5 February 2013

STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN (Dir. Nicholas Meyer, 1982, US) - No Win Scenarios

Kirk and Spock say farewell.
Released in the summer of 1982 alongside substantial science fiction films like E.T., Blade Runner, Tron and The Thing, Star Trek 2 is one of my favourite American science fiction films of the 1980s. Re-watching the film on the big screen again with a full audience, many of them fans crystallised the numerous reasons why this film is still the best entry in the Star Trek film franchise. Shakespearean revenge narrative is a thematic interest of Meyer’s contribution to the Star Trek films and Khan’s egomaniacal quest to avenge his exile by Kirk produces a highly emotive central conflict rooted in a history that lurks back to the TV series. Khan is a formidable yet quietly poetic enemy who quotes Shakespeare, espousing a ‘superior intellect’ mocked by Kirk for its political naivety and resorting to jeopardising the wellbeing of his entire crew solely at the expense of massaging his ego. The conflict between Khan and Kirk is framed against a wider philosophical subtext centring on the creationist genesis device. It is the creationist theme of birth that clashes so dramatically with the constant grappling with death that gives the film a particular narrative intensity, tapping into a simplistically emotive universal dilemma of the battle between birth and death. If the Federation is an appealing concept, with obvious origins in the United Nations, then its founding principles of tolerance, understanding and logic find their clearest expression in Spock, the character who has defined Star Trek for over fifty years. Given Spock’s Otherness, his status as an outsider makes him infinitely more sympathetic, problematic and interesting than the rest of the crew members. However, it was in Spock’s death scene in The Wrath of Khan that saw a total endearment to fans since the selfishness of his sacrifice reduces the humanity of Kirk to a mere illusion. Kirk’s ‘cheating of death’ is manifested in the metaphor of the Kobayashi Maru which tests the resolve of new cadets. We discover later that Kirk cheated by re-programming the test since he does not believe in a ‘no-win scenario’. However, Kirk’s limitations as a captain are not a result of his egotistic flaws but simply when faced with certain death his status as a human becomes tragically apparent. In many ways, this was the Star Trek film that many fans had hoped for from the disappointing first film and thankfully it was significant enough to sustain interests in an enduring and intelligent science fiction franchise.


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