Star Trek: Wrath of Khan - the greatest science fiction film

02 March 2023

Some may say Godfather 2 is the greatest sequel of all.

Maybe Aliens over Alien.

Back to the Future II.

Terminator 2 over the first outing. 

The Empire Strikes Back...

These people know nothing. 

Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan is the greatest sci-fi film sequel of all.

Let's discuss.

"The Wrath of Khan" was directed by Nicholas Meyer (The Undiscovered Country), who also co-wrote the screenplay with Jack B. Sowards. The film was released in 1982 and is widely considered to be the high watermark of the Star Trek franchise, as well as one of the greatest science fiction movies of all time.

The movie was a direct sequel to the original Star Trek series episode "Space Seed," + The Motion Picture which aired in 1967. "Space Seed" introduced the character of Khan Noonien Singh, a genetically-engineered superhuman who had been exiled from Earth in the 20th century. In "The Wrath of Khan," Khan returns as a bitter and vengeful villain seeking revenge against Captain James T. Kirk, whom he blames for the death of his wife.

wrath of khan

One of the themes that "Space Seed" explored was the dangers of playing God with genetics and human evolution, which was a hot topic during the time of the episode's production. "The Wrath of Khan" continued to explore this theme, as well as other themes such as aging, mortality, and the importance of friendship and sacrifice.

Critics and audiences praised the film's tightly plotted script, which featured strong characterizations and emotional depth. The performances of the cast, including William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and Ricardo Montalban as Khan, were also widely acclaimed.

The film's iconic scene involving the Ceti eels is one of the most chilling moments in Star Trek history.

It totally freaked me out as a kid and this moment is seared into my brain. 

In the scene, Khan places the eels in the ears of Captain Terrell and First Officer Chekov, causing them intense pain and the eels force them to do Khan's bidding. This scene effectively demonstrated the villainous nature of Khan and his willingness to use any means necessary to achieve his goals. The scene was considered so disturbing that the film was initially given a PG-13 rating instead of a PG rating.

The horror, the horror...

chekov ceti eel
Chekov is about to make a new friend...

Interestingly, Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, was initially involved in the production of "The Wrath of Khan" but was eventually forced out due to creative differences with Meyer and the studio. Some early drafts of the script were titled "The Omega Syndrome" and "The War of the Generations," but Meyer ultimately settled on "The Wrath of Khan."

Production Notes

The production design of "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" was led by Production Designer Joseph R. Jennings and Art Director Nilo Rodis-Jamero. The film had a relatively modest budget for a science fiction film at the time, but the production team was able to create an impressive array of sets and special effects that gave the film a cinematic feel.

The film's sets included the iconic bridge of the USS Enterprise, which was redesigned to look more realistic and functional than the original series version. The bridge featured more advanced computer displays and controls, as well as a more detailed layout that gave the impression of a real-life spaceship.

The film's special effects were also noteworthy, especially considering the limitations of the technology available at the time. The most notable effect was the Genesis Device, a weapon that could create life on dead planets. The device was created using a combination of practical effects and optical compositing, and it remains one of the most memorable special effects in the Star Trek franchise.

In terms of filming, "The Wrath of Khan" was shot on location in California and at Paramount Pictures' sound stages. The film was shot using traditional 35mm film, with the special effects shots being created using a combination of models and blue screen techniques.

The filming process was not without its challenges. The film's climax, which involved the destruction of the USS Enterprise, was particularly difficult to film. The production team had to create multiple models of the ship and rig them with explosives to simulate the ship's destruction. The scene required precise timing and coordination to ensure that the explosion effects matched the models and footage.

Despite these challenges, the production team was able to complete the film on time and within budget. The film's impressive production design and special effects helped to create a cinematic experience that was well-received by audiences and critics alike.

The beautiful death of Spock

Spock's death scene in "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" is one of the most emotional moments in the entire Star Trek franchise. The scene is a culmination of Spock's arc throughout the film, as he sacrifices himself to save the crew of the Enterprise and stop Khan from using the Genesis Device as a weapon.

The scene is set in the engine room of the Enterprise, where Spock and Kirk have a final conversation before Spock enters a chamber to repair the damaged warp drive. As Spock works, he is exposed to high levels of radiation, and Kirk is forced to watch helplessly as his friend and beloved friend dies.

