Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

I never did understand how this film was so much more successful and popular than the first. Quite clearly the film has gone for a slightly more silly plot losing a lot of the straight laced sci-fi from the first. I suppose you could say they lost the aspiring '2001' type sequences and went back to the more well known cardboard cutout type effects of the old Star Trek show...shame.

Now I realise the slow building straight faced Star Trek we got in the first film was frowned upon but its hard to see what the fans actually wanted in a big screen version. There were complaints that the original was just an outstretched TV episode with fancy visuals, yet this sequel (in my opinion) was even more of an outstretched TV episode with lousy visuals. As we all know this movie is a sequel or follow up to the original TV episode 'Space Seed' where Kirk and co battled against the deadly super strong Khan and his boy band of super studs.

I've always thought this idea was a brave one personally. Although the original TV episode did do well when it was first shown that was way back in 1967, who knew if anyone would take to seeing an old Khan doing the same kind of thing he did once before. Obviously the gamble paid off as we now know but wow talk about risky...if you ask me.

So you gotta give it to the creative teams behind the film. I mean lets face it, if you hadn't seen the original TV episode then you would be a little stuck as to what's going on. So technically the director has already, possibly, excluded most of the target audience as I'm sure many would not have seen it being too young. Of course many would have but back in the old days you couldn't just catch up on an old TV episode and watch it easily, so if you wanted to watch 'Space Seed' again back then you might have been stuck.

That aside I think the film looked pretty poor also, the effects looked a lot rougher (which is saying something) than the first movie and in general the grandiose feeling you got in the first film seemed to have been sucked away. What you had left was a quite cheap looking and very generic film, the only thing that looked spruced up was the character uniforms.

The models were still solid visually don't get me wrong (although they were reused from the first movie), but they were set against some really bad bluescreen space backdrops. Its such a shame because they are very obviously models with stark black lines around their edges giving the game away, plus they clearly looked exactly the same as the previous movies models which was dull. I think the effects team struggled throughout with this movie as you can see various methods used to create the entire illusion which kinda looks like a muddle at times. For the time these effects were decent and did the job but these days its quite shocking how dodgy they can appear but I guess that's to be expected.

The whole production was a cheap affair really with so many props reused or cannibalized from a cancelled sequel TV series idea (sequel to the original series). Whilst certain sets such as the Enterprise bridge were redressed and reused as was the Klingon bridge set. Heck even the old costumes were kinda Frankensteined and reused to save money! but admittedly the new naval inspired look was perfect for the franchise. On the flip side Khan's people were kinda dressed like a band of warriors from the Mad Max universe...or any group of savages you'd see in any apocalyptic sci-fi movie really.

For me the franchise went backwards in terms of visuals with this outing, it was kinda cool how they explored and expanded an old TV episode but the whole thing is so basic looking. I liked the slow strategic galleon/submarine type starship battle between Kirk and Khan in the nebulae, this was obviously the highlight of the movie and created perfect tension. Sure it was basically submarines in space but it worked well. Apart from that there was nothing really that stuck out for me as a big kickass moment (apart from that raging scream courtesy of Kirk).

There is of course the small subplot of Spock's death which at the time stunned everyone. Yet this was clearly a setup for the next sequel, to turbo charge emotions and get people back into the cinemas again. It was pretty clear that Spock would not die for good and he would come back in the next movie, no way they would let one of the most popular characters get killed off. So in all honesty that shocker never really affected me, sure it was sad seeing Kirk choke up at the funeral, a real tearjerker I'm willing to admit...but it was also kind of a cheap tactic really.

Of course a sneering seething Ricardo Montalbán really helped the film with his portrayal of the dastardly Khan but he doesn't do much does he. I still don't really understand why he blamed Kirk for the death of his wife. In the TV episode after Khan is defeated he happily agrees to be marooned on Ceti Alpha VA to rule as a king on his own planet. OK so things went tits up with the neighbouring planet causing massive troubles but that's got nothing to do with Kirk. Khan was happy with Kirk's original decision can't blame Kirk surely, you agreed Khan.

The movie is really all about the main trio of Spock, Kirk and McCoy, everyone else is there of course but they don't get much screen time. Even back then it was clear that the team were cracking on age wise with Shatner at 50 years of age. Despite that the movie is most definitely a solid Star Trek entry offering thrills and spills of a nautical theme...dare I say Hornblower in space. Its nowhere near as visually epic as the first movie and I did miss those Kubrick-esque shots as I've already said, but it does have that classic Star Trek feel even though its somewhat missing the classic technical babble. I still think its a pretty basic and generic concept overall but I guess the original TV series had both action based plots and thinking based plots to cover all angles.