The SmarK DVD Rant for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
The legendary internet personality Mr. Tito writes…
Years ago, while you were reviewing Star Trek DVD’s… I requested the review of Star Trek 2, the Wrath of Khan, especially provided how you reviewed movies 3 through Nemesis. But no Khan, in which I’d argue is potentially the best DVD ever.
What gives, skull captain?
In all fairness, I didn’t actually review Generations or First Contact (at least as far as Google says) and I totally forgot that I even reviewed Search for Spock. But I’m funny like that. Either way, you twisted my arm and since I’m laid up on the couch with this goddamned flu that won’t die anyway, tonight was basically veg out and watch movie night. Plus I wanted to test out my new center channel anyway.
“Where are we going?”
“Wherever the last place that they went was.”
“What if they went nowhere?”
“Well, then you’ll finally have your big chance to get away from it all.”
– Kirk and McCoy discuss the odds.
All right, let’s just get this out of the way right now so we’re not all skipping ahead to the conclusion like a bunch of killjoys turning to the last page in a mystery novel: Star Trek II is the best Trek movie ever and my favorite of all time. I still remember when it came out on Betamax, as my dad and I excitedly went to the video store and rented the original “Space Seed” episode along with this movie, so that we could refresh our memory before watching it. Betamax, good times. OK, so now let’s get on with the more serious business of WHY it kicks so much ass.
First of all, whereas the original (and more pretentiously titled) “Motion Picture” was a mish-mash of half-baked Roddenberry “big ideas” and self-indulgent direction, Star Trek II (with the swashbuckling-evoking title of “The Wrath of Khan”) is a much more streamlined piece of work with a clear villain and clear heroes. Sure, it rips off Horatio Hornblower and Moby Dick, but then Gene’s original pitch for the show was “Wagon Train To The Stars” so it’s not like this is breaking new ground for the series or anything. The villain is spectacular. Imagine this: Adolf Hitler, who has a supercomputer for a brain and the strength of 5 men, gets frozen and reanimated in the future to do battle with Jim Kirk. That’s Khan Singh in a nutshell, and although Ricardo Montalban was somewhat more restrained in his original guest shot on the TV show, here he lets fly with all ham cannons blazing, matching William Shatner beat-for-beat in the overacting department.
Moving on, this is a movie with something to SAY, and not just Roddenberry’s overhyped “vision of the future” like the pimply losers who post whiny reviews on Amazon spout. It’s a real movie, with actual themes to it that repeat throughout. Specifically, growing older and being forced to watch the younger generation taking over your place in the universe, with a bit of learning to deal with death and a dash of actions defining people rather than races or stations in life. Yeah, sure, it gets a little ham-fisted to hear Spock spout “The needs of the many…” for the millionth time on DVD, but compare that to the first movie and try to quote ANY line from it. Go on, I dare you.
Next, this movie is character based. When someone is about to use the Genesis device to play God, you damn well know which character is going to step forward and get all indignant about it. Hint: McCoy. Yeah, they shoehorn some bloody lame characters in there like Lt. Saavik and the intolerably smug David Marcus (he whom Klingon bastards killed in the third movie), but Kirstie Alley was kinda hot back then. Of course she was probably on diet pills and corsets to get to that weight judging by how her career turned out later, but she still looks pretty good even around her Fat Actress stage. Just throwing it out there, then moving along.
Oh, the plot, right.
Jim Kirk is now an Admiral and not dealing with it very well, suffering the double humiliation of having his ship taken away from him AND needing reading glasses even in the 23rd century where you can get laser eye surgery done at a 7-11. Meanwhile, Chekhov has been promoted to first officer of the USS Reliant, and they’re working with the Federation’s version of Dr. Frankenstein, the Marcus mother-son team. Seems there’s a nasty device called Genesis (VERY subtle imagery, no?) that can turn a dead world into a living world, merely at the expense of destroying all life that already might exist there. While searching for a dead world to test it on, Chekhov and his captain land on what they think is Ceti Alpha VI, a deserted and barren wasteland, but discover that it’s actually Ceti Alpha V, where Khan and his wrath were marooned oh-so-many years before as punishment for trying to steal the Enterprise and kill people and stuff. Naturally, since Khan is a SUPAH-genius, he gains control of the Reliant and he’s going after his white whale, clearly having read Moby Dick so many times that he’s tragically forgotten the ENTIRE POINT of the book. However, that doesn’t compare to my favorite bit of irony ever, and I don’t even know if it was intentional or not: Khan fashions a necklace out of the Federation arrowhead symbol thing, aka The IDIC (Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations). The idea behind that symbol is that only by embracing differences and cultures from everywhere around you can you find true enlightenment. Of course, this stands in stark opposition to Khan’s entire philosophy, which is cloning bits of himself to create a race of supermen who answer only to him. Well, I thought it was a pretty cool touch.
This leads into the next great part of the movie, as Kirk and Khan get into a submarine battle in space and even after seeing this movie dozens of times it’s still pretty tense when Saavik is warning him to put up the shields and Kirk is all “Um, I’m gonna wait and see where they’re going with this first”. Whoops, space battle commences, ass-kickings all around. However, this gives another recurring theme for the movie, as Khan is supremely intelligent but inexperienced, and Kirk uses that advantage not once but twice to send him to school, or Starfleet Academy I guess. From there the movie turns into a total mental chess game between Kirk and Khan as both ships are dead in the proverbial water and everyone wants the Genesis device for themselves. And of course it’s here that Shatner and Ricardo compensate for the lack of action by flinging the over-the-top dialogue at each other like gleeful monkeys hurling their poo in a game of poo-throwing. Say it with me: KHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN! It’s like you have to dig deep down into your soul and unfurl every bit of rage and angst you’ve been saving up against the jerk who’s been banging your wife and keying your car, and only then can you tap into the genius of Shatner. And the best part is that he was FAKING IT. Even Kirk himself is an over-the-top actor. That’s the really genius part.
So of course (spoiler) Spock dies to save the die, and Kirk finally has to face his Kobayashi Maru, as we all do in some small way. Like the other day, I was recording the HD version of Cops on the DVR, but there was also an episode of the Simpsons I hadn’t seen in a while that I wanted to check out again, and I had to go out and couldn’t watch one while taping the other. Indeed, it was a no-win situation, just like Kirk faced, except my best friend’s face didn’t melt off from radiation poisoning (even with gloves on).
And let’s talk about the Director’s Cut for a bit, since that’s what I’m reviewing. Finally that silly scene with Scotty carrying the kid into the bridge makes sense, as we learn that he’s Midshipman Peter Preston, a spunky young firebrand who is Scotty’s nephew and presumed heir apparent. There’s a lot of that in this movie, in fact, as Spock has Saavik, Scotty has Peter, Kirk has David (lucky him), and I’m sure even Uhura had some hot piece of space communicator waiting in the wings to take over. Maybe we would have met Sulu’s even-gayer Asian helmsman replacement had they added more deleted scenes. It’s just fun to speculate sometimes. It also adds a few minutes at the end with Kirk talking to David to really hammer home the theme, but the negative is that David is talking for a few minutes (TAKE THAT DAMN SWEATER OFF YOUR SHOULDERS, YOU SHITHEAD!) so they can’t all be winners.
I love it, you love it, even non-Trek geeks can quote half the lines from the movie because it’s incredibly well-written and iconic, plus the DVD is dirt cheap at Wal-Mart. You have no excuse here.
Best Trek EVER. I TASK THEE to pick it up and watch it over and over again until you can repeat the lines like a true dork. If nothing else, console yourself by only saying the Moby Dick ones so you can sound literary.