While The Motion Picture delivered some incredible visuals, and re-launched the franchise for an original series fan, it lacked the emotional element they’d come to expect from the TV series.
Robert Wise was a fine director, but he admitted he’d never seen the TV show, and while he work was stunning visually, the end result had that lack of connection emblazoned all over it.
The second film dispensed with the support of series creator Roddenberry and instead went with the TV veterans of producer Harve Bennett and director Nicholas Meyer. And working in combination with script writer Jack B. Sowards, they delivered a movie that put just about everything that was wrong with The Motion Picture right in Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan. The irony is that Nicholas Meyer had never seen Star Trek before getting the directing job either, but what he did understand was Roddenberry’s original influence, the Hornblower novels by C.S. Forester.
Plenty has been written about this movie, but I’d just like to add that, for me personally, this film had a huge impact. Not only did it tap into the original series at an almost subconscious level, but it explained to me, in cinematic terms, what it was about Kirk, Spock and Bones that I loved so much.
There isn’t generally much argument that, of the original cast movies, this is the best, although many (including me) have a sneaking admiration for The Undiscovered Country, which Nicholas Meyer also directed.
The strengths are that it looks wonderful, drawing on the design and model work of the first movie. But it also manages to connect with the original series through the return of Ricardo Montalbán as Khan Noonien Singh, a perfect foil for Shatner’s Kirk.
In revisiting the movie I found it fascinating to realise that Khan and Kirk never actually meet in person, ever. The scenes where they communicate ship-to-ship were shot many weeks apart and, as such, the two actors never actually met during the production.
Khan and his prevalence for quoting slightly twisted lines from Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, among others, make him an especially meaty role, which Montalbán sinks his teeth well into.
I’ve seen at least one comment that the effects in Khan aren’t very good. Eh? Some of the effects in this movie are terrific, even if some could have been slightly better (the ‘giant ear’ sequence). Budgetary constraints caused the outpost Regula-1 to be made from an inverted shuttle platform from The Motion Picture, and the torpedo room was made from the butchered remains of the Klingon cruiser set, also from that production.
But when the effects are good in this movie, they’re stunning. There are two especially wonderful sequences that ILM (Industrial Light and Magic) created that I’d like to mention. The first is when Paul Winfield as Clark Terrell, tormented by the Ceti eel Kahn has put inside him, turns the phaser on himself. In the TV show, generally people just fell down when shot with the hand weapon, but here he’s vaporised in a horrific split second. Any delusion I’d held that phasers were for stunning people was effectively atomised.
The second is the cloak-and-dagger combat in the Mutara Nebula between the Reliant and the Enterprise. Most of this sequence is fantastic, as each ship manoeuvres for tactical advantage like giant sailing ships tacking against the wind.
When the Reliant is finally attacked and badly damaged there are some amazing details in the effects they created. One of the warp nacelles is entirely blown off, and as the Reliant limps away you can see the visual distortion of atmosphere venting into space from the severed pylon. The model work here is fantastic throughout.
However, Wrath isn’t perfect, and a couple of things about it really rankle with me all these years later. A minor one is the diabolically poor Commodore 64 video graphics that crop up on the bridge, but I accept to have them better done might have been expensive. What really annoys me, however, is Scotty playing the bagpipes at Spock’s funeral, which, when I first saw it, made me want to shout out ‘No!’ in the style that Kirk shouts ‘Khan!’ at one point. I’m not sure how this played in the US, but from someone who is from this island and has some Scottish ancestry, it made me want to cringe. It was apparently James Doohan’s idea, and I personally wish he’d had another.
Overall, for the original crew of the Enterprise this is as good as it got. Most importantly, it had the emotional connections between the characters, culminating in the genuinely moving death of Spock. But after that body blow it some how manages to end on a high, with the torpedo tube holding him sat on the Genesis Planet in a new dawn, and then we return to space for the ‘Final Frontier…’ speech, given by Spock, not Kirk. It sends a tingle down my spine still.
For a few seconds the viewer becomes the Enterprise coming about in a parallaxing star field, before moving forward with gathering speed. The End.
Blu-ray brings to this a movie combination of positive and negatives, and I’ll get the issues out of the way first. This is the theatrical cut of 112 minutes and not the four minute longer director’s version, sadly. My other concern is how grainy or soft some scenes are, despite this being pitched as “fully restored in high definition”. There aren’t many of these soft scenes, but you’ll not need telling which they are. But balancing those issues, the colour saturation is excellent with lots of vibrant colours on show in a movie that’s predominantly dark. In a strangely parallel fashion the sound is strong and dynamic in places, yet slightly reticent in others. With the remix into lossless Dolby TrueHD 7.1, I was expecting slightly more punch than is actually here.
The extras provided are nice enough, although if you have the director’s two disc DVD you’ll have seen most of them already. These include a director’s commentary by Nicholas Meyer, a 27-minute making-of featurette, trailers, storyboards and other featurettes, which cover designing the look, effects and short interviews with the cast.
These are acceptable but they’re not in HD. Thankfully, there is some new material including a featurette by James Horner about composing the superb theme music for this title, and others detailing what happened to the props. There is also a slightly cringe-worthy salute to Montalbán, and another audio commentary by Nicholas Meyer and Manny Coto where they argue about, among other things, the virtues or otherwise of The Motion Picture. Nothing astounding here, but at least they tied to find some original material not on the DVD releases.
The bottom line is that, even with the few faults I’ve mentioned, this is still the best way to see this movie, unless you’ve a pristine 35mm print and your own cinema.
And, I’d chase it ’round the moons of Nibia and ’round the Antares Maelstrom and ’round Perdition’s flames before I’d give it up!
The Star Trek: Original Motion Picture Collection is available on Blu-ray now.