Getting Even With Star Trek: The Wrath Of Khan22.04.13 # Review # 16 Comments
In the early 60s Gene Roddenberry dreamed up a utopian future, where mankind had set aside their differences and begun to seek out new worlds and new civilisations, where half-naked aliens and allegories abounded – it got cancelled three seasons in. Half a century later, it’s still with us. 2013 sees the release of Star Trek Into Darkness, JJ Abrams’s sequel to 2009’s Star Trek, the prequel/sequel/reboot that reinvigorated the franchise and brought it greater critical and commercial success than it had ever seen at the multiplexes. To mark the occasion, myself and fellow Movie-Moron contributors Adam Mason and Dalmatian Jaws present ‘Getting Even With Star Trek’. You see, there has long been a theory amongst certain Trekkies that the even numbered entries into the Star Trek franchise are good films, whilst the odd numbered films are bad. Some say 2009’s Star Trek, the eleventh film in the series, broke this curse, others say it flipped the curse around, and still others say it’s stupid and there’s no curse. We decided to honour the theory and treat ourselves to viewings of the best movies that the Trek series has to offer. Our first discussion looks at Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan.
DNWilliams: I guess seeing as how this is the beginning we should talk a little about Trek in general. What’s your relationship with the franchise?
Adam Mason: Limited at best. My parents watched The Next Generation back in the 90s (we love Patrick Stewart in our house) and I’ve seen three of the films –Generations, Insurrection and JJ Abrams Presents: Star
Wars Trek. I tried watching other series, but gave up on Voyager after three episodes. Aside from that, I’ve watched the Kirk vs The Gorn clip on YouTube over and over. That’s the extent of my knowledge of the franchise, an old man fighting a guy in a dodgy green suit sums up Star Trek to me.
Dalmatian Jaws: I watched The Original Series as a kid and The Next Generation when I was a teenager, I saw the movies too but they didn’t resonate with me. Then I revisited them a few years ago and loved them all! I’m a defender of The Final Frontier, even. Bought them on DVD and re-watch them probably every year. I like them much more than the TV shows, actually.
AM: What about you, DNWilliams? And is there a ‘best’ TV series out of them all?
DJ: To me it’s all about Kirk, Spock, and Bones, that triumvirate sells the movies, even when they get hokey. LOVE their friendship.
DNW: I was firmly camp Star Wars growing up, so that is where my loyalties lie. I never watched Trek religiously, so there are episodes I haven’t seen, but I have watched a lot of every incarnation of the show. I know my Cardassians from my Betazoids. I like 60s TV a lot as well, so I have an extreme fondness for The Original Series. As for the films, yeah, mostly the recent ones and The Motion Picture long ago. Wrath of Khan was new to me.
AM: I watched Khan for the first time prior to this discussion and I must be honest here: I mostly watched it because I wanted to mock it. How wrong I was. It’s terrific!
DJ: I know, right!
DNW: What I was most interested in doing was comparing it with 2009’s Star Trek, because this is still held up as the crowning jewel in the franchise, cinematically speaking, especially by those who don’t much care for the JJ Abrams version.
AM: The writing and the character relationships completely alter the entire film, lifting it far above what I was expecting, which was an old man fighting a guy in a dodgy green suit for ninety minutes.
DNW: You get your fair share of old men though.
AM: True, but mostly engaging in genuinely interesting dialogue, or threatening one another with death.
DNW: Like most grandparents, then.
AM: Like any Christmas at the Mason household.
DJ: Throw in a drunken viewing of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and you could include my family in that. Man, I’d really like to see Kirk, Spock, and Bones all munching popcorn and talking through a movie together…
DNW: Okay, so Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan opens with an opening title sequence. I like a good opening title sequence, and this is serviceable, but nothing special. It’s more Windows 95 screensaver than Superman: The Movie. But it does put you in a Trekky mood.
AM: It’s distinctly Trek, which explains why I felt my insides tightening up as I watched it.
DJ: It gave the audience what they complained they didn’t get in The Motion Picture: lively adventure.
AM: It sets the scene nicely.
