“Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” (1982)

In the 23rd century, Admiral James T. Kirk (William Shatner) is an instructor at Starfleet Academy. Kirk is feeling old; he now needs reading glasses, which are given to him by Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley). The prospect of going on his ship (USS Enterprise) on a 2-week training mission doesn’t make Kirk feel any younger. Soon, the ship faces possible danger, when the genetically engineered Khan (Ricardo Montalban) appears after years of exile on a secluded planet. Khan wants to capture Project Genesis (a top secret device holding the power of creation itself) and kill Kirk!

[On whether Kirk should assume command from Spock]

Spock: If I may be so bold, it was a mistake for you to accept promotion. Commanding a starship is your first, best destiny; anything else is a waste of material.

Kirk: I would not presume to debate you.

Spock: That is wise. Were I to invoke logic, however, logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

Kirk: Or the one.

Spock: You are my superior officer. You are also my friend. I have been and always shall be yours.

This the Trek film that will appeal to BOTH long-time/newbie fans and casual viewers alike! So far, I’ve watched this 3x in the last 6 yrs. The acting is good from all involved, the directing is not flashy (yet tells the story effectively), and it has a few very emotional moments as well. Do you have to be middle-aged to appreciate it fully? Hmm… I’d say no, but it does help!

Executive Producer Harve Bennett was known for being able to make films w/ low budgets; Paramount Studios wanted him to make this film for under $45M. He’d never seen any of TOS; he viewed all the eps and chose Space Seed as the best candidate for a sequel. Bennett realized that one of the problems w/ the Star Trek: The Motion Picture (ST:TMP) was the lack of a strong villain. Gene Roddenberry stayed on as “creative consultant” position. On ST:TMP, Paramount blamed the constant production delays and budget overruns on Roddenberry’s constant meddling and slow script rewrites. This is the first time a feature film was made as a sequel to a specific TV ep.

My intention with Khan was to express the fact that they had been marooned on that planet with no technical infrastructure, so they had to cannibalize from the spaceship whatever they used or wore. Therefore, I tried to make it look as if they had dressed themselves out of pieces of upholstery and electrical equipment that composed the ship. -Robert Fletcher (costume designer)

Director Nicholas Meyer (just 36 y.o.) hadn’t seen any of TOS either; this was only his 2nd movie! Meyer, Bennett, Jack B. Sowards, and Samuel A. Peeples all worked on the screenplay. For the musical score, Bennett chose James Horner (only 28 y.o.) He adapted the opening fanfare of Alexander Courage’s TOS theme; he created several themes and motifs (shorter pieces) which have become iconic. Although Gene Roddenberry TOS w/ a military structure, he avoided “excessive militarism” (his words). However, Meyer decided to further expand on this, making the uniforms/insignias more military in style. He also added a ship’s bell and boatswain’s whistle; he wrote the dialogue to reflect naval protocol. Such details greatly influenced the later films and spin-off TV series, as long-time fans will note!

I’m sure that I was influenced by Goldsmith’s large orchestral scores when I started out, and that was because the people who employed me wanted that kind of sound. I wasn’t in a position to say “Go to hell!” -James Horner (composer)

Some TOS fans and media critics have often wondered re: Marla McGivers (the Starfleet officer who fell in love w/ Khan). On the Star Trek: The Pod Directive podcast, I learned that actress Madlyn Rhue was to reprise her role. However, she had suffered w/ multiple sclerosis, so was using wheelchair. Marla was written out, explaining she’d been killed by the vicious eel creatures. Montalban said in interviews that “Khan loved his wife passionately, and blames Kirk for her death.” The actor realized early on in his career that a good villain doesn’t see himself as villainous; he’s the hero of his own story. In the mid-1980s, James Doohan (Scotty) stated that he felt that Montalban should’ve been nominated for an Academy Award for his role.

She was getting advice from all sides, and the studio kept trying to make it more of a ‘tits and ass’ performance. I said, “No, no, no. That’s real. You’re in the Navy. You’re a pro. Just do your job. You’re good. You’re at the top of your class there.” -Meyer re: Kirstie Alley’s character (Lt. Saavik)

A woman who was beautiful and looked like she could think. A woman who was attractive enough, that you could see why Kirk would fall for her, and at the same time somebody who could keep up with him. -Meyer re: Bibi Besch’s character (Dr. Carol Marcus)

This is the film debut of Kirstie Alley (who loved TOS), who plays Spock’s young/ambitious protegee- Lt. Saavik. When Syfy aired this film on TV, Leonard Nimoy appeared during commercial breaks, sharing various memories/trivia. One of the items was the character backstory of Lt. Saavik, who was supposed to have Romulan/Vulcan heritage, which was why she was more emotional than a pure-blooded Vulcan. There are hints re: this all through the film: she once exclaims “damn” after failing the Kobayashi Maru test, she gasps in shock seeing the dead body of Midshipman Preston, and gets teary-eyed during Spock’s funeral. When they speak to each other in Vulcan, Nimoy and Alley actually spoke in English, and then the sound people (w/ feedback from linguist Marc Okrand) created the Vulcan words to match the movements of their mouths, which they later overdubbed.

