In my stupidly long posts on TMP, the important thing to note from Paramount’s perspective is that the movie was a success, but for the amount of hassle behind the scenes, the return on interest, and the fact that the production nearly killed Paramount meant that they wanted to make another Star trek movie, but they didn’t want to make TMP ever again. Gene Roddenberry proposed a story where the Enterprise went back in time to the 60s to stop the Klingons from preventing the Kennedy assassination - which he would raise as a possibility pretty much every chance he got.
To protect the potential production from Gene Roddenberry, he was given an executive consultant position. They brought in Harve Bennett, a writer and producer on TV shows including The Mod Squad, The Bionic Woman and the Six Million Dollar Man. The move to Trek’s production department was his first foray into cinema. Bennett’s brief was to deliver a Star Trek movie to theatres for summer 1982, on a budget of approximately 11 million (roughly a third of TMP’s budget)
Bennett set about watching every episode of the show and TMP to get a feel for the series and the kinds of stories they told. He felt the big thing that TMP was missing was a villain, and when he watched Space Seed, he knew that Khan would be perfect for the story. In November 1980 he issued a one-page plot summary for Star Trek: War of the Generations - The Enterprise would be sent to a Federation world with an ongoing uprising - the world where an ex of Kirk’s was living. He would discover that he had a son, who was one of the leaders of the rebellion, but Khan would be pulling the strings from behind the scenes. Kirk and his son would team up to defeat Khan, and his son would join the crew of the Enterprise at the end of the movie. At this point, much of the themes that would define the finished product were in place - the story would focus on the crew ageing, and Kirk having an adult son was a constant element in all the drafts that would follow this outline.
Bennett brought Jack B. Sowards, veteran screenwriter and Trekkie to begin the first draft. He noted that Spock was absent from Bennett’s outline because Leonard Nimoy had expressed a desire to not return to Trek. Sowards thought that he could entice Nimoy back by killing Spock early in the movie, which worked - though as the script progressed Spock’s death kept being pushed further back. Under intense time pressure because of an impending writers’ strike, Sowards quickly turned the one page outline into a nineteen page treatment.
Star Trek: The Omega System added more of the elements we see in the final film. USS Reliant, commanded by Clark Tyrell and Pavel Chekov would travel to Ceti Alpha V to select a test site for a weapon called the Omega System, only to find Khan and some of his followers - including Marla McGivers- alive. Khan would have developed psychic powers which he uses to take control of Tyrell and Chekov, seize the Omega System, and attempt to get revenge on Kirk. The Enterprise would be crippled in an ambush, with Spock sacrificing himself to get the ship operational enough to escape. Kirk and Khan would then battle on the psychic level with Khan winning, before Kirk defeated him in a starship battle by using superior tactics.
By April 10th, just before the writers’ strike, a revised treatment called Star Trek: The Genesis Project was completed, which moved Spock’s death to later in the movie, and changed the Omega Device from a weapon to a terraforming device called Genesis. This last point was because Bennett was not satisfied with the Federation creating a doomsday weapon - art director Michael Minor came up with the change. This draft also included Saavik for the first time (called Savik, and a human male at this point), and wrote out Marla McGivers after the production team discovered Madlyn Ruhe had developed MS and was wheelchair-bound at the time.
While pre-production was underway and storyboarding for the effects sequences was underway; Bennett and line-producer Robert Sallin weren’t wholly satisfied with the script yet, so they hired Samuel Peeples, the writer of Where No Man has Gone Before to take a pass at it. His proposal, title Worlds that Never Were became a draft script called The New Star Trek, submitted August 24th, 1981. Khan was replaced with a pair of aliens called Sojin and Moray, and Sulu became Reliant’s captain instead of Tyrell. Peeples kept “Savik” in the script, who’s species and gender had changed to be a half-Romulan, half-Vulcan woman in a draft by Theodore Sturgeon from the prior month. As Peeples was writing, Bennett and Sallin hired Nicholas Meyer (best known at that point for Time after Time) to direct the film, and contracted ILM to do effects. Ultimately, Peeples’ script was rejected, with Sallin saying it was derivative and didn’t ‘feel like a motion picture’ to him.
