23 February 2009

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan Still Damn Good SF
By Kristin Battestella

Call me what you will-geek, dork, Trekkie; but I liked the latest Star Trek series Enterprise. I’m not too keen on reboots as it is, so I have a forced interest in this new JJ Abrams young Kirk and Spock Academy Star Trek. If you want to introduce young fans to what makes this long standing science fiction franchise, one need not look further than the Original Series’ crew feature Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

Captain Spock (Leonard Nimoy) is training a new crew for the USS Enterprise, including young Lieutenant Saavik (Kirstie Alley). When exiled enemy Khan (Ricardo Montalban) steals the USS Reliant and captures the secret Genesis Project, Admiral Kirk (William Shatner) must whip his unprepared crew into shape.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan Genre fans know the story. After developing a following in syndication, Star Trek (1966-69) was to reboot with a new series that instead became Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979). In hindsight, The Motion Picture was not the best move forward into feature films; due to its strained story, length, and production. Thankfully, Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry was ready to try again, and in 1982 The Wrath of Khan premiered to big box office bucks. Not only is TWOK a great culmination of Trek in film, but it’s a damn good science fiction film in its own right. It helps to know the series and character background, but the viewer need not adore the Original Series to appreciate The Wrath of Khan.

We…may…laugh at…the…way…William Shatner (Boston Legal) delivers his lines, but the Kirk actor has made quite a success for himself beyond Star Trek. Instead of hot blooded Captain Kirk, The Wrath of Khan presents an aging Admiral who’s embarrassed to wear his spectacles on the bridge. Likewise the late DeForest Kelley is a delight as the cranky ship’s doctor, Bones McCoy. His friendship with Kirk has aged like a vintage wine. And of course, Leonard Nimoy makes the movie as the iconic emotionless Vulcan Captain Spock. His eyebrow, the ears, that Vulcan salute; For an emotionless half alien, Spock certainly has a lot of love and devotion. I can admit The Wrath of Khan has some hokey parts, but the original crew all look alright in the uniforms here, unlike some of the later films where they are truly a tad too old to continue. Nichelle Nichols’ Uhura, George Takei’s Sulu, Walter Koenig’s Chechov, and the late James Doohan as Scotty all have their charm here.

Of course, the film doesn’t revolve all around the old crew. Bibi Besch and Merritt Butrick as Carol and David Marcus are fitting enough as our guest scientists, but no one has raised more good guy love or hate in Star Trek as Kirstie Alley’s (Cheers) Lieutenant Saavik. I like the uptight Vulcan Lieutenant and back in the day, I really liked Kirstie Alley. Saavik is the heir apparent to Spock, and learns a few tricks not in the book courtesy of Admiral Kirk. Alley, however, was not fond of science fiction or Trek fandom, and did not reprise the role for Star Trek III: The Search for Spock due to contract disputes. Script and cast changes and canonical questions may have hampered the full development of Saavik- nonetheless, its intriguing to watch and wander what could have been.

One of my favorite parts of I Love The 80s is when they giggle and debate over the buff fake chest Ricardo Montalban did not wear for his role as Kirk’s arch rival Khan. You are treated to enough of Khan’s history here; and the recently passed Montalban (Fantasy Island, The Colbys) wonderfully explores the madness, genius, and even affection of the crazed superman that we first saw in the Original Series episode ‘Space Seed.’ The witty lines and cat and mouse game between Khan and Kirk may be comical to some, but it is also a fine piece of drama and intelligent acting.

Although some of the eighties styles and effects creep into The Wrath of Khan, the film still has some great graphics and space battle sequences. The science behind the onscreen Genesis Project may not hold up to the super smart viewer, but the premise is very intriguing-as intriguing as that mind controlling slug in Chekov’s ear is creepy. I’m not a squeamish person, but those leeches slinking into everybody’s skulls gets me every time! Likewise, the score from James Horner (Braveheart, Titanic) adds all the charm and tension we need. This is one of those films where the score has become so familiar to me, that if I’m in another room and hear it on the television, I know exactly what scene is playing. From the epic battle scores, to the heart tugging finale music, The Wrath of Khan has space opera tunes akin to that other big onscreen sf franchise, Star Wars.

