Monday, 2 June 2014

Star Trek memories II: The Wrath of Khan

The time was 1982 and the whole world depended on it. If it failed, one of the most storied and cherished cultural institutions would have gone done, and maybe even died. It was “Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan”, and before it came out, there was a lot of anxiety among those in the film industry. Fans still held out hope, but if it did not deliver, "Star Trek" would likely not recover. A lot was depending on it, and it came through with flying colours. It even achieved a legendary status of its own.

Disappointing debut
The phenomenon of "Star Trek" is well documented. The show debuted in 1966, and immediately gained cult status and a loyal fan following. However, ratings did not follow, and twice letter-writing campaigns by fans saved it.

The original series lasted three seasons, but interest exploded after it went off the air. An animated series followed, and tons of rumours about another series or a movie.

Finally, in 1980, “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” came out. It had a very 1970s look, similar to the original series, and even had a recycled plot to match. It was long on special effects and shorter on story. Some of the special effects seemed to go on and on, and threatened to consume the show. It made a ton of money, but left a lot of people disappointed and wanting.

The movie poster for "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan"
The sequel
Information, mostly rumours, began to surface about a potential sequel. There would in fact be a sequel. Soon after, we discovered it would feature an old villain from the original series. Then we learned it would be Khan, with the role reprised by Ricardo Montalban, and called “The Vengeance of Khan”.

My friend Dave used to read a science fiction magazine called “Star Log” and he brought it to school where I first saw it. One issue had a cover story on the sequel, now re-titled, “The Wrath of Khan”. The cover photo had two young, attractive actors: newcomers Kirstie Alley and Merrit Butrick. As for the movie, it had a new director in Nicholas Meyer and everything had been completely re-designed.

The uniforms looked more military and less like the original series. The bridge was different, and the transporter beam effect had been updated.

I could hardly wait to see it.

One of the activities we used to have at St. Joseph’s School in Coaldale was movie parties. We'd vote on which movie we wanted to see, then we would actually get on a bus and ride to the theatre. It was an awesome idea.

The first one in Grade 8 was a “Sophie’s Choice” in reverse for me – I wanted to see both movies badly. It was a contest between "Rocky III" and "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan". Dave so badly wanted to see it, but I was a bit Machiavellian as a 12 year old. I knew my sister would take me to see "Star Trek II, but there was no way I could sell her on "Rocky III". So I had to cast my vote for the Italian Stallion. So we ended up going to "Rocky III" with school, but I’ll tell you more about that another time.

My sister ended up taking me to see the "Wrath of Khan", and neither of us was disappointed. Not only had they saved the franchise, but made what many believe is still the best "Star Trek" movie of them all. They even say so on “The Big Bang Theory”.

It is an allegory of Moby Dick, with an epic battle of wits waged between Admiral James T. Kirk and Khan. Throw in the Genesis device, which creates life where none existed before and you have a battle with the fate of the universe hanging in the balance. Kirk was at his best, goading Khan here, retreating there, and ultimately putting his ship in a position to win in the end. There are also underlying plots with Kirk beginning to feel old, and discovering he has a son.

One of the biggest rumours that had swirled surrounded Kirk’s best friend Captain Spock. Was he going to die or wasn’t he? In the end, he gave his life, but we viewers were left hopeful because his body lands on the Genesis planet. Would its powers bring Spock back to life? That was what left audiences wondering.

The ultimate irony is that not only is Spock still alive, but he is the only original character to appear on the re-booted "Star Trek" movie franchise created by J.J. Abrams.

It wasn’t long before rumours started to surface about a sequel. “Star Log” even reported Paramount had commissioned several scripts including, “The Wrath of Mudd” and “The Wrath of Charlie X”, dredging up two other original series villains, and a script mysteriously titled, “The Wrath of McCoy”. I was never sure if that was a joke or not. Not just McCoy, but all of them.

Parting thoughts
A couple weeks ago I happened to catch part of “The Wrath of Khan” again, and it really does stand up to the test of time. It has everything, which makes it the best in the series. Moreover, it came out at a time when the patience of fans was limited and the future of "Star Trek" may have been hanging in the balance.

At the end, when Spock has restored warp power just when the Enterprise was about to be destroyed, Kirk tells him, “You saved the ship.”

Well, they saved the franchise.

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