Three weeks after Meyer was hired, he asked to see the current script, but Bennett and Sallin were reluctant to send him The New Star Trek, apparently embarrassed by it, though he ultimately acquiesced. Meyer also didn’t like it, and invited Bennett and Sallin to his house and asked them to bring all the drafts of the script. They’d go through them together, find what they liked and discard the rest. Meyer found a lot to love in the various drafts and then worked with the output from that meeting to create his script, first called Star Trek: The New Frontier, but eventually submitted on September 29th as Star Trek II: The Undiscovered Country. Meyer was determined that the script would be accessible to contemporary audiences, so he added some humorous moments to make the characters more relatable and to heighten the drama in other areas; and he added the traditional nautical and naval trappings to the movie, reasoning that Trek was in many ways Hornblower in Space.
With the shooting script in hand, work progressed on the physical production. Many of the Enterprise sets were still standing, including the Bridge. Robert Wise literally closed the doors on the Bridge set after filming on TMP concluded, and they sat intact in the intervening months as nobody else used the studio in that time. The budget wasn’t there to do major renovations, so the set pulled double duty for both Enterprise and Reliant’s bridge, with only minor cosmetic changes from its appearance in TMP - most notably a new paint scheme. Meyer hated the set - it was fully enclosed on all sides, and even though it was built as interlocking removable pie-slices so one could wheel out a section to get a camera in, that then limited the dynamics of camera movement for fear of panning across the open section of set. It also had walls which curved inwards at the top, making it a nightmare to light properly. The DP and lighting team made any number of elaborate crane and chandelier-type contractions to lower lights in through the window at the top of the bridge.
The main new set was the Enterprise torpedo room, which is a redress of the Klingon battlecruiser’s bridge from TMP. Meyer wanted to have lots of dynamic movement in the action scenes, and so had the grates that get raised when the ship is entering battle added to the set to have more happening in the scene. Other cost-saving elements in the sets included optical tricks to make the corridor in Starfleet Command where Spock and Kirk discuss his gift look much larger than it was.
When Robert Sallin came onto the production he was insistent on getting new costumes for the crew. Because the budget was so tight, he also didn’t want to discard the costumes from TMP, and looked at dying them and using them for enlisted crew and cadets. As Meyer wanted to play up the naval aspects of the setting, the new officer’s uniform was influenced by real-world navies, going for that awesome layered jacket over turtleneck look. The maroon colour was chosen to match one of they dyes that worked well on the TMP jumpsuits. The collars on the turtlenecks used a form of quilting called trapunto, which was developed in 14th century Italy and well in decline by the 1980s. Indeed, the production had only one sewing machine capable of the quilting, which was 50 years old at the time, and only one needle which they were terrified at breaking, losing or having stolen. Meyer developed the rank and division insignia worn by the crew in conjunction with the wardrobe department, looking to add as much authenticity to the outfits as possible. The final addition in the design phase was the jacket flap, adding a contrasting colour to allow for the actors’ faces to be framed if necessary. The level of detail and obscure manafacturing methods used in the uniforms for this movie have left it dubbed “monster maroon” by costuming fans.
As I noted upthread, ILM were contracted to provide special effects, a relationship which would continue for most of the Trek movies. They were able to use existing models from TMP, notably the Enterprise, and an orbital office block which was taken apart and rebuilt as Regula One. Reliant and the Regula asteroid were the two major new builds for the movie.
The instructions for Reliant was to make her look as different to Enterprise as possible while still being recognisably a Federation ship. While Enterprise’s damage was relatively minor in the movie - they were able to use aluminium tape to make the scars on her hull - but as Reliant took much heavier damage additional models were made, a mix of ones at the same size with parts missing and damage applied, and larger segments of the ship for closeups.
The Mutara nebula was created by filming a cloud tank for weeks, looking dilligently for shots suitable to composite the footage of Enterprise and Reliant into.
The closeup of the Ceti Eel leaving Chekov’s ear was shot using a massive reproduction of Walter Koenig’s ear and the side of his head. It ws stored away after the movie and was not seen again until a special feature for the TNG series 2 DVD
In order to save money for use elswhere, a number of effects shots were recycled from TMP, including the Klingon squadron seen on the viewscreen in Saavik’s Kobyashi Maru test, Kirk and company’s shuttlepod arriving at Enterprise; as well as Enterprise exiting the drydock and going to warp.
The briefing on Genesis that Kirk, Spock and McCoy watch is CGI, the first wholly computer generated animation to ever be seen in a movie. Note that even the borders of the viewscreen in those frames is CG!
(trivia and opinion to follow…)