Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) – Nicholas Meyer

Space… The final frontier…

The 101 Sci-Fi movies brings me a chance to revisit one of the Enterprise’s most successful screen adventures.

Nicholas Meyer last seen on this blog with 1979’s Time After Time, brings new life to the Star Trek series, by bringing back a villain from the television series, Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalban) from the episode Space Seed, handing him a passion for vengeance to equal that of his oft-quoted Moby Dick. He wants to wreak havoc on Admiral James T. Kirk (William Shatner) for marooning him on a planet that fell to ecological disaster not long after they were left there.

Keeping the spirit of the original series, but upping the action ante, with a healthy dose of naval language and feel to it a la Horatio Hornblower, heightened by a majestic tall-ship evoking score by James Horner, Trek II works not only as classic Star Trek, but also as a fantastic sci-fi/action movie.

trioThe Enterprise, now under command of Captain Spock (Leonard Nimoy) is on a training mission full of raw cadets, including Spock’s protegé, Saavik (Kirstie Alley), overseen by visiting flag-officer, Kirk, with the stalwart Doctor Leonard McCoy (DeForest Kelley) at his side.

When the ship intercepts a message from Dr. Carol Marcus (Bibi Besch) about his ordering the removal of Genesis, a terraforming device that could be perverted into a weapon, Kirk takes emergency command of the Enterprise and races to the remote space station to learn what’s going on.

He races right into an attack by Khan, whose crew has seized the Federation starship Reliant.

The two men lock themselves into mortal combat with their ships, and the cost is more dear than either could have imagined.

khanEven as Kirk and company are thrust into danger, there is reflection on aging. Kirk isn’t the same captain he was, having been promoted to Admiral and flying a desk, his life has come to a grinding halt, and even McCoy can’t rouse him as Jim begins to feel his age.

Despite the fact that all the familiar faces are there, Sulu (George Takei), Chekov (Walter Koenig), Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) and Scotty (James Doohan), they don’t get a lot of moments to themselves. Our trio of Kirk, Spock and McCoy are the story’s center, as the wicked Khan circles them as a vengeful Captain Ahab.

George Lucas’ company ILM supplies the visual effects and they are stellar, one of my favorite sequences is the battle in the Mutara Nebula, as the ships, unable to track one another, move about in the stellar clouds, hunting one another. It also leads into the genesis weapon being set off, accompanied by a fantastic music cue, known on the soundtrack as Genesis Countdown.

This film saw the introduction of the red-jacketed uniforms, eschewing the uniform of the previous film (which I quite like but for the feet). They look great, and as mentioned, with the big belts, the boots, the piping and insignia on breast and sleeve give everything a more naval feeling.

star-trek-iiAnd then of course, there is the cost for our crew at the film’s end, that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.

I remember seeing this movie in the theater, and was just completely stunned by the film’s ending. I had no context for dealing with something like that in my life at the time. It felt as if I’d been ripped apart inside, I stumbled out of that theater completely stunned.

I was the lucky one, I remember a couple of women, I can’t recall ages or faces, making their way out of the theater beside me in complete tears over what had happened, not necessarily wailing, but surely not far off.

I like all the Trek films, I can even find things I like in the less successful odd-numbered ones, especially The Motion Picture, but Star Trek II will always be the best of the bunch, new or old.

Which of the film series is our favorite?

star-trek-II-battle

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