|Star Trek II - The Wrath of Kahn|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 11 July 2000|
Paramount Pictures, its licensing and merchandising departments and, of course, ‘Star Trek’ fandom all have cause to offer thanks to ‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.’ As that ‘II’ in the title indicates, this wasn’t the first time the original ‘Star Trek’ series – you know, the one that ran on TV for three seasons, 1966-1969, yanked due to perceived lack of interest – had been brought to the big screen with all of its major cast members. However, 1979’s ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’ was so reverent and heavy that it felt slow as a walk on the moon, but making enough at the box office to justify giving the enterprise (pun intended) one more shot. ‘II’ was the movie that proved there was real life in the franchise – and also began the "even numbers good, odd numbers bad" mythology that has followed the ‘Star Trek’ sequels ever after.
‘Khan’ lifts both its feel and its major plot thread from the small screen version. The villainous Khan (Ricardo Montalban), a eugenically-engineered superman from the 20th century, has been thirsting for revenge against James T. Kirk (William Shatner) ever since the Enterprise captain marooned the villain and his followers on an uninhabited planet in an episode of the TV series. 16 years (in real and screen time) have passed, but Khan is at last able to lay a trap for his nemesis, using the Genesis Project, a device with the ability to literally create a world. This comes at a time when Kirk, now promoted to Star Fleet admiral, is keenly feeling the loss of action. The good news is, Kirk’s back in the saddle again; the bad news is, other kinds of loss are in store.
Director Nicholas Meyer, whose 1979 ‘Time After Time’ remains one of the most charming romantic fantasies yet made, demonstrates that he’s got the right sensibilities for the material. The script by Jack B. Sowards, from a story by Harve Bennett and Sowards, recreates our best memories of the characters and their inter-relationships from the show. The look has been updated and smoothed out without totally being reinvented, so that the production design is familiar without being ‘60s cheesy.
The print used for the DVD is fine, with no visible defects. However, without some real-life time travel, it’s hard to say whether the lighting when the film was in the theatres was always that noticeably yellow – a look that is particularly visible in Chapters 7 and 8 – or whether the source print is showing its 18 years. The star field in Chapter 1 under the opening credits is lovely, able to hold its own against similar sequences done even today. However, it’s an irony that much of the model, matte and other effects, then ILM’s state of the art for theatrical events, now pales beside much of what is routinely done week after week for shows like ‘Star Trek: Voyager.’
Almost every sound effect on this DVD finds itself in a battle to the death with James Horner’s music score, which underlines every potentially dramatic moment with sometimes more zeal than is warranted. In Chapter 16, even a bagpipe lament comes with muted orchestral accompaniment; it sort of pays off when the piping ends and the orchestral swells into the same theme, but surely the segue could have been achieved more smoothly. The most memorable music cue in the film occurs in Chapter 14, when the Enterprise and her rival spacecraft swing about on each other, backed by a clanging, aggressive percussion theme that sounds like a sheet-metal interpretation of the theme from ‘Jaws.’
Perhaps the single most interesting audio effect comes in Chapter 10 during a fistfight. A misplaced blow results in a hand hitting metal with realistic resonance, followed by a weird little echo that sounds misplaced in the ambience. The soundtrack also provides a kind of subtle bass hum throughout at appropriate moments to give the deep space environment its own lonely "voice"; it’s an intriguing concept in sound that unobtrusively helps the mood.
However, most people revisit ‘Star Trek’ primarily for its people. Shatner and Montalban are perfectly matched as adversaries, actually playing off one another beautifully in Chapter 8. In Chapter 10, they both go into scenery-munching mode, but they remain admirably and entertainingly in sync even here. Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley are great pleasures as, respectively, Spock and McCoy, and a young Kirstie Alley makes a good impression as an ambitious, sober-minded Vulcan junior officer.
In Chapter 2, there’s an endearingly non-prescient line that proves the filmmakers weren’t yet clear what they’d gotten themselves into, when Kirk mournfully utters, "Galloping around the galaxy is a game for the young." Never mind the three other TV series that followed – Kirk and the original Enterprise crew still had four films ahead of them. ‘Khan’ is proof that the adventures were well-earned.