KHAAAAAAAAAAAAN! KHAAAAAAAAN! KHAAAAAAAAN!
OK, I’m fine now. Just had to get it out of my system. Beam me up, Scotty.
I think that’s how it plays out. Kirk gets super-mad at being tricked by Khan, even though he’s tricked Khan. There’s a lot of tricky-dicky stuff going on in this, the second, far lower budget, far less grandiose, and far more successful film. For that we can blame Nicholas Meyer, author of The Seven Percent Solution and director of Time After Time as well as the two of the three good Star Trek movies. (Those two being this movie and VI. The third good one—and best one—being Galaxy Quest. Meyer also wrote the screenplay for Star Trek IV.)
It’s a complete ham-and-cheese-on-wry as William Shatner cuts loose against Ricardo Montalban in a scenery chewing contest framed by a space Moby Dick plot (with Shatner as the White Whale so, y’know…) and it all, amazingly, worked then and still works now 40 years and some six-hundred plus hours later, with the vast majority of those hours driving down the quality-to-noise ratio. (As Futurama put it: “You know, 79 episodes, about 30 good ones.”)
But for me, anyway, I can’t really connect the movie with much that came after it—and honestly not a lot that came before it, despite it being based on an original series episode. The Movie may as well not have existed. The aesthetic continuity is non-existent to the series. At 62, Montalban looks great but his crew all look like kids—I assume that’s the genetic superiority—down to their perfectly coiffed 1982-style hair.
That’s the funny part, I suppose: From a technical perspective, from a visual perspective, it’s all “good enough”. (And it actually survives, FX-wise, better than some much higher-budget films.) But from a dramatic perspective, it’s top-notch.
Hell, this thing could work as a stage play.
Khan’s motivation is simple: He wants revenge. And we can see his point, really. Kirk’s motivation is also simple. If you are trying to recall the film, you might think it has to do with a former lover and heretofore unknown/ignored son. But it’s way simpler than that: He hates to lose.
This movie, along with VI, are so good because of their joie de vivre. Everybody’s having a good time here. The actors, maybe, but the characters for sure. It’s high melodrama with cosmic stakes. (IV is also like this, though it has a bad case of the sillies, too.) If you were looking at why this movie worked compared to the dozens of other attempts to carry series dramas onto the big screen, I would say it’s because it builds on the lore—it doesn’t just mine it.
Like, today, they would scour every minute of the original episode and bring every side element in as “fan service”. The “Botany Bay” would make an appearance or something. If they didn’t bring back Madlyn Rhue, they’d have brought back her character (probably with a younger actress). But Meyer felt that her death would make Khan’s desire for revenge more dramatically potent. (Rhue had MS that she was struggling to conceal at the time but that was apparently not a factor in her not being in the movie.)
That’s the point: Meyer knows how to tell a good story and he’s going to tell it using whatever as a framework (Trek, Holmes, H.G. Wells). You don’t have to know or like Trek to like this.
We saw this on Labor Day—the staff screwed it up, of course. (Theaters are running skeleton crews and there’s a good 50% chance that any given “special presentation” is going to be messed up.) Apart from people packing the theater to see a 40 year old Sci-Fi movie from a moribund franchise, there weren’t many people in the other halls. (The theater has since been purchased by another chain. Which maybe explains a lot.)
One thought on “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan”
Great review of a really fun film. Thanks