Star Trek: The Original Series ran on television from 1966 to 1969. It was cancelled after its third season due to dismal ratings. Surprisingly after a few years in syndication, the show became a cult hit and then a cultural phenomenon. So much so that by 1979 Paramount Pictures was willing to spend $46 million on a movie based on the series. Star Trek: The Motion Picture was a hit taking in $139 million, but because the high cost of making and promoting it, plus the expectations it would be a Star Wars-like blockbuster Paramount considered it a failure. It didn’t help that critics generally didn’t like it.
Paramount would only agree to make a sequel if Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry took a back seat and if the budget was squeezed down to around $11 million. The cast and crew agreed (well, Leonard Nimoy only agreed to star if his character would die a spectacular death) and one of the finest films in the entire franchise's history was born.
Opening in the year 2285, most of the Starship Enterprise’s crew are now teachers at Star Fleet Academy. Captain Spock, McCoy, and Scotty are helping Lieutenant Saavik captain a model Enterprise in an impossible training mission dubbed the Kobayashi Maru. Admiral Kirk joins them on the real Enterprise to perform an inspection before the ship heads out on its first real training mission. While aboard, Kirk receives a message from his old flame, Dr. Carol Marcus (Bibi Besch), aboard the Regula I where she’s been researching a powerful terraforming project called the Genesis Device. She accuses Kirk of ordering the USS Reliant to take over the Genesis Device, but Kirk doesn’t know what she’s talking about.
Aboard the Reliant, we find its Captain (Paul Winfield) and Commander Pavel Chekov have beamed down to a desolate planet to see if it will make a good place to run a full test of Genesis. There, they run into Khan (Ricardo Montalban) who was deserted on the planet decades earlier by Kirk. In the film's most squeamish scene, he uses a freaky ear worm to take mind control of Chekov and the Captain forcing them to trick both Marcus and Kirk into handing over the Genesis Device (and Kirk to shout his most famous Kirk-ism “Khaaan!)
Several space battles and one epic death scene ensue, making The Wrath of Khan one of the best (if not the best) film in the entire franchise. Later films would have bigger budgets and better production values, but none can quite hit mix of adventure, humor, and cheese they nailed in Khan. Ricardo Montalban makes the perfect foil to Kirk with his over-the-top performance that is both utterly ridiculous and somehow convincing. It's got some nice action, and Spock’s death is really rather poignant. But what am I telling you for? If you are reading this, you probably already love this movie.
For its 35th anniversary, Fathom Events is bringing Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan - The Director's Cut (which adds about three minutes to the film, mostly showing us why Crewman Preston's death means so much to Scotty) to the big screen for one more day. I caught Sunday's screening and it was a blast. It includes a nice new interview with William Shatner, who talks about the making of the film and what it is like to play one of the most beloved characters in all of science fiction.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan returns to select movie theaters across the country, including areas impacted by Hurricane Irma, for a special encore on September 21. More locations and ticketing will be available on a rolling basis, so please be sure to check the Fathom website often.