After Star Trek: The Motion Picture was released, it made money, and everyone at Paramount was happy. Trek fans were delighted, too. But everyone wanted more. Paramount brought in producer Harve Bennett to take on the helm of the franchise, and do it at significant savings. Bennett was a TV veteran and knew how to craft stories and keep costs down.
They spent $11 million and earned almost $80 million in 1982, which was the sixth-highest grossing film in the United States for the year.
Bennett watched all of the original series looking for a villain who could match wits with Kirk and Spock. He found it in the first season — 22nd episode. “Space Seed” featured Ricardo Montalban as a genetically engineered bad guy from the 20th Century, who briefly took over the ship and nearly killed Kirk. And according to the story, this guy had been left on a planet by a magnanimous captain… and could still be alive in the timeline. They found their man!
Montalban was the star of the successful show “Fantasy Island,” but still wanted to reprise the role of Khan Noonien Singh, this time on the silver screen.
What audiences in 1982 got was arguably the greatest sequel ever — sorry Empire Strikes Back and Godfather II. The Wrath of Khan was everything The Motion Picture was not — action-packed, full of emotion and life, a great plot, a vengeful bad guy, and special effects that did not linger on screen.
And, unlike in TMP, this film admitted that the crew was older than they used to be. It was almost a sub-theme of the film. Kirk and the crew were now 15 years older than they were in TOS.
What audiences got, was the best Star Trek movie ever made, including all of the TOS-Era films, the TNG films, and the Kelvin-reboot series.
We join the crew of the Enterprise while they are on a training mission to the Gamma Hydra, Section 14. We hear the voice of someone else making an entry into the Captain’s Log — it was a new voice. This was Saavik, a Vulcan female, who now sat in the big chair on the bridge.
As they approached Section 15, they got a distress signal from a ship named the Kobayashi Maru. The Maru was broken down in the Klingon/ Federation Neutral Zone and asked for assistance.
Saavik ordered Mr. Sulu to plot a course to intercept the Maru, and Sulu reminded her that the course would take the ship into the Neutral Zone. Saavik said she was aware.
Suddenly, three Klingon warships appeared on an intercept course for the Enterprise. Uhura announced that all frequencies were jammed. Saavik ordered evasive action, but it was too late. The Klingons fired, and the bridge soon full of smoke.
Then a door opened, and Admiral James T. Kirk strutted onto this test bridge and told Saavik that all she could do was pray at this point because the Klingons do not take prisoners. Saavik failed the famous Kobayashi Maru test.
Spock, who had been playing dead with the other officers, got up and ordered his trainees to the briefing room. (Such a brilliant move, because someone leaked that Spock was supposed to die in this film).
Saavik told Kirk that the test was unfair because there was no way to win. Kirk said that a “no-win” situation was one that a Starfleet captain may one day encounter.
“How we deal with death, is at least as important, as to how we deal with life, wouldn’t you say?” he asked.
As he left the training room, McCoy — flanked by Sulu and Uhura — asked if Starfleet would agree to put an experienced crew on the Enterprise. Kirk said that “galloping around the cosmos is a game for the young, doctor.”
Spock waited for the admiral as he walked out. “Aren’t you dead?” Kirk asked.
They discussed the grade that the cadets would receive. Kirk said that the cadets destroyed the simulator. Spock mentioned that Kirk himself took the test three times, and his solution was “unique.”
Kirk thanked Spock for the birthday gift of “A Tale of Two Cities.” Kirk asked if there was a message in the first words of the book — “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Spock said there was none that he was aware of.
Let’s pause a moment and look at the uniforms. In TMP, the crew was clothed in bland blues, grays, whites, and tans. It happens that Starfleet changed uniforms right after the whole V’Ger situation into maroon and black. These uniforms were much more forgiving than the ones in TMP, and that was a good thing. The costumes in TMP looked as if all involved had to wear a girdle. The transition to the TNG uniforms was smooth from these (both red and black).
Later, at Kirk’s apartment, he greeted McCoy, who brought him a bottle of Romulan Ale, which is illegal in the Federation. The doctor said he had a source, who brought him a bottle occasionally. He then gave Kirk another gift — a pair of old-fashioned spectacles. Kirk was allergic to Retinax-5, which was what most people his age would take to fix fading vision.
