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Saturday, 11 June 2016

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan - Director's Edition

Written by:Nicholas Meyer|Directed by:Nicholas Meyer|Release Date:1982

Today on Sci-Fi Adventures, I'm revisiting Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, considered by many to be one of the best Star Trek movies and considered by me to have one of the worst Trek movie title fonts.

The Director's Edition of the film finally got a rescanned and remastered Blu-ray release last week to replace the weirdly blue-tinted theatrical cut Blu-ray that's been around since 2009, but I'm going to be going through the fuzzy old 2002 Director's Edition DVD instead (mostly because it's what's on my shelf). Not that there's actually much difference between the theatrical and director's cuts though, and they definitely haven't pulled a Star Trek: The Motion Picture this time and added new effects shots (because the film doesn't need them).

I'm going to be giving away SPOILERS for this movie and things that came before it (the episode Space Seed for instance) but everything afterwards is safe. I do want to spoil one of the recent films, but I'll restrain myself.



Here's some trivia for you: Wrath of Khan is still the only Star Trek movie to have the villain's name in the title. Director Nicholas Meyer wanted to call the movie The Undiscovered Country and I'm glad he didn't get his way as that's a terrible title... for this film anyway.

The studio was actually keen on calling it Vengeance of Khan, but Revenge of the Jedi was coming out soon and the names seemed a bit too close. But then Revenge of the Jedi became Return of the Jedi and no one got to have any Vengeance until 2005's Revenge of the Sith.

The same thing happened with Star Trek: Resurrection coming up against Alien: Resurrection and changing to First Contact instead (they had a chance to go with Revenge of the Borg and they just threw it away!)

Awesome, they're still putting the credits at the beginning. It means I can go put the kettle on and get a cup of tea before the actual movie part of the movie starts.

This time the names are appearing in front of a high tech computer generated starfield, and there sure are a lot of 'and's, 'introducing's and 'also starring's showing up. I've edited them together into one shot for you because I'm bored.

I'd skip ahead three minutes, but then I'd miss out on James Horner's fantastic theme (YouTube link). Even the humming noise it opens on sounds epic. Horner was hired in place of Star Trek: The Motion Picture composer Jerry Goldsmith due to the fact that the first movie had a budget and this didn't; they just couldn't afford the guy. Horner also succeeded Goldsmith on the second Alien movie, so he was making a habit of it for a while.

By 1982 the Star Trek franchise consisted of 79 episodes, 22 animated episodes and a Motion Picture, but this is the very first time they put an actual date on when it's set. Up to this point the writers used stardates to keep the year deliberately vague. Not that '23rd century' narrows it down much.

If you're curious, the official Star Trek Encyclopedia says the film takes place in 2285.

The film begins with a captain's log narration, revealing that the Starship Enterprise is on a training mission to Gamma Hydra, near the Klingon Neutral Zone (which is now shaped like an egg).

Suddenly Lt. Uhura reports a distress call from a neutronic fuel carrier called the Kobayashi Maru. People must love watching neutronic fuel being carried across the vast nothingness of space as there's 300 passengers on board in addition to the 81 crew, and they're all sitting helpless in Neutral Zone right now.

This is a bad thing, as the Neutral Zone is a buffer between the Federation and the Klingon Empire, and if a ship goes in there it's violating the treaty. But our valiant captain orders the Enterprise in regardless.

Five seconds later the ship is attacked by a Klingon fleet, which cripples their engines, disables their weapons and kills Sulu, Uhura and McCoy via exploding consoles (in that order). Worse, Spock's farted, and the spreading gas may well suffocate everyone that's left.

A lot of fans already knew that Spock was going to die in the movie, possibly because Gene Roddenberry's assistant came over to a convention in the UK and told them! Gene absolutely did not want the character killed off, but he'd been kicked upstairs and off the Trek movies at his point, so he apparently resorted to alternative tactics to get his way. This worked to the movie's benefit though, as the script was changed to put the Kobayashi Maru scene at the start to throw viewers off, and to move Spock's actual death to the end where it'd have more impact.

Oh by the way, I should mention that it's not Admiral Kirk in the captain's chair. The crew were led to their untimely demise by a a young Vulcan woman we've never seen before. But I suppose that’s what you get when you give everyone a red shirt.

And then Kirk makes a dramatic entrance by walking in through the viewscreen.

Turns out the whole scene took place in a simulation designed to test a cadet’s reaction to a no-win scenario, complete with simulated explosions! The clue was that there was no exciting action music during the scene and no exterior shots. It's a cheaper film, but it's not that cheap.

Captain Spock is a teacher now at Starfleet Academy and these are his cadets. I suppose Uhura, Sulu and McCoy just came by to see their old friends and have fun getting blown up. Though now they've got dust all over their awesome new uniforms. It's nice to have some colour and dignity back on the bridge after the beige nightmare of Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

Lt. Saavik (standing on the right) was the captain for this particular doomed voyage and she feels that the test is unfair. She’s also Kirstie Alley of Cheers fame. Kirk explains that how we treat death is at least as important as how we treat life, and then goes off to meet Spock in the corridor and feel miserable about his birthday.

By the way, you can catch a glimpse at a 'No smoking' sign on the wall of the simulator which the actual bridge doesn't have. I guess the cadets kept bringing in packs of Cardassian Deathsmokes.

