Yeah, THAT one! Well, it still rings out with all the power and desperation that it had back in 1982 as I discovered this past week when I attended the Fathom Events theatrical showing of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (WOK). Does it still hold up? Damn straight it does! And not just because of Kirk's powerful bellow.
There's a reason that, even after 35 years, Wrath of Khan is still voted the best Star Trek film ever made. Its story-telling remains unsurpassed in both writing and visual terms. In an age of CGI where literally anything can be put onto film, WOK's intimate cat and mouse game still holds up. Why? Because everything works.
|Kirk and Khan face off the first time|
Director Nick Meyer did the impossible – he took a so-so script and in just ten days time turned it into the masterwork that we know today. Despite having zero knowledge of Star Trek, he quickly figured out what made the original series work at its best, and with producer Harve Bennet chose what is surely one of the best, most exciting and action-packed TOS episodes, "Space Seed", as the basis for their film. That choice would be the impetus to greatness.
Where the earlier Star Trek: The Motion Picture had taken a cold, subdued approach to Trek, WOK embraced the characters for what they were at their best – passionate and vital. The result was a complete turnaround for our gallant captain and crew. Gone was the sternness of The Motion Picture's gray tones and even grayer plot. Suddenly, our heroes were back in vivid color and breathless action. They were once again the ideals that we had fallen in love with all those years ago, back to save the day once again.
|Khan has a few words with Joaquin|
In the fifty-plus years of Star Trek, there has simply never been a more menacing, larger-than-life villain than Khan Noonien Singh as brought to glorious life by the great Ricardo Montalban. Beginning with "Space Seed", the character leapt off the screen and into fan's hearts as the epitome of Treky bad-assness. When we catch up to the character some 15 years later he's lost none of his bombast. Far from it! Somehow, Montalban imbued his later characterization with even more intensity and boldness, making a perfect foil for the older, wiser Kirk. It was chess-playing at its best.
|Duking it out in the Mutara Nebula|
Though CGI-less, the battle between Kirk's Enterprise and Khan's Reliant still has the original power of its then-cutting-edge special effects. The Enterprise never looks better than she does stalking the Reliant through the beautifully-unique Mutara Nebula, evoking the best of the WWII submarine movies. Soaring slowly through stellar mists, the mighty starship has an unequaled majesty in WOK that will, unfortunately, never come again. There's something about physical models that seem to portray an immenseness that I seldom get from a CGI creation.
THE DEATH SCENE
Spoiler alert: Spock dies. But he doesn't get beat up on a bridge (uh) or smothered by a tar monster (really, TNG?), no. He dies the greatest death ever shown on all of Star Trek. The climactic scene when Kirk runs to his friend, only to find that he is too late, is the single most poignant moment in fifty years of Trek story-telling, in this writer's opinion. As our two heroes have their last few seconds together, we are crushed by the loss in a way that was heretofore unknown in Star Trek.
For me, TNG's "Inner Light" is the only thing that even approaches its emotional level.
Perhaps the single most amazing thing about Khan is the fact that the two main characters never actually physically share a single scene. The entire interaction between Kirk and Khan happens over communicators and view-screens. In most films that would be a vast problem, yet in WOK you're really not ever aware of it. The action is so taught and fast-paced that we never have time to make that realization.
Will Khan hold up for another thirty-five years? Only time will tell. But in this fan's heart, there will never be another two hours of Star Trek that can surpass the sublime experience that is Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Like the man said: