So, there’s snow on the ground, the girlfriend’s out and there’s beer in the fridge. What’s a nerd to do? Yep, movie marathon!
This time, the Spock Trilogy. For the uninitiated (shame!), the Star Trek films Wrath of Khan, Search for Spock and The Voyage Home form a trilogy and continuing storyline. So, the perfect alternative to Star Wars for a snowy day.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is, quite simply, one of the best science fiction films ever made. Action-packed, dramatic, everything its predecessor wasn’t. The original Star Trek movie was a 45-minute television script stretched out into two and a half hours of arse-numbing tedium. Hence it being known as Star Trek: The Slow-Motion Picture. The sequel, on the other hand, ditched pseudo-2001-style arty cobblers for good solid drama and spaceships fighting. We find a somewhat superannuated Jim Kirk lamenting his promotion to desk-jockeying admiral; the Enterprise under Spock’s command as a training ship and the crew dispersing to other things. But Chekov’s accidental discovery of genetically engineered über-bastard Khan Nooian Singh, marooned on a dead planet and itching for retribution on the Kirk who put him there, sets the scene for a massive barney.
Khan ambushes the Enterprise, crippling her engines and only pausing to gloat at Kirk. Jim, knowing something about how spaceships work, manages to fight back and cripples the Reliant, Khan’s stolen ship. The rest of the film centres around Khan’s attempt to seize the Genesis Device, a prototype instant terraforming process that can either turn a lifeless world into a paradise or simply disintegrate the biosphere of an inhabited world and create a new one. We meet its creators, one of Kirk’s ex-girlfriends and his son, leaving us to conclude that Carol Marcus was the only woman in the galaxy who wasn’t on the pill. Kirk and Khan have a colossal space battle in a nearby nebula, leading to Khan’s defeat when he forgets that spaceships can go up and down as well as side to side. Missing half a face, and possessing an ability to cling to life like the Energiser Bunny, Khan sets off the Genesis Device to take the Enterprise out in the ensuing explosion. Spock then volunteers himself to walk into a radiation-filled chamber, repair the leak and reconnect power to the engines. Our heroes of course escape, but unfortunately Spock is now dying of radiation poisoning. In an emotional funeral that even makes Vulcan lieutenant Saavik cry, Spock’s corpse is torpedoed onto the surface of Genesis, the planet created by the explosion. A strangely cheery Kirk and company then bugger off.
Although I do love this film, there’s a few problems (inevitably). Rumours abound that Leonard Nimoy had fallen out massively with producer Harve Bennett some years earlier while on set and only agreed to return to the role of Spock when director Nicholas Meyer proposed he have a ‘beautiful death scene’. Nimoy agreed, but enjoyed making the film so much that right at the end he asked if a way could be found to make Spock’s death somewhat less permanent. So, we get a scene of Spock plonking his hand on an unconscious McCoy’s face and telling him to ‘remember’. Bit of a clunky plot device but it brings us nicely to part two. Or part three, depending on how you wanna look at it.
The Search for Spock is truly the Ronseal of filmmaking. McCoy starts acting strange; Kirk and Spock’s dad Sarek determine that Spock downloaded a copy of his memory into Bones’s head and he now has multiple personality disorder; the crew then rally round, half-inch the Enterprise and fly it to Genesis to recover Spock’s body. In the meantime Scotty has sabotaged the only other ship in Earth orbit, Uhura has pulled a gun on a junior officer, Sulu beat up a policeman and Chekov hung around in the background not doing very much. But those dastardly Klingons have got wind of a weapon that could wipe out an entire planet and also head to Genesis, blowing up the USS Grissom and stranding Saavik and Kirk’s son David on the surface where they have found that Spock’s corpse has reanimated and reverted to childhood. As you do.