Spock gives Kirk an old copy of 'A Tale of Two Cities' for his birthday, therefore dooming someone to have to make a heroic sacrifice at the end of the film. Unfortunately the admiral can't read all that well these days because of his ageing eyes.

It's always nice to see a bit more of future Earth, even if we can't actually see anything out of the windows. I've been informed that this is a cunning in-camera effect shot though, with a foreground miniature placed in front of the camera to add more to the room. By the way, if you check out the steps you'll see they're a bit beat up on the right side. That was digitally corrected for the 2009 Blu-ray and then left uncorrected for the 2016 Blu-ray. So now we both know that utterly pointless trivia.

Later, Kirk is feeling miserable about his birthday at home, when his old friend Dr. McCoy drops by with gifts. So we get the introduction of blue Romulan Ale and the fact it's illegal, which I'm sure gets mentioned every bloody time the drink is referenced.

He also got him a pair of antique reading glasses just to make him feel even older. Kirk’s gotten into the habit of surrounding himself with antiques, including that ancient Commodore PET computer in the background, cursor blinking away (William Shatner just happened to be in Commodore Vic-20 commercials at the time). You know, I think that backdrop outside the window's an antique as well; it's certainly looking a bit creased.

Kirk's thinking more of the past these days you see, and has a lot of time on his hands now that he doesn't have to save the galaxy any more. He and McCoy have basically flipped 180 degrees from their attitudes in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, with Kirk now feeling like he’s too old to command a starship and McCoy trying to talk him into taking back the Enterprise.

Release date on the left, in-universe year on the right.
To be fair there's actually 14 years between the films, at least according to the official dates. These years are never mentioned in the movies themselves though and they're kind of contradicted by the numbers given on screen.

There's definitely been a time jump though and now the characters are about as old as the actors playing them again. They never outright say this is meant to be Kirk's 50th birthday (the official dates put him at 52) but that's the impression you get.

Meanwhile, in space, the USS Reliant has arrived at planet Ceti Alpha 6 to test its suitability to be part of project Genesis, or so First Officer Pavel Chekov claims in his log voiceover. Note the sinister red spotlights lighting up the registry number. That's how you know the ship's going to turn evil.

That up there is the first Starfleet starship in Star Trek history that wasn't a reuse of one of the Enterprise models, though it's introduced from an angle that makes it look identical.

Then we get to see the back end and it's like a Romulan Bird of Prey with the wings bent down and a bar across the top! Only without the awesome bird tattoo sadly.

The Enterprise goes on missions to seek out new life and new civilisations. The Reliant crew on the other hand are looking for death. Or at lifelessness at least. They need an entirely barren world for whatever reason, and they're somehow struggling to find one! Ceti Alpha VI seems perfect though, except… there may be something down there, they can’t really tell (it may be a particle of pre-animate matter caught in the matrix).

By the way, Chekov's not the only Original Series crewmember on the bridge, as Kyle's there too, wearing a Green Arrow goatee. Kyle didn't have much screen time in the series, but he showed up in quite a few episodes. Like Space Seed for instance, where he was attacked by Khan Noonien Singh, a genetically engineered superman from the distant future of 1996.

So Chekov and Captain Terrell put on spacesuits and beam to Ceti Alpha VI to find that it's actually pretty damn barren and lifeless down there.

Well, except for these genetically engineered superhumans living inside old battered cargo containers in an endless sandstorm.

In a shocking example of actual continuity, they've ran into Khan again, still played by the fantastic Ricardo Montelban. Khan has been living exiled on this crappy world for 15 years now, his punishment for trying to steal the Enterprise from Kirk, and he's not happy about it. It must have been harder on his crew through, as some must have been barely 5 years old at the time by the look of them. They're also very pale... and blonde.

Khan claims to remember Chekov from the Enterprise, which is a bit weird seeing as the character wasn't even in the series at that point. I don't consider it a mistake though; the ship has 300-something people on it and just because he wasn't on bridge duty back then doesn't mean he wasn't on board (Walter Koenig jokes that Chekov earned Khan's wrath by monopolising the toilet when he was desperate for a piss).

Anyway Chekov points out that Kirk actually stranded him and his crew on a different world, somewhere quite nice, but Khan reveals that he’s got his planets mixed up! Yep, in addition to their utter failure to detect a dozen or so people living in metal boxes with sensors sensitive enough to pick up a particle of pre-animate matter from hundreds of miles away, the elite Reliant crew also managed to orbit the wrong planet.

Ceti Alpha VI exploded some time in the past, leaving Ceti Alpha V as the miserable uninhabitable wasteland it is today. Khan's followers only survived because they’re genetically engineered supermen, and his wife wasn’t so fortunate. But Khan doesn’t blame Kirk for stranding him here, he blames him for not checking up on him, and he’s kind of got a point there. It’s kind of hard to side with the man who ends the scene putting mind control slugs into Chekov and Terrell’s brains via their ears though. That’s a dick move.

Back near Earth, Kirk is also enduring unimaginable suffering, as he carries out a tedious inspection of the Enterprise prior to a three week cruise. The ship is being used as a training vessel these days and is crewed almost entirely by cadets, watched over by the experienced main cast from the Original Series.

