Mar 2, 2012

[Movies] Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

The original Star Trek TV series had very strong Western story elements at its core. Here you had a lone ship exploring the new frontiers of the galaxy in an effort to meet new civilizations and explore strange new worlds. Thus he parallels between Star Trek and the pioneer days of the "old West" are easy to draw.

And yet when Star Trek finally started to explore the strange new reality of the movie world, they lost a lot of that fire and spirit of adventure with a rather cerebral story and glacial pacing at times. This time around they opted to change things significantly with this sequel by trying to return to the action and adventure that has been at the core of many of Star Trek's original TV episodes.

And for the most part, I think it worked.

This sequel is often touted as one of, if not the best of all the Star Trek movies that have been released thus far, and I find it harder to argue against that point. The movie just wonderfully managed to balance the diverse elements that factored into the production to end up with a story that just worked on so many levels. With strong characters, generally impressive acting, and good old fashioned action, the end result remains pretty impressive until today.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, is the first movie sequel in the Star Trek science fiction movie franchise and was released in 1982. The movie was directed by Nicholas Meyer with a screenplay by Jack B. Sowards and Nicholas Meyer. So yeah, Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry was not too involved this time around.

In terms of the core plot, the movie starts with the USS Reliant on a survey mission looking for a suitably lifeless planet to test the Genesis Device on. Captain Clark Terrell and Commander Pavel Chekov (Walter Koenig) beam down to the surface of Ceti Alpha VI where they are ambushed by the forces of the genetically engineered Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalban) from the TOS episode "Space Seed". The planet had once been lush and fertile until an interstellar incident disrupted the planet's ecosystem. And now Khan was out for revenge - and he planned on using the Reliant to help him get his way.

Back home (har har), we meet Lieutenant Saavik (Kirstie Alley) in command of the USS Enterprise in a daring rescue mission. Of course it turns out that this is an elaborate simulation known at the Academy as the Kobayashi Maru with Captain Spock (Leonard Nimoy) overseeing the training. Eventually Spock's trainees take the Enterprise out for a training mission that soon becomes a rescue mission after they receive a distress call from the research station Regula I. Admiral Kirk (William Shatner), who had been observing Spock's trainees, then takes command of the ship given the new mission.

This is the Star Trek movie that a lot of fans wished had been the first one. And I can't fault them for that kind of thinking. I mean come on, this movie had all the core elements of a great adventure. We had strong character interconnections because of well-established back story. There were some great ship-to-ship fights and intensely suspenseful moments. We even had an old flame and some surprise revelations here and there. And of course that killer ending.

Khan and his followers in Star Trek II: The Wr...
Image via Wikipedia
A lot of what made this movie so great definitely had to do with Ricardo Motalban reprising his role as Khan (along with the supporting role of Khan's exposed chest). To give such a talented actor control over such a well-written character really went a long way to defining this movie. And come on, with a villain like that, you can only make the heroes look that much better in sheer contrast. The man made a science fiction movie almost seem like Shakespeare.

The evolution of the roles of the various characters was good too. For example, seeing Chekov finally with a different crew given his experience an officer or even Spock as an instructor at the Academy. The movie was able to touch on better presenting the growth of the characters since the TV show had ended - something that the first movie had only touched on very briefly before the burden of its own complex plot brought the whole thing down. Here the touches were somewhat subtle but still pervasive enough to be noticed (and appreciated) by the fans.

And the big final battle was just beautiful - a wonderful representation of what makes fighting in three dimensions so tricky. And what's more fun is the fact that submarine captains already deal with this issue given current naval technology, so this really mostly transplanting things learned there to the futuristic setting.

I'd love to talk about the ending more, but that would spoil things for those new generations of Star Trek fans who still have yet to see the movie. But man, it is quite the pivotal end that really presents the maturity of the characters and perhaps some of the best lines of dialog in the franchise. And I know I say that with a degree of bias and being somewhat emotionally compromised for a movie that I love so much. So you can take that last assessment as you will.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is definitely the best of all the Star Trek movies in my book. It's a movie that I never tire of watching over and over again and one that I use to introduce newer folks to the franchise. Thus it proudly gets 5 quotations from classic literature as stated by Khan in the middle of battle out of a possible 5.

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