Although David Carson directed gems such as Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s Yesterday’s Enterprise, he also worked on Star Trek: Generations, where he found the proposed mode of death for James T. Kirk to be unacceptable.
Carson began his Trek career with The Next Generation‘s The Enemy. “I was in England and I didn’t know Star Trek,” he explained. “When I was told that I had an interview for the thing, I said, ‘Oh yes, what’s Star Trek?’ My agents went, ‘You don’t know what Star Trek is? You’d better go down to the video store and get the thing out and have a look at it.”
His work was good enough that Carson was offered more Star Trek directing opportunities, including episodes from The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and the Star Trek: Generations movie. “…when I directed TNG, when I did scenes on the bridge, I made them look different somehow,” he said. “That was just by moving the camera and following the actors and being with them, being a little closer to them. The producers liked that style, that European style that I supposedly brought with me. It helped them to feel that they weren’t watching the same thing all the time, that they were getting an injection of something different. That’s how they explained it to me.”
For Yesterday’s Enterprise, Carson arrived to find out that plans had changed and there was no script. “..when I arrived for the first day of eight days of prep, they told me that they’d just discovered that Whoopi Goldberg was available and they wanted to use one of the stories that she featured in.
“So, with eight days to go, we all gathered around this big conference table in the Star Trek offices and looked at an outline, and this outline was Yesterday’s Enterprise. But it was incredibly complicated, this outline, because it involved having two bridges of the Enterprise, turning everything around and making it a completely different parallel universe, and building up ships and things like that. So we had this extraordinary situation where we on the production side went ahead with our plans. The set builders and everybody else went ahead and built these sets whilst the writers were writing. And the two, luckily, matched together completely.”
When it came to Star Trek: Generations, Carson was not happy about the proposed mode of death for Kirk. “Kirk was to be shot in the back,” he said. “What was written and what was accepted by the studio and the producers was never acceptable as far as I was concerned. I mean, here’s this great icon. This Captain Kirk is an icon. He means a lot to people. So to have him die in an ignominious way, when you’re shooting in this incredible mountain area…I fought for that not to happen, but lost the battle.”
But it turned out that fans in a test audience were with Carson when it came to Kirk’s unheroic death. “We did a test viewing and the film got tremendously good scores,” said Carson, “until the ending happened and then the scores just fell off the page. So it seemed that the test audience also agreed that our shooting Kirk in the back was really, totally anticlimactic and not the kind of thing that they wanted at all.
“So we re-wrote the ending and did the ending that you see now in the film. And it was, of course, a huge undertaking because we were doing an action scene in virgin territory in the middle of a national park north of Las Vegas. It was immensely dramatic and because we decided to put it on a bridge, we had to have three helicopters putting the bridge into place and attaching it to these virgin rocks. It was just amazing.”