by Billie Doux
Spock: "I never took the Kobayashi Maru test until now. What do you think of my solution?"
The Wrath of Khan is a favorite of many fans, and it deserves to be. It is exactly what a big Star Trek movie should have been, and finally was.
Why is this movie so good? Bunches of reasons. Like an exciting story that had personal significance to the main characters, terrific writing, an outstanding villain, and the intensely moving death of the most beloved character in the series. I can't get through this movie without crying, and I've seen it a dozen times.
Birthdays, old age, death and loss, passing the torch to the next generation, it was courageous of the franchise to make these things the center of the movie, instead of ignoring the fact that it was fifteen years after the series and the cast was getting older. The Wrath of Khan is beautifully bookended by the Kobayashi Maru no-win scenario at the beginning, basically the arrogance of youth believing that they will never die, and a no-win real life situation at the end for Kirk when he loses Spock, his closest friend, the other half of himself.
When you watch the movie knowing the ending, you can see Spock's death coming. There are so many references to dying. The first thing Kirk says to Spock is, "Aren't you dead?" And we can see on Spock's face the moment he realizes what must happen in order to save the ship. He just gets up and goes to his death without a word to anyone, a very Spock-like thing to do. He even has to trick McCoy in order to carry out his plan, which for me, makes it even harder to take. The way he stands and straightens his uniform, those final moments where he and Kirk are separated by glass, it always gets to me. It was an exceptional death for an exceptional character. I can remember when I first saw it, I was absolutely devastated. William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy were at their best in that scene.
And yet, there is the obvious hint that it's not over for Spock. There was the way he touched the unconscious McCoy's face and said, "Remember," a deliberate call-back to "Requiem for Methuselah." The pod containing his body was lying on the grass of a vibrant new world that hadn't existed an hour before. They just couldn't bear to write Spock out completely, could they? (Not that I'm criticizing. I couldn't, either.)
As Kirk faced aging and death, pretty much for the first time, there was the complementary plot of passing the torch to the next generation. It was believable that Kirk would have had a child somewhere along the line, and it delighted me that his ex-amour was the most brilliant scientist in the Federation. David Marcus felt like he could have been Kirk's son, and I liked that Kirk did exactly as Carol had requested -- he stayed out of David's life and let Carol raise him alone. In an obvious parallel, Spock was mentoring his young protege, the competent, professional and often amusing regulation-quoting Lieutenant Saavik. The feminist in me can't help pointing out, with the exception of the comments about her hairstyle in the turbolift, Saavik could have easily been played by a man without changing a single other detail.
Space Seed." His performance was so strong and so intense (and his chest so amazing) that there has yet to be a Star Trek villain that can top him.
And the supporting cast was terrific: DeForest Kelley was a delight as McCoy. James Doohan did a fine job with a wonderful dramatic scene when he lost his nephew. Bibi Besch did well in the key role of Carol Marcus, Merritt Butrick as David Marcus was pretty much perfect, and we also got Paul Winfield as the unfortunate Captain Terrell and future television star Kirstie Alley in her acting debut as Saavik. And yes, Chekov recognized Khan but Chekov wasn't in "Space Seed." I honestly don't care, since it wasn't important to the plot, and Walter Koenig's performance as Chekov in this movie is probably his best. (I only started liking Walter Koenig after his villainously wonderful continuing role in Babylon 5.)
Unlike Star Trek: The Motion Picture, The Wrath of Khan never stops moving. The space battles are terrific, the gimmick with the prefix code and the scenes in the Mutara Nebula all work, the musical score is outstanding, and best of all, the effects still hold up. (Although the close-ups of the ears during the Botany Bay scenes don't. Ah, well.)
I love this movie. The Wrath of Khan and the two movies that completed the trilogy are the pinnacle of original Star Trek, incorporating the best aspects of the original series. They're wonderful. In my not so humble opinion.
Bits and pieces:
-- Star date 8130.3 to 8141.6. The Reliant, space station Regula 1, Ceti Alpha 5 (not 6), and the Mutara nebula.
-- Star Trek: The Motion Picture was set two and a half years after the end of the series, but here it was established that it had been 15 years since "Space Seed". Khan mentioned his "beloved wife," which would have been Lt. Marla McGivers.
-- The Genesis presentation was exceptional. Best commercial ever. I'd buy it.
