Many a Monster Kid who lived through the ’80s would attest to the fact that 1982 was a good year for movies. A very good year. Just a sampling of the enduring genre film goodness that came out almost four decades ago — many now considered to be classics — includes E.T. the EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL, POLTERGEIST, THE THING, BLADE RUNNER, CONAN THE BARBARIAN, PINK FLOYD – THE WALL, CREEPSHOW, THE DARK CRYSTAL, TRON, and STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN.
THE WRATH OF KHAN ranks as one of my all-time favorite films, and is generally considered to be the best TREK film ever made. After the release of 1979’s STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE — a plodding, intellectual, unemotional epic (that I happen to really like) that was more 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY than STAR TREK — many thought the film franchise rebirth of Gene Roddenberry’s iconic ’60s TV series was D.O.A. and would not get another big-screen opportunity to right itself. But with executive producer Harve Bennett on board alongside new franchise director Nicholas Meyer (who made another one of my favorite films, TIME AFTER TIME, in 1979), TREK got a whole new look and feel and managed to capture the right formula this time; the sense of fun, humor, adventure and excitement that made the original series a favorite of fans the world over.
During my days working at ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT, I gleefully raided the ET vault for vintage set-visit video of THE WRATH OF KHAN for its 30th anniversary to assemble a tribute “flashback” video and was not disappointed. I found footage of Ricardo Montalban as Khan Noonien Singh — along with Khan’s rag-tag Botany Bay crew on the bridge of the U.S.S. Reliant — in a pivotal battle scene with the Enterprise; some moments with William Shatner as Kirk, Leonard Nimoy as Spock and Kirstie Alley as Saavik on the Enterprise set; one-on-one interviews with DeForest Kelley (McCoy), Meyer, and Bennett; and a real piece of Trekkie gold: Nimoy’s final moments on the set when he was wrapped from WRATH OF KHAN, smiling broadly and hugging numerous friends amid claps and cheers.
Interestingly, it was a candid DeForest Kelley that confessed his surprise to be standing on the Enterprise set again so soon after the less-than-stellar reception of STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE. “I thought after the other one that perhaps it would be a long time, if indeed we did one at all again,” he told ET. “This one came as quite a surprise. But I feel real good about this one. This one is really into the STAR TREK feeling like the old show had, naturally on a motion picture basis, but it seems like everybody is working well together and it’s a very exciting script and we all feel very good about it.”
Asked how the revival of STAR TREK (in syndication and on the big screen) had changed his life, DeForest Kelley ruminated, “The show is such a phenomenal thing that I think I have experienced something that very few actors really have experienced… It’s almost an indescribable feeling the way it seems to affect the people all over the world.”
Meyer, who later returned to direct the original casts’s 1991 swan song, STAR TREK VI: THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY, said in the 1981 ET interview that he was not especially familiar with Roddenberry’s classic series, and had only seen SPACE SEED, the episode that introduces Khan, along with only a handful of other episodes. “I’m not terribly interested in science fiction myself, but I’m very interested in interpersonal relationships, and that’s what this movie’s about,” said Meyer, who was setting out to make a more “sophisticated” and “perhaps a little more daring” version of Roddenberry’s “wagon train to the stars.” Amazing, when you think about how effectively he recaptured all the best elements of the show for one rollicking adventure. A fan of Horatio Hornblower, Meyer was keen to translate the TREK elements into a more nautical structure, rather than a western in space, focusing on the structure of command and the rules of engagement.
Bennett, meanwhile, admitted that his TREK background was “zero” and had a lot to learn, but he had already learned the difference between the terms “Trekkie” and “Trekker,” and singled out STAR TREK as a show that was “ahead of its time” and was “above the cut of television then, and it remains that way. That’s why people are so crazy about it.”
UPDATE: ET has removed the “flashback” video of STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN that I put together, so I cannot share it with you here. However, I’ve discovered this vintage ET segment about the film, which is just as fun in a time-capsule way (especially with the piece introduced by a loopy Sally Kellerman):