Thursday, May 27, 2004

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Henslowe: Mr. Fennyman, let me explain about the theatre business. The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to immense disaster...
Fennyman: So what do we do?
Henslowe: Nothing. Strangely enough, it all turns out well.
Fennyman: How?
Henslowe: I don't know. It's a mystery.

Shakespeare in Love: Screenplay by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard

The heart of the Star Trek film series featuring the original cast is now known simply as The Trilogy: the three movies that tell a continuous story, or rather a set of adventures with a continuing story running through them. It begins with '>Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, which sets up the next two films brilliantly, while containing an exquisitely balanced and satisfying set of multiple themes and story lines, all of which contribute to the next two films and resonate throughout the series.

An innocent viewer might reasonably conclude that the death of Spock in Star Trek II and his rebirth in '>Star Trek III:The Search for Spock, then his renewal, reunion and reintegration with the crew in '>Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, were all planned from the beginning. The stories flow so perfectly, so dramatically. The Genesis Planet (where life is generated with astonishing rapidity) in Trek II is an obvious setup for the regeneration of Spock's body when his coffin is launched to its surface, and Spock momentarily whispering in McCoy's ear ("Remember") just before his suicidal self-sacrifice to save the Enterprise is tailor-made for some sort of soul transference.

So what brilliant mind thought this up? Who is responsible for this creative leap, this masterful design and intricate planning?

Well, nobody. Nobody at all. Except maybe Carl Jung, in thinking up the idea of synchronicity. Or Tom Stoppard, for explaining it all with the above quote.

The reality is that neither a painstakingly forged outline nor even a flash of genius was responsible for this perfect arc. What created this epic adventure was a combination of mixed emotions, miscommunication, suspicion, sudden inspiration, accident, improvisational skill and blind luck. And...the mystery.

For not only was there no trilogy planned as Star Trek II was being developed, there was no plan to match the two most crucial story lines that worked perfectly together to make the sequels possible, as well as to make this one of the best Star Trek and best science fiction adventure films of all time.

Those story lines were thrown together independent of each other. And each of them was the product more of happenstance and improvisation than of brilliant creative forethought and conceptual design. The creative brilliance was there, of course, but it got expressed in the process, and as a cumulative, interactive effort by the people involved. They not only pulled a good movie out of a hat, but one that generated more stories, and also became the salvation of a saga.

But when it all started, the only sequel anybody had in mind was Star Trek II itself---as the sequel to an episode of the TV show.

It certainly wasn't the sequel to Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Though that picture had eventually made a bundle for Paramount---which of course is why a second film was contemplated---almost everybody involved in it was unhappy with it, and the studio thought it had cost way too much.

Gene Roddenberry as executive producer got most of the blame, though some feel it was the studio itself that had inflated the cost: first by including everything spent on the TV series that was dumped in favor of the feature, and then by promising exhibitors a release date that necessitated lots of extra bucks going to several effects houses simultaneously to get the effects done in time. Director Robert Wise was unhappy with the resulting film (which he finally got to finish for the DVD version) and the actors, particularly Leonard Nimoy, were unhappy with the process and the result. Nimoy was especially upset with the emphasis on spectacle and machinery, the confusing story and especially the editing out of interpersonal sequences he and William Shatner had devised to both save the story and return their relationship to its expected prominence. (Again, scenes that were properly restored in the DVD.)

All of this resulted in three initial moves: a new producer named by the studio, the search for a new director, and Leonard Nimoy's reluctance to sign on to play Spock (by some accounts, his refusal.)

It should be said at this point that over the years there have been various accounts of how this film was put together. The "Director's Cut" DVD provides the latest versions (in director Nicholas Meyer's commentary, and the interviews in the documentary made for the DVD release), which differ from, and sometimes contradict earlier accounts. I'll try to indicate what those differences are, since they add to the weird mythos of this film.

text continues after photos...

1 comment:

Buzz said...

This is the best Terk film ever...!

Hail from Brazil...!