“Let Them Eat Static!”: Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan Revisited

What Better Way To Celebrate 50 Years Since The Starship Enterprise First Set Out On Its Mission To Explore Strange New Worlds?

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“This is damned peculiar…” – Admiral James T. Kirk.  

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”

While on a school holiday camp in 1983, me, and me room-mate, both HUGE Star Wars fans, thought it might be a good laff to go and watch Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. After all, the laughably-monickered: Star Trek: The Motion(?!) Picture had famously failed to resonate with fans and critics alike;  this would be just something to “pass the time.” 

BLIMEY! HOW WRONG WE WERE…

Back in the day, the original TV series went out at 6pm on Monday eveningssomething to watch while eating dinner, no more. Personally – in the year in which Star Trek celebrates its 50th Anniversary – some of the original scripts, not to mention most of those costume designs(!), have not stood the test of time well.

But Star Trek II did exceptionally well to entice and surprise the neutrals such as myself and convince us that the Gene Roddenberry Universe could offer its own wonders…

From the moment that Ricardo Montalban reveals himself as the genetically-engineered Khan Noonian Singh on Ceti Alpha V and starts fiddling with those gruesome Ceti Alpha eels (NOT to be watched with your Monday evening dinner…) you just knew that these proceedings were turning out to be a decidedly different – and more intriguing – Trek than usual – certainly several Warp Factors more sensational than what this ongoing mission had served up for us before…

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“He tasks me! He tasks me and I shall have him! I’ll chase him round the moons of Nibia and round the Antares Maelstrom and round Perdition’s flames before I give him up…” – Khan Noonian Singh.

Alas, the Motion Picture failed partly due to baring no resemblance to the legendary TV series that spawned it. However, by reintroducing one of the series’ more charismatic villains, from the 1966 episode: Space Seed, the stage was set for an epic showdown. 

Sure, at once, Khan made very much an 80s villain – big hair and big pecs – and as Shatner and Montalban both exuded larger-than-life characters, the scenes they shared together were electrifying, reslting in some of the best exchanges in SF cinema. 

Acquired a movie magazine from 1982 this week, containing two articles about this movie, including a review by a self-avowed Trekkie who thought it“stunk.” Apart from having “a silly script,” he remarked that Montalban‘s performance as Khan was “so outrageously over the top, it threatened to go over the edge.”

What rot! 

Charismatic yet dastardly, Khan is actually one of the great SF villains – now universally regarded as such. Goodness knows what said same hack makes of some of the lacklustre villains we have had to endure in recent big screen offerings!

To hell with the fact that Ensign Chekov didn’t even appear in the original Space Seed episode so wouldn’t have recognised the significance of Botany Bay!

Look past this obvious goof and get immersed in the flawless and endlessly riveting outer space action! Also mercifully extricated was the first film’s inexplicable predilection for dentist uniforms; sure, in 1979, that sort of thing would have been expected, but in 1982 – the year that also brought us Blade Runner, Tron and The Dark Crystal (remember that?!) – big and bold visions were the IN thing.

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“Admiral, the Commander of the Reliant is signalling. He wishes to discuss terms of our surrender…” – Lt. Uhura. 

While there could not have been any Trek movie without the phenomenal success of Star Wars, again, one redeeming fault of the Motion Picture was the banaland, quite frankly, tedious – way in which it tried to be too cerebral. Good to see this sequel jettison all that. 

Glorious galactic spectacle was not enough though; some major Star Wars-style action scenes were required. And some top-notch battle sequences were added. The initial attack of the Reliant was superbly handled – as you can see here:

…As was the Battle in the Mutara Nebula.

Over thirty years later, these effects still look remarkably special, but let’s face it: would they have been exhilarating without the stirring score supplied by the late great James Horner? Probably not…

And, after all this time, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is still the yardstick by which all new Star Trek movies are judged. 

Will the brand new Star Trek: Beyond be able to sit comfortably beside it? 

We shall see…

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“I have been, and always shall be, your friend” – Spock. 

Obviously, the great twist: SPOCK DIES was such a bold move.

Although neither of us avidly watched the series, we understood how integral to the series format its token Vulcan officer was, and applauded this incredibly bold move to kill him off…

Apparently, there was only ever to be these two movies, and to have one of the central characters meet his end seemed the only (ahem) logical way to end it all. This scene – according to Hollywood legend – was the only reason that Leonard Nimoy agreed to reprise his most famous role anyway. It still puts a lump in my throat every time it comes on – a superbly acted and directed sequence. 

Such a shame that the huge box office success of Wrath Of Khan meant that Star Trek III had to go ahead. And with one of the most ludicrously contrived plots ever committed to film as well! 

What would modern SF cinema look like today if the Trek franchise had ended with the view of Spock’s coffin on Genesis…? 

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“Are you out of your Vulcan mind? No human can tolerate the radiation that’s in there!” – Dr. McCoy.

Star Trek: Beyond is in cinemas now.

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7 thoughts on ““Let Them Eat Static!”: Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan Revisited

  1. Great review! The Wrath of Khan was, and still is, a great sci-fi film. Khan is a fantastic villain, and the ending with Spock sacrificing his life for the crew is very touching, even more so now that Leonard Nimoy is gone. 😦 One of my favorite Trek films.

    • Great to see u here, Ashley – I was afraid u’d miss this,
      Celebrating 50 yrs of a franchise such as this wld b impossible to compile within just 1 Blog Post, so concentrating on the best Trek film seemed like th sanest choice.
      Anyone planning a SF blockbuster shld watch Montalban as Khan in order to get their villain right!
      “…even more so now that Leonard Nimoy is gone”: haven’t watched that scene since he departed this Earth – not sure if and when I will…
      Thanks – as always – for stopping by

      • I spent yesterday getting caught up on blog stuff and very much enjoyed your Khan post. 🙂 Khan is definitely a great sci-fi villain; it was a smart decision to bring him back for this movie!

      • Thanks, Ash.
        Tell u what: I dared myself not long ago to compile a Top 10 SF Villain chart WITHOUT Khan or Vader – sadly it turned out to be more difficult than u think!
        Cheers!

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