It would be best if you did not ask me why I was watching this, but let’s just say I am a fan of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (TWOK), as in… well… it’s my favorite movie of all-time and I have seen it thousands of times. Truly.
Okay, that out of the way, Nicholas Meyer, who directed the movie, has the best commentary I have ever heard for a Director’s Commentary. It is especially so due to the director’s keen awareness of art, in general. He speaks of the historical relationships of artists working together on something, or artists’ relationships with the subject matter of the work, or the Director’s role in making a movie. Meyer ascribes much importance to authenticity in his work, showing in the legendary death scene, to be sure.
In any case, I have always thought one of the more intriguing subjects Meyer brings up is his philosophy of creativity under pressure. Whereas Star Trek: The Motion Picture (TMP) had been one of the most expensive movies ever produced, and remains the most successful Star Trek movie in inflation-adjusted terms, because in terms of marginal cost, the $200 million worldwide box office revenues were considered relatively poor returns for $35 million cost. People just didn’t understand the movie in its glory. I did, but I digress. So after TMP’s costly production, Paramount pared down the budget for the next movie to $11 million. The movie went on to gross about $170 million, making the Paramount executives seem like geniuses. [Side note: TWOK had the largest opening weekend of all-time til then.]
But the real genius may have been Nicholas Meyer, who said that working under the pressure of a small budget for a Star Trek movie demanded successful innovation. It’s kind of like the misunderstanding over evolution. Many think that because we needed eyes, we evolved to have them. Not so. The eyes conveyed an advantage to those who had them which manifested itself in successful reproduction. In terms of art, Nicholas may actually be on to something. Perhaps it would be not unlike Jan Pokorny’s work in adapting historic buildings for reuse — a challenge that could lead to tremendous innovation.
So is there a divergence in artistic outputs between schools where methods are more disciplinarian, taught under strict pressures of time and technique or more laissez-faire, where artists have no restrictions? The correct answer is: it depends. Meyer thrived under the budgetary pressures, as no doubt many artists do. But another artist in his place may not have made such a terrific movie. It is hard to believe anyone could make one that comes even close, really. For every tortured Soviet pianist, there’s an untamed physicist or mathematician contributing valuable insights from her or his couch. For every athlete who trains every waking minute to excel, there is an athlete who succeeds based on talent alone.
These divergences are, in the end, the proof that art cannot and never should be regulated. There’s no general solution for economic development for the same reasons. As Vulcans would say, we humans have infinite diversity in infinite combinations (IDIC), which makes attempts to simplify us into equations futile. No amount of creativity under pressure can change that.