I do retain the belief that Star Trek can indeed one day still get past the shadow casted by Wrath of Khan, however it clearly hasn’t yet. Even the most recent of fan surveys still lists Star Trek II as the best the film series has to offer.
While my initial reaction was to resist that notion, as honestly when i started watching these film with any sort of regularity i didn’t like it more than any of the others in the series. Whenever i sat down to watch a Star Trek movie i found myself choosing IV or yes even V* before i would pop in II. Its only with age and hindsight that i can come to accept and indeed cast my vote in favour of II.
I’m not sure if it’s mostly because the series was shanghaied from Roddenberry’s control, or because this film had a lower budget and stricter controls but the most laudable accomplishment for this film is that it looks exponentially better than The Motion Picture did. Gone now are the vomitous grey, and stale baby puke orange unitards everyone wore, gone is the flat cinematography that characterised the Enterprise’s interior.
In their place we have uniforms that while a bit dated by today’s standards at least have some character to them, as they look like uniforms instead of ill thought concepts on what clothes would be, the Enterprise’s interior lights have been dimmed giving it an almost submarine feel and although they may have reused the same sets as the previous film the added contrast adds a remarkable amount of pliability to the visuals.
While the first film certainly didn’t lack anything in the form of ideas as many of the topics touched upon were pretty much on the leading edge of technological concepts of the time (nanotechnology, A.I., Trans-Humanism) with Wrath of Khan the film makers take on a decidedly more personal and philosophical set of questions. Life and Death are examined and questioned here, with each act of life being juxtaposed with a moment of death.
Everywhere in the production this examination is under scrutiny, in dialogue: “Dammit Jim… other people have birthdays. Why are we treating yours like a funeral”? Literal deaths contrasted to their situations and outcomes, like how a very young engineering trainee dies on duty, and yes how Spock dies saving the Enterprise and her crew. Or how the Genesis device can create life but also destroy it, it (Genesis) being the most literal example of the running theme of the film.
The film makers also made the right decision to not just sprinkle these ideas and examinations on top of the film and instead make their ramifications be very personal to the central figure of The Original Series, Kirk. With the exploration of the themes of Life and Death also come the related questions of Choices and Consequences. We see Kirk in his late life, where he regrets many of the decisions he made while he was younger, he regrets giving up his command, he regrets not knowing about his son until he sees him as a young man, and all of these regrets make him feel old.
Past choices and their consequences are shown most directly however with the return of Khan. Kirk’s decision to grant pardon to Khan and his crew ultimately lead to the creation of his most bitter enemy. An enemy who is created from an act of mercy (life, choice), Kirk’s lack of keeping up to date on his situation (choice), and those choices lead to the death of his close friend and crew (death, consequences).
However all of that conflict leads to his personal rejuvenation, which is indeed the moral of the story; that these four facts of our lives: Life, Death, Choices, and Consequences ultimately can enrich us and make us stronger if we choose to view them in that manner.
To add onto this William Shatner, gives us perhaps his best portrayal of Kirk. It’s for the most part subdued (for the most part) and he succeeds in contrasting this new world-weary and older Kirk, to the energetic and charismatic young man from the television series. Ricardo Montalban, with his impressive physicality, and exotic refined presence adds his own scenery chewing magnificence to the film, and along with all of the other supporting actors with particular mention going to the spunky new Vulcan, Saavik played nicely by Kirstie Alley.
And we get an actual space battle!
It’s mostly nit-picky stuff for my problems with Wrath of Khan. There are the usual plot holes and problems that are present in any film but they don’t really matter all that much to me.
One of the larger issues i have with the film is with the so-called “superior intellect” of Khan. He is duped by the most simple of ruses, and goaded into committing fatal mistakes. This is par for the course though as he is defeated in Space Seed, by a simple lead pipe, and at least in this film the cause of his failures are usually his own hubris and irrational hatred, that are taken advantage of.
Also, why the hell would Scotty take that wounded trainee up the turbo lift to the bridge? It is a shockingly stupid thing to do, as that poor man was dying and all of the time it would’ve taken for him to take the kid to the bridge, then take him to sick bay more than likely added to his cause of death. I suppose it was to make the death more “dramatic”, to add visually to the theme of how an old and living man holds a young and dying man in his arms, but it’s still a huge leap in logic and is a rather perfunctory inclusion in this film.
The film is personal, exploratory, and philosophical. But at the same time it’s still charming and fun to watch which is something that The Motion Picture failed miserably at. As a result Wrath of Khan is indeed the best the film series has to offer.
While its ideas are not high-tech, or concerned over with how life in the future might be, they are however still very much culturally relevant and still very fertile ground to explore and create stories around, and it is also the very reason why this film continues to be looked at a high point of the franchise as a whole.
OUT OF FIVE
* again i was a child, and as i have stated previously children will watch anything…