Wednesday, November 28, 2012
My Favorite Era: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
I'm not a huge fan of Star Trek, truthfully I think most of it is rather silly and poorly thought out but the one piece of Trek I do have a genuine love for is the second movie. Star Trek II is an example of what I like to call a perfect viewing experience. This is a movie that engages the mind as well as pressing the internal fun button with reckless abandon and works on every level it is supposed to work at. Other films I feel this way about are Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Spy Who Loved Me and more recently, the new Bond epic Skyfall.
As for Star Trek II, it moves away from the stodgy, drawn out theatrics of the first film and gives the audience a balls to the wall adventure with good acting, a superb villain and spectacular f/x that are used properly, as opposed to the way they took over the previous outing.
The crew of the Enterprise is on a training run when they are targeted by an old enemy from the original series, Khan (Ricardo Montalban) who has lucked into information about a science experiment for creating life on barren planets that could be used as a weapon. Khan gets control of a Federation ship (with Paul Winfield as captain and Chekov as second in command) and after putting some mind-controlling space slugs in their ears (one of the great gross-out moments in the series), Khan sets out to get revenge on Kirk.
Virtually everything about this movie works. Acting is good all around with William Shatner and Ricardo Montalban really standing out. Montalban has a blast hamming it up as Khan and Shatner turns in a very nice, layered performance. Kirk is going through a bit of a mid-life crisis, feeling old on his birthday and this proves a nice emotional arc for the story. He also does get to ham it up a bit here and there but for the most part, he gives a solid, low key performance of a man getting older who just happens to be James T. Kirk.
The rest of the cast is solid as one would expect with Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley giving Spock and McCoy their usual blends of humor and intelligence. Kirstie Alley is also decent as Saavik, a Vulcan recruit on board. If there is a weak link to be found, it would be with Bibi Besch and Merritt Butrick as Carol and David Marcus, the mother and son duo behind the project as well as Kirk's former lover and son respectively. Besch is fine but Butrick is more than a little annoying. Granted, he's supposed to be a bit of a mistrustful little turd but a little goes a long way for me,. Still, it's not enough to hurt the film.
Nicholas Meyer directs everything with a sure hand, not letting things get too bogged down in tech stuff or blathering sentiment and speechifying. He replaces these thing that will plague future movies with a blistering pace, fantastic space battles done up like classic naval battles and the sentiment is replaced with genuine emotion as Spock makes the ultimate sacrifice at the end to save the crew.
Star Trek II was one of the big releases in the summer of 1982 (one of my favorite summer movies seasons) and it still holds up today with good f/x, a great James Horner soundtrack, good acting and a smartly written script that works for both Trek fans and non-Trek fans alike. Truly a great film.