DNW: And we’re planted in the 23rd Century with Kirstie Alley doing the Kobayashi Maru – I got my compare-with-NuTrek wish right away.
DNW: The 2009 movie.
DJ: Gotcha. Just clarifying.
AM: This opening really put me off the rest of the film. It’s everything I recall not liking about Trek. Dodgy acting, poor action, weak reactions. Thankfully, the rest of the film is far better.
DNW: I noticed two things, the first: Kirstie Alley makes an illogically attractive Vulcan; the second: this is not exciting at all and an odd choice for an opening sequence. But it sets up some nice things for later in the movie, so it does serve its purpose.
AM: I suspect it’s here mostly to placate the fans, but it puts off people like me, who don’t like this part of Star Trek.
DNW: The thing about it that really hampers it as an opening sequence is the fact that it’s Kirstie Alley’s Saavik in the hot-seat. She’s got the Vulcan eyebrow thing down, but she isn’t the most interesting person to see faced with this no-win scenario. The equivalent scene in Star Trek ’09 is cool because it’s Kirk and Kirk is cocky, but anyone with more personality than a Vulcan could’ve made it work for me I think.
AM: I didn’t get that she was a Vulcan at first. I was sitting there going ‘REACT, WOMAN!’
DJ: It’s an opening I’m sure I’ve seen ripped-off since, though I can’t put my finger on the exact movie. The point of the opening is exactly what you two are talking about. Even though it’s fake action, it’s still action, starts off with a bang, then pulls a reversal and it sets up a great entrance for Kirk. I think it’s nice. A little confusing, but nice.
AM: A strangely staged opening, but fitting that this sort of thing doesn’t really happen again in the rest of the film. And then Shatner walks in and the whole piece lifts to a new level.
DNW: I was about to say, the thing that really works is that wonderful back-lit hero shot of Kirk, it’s a really nice entrance.
AM: True, that. His entrance is almost mythic.
DNW: The scene also allows for that little ‘I thought you were dead’ quip from Kirk to Spock, which is foreshadowing of course. One thing I’d like to comment on at this point is the Starfleet uniforms, what do you think about them?
AM: They’re…Starfleet-y? Is there something unusual about them?
DJ: They completely overhauled costumes and set design to look nautical.
DNW: They’re very militaristic, and a vast improvement on the previous film’s uniforms, but I’m not a fan of everyone wearing the same colour. I feel like it contributes to a dull aesthetic. They’re quite drab.
DJ: The director wanted it to be Horatio Hornblower in space. Hence the whistles, nautical funeral, military vibe, etc. It’s a lot less NINETEEN SEVENTIES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
DNW: It’s a move towards The Next Generation feel, which was pretty staid in comparison with The Original Series and it’s swinging sixties vibrancy. That vibrancy is something that I think really suits Trek conceptually, but a lot of fans dig the stuff that evokes the Navy strongly.
DJ: The films tend to be darker, both in tone (other than Voyage Home) and in lighting, this is true up through to The Next Generation movies. I love the Navy vibe, it helps you connect to what Starfleet is as an entity – it’s like how in Alien you connect with them cause they’re just truckers in space. We know what truckers are. We also know what Navy life is, but in the shows and first movie it’s like “what the hell are these folks doing in space? Who pays for this? They just float around and get into trouble? What is the structure? WHO IS IN CHARGE HERE!?” A lot of that stems from Roddenberry’s sweet but vague notion of the future.
AM: I did like the nautical whistle. I made me feel slightly less alienated from the show. It’s futuristic and identifiable, too. I don’t like the look of the future – everything is too clean – but I like that I’m able to relate to it.
DNW: I like the vibe too, I just like it when the balance is more on the Colourful! Utopian! Future! side of things.
DJ: I love that too. It feels distinctly cheaper and more “TV” if you will. The rougher stuff seems to work better for the movies somehow.
DNW: That said, I don’t think that those 60s uniforms or anything too similar would quite work with this ageing cast, and ageing is a theme of the film. Kirk is an older man now, an Admiral, and he isn’t out exploring strange new worlds anymore. Hell, he doesn’t even kiss any alien babes in this movie.
DJ: Just wait for the shape shifter in The Undiscovered Country (the original title of Wrath of Khan, by the way).
