THE WRATH OF KHAN : Star Trek II, 1982
Admiral Kirk's midlife crisis is interrupted by the return of an old enemy looking for revenge and a potentially destructive device.
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Following the debacle of the production of Star Trek: The Motion Picture and its not performing as Paramount expected at the box-office, the studio felt it was successful enough to warrant a sequel. So, the Star Trek movie franchise was kept afloat, but changes needed to be made.
First, the budget would be half of what the first film’s was and the production schedule would be shorter. Secondly, Paramount felt that the reason for the lack of success of TMP, both creatively and commercially, was due to Gene Roddenberry’s constant meddling during production with his numerous requests for script rewrites. Paramount demoted the franchise’s creator to the role of creative consultant, and hired veteran television producer Harve Bennett to take the reins as producer of the next Star Trek film.
Bennett prepared for the project by viewing all 79 episodes of the original series. One episode in particular stuck out. Space Seed, from the series first season, told the story of the Enterprise encountering a ship containing genetically engineered
Bennett conceived of a story to follow up with what happened to Khan on that planet. The initial script failed to please, and Bennett brought on board Nicholas Meyer to do a re-write and direct the film. Meyer was a successful novelist, who had adapted his bestselling novel The Seven Percent Solution into an Oscar nominated screenplay, and budding filmmaker having directed the hit movie Time After Time.
Meyer returned Star Trek to its “Horatio Hornblower in space” roots and gave the film a very naval feel that has remained with the franchise since. He also restored the series emphasis on character and story, which were almost completely overshadowed in the first film by gargantuan special effects.
The story of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan reveals that the planet Khan, Montalban reprising the role in a flamboyantly menacing performance, and his people were left on became desolate just six months after they were placed there. Struggling for fifteen years in the barren wasteland, which led to the death of his wife, Khan develops animus and hatred for Kirk. Khan and his people hijack a Starfleet ship, which was surveying the planet to test the Genesis Device (a device that can turn a dead mass in space into a living and thriving planet, developed by a female scientist Kirk once had a relationship with and their illegitimate son), then vows to find Kirk and extol his vengeance upon him.
TWOK does deliver the goods that Star Trek is known for: a thought provoking science fiction adventure. All the elements that made the series work and were sorely missing from The Motion Picture are here. The memorable characters and their chemistry, and the solid storytelling. The special effects, this time and for most of the following films in the series handled by Industrial Light and Magic, rightfully serve only as an aid.
Star Trek fans finally got the movie they wanted and it was both a critical and commercial success, surpassing the box-office gross of TMP. Many fans regard this, the first even numbered film, as the best in the franchise. Not difficult to disagree with, but at the same time debatable, as Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home is a close runner-up, and for some fans, like myself, it is the best.
While The Wrath of Khan enjoyed great success, it was also met with controversy due to the death of Spock. There are conflicting stories about this. Some stories say that Leonard Nimoy demanded that Spock die in TWOK, so that he could finally be done with Star Trek and move on. Nimoy himself vehemently states that he made no such demand and that the script was just written that way, as he was led to believe that there would be no more Star Trek movies and Spock’s death was the way of finally ending the series.
To leave the door open for a possible resurrection of Spock, two changes were made to the ending of this film. Just prior to committing the act of self-sacrifice that leads to his demise, Spock performs a mind meld on Dr. McCoy. Also, a scene was added to the very end where Spock’s casket is shown lying on the Genesis planet, when it was originally launched into the sun. These changes infuriated Nicholas Meyer so much that he threatened to have his name removed and would not return for the next installment.
Fans got their wish when a third Star Trek movie was announced and that Spock would return.