Joachim: We’re all with you, sir. But, consider this. We are free. We have a ship, and the means to go where we will. We have escaped permanent exile on Ceti Alpha V. You have defeated the plans of Admiral Kirk. You do not need to defeat him again.

Khan: [from Melville’s Moby Dick] He tasks me. He tasks me and I shall have him! I’ll chase him ’round the moons of Nibia and ’round the Antares Maelstrom and ’round perdition’s flames before I give him up!

As fans are bound to expect from the world of Trek, there are several literary references here. Kirk gets the novel A Take of Two Cities from Spock as a birthday gift. Khan’s bookshelf contains a few books, incl. Paradise Lost, Moby DIck, and King Lear. The phrase “to the last I grapple with thee; from Hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake, I spit my last breath at thee.” is taken from Capt. Ahab’s speech in Moby Dick. Kirk’s apt. in San Fran was filled w/ antique collectibles, revealing his attachment to the past.

The battle of wits between Kirk and Khan inside the Mutara Nebula was inspired by the one between destroyer captain Robert Mitchum and U-boat commander Curd Jürgens in The Enemy Below, which was also the inspiration for (much-loved) TOS ep Balance of Terror. Another movie connection is Run Silent, Run Deep, where rival U.S. and Japanese submarine commanders both went to full stop in their underwater duel, in very close proximity, to avoid giving away their positions and to try to figure out what the other sub was doing.

The model of the USS Reliant (a Miranda class starship) was designed so that the warp nacelles hung below the fuselage, so audiences wouldn’t confuse it w/ the Enterprise (particularly in the action sequences). The computer simulation of Genesis transforming a dead planet is the 1st complete computer-generated sequence ever used in a feature film- wow! The graphics divisions of Lucasfilm worked on the visual effects for this movie; they also worked on Star Wars.

[1] Not only is this movie loaded with the original characters from the series, it also touches on such subjects as revenge, family, duty, age and, of course, sacrifice. That was the best thing about the series – that it touched on topics that were (pardon the expression) universal, no matter the species.

[2] The Wrath of Khan isn’t a science fiction film as much as it’s an old-fashioned adventure story dressed up in vintage science fiction tropes.

This tension, between life and death, immortality and mortality, success and failure, is epitomised by the Genesis device, a super weapon in the film which has to power to both create and destroy.

[3] William Shatner, after the stinging reviews of his stilted performance in ST:TMP, needed a strong script to provide ‘damage control’, and he got it. In perhaps his finest performance, he dominates the screen… Both decisive and likable, Shatner’s Kirk is the glue that holds ST:TWOK together, and he is brilliant.

Leonard Nimoy, getting every actor’s dream, a chance to die onscreen, gives Spock a poignancy that is, ultimately, heartbreaking; DeForest Kelley, excellent as Dr. McCoy, not only offers righteous indignation over the implications of the Genesis Project, but projects such an obvious affection for both Kirk and his “sparring partner,” Spock, that, far more than in the first film, you can see the nearly symbiotic link between the three leads. The rest of the original cast, despite small roles, still have far more to do than in the first film…

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

One thought on ““Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” (1982)

  1. This is my favorite Star Trek film of all time by miles (I saw it when it was originally in theatres, and while I thought it was fantastic back then, it definitely does improve with age). I was impressed back then when they dared to kill off Spock (and very frustrated when they used this imo cheap way of bringing him back in the next film). I agree that it was probably Shatner’s best screen performance, maybe because the overacting doesn’t seem so hammy when your best friend is dying. Montalban is better than all of them (as he was back in the 60s) and I think he just lived at the wrong time. If he were acting today he would have had a much more artistically significant career.

    Other notes: I think that TMP is a film that improves with time — but back then everyone was trying to compete with Star Wars (sort of in ignorance of the fact that they were two very different products) and this film saved the franchise. Meyer was known at the time for “The Seven Percent Solution” which I loved when I saw it on TV as a tween, and then loved again as a book. Not sure how it would hold up these days.

    Also: those eels! So disgusting.

    Liked by 1 person

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