Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan

The U.S.S. Enterprise. The queen mother of all vessels.

The Boy Wonder has suddenly become obsessed with Star Trek's U.S.S. Enterprise and I decided that I must seize the moment as they say. Carpe Diem. Right? He loves the ship! So I thought, it is time. He must learn the ways of the force, Star Trek style. So his education begins with the foundation of all things science fiction [in my mind], Star Trek The Original Series. It will be interesting to see how I view Star Trek through these aged eyes.

I begin somewhat unrhythmically with Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan [1982]. Those behind Star Trek had some serious bouncing back to do following the snoozer that was Star Trek's reintroduction to the world in the form of Star Trek: The Motion Picture [1979]. It had been some time since I had seen this one. I remember it well. It's a solid, good story, real good.
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Speaking of age, our heroes have done a little aging of their own and are not far off from joining the granny contingent here. Captain James T. Kirk is coming to terms with his own mortality and it's an interesting opening. It's terrifically symbolic of this aging franchise, in particular this group, and the limitations of our stars going forward at this point in the game. Our old friends have aged well, but they have aged indeed. DeForest Kelly is certainly the oldest of the group.

Chekov and the Captain of The Reliant head to what they believe to be City Alpha 6 as part of a scouting mission for the Genesis Project, but Chekov reacts with great fear and trepidation upon discovering the remnants of the S.S. Botany Bay on the planet's surface. Escape is too late. Yes, this is the graveyard of Khan Noonien Singh played by our recently departed friend Ricardo Montalban. Khan is quite surprised to find his old nemesis Captain James T. Kirk is now an admiral. Khan tortures Chekov with an alien space creature's offspring that burrows into the ear. I remember this scene quite vividly and was pretty freaked out by it upon the film's release. It forced the Boy and Girl Wonder to cringe and shield their eyes with some fright despite the PG rating reminding me of my earlier reaction when first seeing the film.
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Nasty little ear-burrowing critter. Yucko!
Elsewhere the U.S.S. Enterprise launches in all its glory. Saavik, played by Kirstie Alley [in much less heftier days], is captaining the Enterprise.

Note Scotty beaming wth pride over the young man to the left who was a child star once upon a time in Escape From Witch Mountain and Return To Witch Mountain. The actor is Ike Eisenmann.

Dr. Carol Marcus, Kirk's old flame, reports into Kirk after receiving word from a coerced Chekov [on the Reliant] that Kirk is taking over the Genesis Project. Kirk is out on a training mission with Spock and friends. Spock insists he should not have taken the promotion to admiral.

This sequence has much to do with the final heartbreaking moments within the film.

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Kirk heads off to Regular One to find out more. He accesses the data files to learn about Genesis. Genesis is "life from lifelessness." The Genesis Project hopes to reinvigorate a lifeless planet through something referred to as the Genesis Effect. "It literally is Genesis." "The power of creation." The biblical undercurrent must have influenced Shatner for his directorial debut on Star Trek V: The Final Frontier [1989]. Anyway, the fear is using it on a planet already teeming with life. It would have a deleterious or thoroughly destructive effect. We are treated to a classic exchange between Spock and Bones with Kirk in the middle.
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The Enterprise happens upon The Reliant. Caught unawares the Enterprise is fired upon while her shields are down and disabled substantially. Comm lines are opened with the Enterprise limping along. Kirk is puzzled by the enemy who has commandeered the Reliant until his eyes gaze upon his old, long lost enemy Khan. Khan wants revenge- plain and simple. His motives are pure. Needless to say the battle sequence is reasonably exciting for its day.
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It's deceiving but Shatner and Montalban never worked together on this film.
Kirk and Spock get the prefix code for the Reliant and cunningly bring down Khan's shields giving the Enterprise a chance to fire upon Khan. Khan escapes and Kirk and friends do their best to assess damage as they arrive at Space Station Regular One.
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One of the losses is the Escape From Witch Mountain boy. If I'm not mistaken, it was James Doohan, in his own words in his biography, Beam Me Up, Scotty, where he indicates there was much more to this subplot than meets the eye. He is grief stricken here by the loss of this young man and we never fully understand why. He indicates more was intended to be fleshed out about it, but was left on the editing room floor. For some reason I thought this problem was corrected for the DVD, but I was still left uncertain over what exactly transpired for Scotty in ths film.
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Aboard the Regular One, Kirk, Bones and Lt. Saviik find everyone aboard dead. They do find Chekov and Captain Clark Terrell [played by the late Paul Winfield; you'll remember he was the father of Dr. Stephen Franklin on Babylon 5]. The creepy crawlies that slithered into their ears have control of their minds and cause them great pain. The Genesis materials are missing. Kirk and company beams down to the planet below. He finds Dr. Marcus and his son. Chekov and the Captain hold them hostage and report back to Khan because they are involuntarily under his control thanks to those little alien thing-a-mabobs.

