When Star Trek: The Motion Picture debuted in December of 1979, many fans were disappointed by what they saw on the big screen. While Kirk, Spock, and the rest of the Enterprise's crew were presented in larger than life fashion, The Motion Picture was a relatively ponderous affair that spent more time watching ships travel the galaxy than actually doing anything interesting. It was Star Trek -- just Star Trek minus many of the things that made the original series so beloved. This didn't stop Paramount from going back to the drawing board, though. For the 1982 sequel, they booted series creator Gene Roddenberry and restored the adventure elements sadly missing from the original film. The result was The Wrath of Khan -- a title that is arguably the greatest movie in the Star Trek canon -- and a quintessential summer movie experience thanks to its blend of large-scale action set pieces and nifty (for the time) visual effects. Star Trek II had a story, but it wasn't particularly deep -- a perfect example of the "shut off your brain" mentality that has come to characterize films released between early May and late August.
The sequel is a follow up to the episode Space Seed, where Kirk squared off against Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalban and his hair). Khan and his followers wound up exiled on Ceti Alpha V, but The Wrath of Khan picks up 15 years later, with the crazy villain hellbent on getting revenge against Kirk.
The reasons why The Wrath of Khan is so revered are numerous. It builds on a great episode of the original series, it feels a lot more like the Star Trek we all knew and loved, Shatner and Montalban chew scenery like it was a two dollar steak ... the list goes on and on. The Wrath of Khan captures everything that was so great about the original show and blows it up for the big screen.
How do you pick one great scene from a film like this? Truthfully, it's nearly impossible. Shatner and Montalban alone provide a dozen classic moments between them. From Kirk infamously screaming, "Khaaaaaan!" at the top of his lungs to Leonard Nimoy's tear-inducing final moments, this is one of those flicks film geeks and sci-fi fans can reminisce over for days.
In the scene I've chosen, we get to see Kirk and Khan meet up for the first time. Khan's taken control of the USS Reliant and lures Kirk in close enough to blast the Enterprise with the Reliant's weaponry, disabling the Enterprise. Khan then makes contact with Kirk and demands the Genesis program -- a terraforming technology that can make uninhabited planets livable.
Shatner and Montalban exchange lines, each actor apparently attempting to one-up the other on the over-the-top scale -- and I say that with pure admiration. Shatner and Montalban are the best part of this entire movie. I love when Khan mentions that Klingon proverb for revenge is that it's a dish best served cold, then adds, "It is very cold ... in spaaaaaace." Classic. This is particularly interesting since Shatner and Montalban have no scenes together physically. In fact, they shot their sequences roughly four months apart. Getting back on topic, Kirk -- ever the space cowboy, buys time for the crew while Spock finds the Reliant's prefix code. When entered, this code will allow the Enterprise to override the Reliant's controls, thereby lowering their shields so Kirk can give them a heaping helping of starship phasers.
This scene stands out for a number of reasons -- the aforementioned interaction between Shatner and Montalban, plus the way each actor gets their own moment to shine (Montalban's facial expression when his subordinate tells him the shields are down is priceless). Kirk is still the risk-taker we all know and love, but it's funny to see him older and a little less brash -- and stopping to put on his eyeglasses so he can read the Reliant's prefix code in the first place. If that weren't cool enough, we get appearances by Spock, Uhura, Mr. Sulu, and Scotty. All we needed was Bones to come along with a one-liner and this could have been the greatest scene ever. The scene ends with Kirk showing some humility, being embarrassed at getting "caught with his pants down" and surmising that he must be getting senile.
Wrath of Khan was an interesting moment of evolution for James Tiberius Kirk -- we see the Admiral is still stubborn and headstrong, but he's also a little wiser and humble too. It's these little character nuances -- hidden amongst all the macho bravado -- that help make this scene and The Wrath of Khan so memorable.
Check out the clip below and reminisce about your favorite Khan moments in the comments section.