INCOMING TRANSMISSION FROM FEDERATION STARSHIP ENTERPRISE, DESIGNATION NCC 1701-A: FROM THE LOG FILES OF JAMES T. KIRK
Captain’s Log, Stardate 10260.5: What a strange experience I’ve recently been put through. During a routine excursion aboard the Enterprise, I suddenly found myself inexplicably transported to an alternate version of Earth in the late 20th century. To my horror, I discovered I was a character in what I believe was once called a motion picture, or movie. I am familiar with this archaic form of entertainment, though I’ve never actually seen a “movie.” Having returned to the ship as inexplicably as I departed, I feel compelled to relate my experience of watching “myself” in this movie.
I arrived in this parallel universe in the year 1982, according to the old Earth calendar, and found myself standing in line to see a film called “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.” Glancing at a poster for the movie, I saw that I was being portrayed by a smug and arrogant actor named William Shatner. Mr. Spock was played by someone named Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley took on the performance of Doctor McCoy. All of these actors were remarkable in their ability to replicate the friendship and camaraderie myself, Spock and McCoy actually possess.
The story recounted my encounter with Khan some years after the five-year mission that earned my crew and I some relative renown. True to actual events, Khan manages to steal a Federation starship with the help of some unwitting crew members and comes after me seeking revenge. Along the way he stumbles across the Genesis device, a potential doomsday weapon created by some Federation scientists. Once the characters and plot are established, the film primarily concerns itself with the battle of wits between Kirk and Khan… rather, between Khan and I. Keeping this straight is proving confusing.
Regardless, the actor Ricardo Montalban nailed his depiction of Khan as a tireless, merciless cauldron of rage. His brilliance is matched only by his ferocity, and he proves a worthy adversary for Kirk, er, me. The two sequences where the Enterprise squares off against Khan’s ship are the highlights of the movie. Both battles are tautly constructed, well paced and feature impressive special effects (by 1982 standards). The alternating bombastic and subdued music from conductor James Horner is the critical element that elevates these scenes.
Though the battle sequences are executed in stirring fashion, they would be nothing without the familiar crew of the Enterprise to bind the proceedings together. Watching these characters on screen fight for their lives in the face of Khan’s insatiable blood lust made the experience all the more intense with me. The connection to the characters is vital to the movie’s dramatic success.
The two key performances belong to the primary combatants, Kirk and Khan. By contemporary accounts, Shatner was never considered to be a great actor, yet he brings a surprisingly nuanced depiction of Kirk to the screen. Kirk starts out bemoaning his status as a relic of older times, but when he’s compelled to take command again, the characteristic arrogance, cockiness and wit return to the forefront. Montalban goes spectacularly over the top as Khan, spewing fiery quotes from Moby Dick as he pursues the Enterprise with obsessive intensity. Khan is far and away the most memorable villain of any of the “Star Trek” films.
Rounding out the main characters are Spock and McCoy. The two are polar opposites and bicker like an old married couple (exactly like they do when I’m on the Enterprise) but their relationship with Kirk and each other is the foundation of the film. Spock acts like he is totally emotionless and logical, but in some ways is the most human of the group and makes a key decision that on its surface is supremely illogical. McCoy is his typical sardonic and bitter self and seems to take great pleasure in baiting the Vulcan, but underneath he, to has a heart of gold.
(SPOILER WARNING! Those who wish to avoid having the ending revealed should skip down two paragraphs)
This Kirk-Spock-McCoy triumvirate is what makes Spock’s sacrifice at the movie’s end so poignant. As Spock sits dying of radiation poisoning and lays out his logic to Kirk (“The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”), one can see the pain Kirk is going through at the loss of his friend. The same is true of McCoy, but Spock himself is curiously upbeat, and even cracks a joke at Kirk’s expense. Yet when Spock dies, it’s a moment of gut-wrenching drama, as we see a character we’ve known for so long come to a gallant but sad ending.
(END OF SPOILERS)
So ends my tale of watching myself, or rather Kirk, on screen. The well-drawn characters, skillful direction and compelling story are what put “The Wrath of Khan,” at the top of the heap of “Star Trek” tales, or so I heard from fans as they left. They spoke of the painful plodding in the first movie, “Star Trek: The Motion Picture,” and how the series really should have started with “Khan.” After questioning some of these fans (they asked if I was a “Trekkie” and I said yes, though I’m unsure what that means) I discovered that there were more films made after this one. These films were supposedly extremely uneven in terms of quality, though the latest film (simply known as “Star Trek”) was seen a success in large part because it borrows heavily from “Wrath of Khan.”
However, the Trekkies all agreed “Wrath of Khan” was the pinnacle of Kirk’s adventures. Being as I am Kirk and have seen it myself I’m inclined to agree with them, though I find it hard to believe anyone will accept that I saw myself in a 300-year-old film. Regardless, I’ll continue to go where no one has gone before, and with any luck I’ll take the best parts of the fictional Kirk with me.
END OF TRANSMISSION
Contact CU Independent Entertainment Editor Rob Ryan at Rryan@colorado.edu.