The Summer of ’82: Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan

Fante’s Inferno revisits the films of the Summer of 1982, considered the greatest movie summer for fantasy and sci-fi fans.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Release Date: June 4, 1982

See the trailer here.

Starring: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Ricardo Montalban, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, Walter Koenig

Directed by: Nicholas Meyer; Screenplay by Jack B. Sower and Nicholas Meyer (uncredited)

Where do I begin with Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan?

When I started this retrospective on the Summer of ’82, I found myself revisiting a number of films I haven’t seen in 20 to 30 years.  The Wrath of Khan is one that I own on DVD and have watched many times.  Despite thirty years of technological advances in filmmaking and special effects, some films are just timeless.  The Wrath of Khan falls into that category.  If the films of the Summer of ’82 were the lineup for a baseball team, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan would be batting cleanup.

I remember when Star Trek: The Motion Picture was released in 1979 I couldn’t get enough of that film (trailer here).  The marketing campaign included a promotion with McDonalds that placed Star Trek: TMP related toys in Happy Meals, highlighted by a commercial with a Klingon speaking Klingon-ese (I probably ate three or four Happy Meals a week en route to collecting the entire set).  When I watched the film recently, I realized why some folks have nicknamed it Star Trek: The Motionless Picture.  But for someone who had never seen an episode of Star Trek prior to taking on the film, director Nicholas Meyer (Time After Time, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home) hit this one out of the park and gave Star Trek fans (and sci-fi fans in general) a film that revitalized the franchise.

Watching Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan in 1982 was a real treat (and still is today!).  The battle scenes were heightened by Khan’s lust for vengeance and Kirk’s propensity for trickery.  Kirk’s feelings of guilt and loss resulting from his failed relationship with Carol Marcus (played by Bibi Besch) brought out elements of Kirk’s personality that I was able to appreciate more as an adult.  Watching it again this week, I was impressed with how little dialogue was needed to convey their situation.  One thing that was lost on me at the time was the connection Khan (played by the great Ricardo Montalban) had to the original series.  I must have missed that episode when it aired in reruns, but it didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the film.  I do remember that WPIX re-ran the episode Space Seed around the time of Wrath of Khan’s release, and ran a crawl to announce it at the bottom of the TV screen during other shows leading up to that airing in order to drum up viewership.

SPOILER ALERT

I remember walking out of The Wrath of Khan feeling an incredible amount of sadness when Spock died.  When I was a kid and my brother and I played Star Trek with the neighborhood kids, I was always Spock.  I even had a Spock style bowl-cut at the time (that was coincidental).  When Spock sacrificed his life to save the crew, as much as I appreciated the scene I couldn’t fathom at the time why they would kill off such an important character.  I wish I could remember the fan response to this at the time.  When you consider how quickly a fan uproar can spread online when even an unsubstantiated rumor of a plot detail deviating one iota from the original canon in a film based on a beloved property, I wondered if Spock’s death had the same impact among fans in 1982.  Apparently his death was to take place earlier in the film, but the negative response led to the change.  Even so, Nimoy and Meyer thought Spock’s death would be permanent.

The scene with Spock’s final monologue still chokes me up to this day.  When I watched it again this week I felt the weight of Kirk’s loss of his true friend more than I had in previous screenings, a feeling that hit close to home having lost a close friend of mine several years back.  Spock’s final words to Kirk about the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the few always resonated with me, and even seems to pop up in conversations in my day to day life.  There was a moment on the New York City subway a few years back when a rider kept the subway doors open for a bunch of folks to get on the #2 train at the Times Square Station stop.  Despite his noble intentions, he held up the train and started to piss off the rest of us, including the engineer.  The subway engineer opened the door to his compartment, stared the guy down and calmly said “How many people are you going to keep the doors open for?  You’re holding these riders up.  The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”

I highly recommend Wrath of Khan director Nicholas Meyer’s autobiography A View From the Bridge for a fantastic account of his work on the Star Trek films as well as on The Seven Percent Solution, Time After Time, and The Day After.  And if you want to see Ricardo Montalban in another great film, watch the classic World War II film Battleground (starring Van Johnson).

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One thought on “The Summer of ’82: Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan

  1. I’ve been eagerly anticipating your write-up of Star Trek II for some time now. It really is such a fantastic film, one of the greatest science fiction movies ever made. I blogged about it myself a few months back…

    http://benjaminherman.wordpress.com/2012/03/24/does-sci-fi-get-the-respect-it-deserves-3/

    In short, I felt Nicholas Meyer crafted a superm, moving, exciting tale that really deserves wider recognition. I think because it is science fiction, a lot of so-called critics dismiss it. But as far as I am concerned, it stands shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the greatest films ever made. Hyperbole? Maybe. But whatever the case, it’s among my personal list of all time favorite movies.

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