Weirdly Kirk embarks at the torpedo launcher airlock this time, probably because the filmmakers spent cash converting the Klingon bridge from the first film into the torpedo room set and wanted to get their money's worth out of it. He only gets as far as engineering though (which is a deck or so below I think) before deciding to cut the inspection short so they can get the ship under way.

Now we’re on the real bridge of the real Enterprise and it looks a lot like it did in the simulator. It looks a lot like it did in the last movie too, except with a warmer paint job. They’ve shuffled the walls around a bit as well to move Spock’s science station to the left of that turbolift door instead of directly behind the captain’s chair.

Speaking of the captain, the Enterprise is under Spock’s command but he’s given Saavik the opportunity to sit in the big chair and take the ship out of drydock. For some reason this visibly terrifies Kirk despite the fact that she’s basically just saying ‘switch the engines on’ to Sulu.

Though if they'd cut to everything exploding again that would've been hilarious.

And then we get a minute of recycled effect shots showing the Enterprise leaving dock. The film didn't have much of a budget, so they had to save money where they could.

By the way if you look on the bottom left of the ship you can see the silhouette of the mounting armature obscuring part of the dock. That was fixed for the Director's Edition of the Motion Picture, but Star Trek II didn't get the same makeover. Can't say I ever noticed it until now though. I also didn't notice that the stars behind the space dock are moving, like the whole thing is rotating. Not sure that explains why the planet they're orbiting has suddenly vanished though.

So now we've got two films in a row that start with the Enterprise docked at Earth. That happened approximately never in the TV series, because they were always out doing things! Exploring new worlds and interfering with new civilizations etc.

Meanwhile on the Regula I space station (which is actually the space office from The Motion Picture turned upside down), the scientists aren’t very happy. Commander Chekov’s just phoned up from the Reliant to tell them that Ceti Alpha VI will work great for their Genesis project… which is why they’ll be taking the Genesis project away from them now.

Whatever that is.

Dr. Carol Marcus is pretty confused by the call, but her son David is furious. He’s never trusted Starfleet, even though they’ve been pretty stand-up guys all the way through the original Star Trek series. He considers them to be the military, which I suppose they technically are considering they’re the Federation’s only navy, but they’re just as much explorers and scientists in their own right.

The Reliant’s orders apparently came from Admiral James T. Kirk, so Carol Marcus tries to call him. But the signal is being jammed so she can’t hear a word he says, and all he catches is that someone's trying to take Genesis.

Without any other option, Dr. Marcus gathers the Genesis project gear and heads… somewhere where Reliant won’t find them.

Kirk goes to chat with Spock about the call, telling him they’re the only ship ‘in the quadrant’ and asking him if the cadets are up to taking on a real mission. Spock’s reasonably confident in them and offers to step aside and let Kirk command the ship, as he’s got no ego to bruise. Plus logic dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

I’m sure that logic must have had some part in the decoration of his quarters as well, with his glittery Vulcan symbol and his infinity mirror, but his Vulcan ways are alien and strange to me.

It's funny how entirely opposite this is from how things played out in the last movie between Kirk and Decker, as here Kirk's reluctant to take command and Spock's only too happy willing to give it up. He's much more comfortable in the role of a teacher than Kirk is.

Anyway Kirk gets to the bridge, tells the crew what’s up, and orders a jump to warp speed.

Warp speed is so metal in these early films.

It’s basically using the warp effect as the last movie (the exact same angle even), but those with a keen eye might notice a slight difference. They'd never find anyone to tell who cares though.

Communication with Regula I is no longer jammed, but they can’t get a response from them at all now, and they have no idea what’s up. Spock suggests he’d have a better idea of who’d want to take Genesis from them if he knew what Genesis was, so Kirk brings him down to his quarters and unlocks the confidential file by using a super futuristic retinal scanner. Must be pretty top secret if even the captain of the Enterprise doesn’t know about it.

Wow Kirk, got enough sliders on your computer screen? At least the thing's got straight edges on it; most of the other screens in this movie seem to be oval shaped.

The demonstration of the Genesis Device in action is probably the earliest fully CGI animated sequence ever seen in a movie, created by the Lucasfilm Computer Graphics Group (which would later become Pixar). Well I suppose the starfield in the background of the opening credits is also a computer generated sequence (and there was the wireframe Death Star briefing in Star Wars), but this is actually showing something more interesting than a screensaver.

When used on a dead world the Genesis effect rearranges matter on the subatomic level, not only making it suitable for a life, but seeding it with life as well. Give it a few minutes and it’ll terraform an entire planet for you. Of course if you used it on a planet where life already exists it’d wipe it out entirely and give you an ideal foundation for a new colony of your own.

It’s a pretty ingenious creation by the scriptwriters really, as it gives the peace-loving, friendly, utopian United Federation of Planets a horrific weapon of mass destruction without ruining Star Trek.

Spock is very impressed by it, McCoy is so furious he can barely get the words out. He doesn’t believe that there’s any ‘right hands’ for technology like this. But the argument is interrupted by Saavik calling them from the bridge, telling them that the USS Reliant is approaching and ignoring hails. "Only ship in the quadrant" my ass.