So, they searched for Spock and found him. Unfortunately he is ageing at an accelerated rate, as is the Genesis planet, since David messed up the design of the Genesis Device. Spock’s advanced ageing means that he comes into pon-farr (read: into heat) and so Saavik boinks the teenager who is simultaneously one week and 50 years old, in order for him to get it out of his system. They end up captured by the dastardly Klingons just as Kirk and co show up. After a brief bout of space fighting the Klingon ship is heavily damaged but the near-knackered Enterprise finally gives up the ghost when Scotty’s spit-and-chewing-gum repairs to the computer go pop. When the dastardly Klingon commander Kruge (or a pre-Back to the Future Christopher Lloyd) has David killed to prove a point Kirk surrenders, sets the auto-destruct and abandons ship. Most of the Klingon crew are taken out when they board the Enterprise, leaving the crew on the surface of a dying planet. Kirk radios Kruge and offers him the ‘secret of Genesis’ if he brings them aboard; instead he beams everybody but Kirk and Spock up and comes down himself. We then witness the most unlikely fist-fight in cinema history: Christopher Lloyd vs. William Shatner, ending when the Shat kicks Doc Brown into a volcano. Kirk then pretends to speak Klingon, gets himself and Spock beamed up and scarper in the enemy ship, just as Spock reaches the age he was before. On Vulcan the combined talents of Dame Judith Anderson and a couple of dozen pointy-eared extras extract Spock’s memories from Bones’s head and stick them in the now blank slate Spock. So Spock is now back but the Enterprise has been blown up and the crew are in some rather deep shit with Starfleet.
Despite the old adage that every odd-numbered Trek movie sucks, Spock isn’t actually so bad. Bit plodding in places but nowhere near as bad as the appalling mess that is The Slow-Motion Picture. Saavik pulling the young, blank-minded Spock is a bit of a weird turn, bordering on the disturbing. But it gave us the first glimpse of the brilliant USS Excelsior model and, along with its predecessor, can claim to one of the two most shocking scenes in Star Trek history. Killing off a major established character like Spock was an insanely bold move, whether or not it was later reversed. Regular characters died in subsequent series and movies but none had that jarring resonance of such a loved character painfully dying of radiation poisoning. Yes they reversed it with this film, but blowing up the Enterprise frankly took balls the size of space hoppers. Killing off Dax or Data made no difference since you already knew both would come back, hell even destroying Vulcan didn’t have the same impact on an audience. The simple fact remains, after this film Star Trek was never quite so daring again.
Which brings us to that great old Trek standby, the reset button. Personified here in the form of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. When a giant alien probe approaches Earth, draining power from every machine, ionising the atmosphere and broadcasting a strange wailing noise at the oceans, only Kirk and co, taking their captured Klingon Bird-of-Prey back home to stand trial for theft, sabotage, assault and anything else they can think of, have the only non-drained ship. Determining that underwater the alien signal becomes whalesong, they head back in time to capture a breeding pair of now-extinct humpback whales.
Arriving in 1986, the crew find a suitable pair of whales in a San Francisco aquarium (as you do). While Kirk and Spock try to sweet-talk one of the researchers into helping them, with varying degrees of success, Scotty tries to build a giant tank in the Bird-of-Prey with help from Bones and Sulu, while Chekov and Uhura go on the lookout for a nuclear reactor to steal fuel from. While Kirk’s chat-up lines fall dead on 20th Century ears and Spock weirds out the natives, Uhura and Chekov try to board the USS Enterprise while in harbour and harvest her reactors for isotopes Scotty can use to fix their ship’s engines. Uhura escapes but Chekov gets captured.
This being the height of Reagan-era Cold War paranoia it’s automatically assumed that Chekov is answering to the Evil Red Empire and is as mad as a badger when he talks about Starfleet. An escape attempt lands him in hospital with a head wound, leading Bones to try to save him by posing as a regular doctor. Badly. One comedy chase scene later and everybody is back in the ship, searching for the whales that in the meantime have been released into the wild. The crew save the whales from a boat of rampaging Norwegians, beam them aboard and head back to the future (hmm, there’s a film in that). Arriving back in 2285 the ship ditches in San Francisco bay, the whales tell the probe to bugger off and everyone’s happy.
Well, nearly. The crew go on trial and, since they have saved the world from the consequences of a voracious Japanese appetite, all charges are dropped. Kirk gets demoted to Captain and a new ship now renamed Enterprise. So the gang’s all back together on the Enterprise, Kirk no longer has a son and it’s time to head out into the great black yonder again.
So, we’ve gone full circle: from an ageing Kirk with an adult son, a crew drifting apart; to the destruction of the Enterprise; to everything being back to the way it was before. Yeah, the reset button is one of my personal bugbears in science fiction but here it seems to work. The crew are reunited and sent on their way. Technically this film could lead straight into the superlative Star Trek VI, but unfortunately Paramount opted to let the Shat have access to the director’s chair first. Oh dear…