The Wrath of Khan hails a complex and swift story from Roddenberry, Harve Bennett (The Bionic Woman) and director Nicholas Meyer (Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country). We have nearly every science fiction cliché in the book, and yet there’s something for everyone. From the person battles and family issues between Kirk and Khan, to the camaraderie of the original crew, TWOK deals with human issues like life and death while raising some great sf ethical questions. Khan is part of the highbred eugenics program-super soldiers cloned long ago on earth. Early on in the film Doctor McCoy calls the terra forming and life growing Genesis Project ‘Armageddon’. In 1983 perhaps these were the likes of distant science fiction, but today these ideas are not very far from science fact. The Wrath of Khan reminds us that the technologies we create require serious responsibility. This is what fascinated me about the Original Series when I was a kid, and what still intrigues me about genre fiction and film. Science fiction can say things that we cannot say about ourselves. Its outlandish bugs in Starship Troopers and devoid pod people in Invasion of the Body Snatchers say more about the human condition in the past, present, and future than any plain old drama. Can science fiction predict science fact? Star Trek is a great example of the possibility.

I don’t want to give everything away, but of course, repeat viewers know that the conclusion to The Wrath of Khan is irrevocably tied to the follow up film, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. Fans, of course, revel in the behind the scenes stories that brought all this about, but I do believe casual viewers can walk away from The Wrath of Khan completely satisfied. You need not see the slightly sub par The Search for Spock, but any viewer of TWOK should see the follow up at least once. My father is one of many fans who prefer Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. It is a fine and charming film that brings to light the plight of humpback whales and extinction. The contemporary 1986 stylings, however, puts The Voyage Home a step below TWOK. But I do have to admit that like The Voyage Home, The Wrath of Khan is highly quotable as far as quotes go. So many lines here have joined our lexicon, from ‘Revenge is a dish best served cold’ to ‘the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.’ Can’t we all just ‘live long and prosper’?

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is an intelligent science fiction picture that grows beyond its television roots. Fans of the Original Series no doubt adore The Wrath of Khan, but Star Trek naysayers who are otherwise science fiction fans need to give this film a try. With only mild violence and little else risqué onscreen, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is the perfect introduction to budding fans. So go ahead, take a geeky night in with the family.… KKKHHHHAAAAAANNNNNN!!!!!!


thebonebreaker said...

Another excellent write-up Kristin!

This one is my favorite of the films
[I am crossing my fingers on Abrams' upcoming reboot]

Anonymous said...

Yay Kristin! Another bang-up job of reviewing! And I am your perfect target audience--or would have been actually, because I was one of the naysayers way back when this film came out. I married a major Star Trek fan (god help me--even if he did not go so far as to be a bonafide Trekkie...) and he had already talked me into going to see the first Star Trek film where I was...not impressed. So it took some major talking for him to get me to go see Wrath of Khan. It turned me into an admirer at last but mostly of the films, not as much of the series; to which I think it might have something to do with growing up with it, like eating Shredded Wheat for example.
However, WOK opened my eyes to the depth of friendship these people shared on their futuristic journeys and to me they finally seemed 3-dimensional beings at last. Add into the mix the best villain Star Trek has ever come up with in Ricardo Montalban and you have the true recipe for converting even the most stubborn. The 'revenge' line is memorable because it was delivered so expertly. Plus extra points to Ricardo for not having to wear a chest piece(!)
It does hold up well I agree, and possibly it's because the emphasis is more on the people rather than just the science of it all.
I'm going to pass on your review to my husband because it will simply make him smile and he will try to talk me into watching it 'just one more time'...again.
Thanks so much!
--Oh and I am behind on your Bean reviews, but trust me, Ive been enjoying them immensely and will comment on them as soon as I can.

Kristin Battestella said...

Hi Bone! We'll see about the reboot. Nice cast I think, but I liked Trek the way it was. I didn't watch DS9 or Voyager, so I don't think I had a burnout like a lot of fans. Time will tell!

Welcome Tracie! Glad you're a convert, Trek and otherwise ;0) I know the Bean reviews aren't for everybody, but the gals at the Mighty Bean request them, and I am happy to oblige!

Kristin Battestella said...

Hey folks. Some original series Star Trek episodes are available online at the imdb. I know they sort of have rival libraries, so not all of the viewable contest at Hulu and the imdb is the same. Take a look.