Stars: ***1/2 out of Four
Summary: The first reboot of ‘Star Trek’ completely reinvigorated the franchise, achieving through clever writing what couldn’t be achieved through a higher budget.
Review: Though highly successful with audiences, the previous ‘Star Trek’ film was critically disliked, provoking Paramount to restrict creator Gene Roddenberry’s access to the development of the inevitable sequel. And unlike other franchises that have been disconnected from their creators, this one definitely improved. While still being credited as “Executive Consultant”, Gene’s influence, such as restricting character conflict, was minimized. The Paramount executives brought in TV legend Harve Bennett to produce the film, using TV sets and a massively restricted budget after the previous film overspent to little effect. This meant the ridiculous amount of effects footage from the previous film would have to be recycled at certain points.
All this led to what was effectively a franchise reboot, wiping the slate clean. New uniforms were designed, sets were redressed, a new composer (James Horner) was brought in, and Trek newbie Nicholas Meyer was chosen to direct. He also helped rewrite the film, making things flow the way he wanted them to, adding more of a naval feel to Starfleet that reverberate throughout each subsequent film and series.
Instead of the philosophical bent of ‘The Motion Picture’, ‘The Wrath of Khan’ became centered around character conflict, with themes such as age, death, revenge, regret, and self-sacrifice. Instead of the misguided threat of V’Ger from ‘The Motion Picture’, the direct, malevolent threat of Khan was reintroduced, having been set up for a reappearance by an episode of the television show. Khan never met Kirk face to face during the film’s events, but he managed to have great chemistry with his nemesis anyway.
By far the most controversial decision was to kill off the beloved character of Spock, as the actor wanted to leave ‘Star Trek’ and the filmmakers felt it would add the needed weight to make the film’s themes run full circle. In short, it worked, and the actor chose to return in the next installment.
With a very direct plot thread and nearly constant suspense, the film succeeded in every way that ‘The Motion Picture’ failed, becoming the first true classic of ‘Star Trek’ and becoming the high mark of the entire franchise, though I personally enjoy Meyer’s second ‘Star Trek’ feature better.
Not just a good ‘Star Trek’ film, but a great film in general. One hopes that the latest ‘Star Trek’ reboot can live up to the first.