Monday, January 09, 2012

Wreathing Wrath

Last week, the wife and I got an evening to ourselves unencumbered by the wee ones, and being an old and boring married couple, we took the opportunity to browse the shelves at our local Barnes & Noble. There, I happened upon a book called Obsessed With Star Trek, which uses a little electronic doodad embedded in its pages to quiz readers on a thousand-plus pieces of trivia culled from the many reams of Trek obscura. I picked it up, paged through it absentmindedly, and two minutes later I'd managed a perfect score on the ten-or-so random queries it had lobbed my way. Afterwards, I glanced up just in time to see a sudden, horrifying realization dance across my wife's eyes: she'd married a Trekkie.

So, yes, as that lengthy preamble should make clear, I'm a Star Trek fan. I have been for most of my life. Needless to say, that's not exactly a credential I brandish openly or even proudly, but it is an abiding fandom all the same, and it's one that kicked into gear fully and irretrievably upon watching The Best Star Trek Ever -- 1982's Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan -- for the first time in 1988. By now it's become such conventional wisdom that it borders on cliché that Wrath of Khan is tops among the many movie Treks (with even the franchise-changing reboot movie from '09, which I wholeheartedly embraced, coming in a distant second). But remember, many clichés become that way because they are, in fact, true and that's certainly the case with Khan.

As I said during my run of Star Trek retro reviews a few year back, "...what's perhaps most extraordinary about Wrath of how thoroughly it chucks the 'bigger is better' mentality that usually governs your typical blockbuster...In crafting their sequel, [producer Harve] Bennett and [director Nicholas] Meyer zeroed in on the very human core of Star Trek." Even with all the time-tripping antics of Abrams' Trek 2.0, which effectively cuts the continuity chord from all that came before, Star Trek II still manages to retain its emotional depth and power. In fact, it even gains some depth thanks to the events depicted in the new film.

So, what is it about Wrath of Khan that makes it such an evergreen -- both as a Trek experience and as a standalone lo these thirty (!!) years after it first hit theater screens? As part of an ongoing series of columns on the memorable celluloid endeavors from '82, Ain't It Cool contributor Nordling tackles this very question, and has emerged with a thoroughly engaging and very spot-on articulation of Khan's enduring, multi-faceted appeal. Here's one excerpt from his piece, wherein he reflects on one of the most memorable, important parts of the story (which should be considered spoiler territory if you *gasp* haven't seen it yet):
Spock’s sacrifice should resonate with anyone who has ever lost a friend to tragedy. “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” “Or the one.” It’s a moment of great nobility for the character, and part of me has always wondered what it would have been like if the character simply never returned to the franchise...Knowing that Spock does come back takes some of the sting out of it, but if you watch the movie without that baggage it becomes one of the best goodbyes from any long-standing genre character in science fiction history.
Needless to say, I love this flick unabashedly, and in his lengthy meditation -- which delves even deeper than the extract above -- Nordling bullseyes so many reasons why. He goes on to explain quite well why Khan represented the kind of lightning-in-a-bottle that, try as they might, the franchise has never been able to recapture (as was made painfully obvious with 2002's paint-by-numbers repurposing of its story beats for the Next Generation crew's farewell film, Star Trek Nemesis). This is a great read that's well worth your time -- and it should prompt those of you who already love the movie to pop it in again, and those of you've never seen it to finally give it a toss.


RobRoy said...

Just don't wear the T-Shirts! =)

Oh, and on an unrelated note, the security word I've been asked to type in is "vivicack."

Sounds like one of those throw-away X-Men characters from the late 90's.

It also sounds like something else I probably shouldn't type in your comments section.

mezba said...

My favourite Trek movies are always Star Trek IV (the humour), and then First Contact (the action). Wrath of Khan was a bit too old for me.

Zaki said...

The thing with TREK IV and FIRST CONTACT (both of which I like quite a bit) is that they still rely on the audience going in with some familiarity with the tropes and subtleties of the TREK-verse to get a lot of impact from (FC more than IV, but still). With WRATH OF KHAN, the themes of age, rage, death, and sacrifice are so universal that anyone can jump in and pretty much catch on.