The Genesis materials are with Dr. Marcus. Captain Terrell shoots himself and Chekov falls to the ground while the little alien slime-slug thingy slides out and Kirk blasts it with his phaser. I'm not sure it presented any great trouble, but fry it anyway. I never could understand why the alien slug slid out of Chekov of its own accord, other than perhaps saving one of our legendary heroes from certain death.
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Kirk contacts Khan and lets him have it. "You've managed to kill just about everyone else, but like a poor marksman you keep missing the target." Surely that must piss him off. Those are fighting words.

Khan beams the Genesis materials aboard the Reliant. Khan plans on hurting Kirk by leaving him marooned on a dead planet [or so he thinks]. That waterfall looks like a lot of fun.
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Kirk and Dr. Marcus have a heart to heart regarding their son David. Only David doesn't know Kirk is his father. "How am I feeling? I'm old. I'm worn out." Shatner does a great job of playing strong while vulnerable. We all get there and he is a voice for all of the fans when he speaks on some level. Somewhere along the way, as Shatner aged, he learned to laugh at himself more and more. In fact, I think there came a point later where there was a little too much humor to overcompensate for the lack of action.
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Spock comes to Kirk and company's rescue, but the Reliant is after them. It's faster and stronger than the damaged Enterprise. The Enterprise heads for the Nebula to even the playing field. The Nebula wreaks havoc on communications and other radar systems which gives the Enterprise a chance.
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Crikey! Will you just look at those freakin' pecks!
Khan's ripped chest is really something for a man his age. That's not make-up. That's HIS damn chest and it is really something. It's like a damn six pack! I'm not in love. I'm just awestruck. It's hard to believe he and Kirk never come face to face throughout the whole film despite being mortal enemies. I think Montalban might have kicked Shatner's ass. The fact Director Nick Meyers pulls it off speaks volumes about his skill. The conflict is real, but the drama is told from afar throughout the film. They never come face to face as they did in Star Trek: The Original Series, Episode 22, Space Seed [1967]. It's astonishing really.
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Khan goes after Kirk because he cannot resist his insatiable lust and thirst for revenge. It is his undoing. It is his failure. His own people advise against it but he cannot resist like a bug to a light zapper.
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Inside the Nebula the battle begins. The ships are unable to raise shields. Both ships are vulnerable. Kirk positions the Enterprise behind the Reliant. With all of the communications static the Reliant turns around and comes upon the Enterprise and both fire away at one another exacting much damage.
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Chekov returns to the helm and doesn't exactly look 100% actually, but joins the fray amidst this cat and mouse battle. Although which is which I'm not sure until a victor emerges. There are moments of pure quiet as the two tacticians attempt to figure each other's next move. Kirk comes upon Khan and his ship and truly hammers away at him. Khan responds to Kirk with his disfigured face by preparing the self-destruct on the Reliant while the Enterprise sits very nearby unable to propel away with its malfunctioning warp drive systems.
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"Scotty, I need warp speed in three minutes or we're all dead." Scotty is injured. The Enterprise moves slowly away with little chance of gaining enough speed to escape.
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Spock goes into the highly radioactive central core of the warp engine to reestablish warp speed. He unfortunately has to give Bones the Vulcan neck pinch to get in there. He has to be careful not to hurt his old bones. "Remember" he tells Bones. Khan is all spitting vile and venom right up until his dirty last breath. "No you can't get away. From hell's heart I stab at thee. For hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee."

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Spock gets her done as the Enterprise narrowly escapes at warp speed. Kirk thinks Scotty has done the job once again. Sadly, he will quickly learn the sad fate of his old friend Spock. Where once the Nebula was is now a newly forming planet.
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Kirk is informed he needs to report to the engine room immediately. The urgency is unsettling and he rushes there. This is quite the powerful scene. When he bumps into the glass wall it's tough to watch our old friend struggle. Nimoy always was such a tremendous presence.

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The death of Spock is simply one of the most powerful movie moments in science fiction history. I am always touched to see that scene. A farewell tribute is given as he is launched into space. He is launched toward the newly formed planet and there is hope.

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Classic line Kirk line over his loss of Spock to death: "I haven't faced death. I've cheated death. Tricked my way out of death and patted myself on the back for my ingenuity. I know nothing."

David Marcus visits Kirk in his quarters and tells him he is proud to be his son. They embrace in a fairly moving but brief sequence.
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Not surprisingly as our friends leave the new planet's orbit it looks awfully familiar. It looks an awful lot like a thriving, big, vibrant, blue planet we know and love. Hint, hint, wink, wink, nudge, nudge. We are reminded to treasure the life on our very own planet. These touches are subtle and never force fed to us which makes it all especially effective. It's all so ironic Kirk should lose his dear friend Spock on the heels of his own birthday in the film.

"He's really not dead as long as we remember him"- Bones [more than you know]

Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan: B+

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