As Kirk moped around, McCoy finally yelled at him, saying that they were treating his birthday like a funeral. McCoy noted that Kirk was hiding behind a computer console when he should be commanding a starship. The doctor told him to get his command back.
We join the U.S.S. Reliant, which was looking for planets which are entirely without life, for the scientific Project Genesis. Serving as the Reliant’s first officer was Pavel Chekov. The crew was considering Ceti Alpha VI, which might be a good candidate.
Sensors indicated that Ceti Alpha VI was dead. But Chekov reported to Captain Terrell that he detected one spot, which might have life. He told Terrell that this might be a blip of “pre-animate matter.” Terrell thought they might be able to transplant the object, so they contacted the scientific team who developed the Genesis technology — led by Dr. Carol Marcus. She was at the Space Station Regula 1 with her team, which included her son, David.
Terrell assured her that they would check the site out the site personally. When they arrived on the planet’s surface, they found an abandoned ship, which must have been lived in for years. Chekov saw a seatbelt hanging at the site, which said S.S. Botany Bay. He realized then what that meant.
Chekov panicked and urged Terrell to put on their suits to escape before it was too late. As they did, they walked outside of the ship to meet a group of humans dressed in black, standing still against the sand storm.
In orbit, the Reliant’s Commander Kyle was unable to reach Terrell and Chekov via communicator.
Terrell and Chekov found themselves back inside the wrecked ship. As men held them from behind, the two watched their leader take off his mask and eye protection to reveal — Khan Noonien Singh.
“Khan!” Chekov gasped. Khan looked at Terrell and noted that they never met, and then he turned to Chekov.
“You… I never forget a face,” he said. Terrell demanded to know who this person was. Chekov told him that Khan was a genetically engineered criminal from the 20th Century.
Khan told Terrell that what he saw was all that remained of the Botany Bay and her company. Khan asked if Chekov told his captain the tale of the Botany Bay when the Enterprise found the ship lost since 1996.
Terrell said that he had never met Admiral Kirk. That seemed to upset Khan further.
“Admiral?” he sneered. Khan continued recapping “Space Seed” for Terrell when Chekov yelled out that Khan was lying.
“You lie!” exclaimed Chekov. “On Ceti Alpha V there was life —”
“THIS IS CETI ALPHA FIVE!” Khan screamed. After the Enterprise left, Ceti Alpha VI exploded, shifting Ceti Alpha V off its orbit, making for an inhospitable world. Khan seethed with anger.
“Admiral Kirk never bothered to check on our progress,” Khan said. “On Earth, 200 years ago, I was a prince with power over millions.”
AT THAT POINT in the film, James Horner’s score gave us the sound of trumpets in the distance to represent some ancient battlefield glory — which was BRILLIANT! Almost like a scene just for your ears and imagination. Wow!
Back to the movie: Chekov refused to shut up, and Khan finally picked him up from the handle that was welded to the front of his suit. These handles were not on the suits in TMP and must have been added just for this scene. Khan wanted to know why the Reliant was there, especially since Terrell thought it was Ceti Alpha VI. Terrell and Chekov would not say.
Khan, throwing off his cloak (which revealed Montalban’s plastic pectoral chest), walked over to a Plexiglas bin full of sand. He explained that these were the last indigenous creatures that survived on Ceti Alpha V, and they were kept now as pets.
Khan used some tongs to hold one of the insect-like creatures still. He used a second pair of pliers to reach into the bug’s segmented back to pull out a few small, red eels. As he worked, Khan mentioned that these creatures killed 20 of his people, including his wife — who we’re to assume was Marla McGivers.
He told Terrell and Chekov that the creature’s “young” enter through the ear, and wrap themselves around the cerebral cortex, thus making the host susceptible to suggestion. Eventually, madness and death will follow.
Khan then put the “Ceti eel” into Terrell and Chekov’s helmets, and then onto their owners. The eels found their way straight into the ear canal of both victims.
I can tell you that I watched The Wrath of Khan in about 1987-88 on Laserdisc at a friend’s house, and this scene scarred me for life. I am glad that I didn’t see the film in the theaters because I probably would have wretched up my popcorn in the parking lot.
After that was over, Khan asked them again why the Reliant was at Ceti Alpha V, and where he could find James Kirk.
