Welcome to 2013! I had wondered how to start of a New Year’s blog for Pazz, thoughts ranging from “Everything old is new again” to “I hate hipsters”, though “Anyone claiming the New Battlestar Galactica is the best science fiction ever can get out of my F***ing house” came close.

The last thought almost hits home, since today’s review is in anticipation of JJ Abrams upcoming sequel to his successful “Star Trek” movie. I had noticed the villain for the new movie would be Khan, and naturally my thoughts fell back to the very exciting, dramatic 1982 film “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan”.

First off, I’m very excited for the new Abrams film. Reboots and remakes are a tricky thing sometimes. When done right, they’re great even if flawed. The “A-Team”, “Batman Begins” and 2009’s “Star Trek” are magical examples of guilty pleasures and awesome movie experiences. There are the flops, when a movie missteps. Sometimes, it’s just not a good fit, or the audience doesn’t connect. I really tried to like Rob Zombie’s “Halloween”, but couldn’t. It was the wrong style for me. The new 2012 “Spiderman” was ok, but I’m still in awe of Toby McGuire’s portrayal, especially” Spiderman 2″. Many fans who grew up with the “Lost in Space ” TV show soured on the 1998 movie that changed character dynamics to be a little more “hip”. Of course, there is the matter of the new “Battlestar Galactica”, a heresy I will save for a later day.

You’d think there would have been throngs of outrage when JJ Abrams put through a Star Trek reboot that brought in younger actors to play iconic characters and used time travel to totally reconfigure the canon of the old TV show and movies. What happened was a rare occurrence, a perfect storm where it connected with audiences, critics, and respected the source material to create a really exciting, fun movie. It wasn’t a perfect movie, but it was still enjoyable, a guilty pleasure. No doubt, there was some dissent (My older brother, a true Shatner disciple, absolutely refuses to watch any new Star Trek. His dignity for it stops at “Undiscovered Country”, and to hell with the rest), but overall the experience has certainly been more positive than for, say, the initial response to Daniel Craig’s James Bond or the entirety of the Dean Devlin/Roland Emmerich “Godzilla” from 1998.

But I’ve seriously digressed. Today’s review is about the 1982 Star Trek film “Wrath of Khan” a film that will hold the gold standard for JJ Abrams sequels. This review comes to you, the Pazz reader, not as a 100% endorsement of the film so much as a source material for Star Trek enthusiasts who enjoy JJ Abrams vision. (Though it is certainly a fantastic movie).

For traditional Star Trek fans, this is the greatest moment in Star Trek.

Before we made fun of Shatner’s acting, before Star Trek was heavily parodied and maybe used for pop cultural punchlines, there was “Wrath of Khan”, perhaps the best Star Trek movie of all time.

Did you enjoy JJ Abrams and are new to Star Trek? Want to learn more of the rivalry between Kirk and Khan? I’d recommend starting with the old TV show from 1967-69 for the ground work, with the episode “Space Seed” being the first confrontation. Khan, a genetically engineered superman, tries to kill Kirk and take his ship, but is exiled to the paradise world of Ceti Alpha 5.

In the wake of the success of “Star Trek: The Motion Picture”, Paramount studios wanted to up the ante, and had Producer Harve Bennet watch all the old episodes of the TV show to spark a sequel. “Space Seed” was deemed the best choice to work with. While I dream of what could have been from all the other episodes, it was an excellent choice.

Star Wars had its Darth Vader, now Star Trek has Khan. A Classic, tragic villain that is the meat of good Sci-fi storytelling.

We cut to 15 years later. Chekhov, on a science expedition with the USS Reliant, searches for a test world for a new life creating device known as “Project Genesis”. He stumbles upon a desolate world that turns out to be the tragic remains of Ceti Alpha 5. Khan kidnaps him and Captain Terrel (Paul Winfield), and commandeers their ship with the intention of stealing the Genesis device and avenging himself of Kirk who exiled him many years before. Kirk, celebrating his 52nd birthday at the beginning of the movie, experiences a midlife crisis. Prompted to take command of the Enterprise for what is supposed to be a training mission for cadets, his life is turned inside out by Khan’s surprise reappearance. The movie becomes a battle of wills, a chess game in space. Khan’s reckless obsession and arrogant intelligence versus Kirk’s world weary but trained combat experience. It is one of the best space combat sequences ever, reminiscent of “The Enemy Below”, with Robert Mitchum as a destroyer captain versus Kurt Jurgens a U-boat commander. While the studios pushed on for another sequel with a telltale set-up at the end of the movie, it still holds up with an excellent dramatic conclusion. It is a film that hits every note almost perfectly. Full of allegories for love, hate, philosophy, obsession, a search for beauty, a message about growing old gracefully, a nod to Melville’s “Moby Dick”, a Shakespearean tragedy, and a soundtrack by James Horner. It’s the first movie to be a sequel to a specific TV show episode, a science fiction action adventure with a quieter message about the eventuality of facing death and the no-win scenario that we all face sooner or later. It is about the friendships of iconic characters and the sacrifices of the one for the needs of the many. It is greater than the sum of its “Star Trek” parts that we generalize, making it certainly one of the finest moments in Science Fiction cinema.

It becomes difficult to say much more. There are fans of the Abram’s Star Trek with no interest in the history or previous incarnations. Some may even find the earlier works boring when compared to the vibrant action of the newer younger Star Trek. I say fair enough, new fans, though I tend to slap the ones that say they can’t enjoy “cheap” looking older films that don’t have candy coated CGI. F*** you and your overblown demands on science fiction. I also have some resigned irritation for people whose Star Trek experience never goes farther than Zachary Quinto’s cuteness.

You can ignore this review, No harm no foul. To be honest, most of the other Star Trek films vary in their successes but can never reach the levels “Wrath of Khan” held. But, I WILL tell you this much: TRUE Science Fiction is not about action, space battles and cute pretty people. Real Science fiction is about ALLEGORY. Dull, deep thinking allegory. It is the human experience explained in futuristic backdrops. JJ Abrams’ Star Trek is fun stuff, but terrible when it comes to being truly what science fiction should encompass. That’s not a criticism, just an observation. Read Heinlein’s “Starship Troopers” or Assimov’s “I, Robot”, then watch the film adaptations. You’ll see what I mean.

If you hunger for more Star Trek, and are willing to try the older stuff, start at the beginning, work your way through, see how you like it. It would be my hope that it strike’s a chord without anyone needing to dress up like a Klingon.

I have no doubt Abram’s upcoming sequel will be awesome, and the new Khan (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) will be good. They have big shoes to fill, though. Kirk and Khan have an incredible history. It’s more than just “Beam me up Scotty” cosplay stuff, or the rebooted excitement by JJ Abrams. Star Trek in general, and “Wrath of Khan” particularly, is about the greater good within all of us. It is about a vibrant youthful energy and perseverance of the human soul in the face of adversity. Just as creator Gene Roddenberry intended it to be.

***I should add an addendum to the review, that the Khan character is only a rumor and I could be very mistaken about the nature of Cumberbatch’s role in the next JJ Abrams movie. Having said that, I am still excited for that movie, and would continue to encourage a viewing of “Wrath of Khan” as a worthy film to pursue

About the Author

Jon Hodges
Jon Hodges
Jonathan has enjoyed doing community theater since 1989, and has been involved with shows in Van Wert, Wapakoneta, Waynesfield and Fostoria as well as Lima Encore. He is a judge for the Northwest Ohio Film Festival. Jon feels that the human imagination is one of the greatest adventures to share, and it is always fascinating to see others bring something to life. The second greatest adventure to share is a good dose of chocolate.