“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.

A Vulcan Obituary: Leonard Nimoy 1931-2015

A Salute To Spock (Don’t Grieve, Admiral).

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“Of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most… human” – Admiral James T. Kirk. 

Leonard Nimoy, who died on Friday aged 83, will forever be known as the actor who portrayed the first regular alien character in a long-running TV series.

Mr. Spock, who made his debut in Star Trek’s pilot episode: The Cage in 1966, is one of the most recognisable icons of popular culture. If any editor had to produce a montage of iconic images to celebrate, say, the best of TV sci-fi, or characters from sci-fi movies, then Mr. Spock would get selected every time. Leonard Nimoy possessed such drawn, gaunt features that he could easily pass for something otherworldly. With those slanted eyebrows and famous pointed ears, how could he not become an instant star?

Besides Trek, Nimoy made appearances in countless TV shows including: Dragnet, Rawhide, The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Mission: Impossible and Columbo, and he even made a cameo appearance in a video with The Bangles!     

William Shatner, who played Spock’s commanding officer: James T. Kirk: “loved him like a brother,” and added that we: “will all miss his humour, his talent, and his capacity to love.”   

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“On the day we filmed that scene… I came to this very much as a neophyte… I turn around and I’m looking at my cinematographer, and he’s got tears streaming down his face… and then I’m looking at the rest of the crew, and everybody’s crying! And I’m thinking: ‘what am I missing here?'” – Nicholas Meyer. 

Back in 1983, me and a pal, both ardent Star Wars fans, decided to check out Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan. We joked that it would probably “be just as crap as the first one.” Well…! How wrong could we have been?! We were in awe of Khan as the indomitable villain; swept along with the majestic score by James Horner; hypnotised by the epic battles between the Enterprise and Reliant; but what really blew us away was the death of Mr. Spock. 

Unbelievable. It just didn’t seem… logical. 

Yes, Spock of Star Trek. Killed off?! It was such a bold, and highly unexpected twist. Everyone knew where they were when Spock was killed off, so they say. Things like that didn’t – and shouldn’t – happen, especially to such an iconic character. But it did, and a landmark in SF cinema was produced. Played superbly by Nimoy and William Shatner, it was a monumental and intensely emotional scene, because one of the closest and best-loved friendships in TV history had come to an abrupt and shocking end.

Due to the lacklustre performance of Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1979, there was minimal interest among the cast to reprise their roles for any sequel, especially Nimoy. He was eventually coaxed back, but with one condition: that Spock be killed off. The actor believed this denouement would make for a fitting end, considering that Wrath of Khan was apparently intended to be the “last” Trek film ever(?!) 

Of course, the phenomenal success of II meant one thing: Paramount Studios came clamouring for III… In the most ridiculous plot-contrivance in SF history, Spock had to be resurrected somehow, and indeed he wasThen, inevitably, came IV – a ridiculous time-travel romp featuring whales set in 1986 which (hey!) just happened to be the year it was made.

Both were particularly notable for being directed by Nimoy himself. He would go on to work behind the camera on numerous other projects, including the unlikely comedy Three Men And A Baby(!) Talk about being a far cry from…

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“My heart is broken, I love you profoundly my dear friend. And I will miss you every day. May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest” – Zachary Quinto. 

Other than the Star Trek movies, including the recent reboot (2009) and its sequel (2013), he appeared in Zombies Of The Stratosphere (1952), Them! (1954), Invasion of The Body Snatchers (1978) and A Woman called Golda (1982) (for which he received an Emmy nomination), among others. He dabbled in writing (mostly poetry) and photography, and his deep, distinctive voice led him ultimately to his own singing career where he gave us such greats as: “Highly Illogical,” “Where It’s At,” and the irrepressible “Ballad of Bilbo Baggins.” 

Annoyance with the limitations his Vulcan role had on his career culminated in Nimoy’s 1977 autobiography simply entitled: “I Am Not Spock.” He eventually embraced his Vulcan self, realising that it had secured a place in SF immortality.

The episode: “Amok Time” presented the first opportunity to see other Vulcans. Aware that Humans engaged in ritual behaviour when greeting others, when time came for Spock to greet others of his kind, Nimoy realised that no equivalent Vulcan rituals had been prepared. Nimoy himself concocted the perfect solution; drawing from his Jewish heritage, his famous split-fingered salute was based on the kohanic blessing, a “manual approximation” of the first letter in Shaddai, one of the Hebrew names for God. Within days of that episode’s first broadcast – and in the decades to follow – people in the street would greet Nimoy with that gesture!

The Vulcan phrase closely associated with Spock was “Dif-tor heh smusma.” We all knew it as: “Live long and prosper.”

Leonard Nimoy lived long and indeed prospered. 

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“To this day, I sense Vulcan speech patterns, Vulcan social attitudes and even Vulcan patterns of logic and emotional suppression in my behaviour. Given the choice, if I had to be someone else, I would be Spock” – Leonard Nimoy.  

Naturally, so many tributes in the past few days have quite rightfully loaded the aforementioned death/funeral scene from Wrath of Khan; instead, to end this Post, something different, but still… fascinating was in order.

Normally, tawdry ads would never squirm their way onto one of my immaculately-crafted Posts, but this is such rare, exceptionally good fun, and perfectly encapsulates the humour and infectious joy you could always expect from Leonard Nimoy: