Posts Tagged ‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan’

The circumstances of what I laughingly refer to as my career currently dictate my living in London for a month or so. This is the first time I’ve been based in the great city for an extended period and so obviously I intend to make full use of the opportunity to explore the full depth and breadth of the London cinemagoing experience. For obvious reasons, I decided to begin my odyssey by enjoying a hugely popular summer SF movie, continuing a successful franchise and featuring Leonard Nimoy in a key role (he dies at the end).

The movie in question is, of course, Nicholas Meyer’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, which I discovered playing in grindhouse rep just off Leicester Square. (I hope no-one was expecting another film fitting roughly the same description.) Yes, I know, you wait nearly ten years for a George Takei movie review and then two come along in a row…

Anyway. The year 2285 finds Admiral James T Kirk (William Shatner, obviously) overseeing a Starfleet training program run by his best friend Spock (Nimoy). But Kirk is uneasy, struggling to come to terms with his advancing age and uncertain of his place in the universe.

Luckily, something comes along to take his mind off this when a starship involved with an advanced terraforming project stumbles upon a lost colony of genetically-augmented supermen on a hellish wasteland planet. They are led by Khan (Ricardo Montalban, who isn’t afraid to put pedal to the metal performance-wise), who has something he wants to get off his (non-prosthetic) chest. He blames Kirk for stranding them here fifteen years earlier. Seizing control of the research ship, the vengeful Khan sets about luring Kirk and the Enterprise into a trap…

I believe this was the fourth time I’ve seen The Wrath of Khan on the big screen (the last was at the legendary Hull Trek-a-thon in 1995) but I have to say it’s still as enjoyable as ever – winningly played and tautly written (legend has it Meyer had to write the script in only nine days to meet ILM’s deadlines), and tense, thrilling, funny and moving in all the right places (even if some parts seem ever so slightly camp nowadays). The screening I attended was practically singalong cinema (there was a lot of sniggering in the wrong places and William Shatner’s famous cry of ‘KHAAAAAANNNNN!’ was accompanied by virtually the entire back three rows of the theatre) but, tellingly, the beautifully written and performed scene in which Spock dies was met with hushed silence – right up until Scotty starts playing the bagpipes.

It became very fashionable (and understandably so) to mock the Star Trek movies of the 80s and early 90s as basically being Geriatrics in Space, with tales of an ever-more-elderly crew resolutely refusing to even acknowledge they were ageing. What makes this particular movie more than just a terrific adventure is that it doesn’t fall into this trap. The fact that they’re getting older and moving on with their careers is central to the story.

Most crucially, this is at the heart of the film’s story, which revolves around the mid-life crisis of James T Kirk. Kirk being who he is, this crisis is a little more histrionic than most (few of us are likely to find ourselves hounded by maniacal supermen fond of rewriting Melville and under the delusion they’re the Demon King of Space), but it still concerns coming to terms with growing old, facing the facts of mortality, and accepting the consequences of past decisions.

One can’t really imagine anything comparable happening in this kind of movie today, and one suspects it only happened here because there were no plans to continue Star Trek beyond this film. Following an underpowered final TV season and a disappointing (though financially successful) initial movie, The Wrath of Khan was essentially intended as one last milking of the concept – hence the decision to kill off Spock, probably the most popular character.

(Spock’s death was intended as a way to lure an ambivalent Nimoy back on board, and was originally intended to occur much earlier in the movie. Nimoy found himself regretting his decision to sever his ties with the series and agreed to leave the door open for a possible return. Nicholas Meyer, on the other hand, was unhappy about the material setting this up, which was inserted into the film without his involvement, feeling it spoilt the tone of the ending. One can see his point – it is a little too obvious.)

The irony is, of course, that Star Trek II‘s massive and deserved success led to a string of further sequels, and then new TV series, which in turn spawned their own movies, and so on (with the character reset button always to hand, of course). Not for the first time, a willingness to embrace the end proved to be a new beginning – a message entirely fitting for this particular movie.

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