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Stephe's Trek 2 - Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan

‘Revenge is a dish best served cold’ – Klingon proverb.

‘This was due when?’ – Procrastinator’s lament

Yes.  I’m back.  After time off for Comic-Con (Shatner!) and a vacation (Geysers!), I have returned to my self-assigned mission to watch all11 Star Trek films in order.   If I had kept to my planned schedule, I’d already be through the Genesis Trilogy (Trek2, 3 and 4) and headed for The Final Frontier.  So much for the plans of mice and bloggers.  This voyage…Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, assumed to be the best of the TOS Films.

Is it?  We shall see.

ST: The Motion Picture,plodding and ponderous as it was, did well enough at the box office to warrant a sequel.  That’s not to say that it demanded a sequel, but rather politely pointed out that there was some money to be made and quietly asked for one. Paramount approved the project, but with a couple of caveats:  they slashed the production budget, gave it to the television division to produce, and, drum roll please…. kicked Gene Roddenberry off the project.  Sure, he was given a consultant credit, but Paramount basically sent him packing with a pat on the ass and a copy of the home game.

“No, no, Gene, we’re keeping the baby.  But feel free to take some bathwater with you when you go.”

Was it the right move? I think so.  Fairly or unfairly, Gene was credited/blamed for the mess that was the first film.  I’m sure it didn’t help that Gene’s idea fora sequel had the crew of the Enterprise chasing Klingons back in time to prevent the assassination of JFK.  While not nearly as silly as say, going back in time to rescue a couple of humpbacked whales to save the future, Paramount didn’t go for it.  Why? I don’t know.  My guess is that Oliver Stone was too busy writing Conan the Barbarian to direct a crazy space conspiracy film.  Just a thought.  Prove me wrong.

With Gene out of the way, Paramount gave the reins to TV producer, Harve Bennett, who admittedly had never seen the show, but could work cheap.  He certainly had an interesting resume at the time: The Mod Squad, The Six Million Dollar Man, Rich Man Poor Man and Salvage1.  Look that last one up, Andy Griffith blasts off in a homemade rocket to collect space junk…every week.   I remember watching it.  Riveting TV.   Clearly, Harve was the perfect choice to make a Star Trek film.

(Side note – at this point in researching the films’ backstories, I’m fairly convinced that Paramount has never liked Star Trek, or maybe just Gene.  Handing the film over to someone who’s never seen the show is NOT a vote of confidence.)

To prepare for TWOK, Harve watched the TOS in its entirety,which meant he voluntarily subjected himself to episodes like Spock’s Brain and that one with the hippie planet.  That he didn’t shoot himself after that says a lot about the guy.  That he glommed onto Khan says a little more.  That he had the good sense to tap Nicholas Meyer to direct says that Harve’s okay and that maybe, just maybe, Paramount made the right move.

Paramount – 1, Roddenberry – 0.  Sorry Gene.

Selecting Khan as the film’s bad guy was about as good a decision as has ever been made regarding the Trek franchise (certainly better than letting Shatner direct).   He’s a great ‘Why?’ as in ‘Why do we need to make this movie?’ and more importantly ‘Why do we need to go see this movie?’  He had a history with the show.  He’s imagines himself superior to everyone and everything.   And he’s got an axe to grind with one James Tiberius Kirk.  That’s motive and opportunity looking for a means.  Time-hoping turtle-heads?  Pshaw!  Whatever. Khan was the man.  So much so that he provided the grist for the sequel-mill.  Without Khan, there would be no plot for ST3 or ST4.

So, let’s talk about the plot.  As always, I assume that you people have seen the movie at some point in the last 30 years. The story goes that Kirk is getting old and dusty at Star Fleet, having taken a promotion.  The Enterprise has been refitted and crewed with cadets.  On the other side of the quadrant/universe/some ungodly expanse of space, the crew of the Reliant has found what they hoped to be a lifeless rock, but instead is the last known mailing address for one Khan Noonien Singh, he of the pre-hair band coif and hypnotic chest prosthetic.  Khan hijacks the Reliant, while Spock gives Kirk the keys to the Enterprise, and the chase is on.  There’s a fight.  Kirk wins. Khan spits at thee.  Spock dies.  And hope springs eternal.

Roll credits.