Khan has been able to commandeer the Reliant off screen, thanks to his handy mind control slugs, and now he’s giving the Enterprise his full attention. So much so that he hasn't even gotten around to taking his other glove off yet. It's lucky for him really that Kirk picked today to leave Earth and go on a training cruise or else he'd have to shoot up Starfleet Headquarters to get him.

Kirk still has no idea what’s going on with the Reliant, but doesn’t find it suspicious enough to raise shields, even after Saavik reminds him of the regulations.

Khan waits until the Enterprise is right alongside and orders tactical to raise shields. He’s got a crew of geniuses so after a couple of days they’re already as good at running their 23rd century starship as Kirk’s cadets are at running his.

Seeing that Khan’s locked his phasers, Kirk tries to get the shields up but he’s too late and the Reliant's able to slice right though the Enterprise’s hull.

Actually slice isn't the right word, as the phasers aren't a solid beam in this movie. The Reliant's actually hammering away at the hull with rapid fire shots like a machine gun (or the Enterprise in the Star Trek reboot films). If you ever wanted to know exactly where engineering and the warp core lives, just follow the red line.

Kirk’s really lucky the attack didn’t cut quite that deep, as that'd be an instant game over, but it came close enough. This has to be the first time we're actually seeing ships take visible damage in Star Trek. There's a lot of 'firsts' in this film.

I’m no expert on starship operations, but I’m thinking that when a giant door comes out of the ceiling and seals off part of the warp engine, that’s probably not a good sign.

Some engineers put on breathing masks, most of the others just run for the doors. They’re just cadets, they’re not used to seeing hull breaches and exploding anti-matter reactors up close. Unless there’s some kind of Kobayashi Maru test for engineers that is.

It’s not like the rest of the ship is going to any safer for them though, as the bridge soon takes a hit which sends flames and sparks spraying out of half the consoles. It’s pretty fair to say that they’ve lost this fight before it began. The moral of the story: shields are awesome, so turn them on. Also exploding simulator rooms are actually a really sensible way to get officers used to working on a starship.

Khan calls up to gloat and demand their surrender, and Kirk finally sees who it is he’s facing. He never actually meets him though. The two actors go the whole film without ever stepping foot on the same set.

Kirk offers to turn himself over if he’ll spare his crew, but Khan wants him to throw in something else to sweeten the deal: all the information he has on Project Genesis. And he has a minute to send it.

Kirk pleads for more time, saying that the computers were literally exploding a short while ago, but Khan not interested in his plausible excuses.

What Kirk really needs time for is to find the Reliant’s prefix number. Spock explains to Saavik that every ship has their own passcode to make sure that an enemy can’t hack their systems. Kirk's been doing this spaceship captain job a while now though and knows how to get the Reliant’s code and use it to lower their shields. Though first he needs to get his reading glasses out to see the console properly (to his embarrassment).

We get a visual display of the Reliant's shields going down here which is a smart way to make it absolutely clear to the audience what's going on here. The dots used to surround the ship, and now they're turning off.

The Enterprise is no match for the Reliant in a fair fight right now, but then it’d be more of a shock if the ship actually was a match for something in these movies. Kirk thrives on being the underdog.

With the Reliant's shields down, the Enterprise takes their shot and blows up the important looking blue dome at the back of the ship. I would’ve thought it’d be easier to take out the bridge, but I guess they’re just happy to hit anything critical right now. This is the first time the movie Enterprise has ever fired phasers by the way, and they're considerably less blue than they were in the TV series.

Then again everything's less blue in this movie, as all the colour seems to have been bleached out of the starships. The Reliant's model has red lines and blue paintwork all over it, but in these shots it's practically monochrome.

The Reliant limps off to lick her wounds and the Enterprise is left stranded with a gash in her side and a sickbay so full of burn victims they’ve got them lying on the carpet. Kirk must be missing the good old days when he just stared at a cloud on the viewscreen for an hour. Then again he has to be grateful that the script just handed him a free win, as this tactic wasn’t even slightly set up in advance. Though I suppose it makes sense that there's no Chekhov’s Guns while Chekov’s absent.

A extra piece of content in the director’s cut is a line of dialogue which establishes that this dying engineer is Scotty’s nephew, which explains why he’s extra broken up about his death. The guy heroically stayed at his post when the other trainees ran and managed to hold onto life just long enough to leave a bloody handprint on Kirk’s tunic. He might have lived longer though if Scotty hadn’t inexplicably brought him to the bridge first instead of sickbay.

Well maybe not entirely inexplicably, as there’s three explanations I can think of:
  1. Scotty was pissed off and wanted to shame Kirk for being a crappy commander and not raising the shields earlier.
  2. The guy’s dying wish was to see the bridge.
  3. The turbolift broke and took him to the wrong place.
While Scotty's crying in sickbay his cadets manage to restore auxiliary power, so now they’re heading at impulse speed to Regula I. This is a bit of a ‘Millennium Falcon going to Cloud City’ kind of situation, as with their FTL drive broken any trip should really be taking them decades rather than hours, unless the destination is right next door. But then no one ever said that it wasn’t.

The Enterprise eventually arrives at Regula I, which is orbiting a rocky planetoid with a great view of a pretty nebula. The crew are a little concerned about the planetoid though, as the Reliant could be hiding behind it right now. Without operational scanners and sensors they can't tell.