The impact of Spock's death on audiences and fans of the franchise was significant. For many viewers, Spock was a beloved character who had been a part of the franchise since its inception. His death was a shock and a gut-punch, but it also resonated on a deeper level, as it represented the loss of a friend and the ultimate sacrifice.

The production design of the death scene was relatively simple, but effective. The engine room was designed to be a claustrophobic and cramped space, which added to the tension and emotional weight of the scene. The use of lighting and camera angles also helped to create a sense of isolation and sadness.

The filming of the death scene was challenging for the actors, especially for William Shatner, who had to convey Kirk's anguish and grief without overacting. Leonard Nimoy's performance as Spock was also noteworthy, as he had to balance Spock's logical nature with the character's emotional journey throughout the film.

It was a tear-jerker of a scene for sure. Grown men openly wept in theatres. 

The scene was shot over the course of several days, with the radiation chamber being filmed separately from the wider shots of the engine room. The use of practical effects, such as the flashing lights and smoke, helped to add to the sense of danger and urgency.

Overall, Spock's death scene in "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" remains one of the most iconic moments in the Star Trek franchise, and it continues to resonate with audiences today. The scene is a testament to the power of storytelling and the emotional impact that can be achieved through effective production design and filmmaking techniques.

Here are some additional bits of trivia and facts about "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan":

  1. The film was released on June 4, 1982 and grossed over $97 million at the box office, making it one of the highest-grossing films of that year.
  2. Director Nicholas Meyer was not a fan of Star Trek before he was approached to direct the film. He agreed to direct only if he was allowed to make the film more character-driven and less reliant on special effects.
  3. The film's score was composed by James Horner, who used a mix of orchestral and synthesizer music to create a unique and memorable soundtrack.
  4. In the film, Khan quotes the famous line "From hell's heart I stab at thee" from Herman Melville's novel "Moby-Dick." The line is a reference to Khan's obsession with revenge.
  5. The film's climax, in which the USS Enterprise is destroyed, was intended to be a commentary on the disposable nature of technology and the idea that people should be valued more than machines.
  6. "The Wrath of Khan" was the first Star Trek film to use the now-iconic logo featuring the Enterprise in front of a starfield.
  7. The film's success helped to revitalize the Star Trek franchise and paved the way for future films and television series.
  8. The famous line "KHAAAAN!" was actually added to the script after William Shatner suggested it during filming.
  9. The character of Carol Marcus was originally intended to be a minor role, but was expanded during filming due to the chemistry between actress Bibi Besch and William Shatner.
  10. The film was shot primarily on location at various Los Angeles landmarks, including the Japanese Garden at the Tillman Water Reclamation Plant, and the Vasquez Rocks.
  11. The scenes in the Mutara Nebula were shot using a combination of smoke, mirrors, and backlighting to create a sense of depth and texture.
  12. The animatronic model of the Ceti eel used in the film was created by special effects artist Carlo Rambaldi.
  13. The line "I have been, and always shall be, your friend" was ad-libbed by Leonard Nimoy during filming.
  14. The film's opening sequence, in which the USS Enterprise is hijacked by a rogue Starfleet officer, was inspired by the real-life story of the USS Pueblo, a U.S. Navy intelligence ship that was captured by North Korea in 1968.
  15. The model of the USS Enterprise used in the film was actually a modified version of the original model used in the 1960s TV series.
  16. The character of Lt. Saavik was created as a replacement for Lt. Ilia, the female character from the first Star Trek film.
  17. The film was nominated for two Academy Awards, for Best Art Direction and Best Visual Effects.
  18. The film's budget was relatively low for a Hollywood blockbuster, at just over $11 million.

In conclusion, "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" is widely considered to be the best Star Trek film because of its strong writing, themes, and performances, as well as its ability to effectively build upon the original series episode "Space Seed." 

The film has become a beloved classic and continues to be celebrated by fans and critics today. Check out the bloody good sequel that followed, The Search for Spock. 


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About the author Jimmy Jangles

My name is Jimmy Jangles, the founder of The Astromech. I have always been fascinated by the world of science fiction, especially the Star Wars universe, and I created this website to share my love for it with fellow fans.

At The Astromech, you can expect to find a variety of articles, reviews, and analysis related to science fiction, including books, movies, TV, and games.
From exploring the latest news and theories to discussing the classics, I aim to provide entertaining and informative content for all fans of the genre.

Whether you are a die-hard Star Trek fan or simply curious about the world of science fiction, The Astromech has something for everyone. So, sit back, relax, and join me on this journey through the stars!
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