I mock, but the story is actually pretty good.  Not just as Trek, but as a story.  And let’s be clear, I’m only talking about the story right now.   I’m not talking about the acting or special effects or costuming.  That’ll come later.  But as far as story goes, give it some props.  You have a couple of solid themes (old age, death, and rebirth) wrapped up in a pirate story.  It’s exciting and thoughtful.  Be honest, who hasn’t dreamed of commandeering a starship and blowing up your enemies?  Anyone? Just me?  Okay.   

And it pretends that TMP never happened.  No one asks about Decker.  No one mentions V’Ger.  No one runs around the bridge in short sleeves with all their manly arm hair hanging out.  Why, there are even a couple of scenes and plot points we just saw one film ago, didn’t we?  Why are we acting like we didn’t know these things.  Oh yes, because we’re doing them again, only better.   It’s as if TMP was the show they rehearsed in previews, right before they retooled it for Broadway.   Today we’d call that a reboot, and a mighty quick one at that!   

(Reruns - Kirk’s a restless, aging  Admiral. Enterprise is the only ship in the quadrant available to deal with trouble, having been undergone a massive refit.  Most of the crew are trainees.  Kirk takes over command of the ship, again.   The reveal of the Enterprise in space dock is the reveal footage from TMP, just cut down to a sensible length.  Many other shots of the ship in space are from the first film, too.)

Is it a good reboot?

Absolutely!  In addition to having a great story, it also fixes one of the biggest issues the first film had.  The Spock-Kirk-Bones love triangle.  The boys are back.  No more tears on the bridge.  No more random glowering.  They actually act and talk like they did on the show!  Hurrah!  And the supporting cast is used appropriately.  Don’t get me wrong, they’re still beloved set dressing, but it feels like they’ve done something since the show ended.   I never liked the scene in TMP where Kirk walks onto the bridge and Chekov, Sulu and Uhura fall all over themselves to welcome him back.  It was like none of them had left the ship since the mission ended.  How pathetic.  This time around, life has gone on, if for no one else at least for Chekov.  He’s  tried to make something of his life: a home for parasites.

Now the downside.  Wrath of Khan had the misfortune of being made in 1982.  Having just watched an 80’s movie marathon, I can assuredly say that 1980-1990 was not a good decade for filmmaking.  The music was too loud, the acting was crummy, and the direction was kind of wonky.   I still can’t decide how much of the odd shot selection, awkward framing, and maddening continuity issues are part of the decade, and how much were a result of the film’s ‘Made for TV’ budget.  This was a movie,it should have been big!  Expansive!  Great special effects!  The cast shouldn’t be throwing themselves across the set while the camera tilts, being pelted with props…anymore.  Granted, it was kind of funny to watch, butit looked CHEAP. 

Then there’s what I consider to be the worst scene in the film.  Surprisingly, it’s not ‘KHAAAAAAAAAAN’.  No, I’m talking about a scene that REALLY grounds this film in the world of television.  In the scene, Khan sits on the bridge of the Reliant, gloating, surrounded by his horrible hair-band of misfits in a moment so forcibly staged it made me uncomfortable watching it.  Here, see below  for yourself.  The non-Trekkers in the room laughed out loud and I don’t blame them.   It looked like the Medici commissioned Leonardo Da Vinci to paint the ‘Last Supper’ in space and Leo, out of his mind on drugs, fucked it up.  


I think what make this particular scene so painful is another problem with the film: hair and makeup.  While I love the off-red movie uniforms (they made it look like Star Fleet was an actual military fleet, not a cruise line), Khan and his followers look like they escaped the filming of Xanadu.  To paraphrase a line from the movie, whatever rag-tag look they were aiming for, they kept missing the target.  Add the mullets and headbands and never has a band of brigands looked so disco-gay.  Chest prosthetics?  Really?

Although it might not seem like it at this point, I really liked this movie.  It had a compelling villain, a great backstory and was pretty entertaining.  It is one of the better films in the series, it just hasn’t aged particularly well (but so few films from this generation do).  Had Paramount shown the franchise a little more love (meaning a bigger budget), I think the end product would have held up better.  Next time, no chest makeup.  Hit the gym, Mr. Roarke!

Final grade:  4.5shuttlecraft out of 5, for now.  When I finish watching all 11, I plan on going back and re-evaluating the films relative to one another. 

If anyone wants to comment, feel free.  I love a good flame war.



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