By the way, this shot is a major event for the Star Trek movies, as it's the very first time we ever see the new Enterprise... travelling from the left side of the screen to the right. The ship made it all the way through the Motion Picture and halfway through this film without its starboard side being shown.

In the Original Series on the other hand, the model was always filmed from the right, due the other side having more lighting cables running across it than lit windows. They took advantage of this once by putting backwards decals on the model and flipping the footage to show it was from a parallel universe.

It's funny seeing the two versions of the ship side by side like this, as you'd never guess that the original TV model is actually 3 feet longer than the super-detailed movie model. That's what 15 years of VFX evolution and sacks full of money gets you.

The Enterprise still can't get a response from the Regula I station, which isn't a good sign. The ship's got enough power for the transporter though so Kirk decides he’s going to beam over, with McCoy and Saavik inviting themselves onto the away team.

For the next few minutes the movie becomes a horror film, with the crew exploring the abandoned station, finding nothing but rented sci-fi props, an escaped rat, and computer screens showing Uhura repeatedly asking someone to pick up the phone and respond to her message.

McCoy finally runs into the Regula I science team, hanging dead from the ceiling, and discover Chekov and Terrell in a box. They eventually find time in their busy schedule to let Uhuru know they're okay as well, so the poor woman can stop repeating herself.

The good news is that the Starfleet officers aren’t dead, though they’re a little out of it. Apparently they fought the mind control and Khan got angry and dumped them in a box (he dumped the rest of the crew back on Ceti Alpha V). Captain Terrell explains that Khan couldn’t find Dr. Marcus or the Genesis materials and even the databanks were wiped clean. He tortured the others for information but they wouldn’t talk and he couldn't hang around as he had to leave in time to blow up the Enterprise.

That is a really over-designed and sinister looking transporter console for a Federation science station. There's a good reason for that though. You know how the Enterprise's torpedo room used to be a Klingon bridge? Well, this used to be a console on that bridge.

But the most important thing about the console is that it’s still on, which means whoever used it last wasn’t around to turn it off. The last coordinates set are deep within the planetoid, but the second stage of the Genesis tests were going to be carried out underground, so Kirk assumes that the scientists must have escaped down there.

He gets in contact with Spock, who gives him an obviously coded damage report while Khan listens in, clueless.
“Admiral, if we go by the book, like Lieutenant Saavik, hours could seem like days.”

“The situation is grave, Admiral. We won't have main power for six days. Auxiliary power has temporarily failed, restoration may be possible in two days. By the book, Admiral.”
The ship can't beam them back, but they’ve got another destination to try, and they’re all going to transport into the rocky moon together because they’re lunatics. McCoy’s a little concerned that the coordinates might lead nowhere, but Kirk reassures him by pointing out that this could be his big chance to get away from it all. Which is a fantastic line.

The good news is that our heroes didn’t beam inside solid rock, the bad news is that the Regula I scientists were ready for someone to follow them and now David’s trying to kill Kirk with a knife while his friend holds the officers at gunpoint.

David does a terrible job at it though, as he’s a skinny scientist and Kirk fist fights a superhuman alien every week. Fortunately though Carol arrives to calm the situation down, just in time for things to get much worse, as Captain Terrell raises his phaser.

So long scientist #2. David’s bloody lucky that Saavik was around to shove him out of the way.

Yep, Chekov and Terrell lied about being free of their mind control and now they’re going to kill Kirk and take the Genesis Device to Khan. All because McCoy didn't bother to scan them for brain worms. Terrell really doesn't want to murder his superior officer though, despite Khan giving him orders on his wrist communicator, so he removes the communicator with his teeth and then shoots himself. Damn man!

The other brain bug doesn't like where this is going and starts trying to escape Chekov's head, causing him to collapse in pain. He's been doing a lot of collapsing in pain in the movies so far.

Oh damn that's gross. I hope Dr. McCoy's good at reconstructing ears as that thing's just crawled its way from out of Chekov's brain via the ear canal. Also Chekov's ear's looking a bit like a giant rubber model right now, so he should do something about that too.

Starfleet has a policy of treating alien life with respect (you never know when a silicon rock monster or a grain of sand going to turn out to be sapient), but this one’s really pissed Kirk off, so he incinerates it with his phaser just to be safe.

Kirk uses Terrell’s communicator to chat with Khan, to reveal he's still alive and try to bait him into beaming down himself. "You've managed to kill just about everyone else, but like a poor marksman you keep missing the target!" But Khan’s too tired of this shit and takes the Genesis Device instead.

David runs over and tries to… I don’t know, hitch a ride with it as it’s beaming up? But fortunately the others grab him (again) and stop him from doing the third reckless and stupid thing he’s tried in the last five minutes.

There's a new transporter effect for the film by the way. They've dropped the cylindrical containment field, changed the sparkles to blue and added some excessive lens flares. Works for me, I love a bit of excessive lens flare.

By Khan's estimation he's pretty much won here. He’s got an advanced starship and the most dangerous WMD in the known galaxy, while Kirk's stranded helpless in the middle of a dead world, buried alive. Kirk doesn’t take this very well. Or maybe he’s only pretending not to take this well, after all he does have a plan.

Either way he screams “Khan!” so loud you can even hear it in space. Seriously, the camera pulls out to show the planetoid and we hear his voice echoing through the cosmos.

