Thursday, August 06, 2009


There's a new interview with me at the Gallifrey Vortex, discussing Dr Who books. Also, I made the Dr watch Star Trek II last night.

I'd remembered it as a fast and all-action thriller. But that's not the film at all. It takes a long, long time for there to be any fighting. And then it's two rooms (or the same room redressed) of people watching a TV screen with bad reception. There's a lot of that thing I hate with Star Trek; people walking down corridors or sitting in their rooms discussing portentous morality.

Besides the large regular cast (for whom it's always a struggle to find things to do), there's a relatively small number of speaking roles and sets. Though the model shots and mattes and nascent computer graphics are all rather breathtaking, it struck me as quite a cheap movie.

So why did I remember it as so big and exciting? Because it's brilliantly written and directed, using its limited resources to best advantage. Rather than zippy dogfights in space like Star Wars (whose shadow it's clearly trying to escape), this is more old-skool naval warfare, like Master and Commander. The first engagement between the Enterprise and Reliant is all to do with the protocols of signaling not being observed - they might as well be using flags.

There's lots of manoeuvres and fleet regulations, and the ending sees the wounded Enterprise sailing into the fog to even things up with the less-wounded enemy. The tension comes from anticipation, and the Enterprise being outgunned. Kirk's enemy is better than he is. While Kirk is feeling old and needs glasses and a command, Khan is looking good for his 200 years, and showing off his pecs.

The multi-racial Federation fights Khan's Aryan gang who are all into eugenics (a modern nod; in the original TV episode Khan had black hair). While the only aliens I spotted where Vulcans and them things in people's ears, there's evidence of Star Fleet being an equal opportunities employer. There's a black starship captain and the young female lieutenant Saavik also gets command of the Enterprise. But when McCoy mutters about Spock's green blood, his colleagues just roll their eyes indulgently. He also gets away with smuggling illegal booze.

Also, this is the first time I've heard Star Fleet referred to as "the military", and David's angry reaction to Star Fleet interference suggests they already have a reputation for muscling in on science. Star Trek is not brilliant at engaging in arguments against its shiny utopia, but the weaponised potential of the Genesis torpedo made us think of debates over the Star Wars programme, though President Reagan only announced the strategic defence initiative a year after Khan was released.

There are a lot of "gosh wow" moments, but they're not at the awe of space. Kirk's mouth drops open when he sees the Enterprise again and when he sees the Genesis cave. The amazement is at man-made achievement, not at the vast, empty and dangerous frontier. The nebula, the moon and the planet we visit are all inimical to life - which makes the creation of the Genesis planet all the more of an achievement.

Space is difficult enough without a madman hell-bent on killing you. The wounds on the casualties - the burnt flesh and blood - are the most visceral I can think of in Star Trek. This continually reinforces how hard this adventure is, upping the stakes and engaging us. And then, to win victory, Star Fleet expects every man to do his duty...

Spock's logic that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one nicely sets up his death. It's also the logic of service - of a navy in space. And it's a little bit fascist (when they're fighting Aryan supremacists).

The Dr, though, was left cold by Spock's death - assuming he'd get better using his alien powers. Which is odd; I think I saw Star Trek III first and still get itchy-eyed as Spock says he has been and ever shall be Kirk's friend.

It's still, I think, the best of the Trek movies, followed by VI and XI. Which the Dr admitted she'd like to see.


Jonny Morris said...

I also watched this a few weeks ago (for the first time in about 20 years). Despite not having seen it for ages, I knew most of the dialogue off by heart from the photonovel adaptation (whatever happened to photonovels? I suppose videos killed them off). And it's always odd to see scenes you know so well in 3-D from the Viewmaster.

Agree with your comments, though I wasn't keen on Kirk's ex and son - partly because the actor playing the son was not fantastic, partly because it felt tacked-on and was blandly written, one complication too many.

Although it's a sequel to 'Space Seed', the original series episode it reminded me of most was 'Balance of Terror', as it's doing the old WWII submarine movie thing.

Apart from that moronic bit with Scotty in the water pipes, the latest Star Trek film is the best one. Followed by Star Trek IV.

0tralala said...

I don't know my old Trek well enough to know which episodes it is riffing. Should probably try to watch some more.

IV is fun but silly; VIII is also good, but nasty.

And Scotty does lots of silly things. In Khan, he brings a wounded boy up to the bridge, rather than to sick bay...

rob said...

Star Trek II isn't only the best Star Trek film, I'd say it's in the top twenty all time best films. The stakes never seemed so high, before or since.

Kirk and Khan are such fantastic opponents, locked in their struggle. I love the fact that they never meet in the film. All their confrontations are via communicators or viewing screens.

How come Khan remembers Chekov though...

rob said...
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Tara O'Shea said...

Peter was his nephew--tho most of Peter's storyline was cut. But I think it was grief that made Scotty fall apart enough to bring him to the bridge, rather than sickbay.

I also love Nick Meyer's explanation I think in commentary about how the best way to get Shatner to give a nuanced performance was to do so many takes that after a while, an exhausted Bill would just do the scene, instead of ACTING. And the result was a lovely, understated Kirk for a change.

I think most of what I think of as "classic" Trek actually comes from this film, more than the series itself.

I continue to anticipate the STXI dvd release with something akin to RELIGIOUS FERVOR. I can't get ovr how much I enjoyed it, even if fandom does make me *facepalm* a lot over certain aspects.