-- I loved the way they used the rare book and the antique glasses as a reminder of the fact that Kirk was getting older. I also loved the level of detail in the furnishings in Kirk's apartment, as well as the huge mosaic IDIC in Spock's quarters.
-- The ear thingies were the Alien chestburster of their time. Ick.
-- Khan's use of the lines from Moby Dick were set up by the mini-library aboard the Botany Bay: Moby Dick, Paradise Lost, Dante's Inferno. And all books relevant to what happened to the Botany Bay.
-- Kyle from the original series was a crew member on Reliant.
-- Although the theatrical version is fine, I prefer the director's cut. It includes just a few little extra scenes, but one in particular -- the introduction of Midshipman Preston as Scotty's nephew -- makes a difference.
-- Even the costumes were great. I particularly liked the white flap on Kirk's uniform stained with Peter Preston's blood; it was a striking visual.
-- The Genesis cave scene is wonderful. But I've always wondered: where did the light come from?
Kirk: "A no-win situation is a possibility every commander may face. Has that never occurred to you?"
Saavik: "No, sir. It has not."
Kirk: "And how we deal with death is at least as important as how we deal with life, wouldn't you say?"
Saavik: "As I indicated, Admiral, that thought had not occurred to me."
Kirk: "Well, now you have something new to think about. Carry on."
Dr. McCoy: "Admiral, wouldn't it be easier to just put an experienced crew back on the ship?"
Kirk: "Galloping around the cosmos is a game for the young, Doctor."
Uhura: "Now what is that supposed to mean?"
David: "Remember that overgrown boy scout you used to hang around with? That's exactly the kind of guy..."
Carol: "Listen, kiddo. Jim Kirk was many things, but he was never a boy scout."
Kirk: "Mr. Scott, you old space dog. You're well?"
Scotty: "Oh, I had a wee bout, sir, but, Doctor McCoy pulled me through."
Kirk: "Wee bout of what?"
McCoy: "Shore leave, Admiral."
(Kirk tensely watches as Saavik takes Enterprise out of space dock.)
McCoy: "Would you like a tranquilizer?"
Kirk: "I would not presume to debate you."
Spock: "That is wise. Were I to invoke logic, however, logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few."
Kirk: "Or the one."
Spock: "You are my superior officer. You are also my friend. I have been and always shall be yours."
Khan: "I'll chase him around the Antares maelstrom and round Nibia and round Perdition's Flame before I give him up!"
Spock: "As a matter of cosmic history, it has always been easier to destroy than to create."
McCoy: "Not anymore. Now we can do both at the same time. According to myth, the Earth was created in six days. Now watch out, here comes Genesis! We'll do it for you in six minutes!"
Spock: "Really, Dr. McCoy. You must learn to govern your passions. They will be your undoing."
Khan: "Let them eat static."
Khan: "Ah, Kirk, my old friend. Do you know the Klingon proverb that tells us revenge is a dish that is best served cold? It is very cold in space."
Spock: "Jim, be careful."
McCoy: "We will!"
Carol: "Can I cook, or can't I?"
Saavik: "On the test, sir... will you tell me what you did? I would really like to know."
McCoy: "Lieutenant, you are looking at the only Starfleet cadet who ever beat the no-win scenario." (gestures at Kirk)
Kirk: "I reprogrammed the simulation so it was possible to rescue the ship."
David: "He cheated."
Kirk: "I changed the conditions of the test. Got a commendation for original thinking. I don't like to lose."
Saavik: "Then you never faced that situation... faced death."
Kirk: "I don't believe in the no-win scenario."
Khan: "To the last, I will grapple with thee. From Hell's heart, I stab at thee! For hate's sake, I spit my last breath at thee!"
Montalban makes these lines from Moby Dick work. How many actors could pull off lines like this?
McCoy: "He's not really dead as long as we remember him."
Kirk: "It's a far, far better thing I do than I have ever done before. A far better resting place that I go to than I have ever known."
Carol: "Is that a poem?"
Kirk: "No. Something Spock was trying to tell me, on my birthday."
McCoy: "You okay, Jim? How do you feel?"
Kirk: "Young. I feel young."
It isn't necessary to have seen "Space Seed" or Star Trek: The Motion Picture to follow this movie. In fact, it isn't really necessary to have seen the original series to follow this movie. And you don't even need to watch Star Trek III and IV. Although I assume every Star Trek fan pretty much has.
Four out of four no-win scenarios,
Billie Doux loves good television, especially science fiction, and spends way too much time writing about it.