At the end of the universe lies
the beginning of vengeance.
It is difficult to discuss Nicholas Meyer's film without mentioning that its success was what led to the sequels and, by extension, all of the spin-off series that followed. The fact of the matter is that, when Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan came out, Star Trek could still be edgy and different; the film has quite a lot of gore, burns and a very unsettling scene with a pair of ear-fetishing Ceti Eels. It had not yet settled into the "family friendly" blandness that Rick Berman imposed upon the franchise (although, to be fair, Deep Space Nine managed to be pretty ballsy, perhaps because they figured nobody was watching). Hell, it was barely even a franchise at the time.
Ricardo Montalban as Khan Noonien Singh
in the episode "Space Seed."
Resurrecting one of the most charismatic villains from the original series was a brilliant idea, not only because of the continuity it offered*, but because Ricardo Montalban had become known for his role as Mr. Roarke on Fantasy Island. Reverse typecasting can often work wonders, especially in the case of villains.
Apparently, that is his real chest.
One of the great pleasures of watching this film is that Montalban chews up more scenery than William Shatner gets a chance to. In fact, the infamous "Khaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan!!!" shout is then end of a great exchange between the two, an epic battle of histrionic acting.
One of the most interesting concepts put forth in this film is that Starfeet tests the character of its command school students with a no-win situation. The Kobayashi Maru scenario opens the film, and ends up being played out several times over the course of the film. The revelation of how Kirk dealt with the test is a wonderfully revealing moment that rings so true.
The film has plenty of adventure, including a brilliant space age submarine battle towards the end. Evoking the World War II classics The Enemy Below and Run Silent, Run Deep (also referenced in one of the best episodes of the original series, "Balance of Terror"), this is a tense, visually arresting conflict.
As always, the humanity of Star Trek.
However, what makes the film so... well... comfortable... is the frisson that occurs between Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley, each inhabiting their roles in a way that they never have since. Each presents their respective familiar characters in a way that connects to the original series while also showing where they are now.
Kirk is turning fifty and feeling it. His years at Starfleet Command have caused him to atrophy, and he now feels tired and passé.
Spock is content to be a teacher, having found peace with himself since his encounter with V'ger. He also has a protogé, the Vulcan-Romulan hybrid Saavik.
Bones is as irrascible as ever. The extended footage on the "Director's Edition" DVD is invaluable in rounding out his character, and his role in the film; he is the one to point out the essential problem with Genesis (that it is candycoated armageddon), and he councils Kirk after Khan's first attack, a moment that should never have been cut from the film.
Kirstie Allie as the resourceful half-breed Saavik.
Ultimately, what makes Star Trek II stand head and shoulders above its successors is that the story is about maturity. Kirk is forced, for the first time, to see that there are consequences for his actions. This is echoed not only through the main conflict with Khan, but also in his relationship with Dr. Carol Marcus (Bibi Besch) - who may very well be the "blonde lab technician" that Gary Mitchell refers to in "Where No Man Has Gone Before" - and her son, David (Merritt Buttrick), and in the finale of the film, where he must face death.
This theme is one that permeates every element of the film. Kirk is given glasses by Bones at the beginning of the movie, and they serve as a symbol of his age. His beloved, though now-obsolete Enterprise has become a training vessel, and is peopled by obnoxiously young cadets, each of whom he relies upon to rise to the occasion.
For the first time in his life,
Kirk must face costs.
In order to continue the series, every lesson learned by Kirk in this film had to be discounted in Star Trek III, and the attempt to try to avoid the aging issue caused the fourth and fifth films to flounder (it was addressed once again, with panache and a sense of social relevance, in the sixth film, which coincidentally was also directed by Nicholas Meyer).
This was also the first major film scored by Roger Corman alumni James Horner, whose music from Battle Beyond the Stars got him this job. Meyer requested that Horner score the film for "tall ships," and the nautical sound blends perfectly with Meyer's more naval take on Starfleet. Horner's score was fresh and exciting in 1982, despite a few Bruckner references... it would not be until Aliens in 1986 that he would stop writing music and just arrange. Star Trek II was his chance at the big time, and he wrote a score to impress. This was also the first time that Robert Fletcher's more militaristic take on the Starfleet uniforms were seen.
Because of its balance of action, drama, humor and character development, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan remains the most engaging of all the Star Trek features, and is most repeatable.
and all that
I am performing a trade with another film score enthusiast; this is the first time that I've ever done anything like this overseas.
First, can we stop the Orwellian language and start using the proper names for things? Those are not “contractors” in Iraq. They are not there to fix a roof or to pour concrete in a driveway. They are MERCENARIES and SOLDIERS OF FORTUNE. They are there for the money, and the money is very good if you live long enough to spend it.
Halliburton is not a "company" doing business in Iraq. It is a WAR PROFITEER, bilking millions from the pockets of average Americans. In past wars they would have been arrested -- or worse.
The Iraqis who have risen up against the occupation are not "insurgents" or "terrorists" or "The Enemy." They are the REVOLUTION, the Minutemen, and their numbers will grow -- and they will win. Get it, Mr. Bush? You closed down a friggin' weekly newspaper, you great giver of freedom and democracy! Then all hell broke loose. The paper only had 10,000 readers! Why are you smirking?
* Yes, there is a continuity problem in that "Space Seed" was a first season episode and Chekov didn't appear until the second season. How, then, does Khan recognize Chekov? Well, the prevailing theory is that Chekov was actually stricken with a space version of Montezuma's Revenge, and spent most of the first season in the head. Khan probably caught the disease while on board the Enterprise as well, and, before his genetically-enhanced body managed to fight it down, he was stuck outside the bathroom doors while Chekov was in there. When Chekov came out, Khan ran in, shouting, "I shall never forget you." It's as good an explanation as any.