Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan

Last time, I may have slightly dismissed Wrath of Khan a great piece of genre fiction, rather than the wonderful and important thing that was the first Star Trek movie. Today, since I'm not going to get my mail key in time, I feel as though I should clarify a little. There is nothing wrong with being a great piece of genre fiction.

After the first ST movie, people had decided they didn't want a 2 and a half hour long meditation on mankind's place in the universe and within trippy special effects made with a wave tank. Their loss, I maintain that movie is a wonderful film. They decided, for whatever reason, they wanted a space movie with spaceships fighting and obvious villains and Ricardo Montalban's frankly ridiculous chest. They also wanted costume designs where you couldn't make out the outline of a penis at any point, which I can agree with. So Nicholas Meyer, who also happened to direct one of the worst movies I have ever seen (Star Trek VI, seriously I can't watch it to the end, I get very angry about midway through) was brought in to direct the finest film about a ridiculous chest battling an overacting old man in space you have ever seen.

To be honest, I own this movie, and while at least part of the reason I bought it was its presence in a bargain bin at Superstore (oh so many stupid things bought in a bargain bin at Superstore) I generally don't take DVD purchases lightly (I say this, and yet it sits RIGHT BESIDE Thunderbirds, which I bought on ebay because I was curious and didn't feel like looking for it at the video store.) I picked it up because it's an enjoyable movie, and whether or not it feels like a big important event, I genuinely liked it.

So, the film is the sequel to a TOS episode I never watched called Space Seed. I have only actually seen the terrible TOS episode where they see Apollo for some reason, and the one with Abe Lincoln in space. These may have been the same episode, but for some reason if I randomly go and watch Star Trek, this is always, ALWAYS the episode playing. TNG has the stupid episode where Patrick Stewart's a little boy, and this has this stupid episode.

Anyway, previously on Star Trek, Ricardo Montalban was banished to a desolate planet because Kirk felt threatened by his manly chest. Since I haven't seen the episode I'll assume that's what happened. Anyway, many years later, there's a crazy plan to make a desolate planet into something lush and green that can bring a major character back to life if they promise to let the actor who plays him direct the next couple of films.

We begin with the Kobiyashi Maru (I bet I misspelled that, though I won't bother looking it up) scenario, a Starfleet test designed to set up the themes and foreshadow some of the events later on in the film. Kirstie Alley is taking the test, and this is ripe time for a Kirstie Alley joke but I won't do that. Anyway, due to the nature of the test, the ship blows up and everybody dies. Only not really since everyone was acting. With all of our relevant themes outlined, we're off to find the rest of the plot.

Luckily, Chekov is on the case, finding planet Deus Ex Machina and its devilishly handsome inhabitants. Turns out they're a race of supermen developed in 1996. I don't remember any supermen in 1996, but I was but a mere 11 years old, so I wasn't keeping up on current events. Turns out things went quite badly for him between that episode I've never seen and this movie, so now he wants revenge against Kirk.

Back to the Enterprise, it's being refitted again after TMP. I think this sequence was intended as a rib at the earlier film, since it borrows several shots while doing things much quicker. Now, the extended sequence works in the first film, and wouldn't work here. The quick pace sets the tone in both. The new quick pace is appropriate for the much quicker movie. And yet, I can't help but think having the enterprise starting in maintenance again is a bit ridiculous. This turns into almost a recurring joke in the series, with the Enterprise needing more updates than a Microsoft operating system.

Speaking of space seed, we also get to meet Kirk's son, who is a bit of an irrational jerk, though I suppose his dad decided he'd much rather run around the galaxy bangin' green chicks over playing catch and doing traditional dad things. Having an illegitimate child tells us a lot more about the character than driving a million ancient cars off of cliffs, giving a bit of an explanation of what he was like as a kid and threading that through to what he's like as an older man.

The sad thing about the movie is that it actually looks worse than the first film. The costumes are better, the set design mostly improved, but the special effects are a bit more obvious, and it suffers from the 80s film stock effect that all 80s movies suffer from. Why did filmmakers think that having stock that had slightly washed out color was a good idea? In a film with a lot of gray sets, it becomes much more obvious, with that slightly muddy color that the 80s suffered mightily from.

Crappy film stock or no, this is a tightly paced space action movie. It has nods to themes of aging, and revenge, but that serves mostly as a frame for a well made science fiction film, centered around a battle of wits between two extremely stubborn characters. It's entertainment, watchable well made entertainment, with the only problems being that it's made in the 80s and nobody knew how to make decent film stock back then. I know I mention it too much, I'll stop when it stops bothering me.

I have a feeling that Star Trek: The New One will be a lot like this, albeit with better special effects and worse camerawork, given the trendiness of shaky cam.Not so much a matter of the story being similar, but the general approach, a little bit of character development and fleshing out of backstory, but a lot of space adventure and little fanboy moments. I am mostly opposed to the idea of a prequel - especially for a supposed reboot - because there's a point where you can't go further forward anymore. Watching this, what else can you possibly do with the characters? We've explored their aging, and through that, many references to their youth. What more is there to know about Kirk? I'll watch it anyway, and I'll probably like it anyway if reviews are to be believed. It would be nice if I could see it, but such is life in a city with a one screen theater.


  1. All this talk about Star Trek lately makes me really want to check it out more, because I think I'm finally at the age (I wasn't the last few chances I got) to appreciate a story despite the goofiness or the other things that you mentioned. I also wouldn't mind seeing the new film, though it has created a lot of dissent as well as joy throughout my disparate group of nerdy friends. Maybe then I can cross over into "love Star Trek, don't like Star Wars" territory instead of being so very apathetic towards both.

  2. I think my love of Star Trek came because my brothers liked it way too much when I was a kid. I grew up watching TNG, so I have a fondness for that era no matter how bad it gets (and it could get very, very bad). Never really watched the original series outside of the movies though.

    I'll never be a trekkie, because that's kinda sad, but it averages out into a pretty good series.