I had this CD once upon a time. Great music and it kind of covers you for a couple of Horner-scored movies as he tended to reuse many themes.

The Plot: Admiral James T. Kirk is recalled from his dreary office job to the field when his old nemesis Khan stirs up some real trouble. Caught up in the mix are his estranged lover and son, Carol and David Marcus, creators of a highly dangerous weapon called the Genesis Device. Eventually, Khan is defeated but Kirk has to confront loss of a type he’d never experienced before. But in spite of this, he leaves the movie hopeful, having gained a son and some hard-won wisdom out of it.

What Doesn’t Work: Not much. My gripe with the movie is more about how it’s become reduced to a formula for Star Trek movies, which isn’t the fault of the movie itself. At this point I don’t really find Khan all that compelling as a character–there’s not a lot of subtext to him, it’s all kind of there on the surface, and after a couple of watches you just get it–but this doesn’t really hurt the movie at all, as I’ll explain.

What Does WorkStar Trek: The Motion Picture was the Die Another Day of Star Trek movies. It did pretty well at the box office, but the executives realized that if they didn’t right the ship quickly, the franchise was in serious danger. And that is exactly they did. Nicholas Meyer does an extremely effective job here both as a writer and a director, making pretty much all the exact opposite choices as the prior installment, resulting in probably still the all-time best Star Trek movie.

What is The Wrath Of Khan about? Death. Kirk and Khan represent the thesis/antithesis in reactions to death. Khan losing so many of his people–more accurately, not being able to save them–has fundamentally broken him even before the movie started. The only way he can keep himself going is to put the blame elsewhere and channel his bitterness toward Kirk. Kirk, ultimately, confronts much the same situation in the movie’s climax, unable to avoid losing his best friend. But he winds up the stronger for it, properly grieving and growing as a person. To me, the key scene isn’t Spock’s death but the scene between Kirk and his son David after the funeral. Kirk’s devastation is profound, he resists consolation, but ultimately he is able to accomplish what Khan could not and find true redemption in what I find to be an extremely moving scene with emotional complexity you don’t often see in Star Trek (or anywhere else).

Unlike The Motion Picture, this movie does have a theme. The script is very strong structurally and thinks through all the details. Even the Macguffin-y Genesis Device kind of plays into the theme as well. But even with a different plot and villain, the movie would still work, as that’s not the stuff that makes it great. The movie’s many subsequent imitators don’t seem to understand that this is, ultimately, a character-based movie with a universal theme. I don’t think that Khan is what makes it work, as the many subsequent pseudo-Khans have shown. It’s not the revenge theme, it’s not the (admittedly extremely tense and well-done) ship combat that still looks good today. The movies that have followed this formula to a T have failed because what makes this work is the focus on character and theme, which fundamentally cannot be turned into a formula. It’s the human element of it. It’s why the ripoff of the aforementioned David scene at the end of Star Trek Nemesis falls flat, and it’s why the ripoff of the death scene in Star Trek Into Darkness is unintentionally hilarious. We’ll get to those later. We’ve seen all the elements put together in many other forms but none of the imitators can match the humanity of the original. Meyer simply tells a resonant human story with universal themes, which also happens to involve spaceships and aliens. It’s a profound achievement.

Honestly, there’s really not that much I have to say about this one. It’s hard to write really positive reviews!

Legacy: Huge, perhaps almost too high as it deters people from taking risks with the franchise, though it really is quite excellent.

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