Sunday, August 16, 2015

5: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Just watched this one again on a plane flight. There, alongside the current crop of Hollywood blockbusters and a few significant classics, was sitting "Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan", a film that shows if nothing else that it IS possible to make a sequel that is better than the original. And that's not just because the original ("Star Trek: The Motion Picture") was so unimaginably awful (and it was).

Clearly the people at Paramount knew they had something good. Star Trek had run for three seasons in the late 1960s to mild success but the re-runs and syndication deals had made the show grow in popularity in the years following its cancellation. Add to that the massive success of Star Wars in the late 1970s and you can just see the dollar-focused minds at Paramount thinking "ok, what have we got that's spacey-wacey?" So they got the cast of Star Trek together and made that initial pointless movie in 1979 that was so bad you can't even pretend to like it because everyone knows you're lying if you say you do.

But that didn't stop the original TV series CONTINTUING to be popular, all it did was draw increased attention to the fact that it was so good compared to the film. So the good people at Paramount found a recently-joined producer named Harve Bennett, who knew basically nothing about Star Trek, asked him to make the next movie "better and for less money". So they sat him down to watch all the original episodes of the TV show to work out what it was that made it work. He saw the episode about Khan and liked both the complex character and the open ending of the episode (left on the planet... what happened to Khan and his people next?) and out came Star Trek II. With Nicholas Meyer directing and the original cast returning - including the brilliant Ricardo Montalban reprising Khan himself - the story, characters and atmosphere were not only more akin to the original Star Trek series, but much more successfully updated. The story is both original and simple, and stands up well over time, and the central characters are shown not only as facing - and dealing with - human situations (the no-win scenario, the needs of the many etc) but also as maturing themselves, getting older and having to deal with that.

The follow-up films were never quite as good - although number 6, "The Undiscovered Country" (essentially a decent 'whodunnit' set in space) came close to making this list. But The Wrath Of Khan stands the test of time, setting a high bar to follow. And I really do like it, even watching it on a plane going over the Atlantic some 33 years after its initial release.

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