Meanwhile, Kirk arrived at the Enterprise in space dock with Uhura, Sulu, and McCoy. Spock welcomed them aboard, and Kirk gave the trainee crew a short lecture before the training cruise and inspection. The Admiral seemed pleased with the shape of the engineering department and ordered the journey to begin early.
As they prepared to leave space dock, Kirk watched as Spock allowed young Saavik to pilot the Enterprise out. Kirk’s face lost all its color, and McCoy offered him a sedative. Sulu steered the ship out of spacedock without incident.
Back on Regula 1, Drs. Marcus finished loading data into the Genesis device when they got a call from the Reliant. Mr. Chekov told Carol that they would be there in three days to take possession of the Genesis research, on the orders of Admiral Kirk. The research team erupted into protest.
“Admiral Kirk’s orders are confirmed,” said Chekov, as Khan watched over his shoulder on the Reliant. “You realize, sir, that they will attempt to contact Admiral Kirk, to confirm the order?”
Khan smiled and agreed.
On the Enterprise, Saavik jumped into a turbolift to nail him down on the Kobayashi Maru again. She asked him how he beat the test.
“You may ask,” he smiled. She didn’t get the joke.
Soon, Kirk received a priority transmission from Dr. Carol Marcus at Regula 1. She asked him repeatedly, “Why are you taking Genesis?” but the signal was too garbled for him to respond. Uhura finally told Kirk that the transmission was being jammed at the source.
Kirk went to Spock’s quarters to update him on the situation, saying that the Enterprise would have to investigate what was going on at Regula. Spock ceded command to Kirk, but Kirk pushed back. Spock told him that he had to ego to bruise, as he was a Vulcan.
Spock then told Kirk that he should not have accepted promotion. Anything other than commanding a starship was a waste. Kirk said he would not debate him on that point. Spock said that was wise.
Then, while they are speaking on logic, Spock noted, “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”
“Or the one,” Kirk added.
“You are my superior officer, you are also my friend, and always shall be yours,” Spock said. Kirk took command at 1800 hours and ordered a new course, to Regula 1.
Onboard the Reliant, Khan’s helmsman tried to talk his master out of waiting for Kirk to arrive. They had the ship and the freedom to go anywhere. Khan said that Kirk “tasked” him and that he would chase Kirk all over the galaxy to get revenge.
On the Enterprise, Kirk, Spock, and McCoy pulled up the video summary of Project Genesis, by Carol Marcus. A cool video, which detailed how the Genesis effect can take lifeless matter and make it living. It reorganized matter from the subatomic level, creating a barren moon habitable. Stage One was conducted in the lab, Stage Two underground, and Stage Three would be on a lifeless planet or moon.
“Fascinating,” said Spock.
McCoy blew up, saying that humanity was not smart enough to control this type of power. But, in the middle of McCoy’s rant, Saavik interrupted, informing the admiral that they detected the U.S.S. Reliant headed their way.
The Reliant would not respond to the Enterprise’s hails. Both ships pulled toward each other. Saavik quoted a Starfleet regulation (General Order 12), which stated that “on the approach of any vessel when communications had not been established…”
Spock stopped her from citing the entire rule and told her that Kirk was aware of the regulations. Shields did not go up.
On Reliant, Khan smiled and wondered if Kirk knew the old Klingon proverb, which stated: “revenge is a dish best served cold.”
“It is very cold in space,” he said.
Before Enterprise could respond, Reliant scored a devastating series of phaser hits to the secondary hull and engineering section. Sulu could not raise shields, and Mr. Scott reported the main energizers were out.
James Horner came through big-time here again! His music helped build the tension.
Kirk ordered yellow alert. Reliant said they could not communicate due to an emission problem. Spock scanned and found that to be false. Reliant raised shields and locked phasers.
Before Enterprise could respond, Reliant scored a devastating series of phaser hits to the secondary hull and engineering section. Sulu could not raise shields, and Mr. Scott reported the main energizers were out.
Kirk ordered auxiliary power, and Reliant launched a photon torpedo, which caused explosions on the Enterprise. Scotty said that he could power for enough phaser shots, but no more.
Uhura announced that the commander of Reliant wished to discuss terms of surrender. The main screen revealed an image of a smiling man. Kirk rose from his chair and whispered, “Khan?” Kirk asked what the meaning of this attack was.
“I think I made my meaning plain,” said Khan. He took the ship’s power, and he would soon take the crew life. Khan said that he wanted Kirk to know who had beaten him.
