Continuing my very first trek into the films of Star Trek.....
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (Director's Edition)
In order to somewhat prep myself for the viewing of this film, I watched the Original Series episode, "Space Seed," to get some backstory.
The plot of TWOK is actually relatively simple and less cerebral than the film in which it followed, but I don't view that as a detriment. Having a simpler plot allowed TWOK to have far better pacing than TMP, and therefore makes for a more exciting viewing experience. Having the story that somewhat "checks up" on a villain of yesteryear was an interesting premise and I believe that TWOK pulls it off.
The Wrath of Khan also features some nifty subplots that lifts the film beyond a simple revenge based sci-fi adventure. Kirk's worries about his age loom over the whole film, and when Spock is jettisoned into space at the very end, Kirk's realization of feeling young makes for a great moment. The addition of Kirk's son was also a nice touch - all this parading around space hasn't been without its consequences. TWOK does a great job in bringing the larger than life Kirk down to a humble human being.
A special mention must also be made to the now famous 'Spock sacrifice' scene. The decision for Spock to sacrifice himself not only made for a neat twist, but gave the character a human trait not often associated with him. His eventual death with Kirk is a very good scene, too. Leonard Nimoy is just fantastic.
Ricardo Montalban made for a decent enough villain of the week on TOS, but hot damn did he become one of sci-fi's greatest villains in TWOK. Khan is a deliciously evil and cunning character. He is smooth yet crazed. Brilliant, but at the same time, unstable. (He is also obsessed on cold-served revenge.) Montalban steals the show here and he is a very large reason why TWOK works so well. Talk about having a screen presence.
Not to be outdone (naturally) is William Shatner. Like I said in my TMP review, he is one to get used to, but I feel I am already there. The greatest scene is the film is easily Kirk's confrontation with Khan via the communicator ("Khan you bloodsucker!"), and that truly is a feat. The two characters never actually meet in this scene, but through Montalban's and, dare I say it, Shatner's performances, the scene makes for one of the most memorable in sci-fi cinema. Deforest Kelley, James Doohan and the rest of the regulars are as reliable as ever, as well.
Now, here is where I may surprise some of you. I do believe there is just one major thing Star Trek: The Motion Picture did BETTER than Star Trek II - and that was create mood. TMP painted a very mysterious and almost frightening image of space, and sometimes even went out of its way to do so. It doesn't seem to me this was fully realized in The Wrath of Khan - not to say that this is a fatal flaw, but one of my reasons for enjoying TMP was its ominous and intimidating depiction of space. (Perhaps this stems from the fact that I found Goldsmith's elegantly eerie TMP score slightly more effective than Horner's bombastic one. Though TWOK's score is still great.)
Something silly, but it must be mentioned: For some odd reason I was annoyed at the reused special effects footage from The Motion Picture. Of course, this was pretty much a non issue and I understand that it was done for budgetary restrictions, but it was so damned obvious to me - particularly the reused shot of the Enterprise that was the final (and slightly iconic) shot of The Motion Picture. Did they think people wouldn't recognize that?!
In the end, however, The Wrath of Khan is an improvement over its predecessor. With a great villain, simple but engaging plot and small but effective human touches, I can fully understand why many consider TWOK to be such a classic.
1. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (Director's Edition) (1982) - 8.5/10
2. Star Trek: The Motion Picture (Director's Edition) (1979) - 7/10
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
*** - Minor revision: I'm changing TWOK from an 8 to an 8.5. The more I think about it, the better it was.