Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

My ten great movies #10: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

with 3 comments

As someone who is deeply fascinated by the lives of artists under pressure, it’s hard for me to separate Star Trek II from the legend behind its creation, which is one of the most interesting of all Hollywood stories. The first Star Trek film had been a financial success, but also grossly expensive, and hardly beloved, prompting producer Harve Bennett to turn over the reins to the least likely man imaginable: Nicholas Meyer, the prickly author of The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, and the furthest thing in the world from a Trekkie. Yet Meyer’s skepticism about the project allowed him to slash the budget, swiftly assemble a fine script from the bones of several unusable drafts, and reinvigorate the entire franchise with some badly missed humor and a nautical sense of adventure—a classic example of how detachment can be more valuable to an artist than passionate involvement.

Of course, none of this would matter if the movie itself weren’t so extraordinary—”wonderful dumb fun,” as Pauline Kael said in the New Yorker, and so much more. This is, in fact, pop entertainment of the highest order, a movie of great goofiness and excitement whose occasional lapses into camp make it all the more endearing. It feels big, but its roots in television and classic Hollywood—as embodied by star Ricardo Montalban—lend it an appealing modesty, a determination to give the audience a good time that smacks less of space opera than relaxed operetta. Like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, it’s a studio film that ends up saying more than it ever intended about the reasons we love the movies in the first place. And it still lights up my imagination. As I’ve probably said before, Star Trek: The Motion Picture makes me want to be a special effects designer, but Wrath of Khan makes me want to join Starfleet.

Tomorrow: The most perfect story in the movies.

3 Responses

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  1. Best. Star Trek movie. Ever. :-)

    C.B. Wentworth

    November 29, 2011 at 12:50 pm

  2. And don’t forget the line: “Sauce for the goose, Mr. Saavik.” Leave it to Spock to come up with the last thing anyone would expect to hear in a science fiction movie!

    sigonee

    December 1, 2011 at 11:43 am

  3. @sigonee: I love that line. Almost as good as Khan’s “old Klingon proverb.”

    nevalalee

    December 1, 2011 at 6:49 pm


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