On “The Wrath of Khan” and “The Search for Spock”

Over the past year or so, my husband and I have been taking advantage of seeing old movies on the big screen, hosted by TMC and Ben Mankiewicz. Usually they are classics, like “The African Queen.” Or musicals that are a delight on the big screen, such as “An American in Paris.” We recently saw “Cabaret,” which is still a stunner. I believe next month it’s “In the Heat of the Night,” with Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger tearing up the screen. There are also anecdotes before and after.

The 40th anniversary director’s cut of “The Wrath of Khan” was like putting on a pair of cozy fuzzy socks and sweatpants for me. I started smiling the moment the excellent James Horner soundtrack began, and the theatre darkened. More about the movie in a moment.

 I got to work for a few years within the Star Trek universe on both Voyager and Deep Space Nine as a writer’s assistant. The adventure and honor of it was not lost on me, I promise you. I also met a friend for life in the process*, so double good things came from it.

The original Star Trek series, along with “Wild Wild West” are among the very first television shows I remember watching on our little black and white television when I was five or six years old. The way the characters related to each other, had adventures, and told stories has stuck with me for a lifetime. Remember when Capt. James West had his hands handcuffed behind his back, and then jumped over them to get free? The actor loved doing stunts, so they got him to do all sorts of crazy escapes. Curious to know how many remember that exact moment. The show pioneered the steampunk genre. We will not speak of the terrible movie remake.

I always related to the sidekicks. Mr. Spock, Artemis Gordon, Chekov and Mr. Scott were among my favorites. I got to meet James Doohan once. He was a delightful man, charming as could be. I think I almost fainted. In later years, I watched “In Search Of,” just so I could see more Leonard Nimoy. I always wanted to be a Vulcan.

That “The Wrath of Kahn” got made at all is a miracle. The first movie was dreadful, there’s no denying it. Thankfully, it’s also quite forgettable. Among Trek fans, it has a similar reputation to Season Eight of the Show That Shall Not Be Named (dracarys). Now that said, I’m glad the first movie existed. At one point, I was gifted a silk jacket that belonged to the special effects crew of that movie. Possessing anything Star Trek is cool to me. It got burned up in The Fire.

The movie holds up pretty well, even at 40 years old. The gravitas and pure spite Ricardo Montalban embodies as Khan holds the whole thing together, and extra points for bringing an old episode from the original series to the fore. He stops just this side of chewing scenery and is utterly mesmerizing. I love his final lines quoting Captain Ahab. “From hell’s heart, I stab at thee. For hate’s sake, I spit my last breath at thee.” He really sells it. Side note: I had to laugh when I learned that most of his crew were working Chippendale dancers at the time of the shoot. They had to cast them to keep up with Ricardo’s I-do-a-lot-of-pushups chest.

 I still squirmed when the bug thing was put in Chekov’s ear. It’s a memorable moment. The interplay between the main characters is a little strained, the dialogue a little too on-point for parts of it. True to 40-year-old movie making, the pauses are excruciatingly long, and well, special effects were still in their infancy. However, the “I have been, and always shall be, your friend” scene STILL makes me cry, although I know what happens later. I remember seeing this thing when it came out in the theatres and SOBBING, and then Mr. Scot piping “Amazing Grace” as the pod is jettisoned into space…. Oy.

As we came out of the theatre, I realized I just HAD to see “The Search for Spock” right away. My husband indulged me. This one also held up. Made only a couple years later, in 1984, and kind of on the cheap compared to the other movies, you can see the jumps forward in technology and creating special effects. DeForest Kelley finally gets his moment in the sun as an almost-main character and has some very fun moments as Spock takes over his body. Leonard Nimoy directed it and did a good job. You know he knows his audience. This one doesn’t make me cry, although Spock’s last line, “Jim. Your name is Jim,” got me. I also love that they got Dame Judith Anderson to step in and use her incredible voice. Good casting.

This one also has the benefit of an unrecognizable John Larroquette as Maltz, a Klingon second in command, and Christopher Lloyd (Doc in “Back to the Future”) as the main evil Klingon. He looks like he had a great time with it, shouting his Klingon lines with a zesty fury. It has a quick appearance of Tribbles, too. You really can’t go wrong with that.

All in all, a nice double feature.

*Looking at you, Sandra Sena.