AM: He’s got a son and everything. And responsibilities. Things he never had before.
DJ: It’s all catching up with him. Damn, I really love seeing this character at this point of his life. It’s quite something that they got away with this. I mean, if we saw Han Solo as an old man we’d hate it (and we are going to hate it).
DNW: It makes me feel sad if I think about it too much, and it has the same effect on Kirk himself. It’s his birthday and, as Bones notes, it’s being treated like a funeral.
AM: He disdains the fact that he needs glasses. He’s James T Kirk, dammit, not some old man who can’t see!
DJ: That is SUCH a great motif, the reading glasses. And how they break at the end, reminding him again how death is imminent, yet also forcing him to go without them, something he can do if he sets his mind to it. So much about slowing down in life is all in your head.
DNW: Kirk is resigned to his life being this way too, or at least seems to be, and I would actually like to see the story of how THAT came to pass. James T Kirk doesn’t just “accept a promotion” and say things like “galloping around the cosmos is a game for the young”.
DJ: I have a feeling that movie would be depressing as hell.
DNW: Deliciously so.
AM: It was this scene where my interest piqued. I said, ‘Kirk is getting old?’ and suddenly I really cared about him. Nobody wants to get old, we all want to have fun adventures in space, but suddenly we need glasses and have people asking us what to do when we’re just making it up as we go.
DNW: Yeah, and Kirk is totally the captain that makes it up as he goes along, I don’t care if he’s a stack of books on legs or whatever the line was. This dude is an admiral now? The rascal.
DJ: There is a LOT of subtext in this summer action movie based on a campy TV show.
DNW: It’s easy to forget that this is a film that had one movie preceding it and right before that was the TV show, which is pretty different tonally. I bet there were a few disgruntled fans then, just as there are now with Trek’s new direction.
DJ: In retrospect it’s considered a triumph, but in the 80s there wasn’t the internet to instantly vocalize knee jerk disdain. I bet there were some unhappy fans.
DNW: If there was the internet back then people would have flipped. People flipped when the horses went missing between Firefly and Serenity, I don’t think they’d take too kindly to all this.
DJ: Horses? In the opening credits you mean?
DNW: You’re like me, it didn’t even register until I read that some fans of the show didn’t like the movie, which stunned me, and it’s apparently in part due to them feeling that an absence of horses and cattle made Serenity feel like less of a Western-in-Space than Firefly.
AM: I didn’t even notice!
DNW: That’s probably very healthy.
AM: I guess I’m a sane and rational human. That’s good to know.
DNW: Back on track: who do you think won the battle of the birthday gifts, Spock or Bones?
AM: Bones for symbolism. Spock for usefulness.
DJ: Spock got him A Tale of Two Cities, Bones got him the glasses to read it. Two different items from his best friends with conflicting personalities, yet their gifts can be used together by Kirk. Awesome writing right there.
DNW: That is really great, especially when you consider that Spock is all about his mind and Bones is obviously all about well-being. They contrast and complement. I focussed on the fact that Bones got Kirk illegal Romulan Ale, which just typifies the character.
AM: I like how Bones gets him ale and glasses. Like the ale is there to take the sting out of the glasses.
DJ: Yep. And that it’s illegal. Spock is by the book (see what I did there?) and Bones breaks the rules.
DNW: Dammit, Jim, that’s FASCINATING.
AM: And both of them care about Kirk enough to get him gifts he will appreciate in his own way.
DNW: Indeed. Okay, so the plot really gets moving once Carol Marcus and the Genesis Device are introduced.
AM: As soon as I heard ‘Genesis Device’ I yelled out, ‘I bet it creates life… AND DESTROYS IT ALL.’ I was right.
DJ: Is this before, after, or in conjunction with Chekov’s date with the ear lobster?
DNW: Just before, Chekov is aboard the Reliant, and they’re scouting for places to use the Genesis Device. Ceti Alpha V is a candidate.
DJ: That’s right, they set up the premise, and Chekov and Captain Clark Terrell are sent to examine the desert planet for life.
AM: Then we meet Khan, the monologuist villain of the piece.
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