Kirk’s a bit miserable now. He started the day off feeling old and depressed, and somehow the events of the day haven’t cheered him up much. Especially now he’s been reunited with his ex-girlfriend and son he's never known, but who already hates him. Surprise, David Marcus is his son, who was born... right around the time of Star Trek Into Darkness by my calculations (though in another timeline obviously).

Carol decides to cheer him up by showing him what their Genesis tests did down here.

That's a damn fine matte painting, and it even has animated water! The film cuts between a few paintings actually and it's all very impressive, especially as sometimes it seemed like Star Trek: The Next Generation was recycling the same three matte paintings for its entire seven year run.

Meanwhile Reliant’s impulse drive has been repaired and Khan decides to swing around the planetoid to destroy the broken helpless Enterprise. But when he gets there he finds that it's gone. Not so damaged after all.

Kirk munches on a Genesis cave apple and reveals to Saavik that back in his academy days he actually managed to beat the unbeatable Kobayashi Maru test... by screwing with the computer. Exactly like he did against the Reliant earlier in fact. He doesn't like to lose.

Then he calls up Spock and gets them all beamed up to the Enterprise. It took them two hours to get the auxiliary power back on line, just as they predicted. Spock said days instead of hours earlier because he was working by the book, and the book says no uncoded messages when you know that genetically engineered supermen with a stolen Starfleet ship are listening in.

The ship's still a bit of a wreck though, with the turbolifts inoperative below C deck. That's 18 decks without elevators! But it means we get to watch them crawl around in the maintenance tunnels for a moment, which is cool as it makes the place feel more like a real starship. Oh damn, I just thought about poor Dr. McCoy who has to carry Chekov all the way down to sickbay.

Wait, Kirk has a wristwatch? How did I not notice that until now? He's also got his uniform back on neat and tidy, to symbolise his rebirth as a confident and decisive starship commander. Or something.

The ship's currently orbiting the planetoid on the opposite side to the Reliant, where it apparently can't see them. They couldn't see cargo containers full of genetically augmented supermen earlier so I suppose it checks out. But the Reliant can outrun and outgun them, so if they try to make a run for it Khan will soon catch up and obliterate them.

Spock has an idea though. They're close enough to the Mutara Nebula to dart inside without warp drive, and the static discharge and gas in there will mess with shields and sensors. It'll leave them blind and defenceless, but that'll be true of the Reliant too if they can lure them in, removing Khan's advantage. Plus it'll turn the movie into a submarine film, and that worked out great for the episode Balance of Terror.

Khan would rather Kirk didn't drag their fight into the nebula, so he fires a photon torpedo... right past them as a warning shot? That's a damn weird strategy to use when you’re trying to destroy the other ship. Maybe shooting out the engines would've been a better use of his limited torpedoes. Then again, they're not that limited, he should fire off 20 of the things in the Enterprise's direction and see what happens.

He may be playing the role of Ahab in this adaptation of Moby Dick, but Khan’s got just enough wits about him still to slow down here and ignore the bait. He’s got a starship, he’s got Genesis, he’s won here if he turns around and goes the other way. I mean it’s not like there’s any other ships in the area that can stop him, there never are.

But then Kirk calls him up and starts mocking him, and then it's on.

Each ship judders when entering the gas for some reason, and then their viewscreen turns to static.

The nebula's not a bad effect at all really, considering we're actually looking at some coloured liquid in a tank. Though I can't help but note that this is the second movie in a row where the Enterprise ends up moving slowly through a swirly blue cloud while the characters stare at the screen.

The two ships aren't finding it easy to spot each other in the space fog, but they’re really trying. I'd say they'd have more luck if they had someone looking out of the windows, but they do seem to end up crossing paths a lot somehow anyway. And when that happens, they go all out with the phasers and hope they hit something.

That was Kirk's favourite torpedo room! Those bastards.

I wish I could say that the 8 foot Enterprise model looks great even this close up, but this is actually a different 4 foot model of this section of the ship alone. You can see they’ve given up on the metallic pearlescent look entirely at this point, painting it in flat greys.

Oh shit, they’re really not messing around with the damage this time, that looks genuinely nasty. The pyrotechnicians did realise that the Enterprise's walls are actually made of wood, right? I guess they didn’t need that set any more.

Kirk's ship gives as good as she gets though, firing back and slicing across the Reliant’s bridge. Khan and his crew were genetically engineered to be incredibly strong and resilient, but even they can’t survive exploding consoles. The Enterprise has just lost a photon torpedo launcher and main power, while the Reliant has lost half the people pressing buttons, including Khan’s best friend and second in command, but it's still anyone's match.

But then Spock realises that Khan's steering his vessel like a battleship when he should be thinking submarines, so Kirk brings the the Enterprise straight down 10 kilometres. Kirk mentioned earlier that "Galloping around the cosmos is a game for the young," but again it's their age and experience that's giving them the edge over the genius in the other ship.

The Enterprise waits for the Reliant to sail overhead, then slowly pops up behind it to give Chekov his chance to send two photon torpedoes and a phaser blast its way. The guy's been crapped on all movie, but here he finally gets his revenge, scoring a hit with every shot and shattering the Reliant's port warp nacelle.

