"The Wrath of Khan"
By Eric 'Renderking' Fisk, Rindge NH (Originally published on
The Indy Experience in 2002)
I’m going on a limb here as I set out to write my next review by featuring a motion picture outside the normal boundaries of my usual criteria. Usually I only review movies that were either the inspiration for current period films, or in someway capture the essence of adventure and discovery. One of my major boundaries were that all the movies I review must either take place in the decades leading up to, during or after World War 2. If not, the movies must take place in the here and now. I vowed never to review Science Fiction movies that take place in the future in fear of breaking the Raiders Karma. The whole idea of “flicks to hold you over” is to find movies that remind you of the bare bones, threadbare, gimmick free exploits during a time when men wore suits and hats… not polyester jumpers and molded aluminum fittings. To repent of breaking my vow or self imposed rules, I’ll do 3 Humphrey Bogart’s, All the Thin Man’s and the two Tom Clancy movies starring Harrison Ford. (I’ll even do Hanover Street if I can find a copy to refresh my memory.)
Anyway… both Wrath of Khan and Raiders bare quite a few similarities and were both released from Paramount a year apart, and both had F/X done by ILM. I know it’s a stretch…
One of the other reasons why Wrath of Khan is because of the rich history… Much like Lucas and Spielberg, Gene Roddenberry was hooked on serial movies and SF pulp anthology magazines of his era. Roddenberry had it in his head that he would someday he would create a Science Fiction venue where he could tell morality tales. After work on a few movies and television shows, the World War II hero in the Army Air Corps, Pan-American pilot, police and freelance writer officer finally got the go-ahead for his own series that he sold as “’Wagon Train’ to the stars.” The rest of his story is a study on how one man’s idea can become diluted then polluted by know-nothing studio executives whose only concern was selling commercial airtime and appeasing the censors. What could have been one of the greatest Television series using a starship as a metaphor for the American experience became a laughing stock about men in funky colored velour uniforms and cheep effects. If not that, then about obsessive rabid fans who trivialized the message by being preoccupied over factoids such as the combination to the captain’s safe.
Return to Its Essence...
After the success of “The Motion Picture” (good, not great) the studio pundits had the nerve to make another movie in the "Star Trek" franchise. What would been the second and last movie, all the stops were pulled. The thought was that If it was going to be the last time the crew would get together, everything that could have been done would now be done (short of an all out war with the metaphorical representatives of the Cold War Soviet Union, the Klingons).
I’ll spare you the elaborate story on how Nicholas Meyer took the helm, but it was his fresh approach to The Franchise as an outsider-turned-Director and as an unaccredited screenwriter (With Harve Bennett) that made the movie a classic. Not only did they make a classic, but also they saved the franchise. Meyer’s whole approach to the Franchise was to make The Wrath of Khan more like the real U.S. Navy; more like the “Horatio Hornblower” that was one of the original inspirations of Roddenberry’s. Unlike the previous movie, one could feel the cold depths of space; the starship feels more like the real thing and not just a set on the Paramount lot. With little extra detail, changes in lighting and new costumes, the whole experience feels more nautical. What’s more, Meyer seemed to “get it” more then many of the people around him. Meyer had a better idea of what The Franchise was supposed to be, even though he had yet to meet Roddenberry until after they wrapped production.
The Wrath of Raiders Connection...
Believe it or not, The Wrath Of Khan bares some striking resemblance to Raiders. The first is about the search and recovery of an object like the Ark, an item of unspeakable power that has the ability of giving life or take it away on huge scale, and it even has a biblical name. The Lost Ark of this movie is the Geneses Device.
Wrath of Khan and Raiders also have a main character dealing with a reconcilable past, a long lost lover who returns into his life as part of the quest of the powerful artifact, at least one close steadfast companion/sidekick. (One of the reasons why both Spock and Sallah work as sidekicks is the simple fact neither are there for show or for laughs. If anything, they’re interracial parts of the story and the heroes may not have succeeded with out them.) While both objects are found after deductions that are both lucky and inspired genius, Both hero’s of these films are someone lovable losers who have the objects they’re chasing after stolen form them right after being recovered. Both movies climax with the incredible unavailing of the powerful and destructive forces, both movies end on Melancholy notes that still seem to inspire wonder. If anything, Wrath of Khan is the Naval Space Opera version of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Both Wrath of Khan and Raiders of the Lost Ark represent a better time for Paramount, a brief hey-day that would later prove to be one of the most successful periods of the Studio’s history.