Kirk asked Khan to spare his crew. He proposed that he beam to the Reliant. Khan agreed if Kirk shared what he knew about Project Genesis. Kirk tried to stall, but Khan saw through it. He gave Kirk 60 seconds to get him the information on Genesis.
Kirk ordered Saavik to find the prefix code for Reliant, which is a combination to unlock control of another ship’s computers. As Khan nagged, Kirk put on his glasses and found the prefix code. As they sent the code, Reliant lowered its shields.
Before they could find the override, Sulu fired phasers, and Reliant had no choice but to retreat.
The bridge crew started to congratulate Kirk, who brushed it off. He told Saavik to continue to quote regulations. Just then, Scotty arrived at the bridge with an injured member of his trainee crew. In sickbay, the crewman died. Engineering restored impulse engine power, and they made their way to Regula 1.
When they got to Regula, they received no responses from their hails. Kirk decided to go to the station to find out what was left. McCoy and Saavik joined him.
On Regula 1, they found the station abandoned, except for the bodies of those who Khan killed — and Chekov and Terrell — who Khan stuffed into some shipping container. They told Kirk how Khan how their minds were under the command of Khan, and how he ripped through Regula 1 looking for the Genesis materials. Terrell said the crew of Reliant was marooned on Ceti Alpha V, and that Khan blamed Kirk for the death of his wife.
As Kirk, McCoy, and Saavik scoured the station for clues, they figured that the scientists beamed into the planet. Saavik said the coordinates were not logical, but Kirk gambled that the scientists were hiding in Stage Two of the Genesis experiment, inside of Regula.
Before they beamed over, Kirk called to the Enterprise. Spock said that it would be days before they would have main power restored. Kirk ordered that if Spock did not hear from him within an hour, then they would take the Enterprise to the nearest starbase.
I thought the “away team coats” were a nice touch. But honestly, there was so much stuff jangling off the outside, and I don’t know how they’d sit down. These coats had insignias, padding, high collars, pockets, buckles, zippers, straps… it was a bit too much like maroon versions of what Michael Jackson wore in the “Bad” video.
The team, including Terrell and Chekov, beamed deep into Regula. They found the Genesis torpedo and an angry group of scientists. David Marcus attacked Kirk almost immediately, and they scuffled until Carol Marcus broke it up.
As she did, Terrell and Chekov pointed phasers at them and revealed that Khan was listening all along, via small watch-like communicators, worn by both of them. David lunged to attack Terrell. Saavik pulled him down, and Terrell fired on another scientist, vaporizing him.
Khan ordered Terrell and Chekov to kill Kirk. Terrell refused, as he tore the watch off his wrist. This caused the creature in his ears to squeal… Terrell then turned the phaser on himself.
I found it interesting that Terrell would kill a scientist as if it were nothing, and would even kill himself, rather than kill the great James T. Kirk.
After Terrell was vaporized, Chekov screamed and hit the floor. The creature in his brain backed out of his ear, leaving a trail of blood. Kirk shot it dead.
Kirk picked up Terrell’s communicator and taunted Khan, telling him that he kept “missing the target.” Khan beamed the Genesis materials to the Reliant. Kirk told Khan that if he wanted to kill him, then he’d have to come to Regula. Khan said that he’d done better than kill Kirk — he’d beaten the admiral. He was going to leave Kirk on a dead planet, just as Kirk left him on one 15 years ago.
What followed was perhaps the greatest moment in Star Trek history, if not, certainly one of the most iconic moments, and the most memed:
Kirk screamed “KHAAAAAAAAN!”
The producers made this scream echo out of the cave and into space for the movie. Who cares that sound cannot travel in space’s vacuum — anger does.
Later, Carol and Kirk spoke in private about their past, as David showed McCoy and Saavik the Genesis cave. She said she wanted David in her life, not flying across the galaxy with Kirk, his father. She asked how he felt. Kirk said he felt tired and old. She said the Genesis cave would make him feel young. They walked together into a cave filled with light, rushing waterfalls and life.
As they relaxed, Kirk ate an apple. Saavik, who clearly wasn’t going to shut up about this, brought up the Kobayashi Maru. She asked him how he beat it. Kirk said that he reprogrammed the conditions of the test.
“He cheated,” said David. Saavik gasped.