I'm not sure why they chose to wreck the bit that was already broken, but they sure wrecked it good. If Khan wants to take Genesis anywhere after this he’ll have go out in a shuttle and find where his warp engine drifted off to.

Khan's pretty messed up now though, and is probably the only member of his crew too stubborn to have died yet. Funnily enough this hasn't improved his mood any, in fact it's got him quoting Moby-Dick out loud to absolutely no one.

Then we get the cleverest thing in the movie: the Genesis Device’s computer prop. Khan rotates the outer cylinder, hits the switch and it drops down, then he repeats the process with the other cylinders in turn to arm the device. How this mechanism they’ve built works I’ve no idea, but it does.

Look at that beautiful lens flare.

So yeah, he’s just armed the most dangerous weapon of mass destruction in the known galaxy and now the Enterprise has a countdown of four minutes to get her ass out of range. The ship's fast enough without FTL to get from a planetoid to a nearby nebula, but to outrun this explosion they're going to require a functioning warp drive.

Seeing no other alternatives, Spock sneaks off the bridge and climbs down to engineering (the lifts are still broken). He finds that the radiation leaking into the energizer room has knocked Scotty out despite his protective suit, and it’ll outright kill anyone stupid enough to go in there to fix it. And Dr. McCoy is there to make sure Spock doesn't do anything stupid.

He can’t exactly do much to stop him though.

Spock knocks the doctor out with a neck pinch and then does a quick mind meld with him, saying “Remember”. This was apparently added later in pick ups to leave the door open for Spock to return in a sequel. It's a shame they didn't think to have a second camera running from another angle, just in case they needed some 'security camera' footage later.

Spock enters the sealed energizer room behind the glass and takes the lid off the thing, getting a faceful of smoke and blinding lens flares for his trouble. Meanwhile Scotty and McCoy are yelling at him from outside, like that's going to make a difference at this point. Plus I don’t think they’ve quite realised that he’s actually increasing his life expectancy by fixing the mains, as without warp drive they’ll all be dead in two minutes.

At the end of the countdown the Reliant explodes on cue, but the Enterprise escapes to warp speed at the last second! It might seem like they've forgot to put the nebula in the background, but that's the Genesis effect doing its thing, with smoky rings forming in space behind the ship as it flees the scene.

I'm not sure why the Enterprise's warp trail isn't pointing to the origin of the explosion though. Did Sulu fly in a curve, because he's bored and wants something to do in this film?

Carol and David watch on the viewscreen as the clouds pull together to form a brand new planet, while McCoy contacts the bridge to tell Kirk to get down to engineering. He looks around to see Spock’s empty chair and realises what has happened. Then he has to climb down a dozen ladders because the lifts are still broken.

And then this scene happens, where we have to watch Kirk helplessly watch his friend die from radiation poisoning. Which is kind of sad actually, especially as they're each bringing the correct amount of acting.

Spock asks what Kirk thinks of his solution to the Kobayashi Maru, which has always confused me a bit as it's not a no-win scenario if you can win. Of course the Kobayashi Maru is really testing how a commander faces the fact that all their options are bad ones, and Spock's response was to put the painful consequences onto himself. By sacrificing himself he even saved his own life, even though right now it seems like he's only earned himself a few extra minutes.

It's funny by the way, how this room only appears in this one movie. They installed a special death chamber in engineering just for Spock's heroic demise. Also we're only up to film #2 but I think this might actually be the last time they used the engine room set for the Enterprise. In Star Trek III they basically filmed Scotty in a cupboard to save money, and Star Trek: The Next Generation stole the set after that to house its own warp reactor.

A short while later the crew assemble to give Spock a proper burial in space. They only have the one torpedo room set though, so they have to hold the funeral in the room that got blown up earlier, with the airlock on the right.

Kirk tries to ruin the moment by calling Spock the most human of the souls he’s met (right in front of Saavik), Saavik tries to ruin it by breaking her logical Vulcan fa├žade and crying and Scotty tries to ruin it by playing Amazing Grace on the bagpipes, but they all fail. His bagpipes actually made a brief cameo in the Original Series as well, so it's canon that he's been practicing in his off hours, probably after finishing one of those bottles he's got hidden away everywhere. The senior staff have been trapped in deep space for five years at a time with off-key bagpipe tunes vibrating through the metal conduits every night, and they endured it with the professionalism expected of a Starfleet officer. That if nothing else is what makes them heroes.

After the funeral Kirk goes to his quarters to finish the book he got from Spock, but finds his glasses were smashed during the fight. Though he gets a hug from the son who used to hate him and that makes him a little happier.

He decides to join Doctors Marcus and McCoy to watch their new Genesis Planet populate with life, and realises that he's feeling young. I'm noticing a pattern in the film here: every time Kirk watches someone get blown up or phasered he feels old, and whenever he sees the Genesis effect in action he feels young. Don't worry though, he'll be miserable again in time for the next movie.

Meanwhile Spock’s coffin has somehow landed on the planet intact! It’s a weird Genesis Planet made out of a nebula, you can’t say it couldn’t happen! It’s just really really unlikely. What's also weird is that no one on the ship notices this miraculous event. I realise that they've all been through a major traumatic event, but is no one monitoring the scanner? Oh wait that was Spock's job.

