garbage, not least because Peeples for some bizarre reason deleted Khan from the script and replaced him with two Sufficiently Advanced Aliens. Now in the position where he needed a script in not more two weeks in order to prevent production from falling apart, Bennett was nearly forced to go with the last draft that Sowards had produced and just hope for the best, but newly-hired director Nicholas Meyer volunteered to do the job himself, even foregoing credit to ensure he could get the job done on time.
Filming and post-production was relatively smooth aside from the cost issues, and Meyer having trouble with William Shatner's Large Ham tendencies even in scenes that called for a more subdued performance, though he was eventually able to find ways to work around it. However, the film's original ending, in which Spock was presented as being absolutely, unquestionably dead, was considered to be too much of a Downer Ending by test audiences, resulting in Bennett and a small camera crew hastily filming an extra scene showing the torpedo containing Spock's body having soft-landed on the Genesis Planet. It let the film end on a moment of hope, but Meyer was incensed, and refused to come back for the third film. note He eventually came back for VI as a personal favor to the head of Paramount at the time.
Word of Saint Paul: To explain why Khan and Chekov recognize each other despite Chekov not having yet joined the show when "Space Seed" aired, Chekov's actor Walter Koenig joked that he was onboard but not in the bridge crew yet and infuriated Khan by making him wait to use the toilet.
Working Title: The Vengeance of Khan. This was changed as it was deemed too similar to the upcoming Return of the Jedi, which was originally called Revenge of the Jedi.