“I don’t believe in a no-win scenario,” said Kirk. He then whipped out his communicator, and Spock said they were ready.
As they materialized on board, Kirk explained to Saavik that he and Spock were speaking in code before. Hours equaled days. They assumed that Khan was listening.
Kirk, Spock, and Saavik arrived on the bridge. Kirk signaled battle stations. Spock said the Reliant could “outrun and outgun” the Enterprise. But the Mutara Nebula was very close, which would negate sensors and shields. The crew readied for battle as the Enterprise headed toward the nebula.
Reliant followed but slowed at the edge of the gasses. Uhura patched Kirk into the Reliant’s bridge.
“Khan,” said Kirk, “I’m laughing at the superior intellect.”
Enraged, Khan ordered full impulse power. Inside the nebula, neither ship could use its sensors or shields, and they passed each other a few times. The Enterprise wound up behind the Reliant, and Kirk ordered Sulu to use his “best guess” to aim phasers. He missed.
This entire sequence was like a “silent running” submarine movie. Not much was said by either crew.
Reliant turned and fired back, hitting the Enterprise. They returned fire, causing damage to the bridge. This attack killed much of Khan’s crew. Radiation flooded engineering on the Enterprise, and Scotty said they needed to take the main engines offline.
Spock said that Khan was displaying “two-dimensional thinking.”
Kirk ordered “z-minus 10,000 meters.” The Enterprise dipped up right behind Reliant and fired torpedoes. They shot off one of the Reliant’s nacelles in the attack.
Uhura sent a surrender message to the Reliant. Khan, who was now severely injured and bloody, crawled to the Genesis device. He armed it and quoted Shakespeare at Kirk. This was Khan’s attempt at a Pyrrhic victory — which is losing and taking your enemy down with you.
Spock detected the energy source. David confirmed that it was the Genesis device. They had four minutes. David said that once started; it could not be stopped. Kirk called to engineering, but Mr. Scott did not respond. He ordered Sulu to get the ship out of there, at best possible speed. Spock left the bridge.
The Enterprise limped away from Reliant at impulse speed.
Spock arrived in engineering. He glanced at a panel and marched the engine room, which was closed off by Plexiglas, or transparent aluminum, due to the high levels of radiation. McCoy stopped him from entering, but Spock gave him a Vulcan neck pinch. McCoy hit the floor, and Spock mind-melded with him and said: “remember.”
He entered the engine room, and Mr. Scott woke to see what was happening. Scotty screamed for Spock to get out of the engine room, as did McCoy. Spock ignored them. He pulled the lid off a duct, which flooded the room with even more radiation and smoke.
Spock repaired the warp drive, and seconds later the Enterprise warped away from the explosion, which consumed both the Reliant and the Mutara Nebula. Kirk called Scotty to congratulate him. McCoy answered and told Kirk to rush to engineering.
Kirk arrived and tried to open the compartment where Spock was trapped. McCoy and Scotty stopped him. Spock asked if the ship was out of danger. Kirk said it was. Spock told him not to grieve that this was logical.
“The needs of the many, outweigh…” Spock said. He told Kirk that he would always be his friend, and to live long and prosper. Spock slumped over and died.
Later, the crew held a funeral for Mr. Spock. Kirk gave a heartfelt eulogy.
“Among all the souls I have encountered, his was the most human,” said Kirk.
Even Saavik looked sad. Scotty played “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes. They fired Spock in a torpedo tube at the Genesis planet.
After the funeral, David came to see Kirk. He said that he was proud to call Kirk his father. They embraced.
The Enterprise left the orbit of the Genesis planet to go to Ceti Alpha V, to rescue the crew of the Reliant. Kirk, McCoy, and Carol Marcus gathered to have one last look at the new world. Kirk said he felt young.
On the planet, audiences saw Spock’s torpedo tube, which rested among the ferns and plant life.
Before the credits rolled, we hear the familiar Star Trek manta, this time, voiced by Leonard Nimoy himself.
TREK REPORT SUPPLEMENTAL:
This movie had it all. A great plot, back-stories, a great enemy, excellent acting, great special effects, and a great score. They set the bar so high with the Wrath of Khan that every single Trek movie is judged against it.
If you haven’t seen it yet, rush out now and rent it or buy the Blu-ray. You will enjoy.
RATING: 5 out of 5