And the movie ends with Spock's gravely voice reading out the "These are the voyages..." monologue from the TV series. Except he's swapped "five year mission" with "ongoing mission". So I guess they're done with training the cadets then.


CONCLUSION

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is so much better than Star Trek: The Motion Picture. It's better than a lot of other things too, but if Motion Picture's an example of where Gene Roddenberry wanted to take the movies, I'm glad a new team took over this time. The film's so much more vibrant and lively, and it focuses on the characters inside rather than looking out the window at the effects. Of course it kind of had to as it had a far smaller budget, but they did really well with what they had. It didn't even occur to me until afterwards that half this epic space adventure takes place on that same tiny bridge set.

The music takes a lot of the blame for that, as putting the soundtrack of a 19th century naval adventure movie over footage of people in spaceships was actually genius. Jerry Goldsmith wrote a fantastic score for the Motion Picture, but James Horner's music is absolutely perfect for Wrath of Khan. I can't imagine what the film would be like without it. I suppose it fits so well because producer Harve Bennett and writer/director Nicholas Meyer brought a new style to the franchise and made Starfleet more militaristic, a bit more 'Horatio Hornblower'. Though that mostly means sharper uniforms and a bit more formality. When you look at what Starfleet are up to, they're training to rescue a neutronic fuel carrier, assisting a terraforming project, and (according to the ending monologue) seeking out new life and new civilisations. Sounds like the same organisation from the series to me.

One thing that's changed though is the introduction of serialisation. In the Original Series, the crew took off after every mission to get on with the next thing, always moving forward, never looking back. But Kirk's been beached behind a desk, dwelling on the past too long and the consequences of his choices are finally starting to catch up with him. The son he had 25 years ago has developed a Genesis Device, the man he stranded 15 years ago is going on a murderous rampage, and the crew he used to command are so bored they're volunteering to get blown up in a simulator room just for something to do. This is pretty much the first part of a trilogy too, so the continuity will continue from here.

If there's a moral to this movie, it's 'don't get books with crappy endings or you're dooming yourself to the same fate'. But another moral I spotted is 'listen to your friends'. Throughout the movie Kirk and Khan are given advice by their trusted supporters, and whenever they ignore that advice terrible things happen. Kirk's miserable because he won't listen to McCoy and become a starship commander again, Kirk's favourite ship gets wrecked because he doesn't listen to Saavik and raise the shields, and Khan ultimately loses because he doesn't listen to Joachim and quit while he was ahead. Kirk eventually puts his ego in check, telling Saavik to keep quoting regulations, while Khan literally quotes Moby-Dick and revels in his irrational obsession all the way to its inevitable end.

Of course Spock saves the day by ignoring everyone's advice and doing something immensely self-destructive, but that's just how Spock rolls. Terrell too now that I think about; wow this movie's got a lot of Starfleet captains killing themselves in it.

Speaking of the characters, they're great in this movie! Well, the ones who get to do anything anyway. Poor Uhura gets about 5 lines, which she has to repeat constantly, and Sulu... was probably in the film, but I can't be sure. Kirk, Spock and McCoy are back on form though, with their likeability restored after the Motion Picture, and Saavik works well as a young outsider to the Enterprise clique who brings new viewers into the group along with her. Plus Ricardo Montelban is a great antagonist, despite never meeting William Shatner on set, but I'm sure I've said that already.

Did I mention that the film is good? It is.

Strange new worlds explored: 0. They'd already visited Ceti Alpha V in Space Seed, and no one bothers to scan the Genesis Planet.
New life discovered: 1. Chekov had a close encounter with a brain worm.
New civilisations discovered: 0.
Boldly gone where no one has gone before: Nope.
Other ships in range: 1, but it was evil.


The Star Trek movies will return with Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, around a month from now. But next on Sci-Fi Adventures, I'll be continuing Babylon 5 season 1 with Infection. Yay.

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4 comments:

  1. Horner's soundtrack is great in this, although I'm sure there are bits of Krull and Aliens in it.

    Apparently everyone felt bad about Sulu not getting anything to do in this one, so they gave him a bigger role in IV but then some of that got cut. Oops. So then they gave him a starship of his own in VI to make up for it.

    I watched Titan AE yesterday -- I haven't watched in in years and I wanted to see if it was worth keeping; it's not -- and I was struck by how the last twenty minutes or so is more or less a ripoff of . You've got the submarines in space bit, then the heroic sacrifice, and it all ends with the superweapon transforming the space cloud into a beautiful new planet (SPOILER). I'd be more miffed if the Star Trek series didn't itself rip off Khan twice more.

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    1. That should be "more or less a ripoff of Wrath of Khan"; I'm not sure where the title's gone!

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    2. More like there's bits of Star Trek II's soundtrack in Krull and Aliens. Though I actually compared Aliens' music when I was writing about the film and I couldn't find any reused material, it just sounds REALLY similar. The end of Die Hard as well, seeing as it borrows an unused cue from Aliens.

      Though really it's Horner's Battle Beyond the Stars soundtrack they're all derivative of, as it came first. Not that I'm complaining, I love all the guy's music.

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    3. Yeah, Horner was really good at this time, which is probably why I don't mind hearing it again in each of the films! I mean, I do love Krull but I probably wouldn't love it nearly as much without the soundtrack.

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