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The Wrath of Potential

Reading numerous articles lately, I have come across no less than three separate descriptions of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn, as a classic – perhaps THE classic – Star Trek movie with the original cast.  Not sure why it is coming up now, but there it is. I know a lot of people have that opinion, but I have never thought so. I always thought the movie lacked what it needed to meet its potential.

Full disclosure: I am a big fan of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. I know many will disagree with me. But to me it was always Star Trek for adults, what the world of Star Trek, if it existed, would actually look like: crewmembers who acted like professionals, doing their doing their often-dangerous job in a serious and thoughtful manner. Yes, the movie had its problems. The flyby scenes were certainly too long, although I think they were trying to give us a sense of the scale of the whole thing. Still, they should have known better.  The movie was somewhat esoteric, not an action flick like the Star Wars movies or all the Star Wars wannabes that came out around that time. But when all was said and done, I think the movie they gave us was worth the price of admission.

Star Trek number Two, on the other hand, made me very angry when I first saw it. It was Star Trek for kids. It even had a kid from the Disney movies in it. There were many problems from the opening scene. Kirk is an admiral? I thought we settled that. The enterprise is a training ship? Seems an awful waste of a good ship. Spock is training new recruits? Seems an awful waste of his skills. As things progress, they only get worse.  The crew was all over the place and not acting in a logical manner. The space battles are often laughable, especially in the nebula, where the major problem seems to be static on the viewscreen. “Spock, send crewmen to every major observation port and have them sing out if they see anything.” Seems an obvious solution. Spock’s code of “days for hours” seems like it could be broken by anybody above kindergarten age.

Now I do realize that part of the problem with the movie is that they were trying to keep costs down. The first movie had actually made a decent profit, but compared to the Star Wars films, it seemed anemic to the studio brass. So their solution was to make a movie using little more than the standing sets from the first movie. Very little new was built and there was almost no location work. So, within the confines they had to work in, maybe it wasn’t that bad of a movie.

But what really makes me think that they missed their mark is that they totally wasted their main villains. These guys were super soldiers, with tremendous strength, endurance, and intelligence. They were a physical threat to anybody who came upon them. Yet, they spend most of the movie locked in a spaceship which, as the movie displays, they are ill-equipped to actually pilot and use. That is, in essence, the solution to Kirk’s problem: they don’t really know how to use their ship.

We only see them using their great skills on a couple of occasions. Chekhov gets himself hoisted into the air early on. And a bunch of namby-pamby scientists get killed in a grizzly, off-screen manner. Where was the threat that we should have felt from these retro supermen?  At no point in the movie to the two crews actually come into contact with each other.

This was a horrible waste of potential.

Maybe they should’ve kicked loose with some funds for location shooting. You can imagine what it would be like if the two forces met on a planet surface. You can imagine Kirk’s speech to his crew.

“Attention all hands, this is the captain. Half of you are about to receive orders to descend to the planet surface, where you will defend the colony from Khan’s troops. For those of you who remain on board, we will almost certainly face the Reliant again, a battle that will almost certainly end in either us boarding their ship or them boarding our ship.  So let’s think about this: Super Soldier. It is a name out of history. People bred for war, people bred to subjugate. I understand the fear you must all feel. However, it is best to remember that these super soldiers were defeated, twice, first centuries ago, which is why they are here now, and then again a few years ago, aboard this very vessel. They can be defeated. What you have to remember is that they are creatures of their time. The world you grew up in is foreign to them. Things you take for granted, they do not understand. So I want you all to remember your training, to use your equipment and your weapons the way they were meant to be used. Use your advantages to prevent them from using theirs. Set your phasers on heavy stun, but if they get inside your perimeter, use whatever force you require. Good luck and good hunting.”

The resulting battle, with technology set against brawn, would have been a film classic, I think. With the space battle above and the land battle below, I think audiences would’ve been very entertained and it would’ve compared well with what George Lucas was doing at the time.

That, anyhow, is my feeling on the matter. A great potential was squandered, and I think the resulting movie would have far out grossed the extra money spent on it. But I do not run a film studio and I do not know the office politics involved in trying to get a film made. Maybe they did the best with what they had to work with. But I do not think that film qualifies as a classic. At best, it kept the franchise alive long enough to make better movies and more television. In fact, better television. I always thought The Next Generation made episodes of a higher quality than most of the movies Star Trek was putting out.

I now await your righteous indignation.

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