Monday, June 04, 2007

June 4th, 1982

"At the end of the universe lies the beginning of vengeance!"
It was an overcast evening when Chris Richmond, George Withers and I pulled up to the Pembroke Cinema in George's 78 Impala - affectionately nicknamed "The Boat". We took the stairs two at a time, threw open the doors and asked for tickets to the 7:10 showing.
It was sold out.
Undaunted, we bought our tickets and sat down on some benches and prepared to wait the 2+ hours for the next showing. While we sat we talked about our expectations for the movie. "This one looks different." "Could it be better than the first movie?" "Do you really think he dies?" After a while the Burger King across the street beckoned to us. "Quarter Pounder with cheezzzze - come on over!" We were in the middle of deciding which one of us was going to make the food run when the portly theater manager shuffled over to say hi.
"You guys are real fans, huh?"
"Oh, yeah," we replied. "We missed the first show, though..."
"No problem, guys. Run over to BK and get something to eat."
"Nah," I said. "We want to keep our place in line.
The manager laughed. "Its no problem. I'll make sure you guys get in first. Go on - eat!"
Armed with assurances, we crossed Route 139 (never recommended at any time) and ordered food. My usual at BK? A Quarter-Pounder with Cheese (no tomato, extra onion), a large fries, onion rings and a large drink. I have no idea what George and Chris got, although George's order was usually "Hamburger. Plain. Nothing on it."
We ran back to the cinema, food in hand, to find that a line had formed. We took our seat on the benches and geeked out for another half hour or so, while we chowed. Finally, the first show was let out. By the time we finished eating, it was getting close to our showtime, so we got up and made our way to the head of the line. Some old guy (late 20's easy) said, "Hey. The line forms in back!"
We ignored him.
He raised his voice a bit and repeated himself. As I turned to say something to him the manager came out of nowhere and got right in this guy's face, stating "These guys have been waiting here since 7 o'clock. They're going in first" at which time he threw open the double doors with flourish and allowed us into the show - 2 minutes before everyone else entered. We strategically located ourselves six rows from the front in the center seats and sat down to finally - FINALLY - see our movie. The lights dimmed, the sound came up and the time had come.
Star Trek II - The Wrath of Khan had begun.

For the next 113 minutes I sat transfixed - in awe, really - of this film. This was a character driven film, made obvious by the fact that as the movie begins Admiral James T. Kirk is spending his 52nd birthday reviewing a training exercise. As expected, Lieutenant Saavik has lost the "no-win" Kobayashi Maru scenario, "a test of character" rigged so that every cadet fails. When she questions her performance, Kirk assures her that "A no-win situation is a possibility every commander may face." Further, he counsels, "How we deal with death is at least as important as how we deal with life." Little does Kirk know that he will soon face his own "no-win scenario". Outside the training room, Kirk thanks Captain Spock for his birthday gift - an antique copy of A Tale of Two Cities.
Wow! In 15 minutes we had more characterization than in all of Star Trek - The Motion Picture.
Gone were the lifeless sets and performances from Star Trek - The Motion Picture. In its place was fantastic Enterprise bridge, Kirk's apartment in San Francisco, Romulan Ale ( for "medicinal purposes"), The Kobayashi Maru scenario, Lieutenant Saavik, (She has pointy ears and she said "Damn"! What's up with that?) the "red jacket" uniform (a red double-breasted tunic over a color-coded turtleneck shirt), the USS Reliant (first time a different starship design was ever seen on-screen), Project Genesis being run by molecular biologist Dr. Carol Marcus (Kirk's old flame??), her son, David Marcus (guess who dad is?). Chekov's realization that he and Captain Terrell were on the "Botany Bay" and, finally, Khan.

Khan steals the Reliant, eager to claim Project: Genesis as his own. Admiral Kirk and the Enterprise are responding to the distress call from Dr. Marcus and meet Khan en route. Kirk ignores standard starship protocols and Khan unleashes hell upon the unshielded Enterprise. I watched transfixed - in horror - as phasers sliced through the unprotected hull of the Enterprise.
This was new.
Before this film I had never seen the physical scarring resulting from this type of damage. We’d never seen the ship in pain. We’d never seen “cool” space battles resulting in burned and bloodied crewmen on Star Trek before. What used to be fun was now a bit scary - and I loved it.

Kirk used a little-known trick to fight off the Reliant and limps back to Regula 1 and Project: Genesis. I won't bore you with all the details but the movie climaxes with a battle inside the Mutara Nebula, where Kirk subsequently outmaneuvers Khan by taking advantage of all three dimensions of space. The scene where the Enterprise and the Reliant are stalking each other is very reminiscient of a WWII Destroyer seeking a submarine that is running silent. It was a tense, edge-of-your-seat fight, made even better when Kirk finally outmaneuvers Khan and the Enterprise rises up from behind the Reliant, ready to strike.
The audience went wild with applause, even as Horner's score rose higher and higher to drown us out.
As an aside - This was the first movie soundtrack that I ever purchased. The James Horner score is markedly different from Jerry Goldsmith's score for Star Trek - The Motion Picture, switching from Goldsmith's dark, heavy themes to a sound evocative of seafaring and swashbuckling. Horner has said that when he wrote the score he envisioned the Enterprise not as a space ship, but as a mighty sailing ship at sea during the Napoleonic era and that he wanted the music to reflect two ships at sea in a fight to the death. The opening and closing titles also feature the return of the well-known Star Trek theme. The music absolutely helped raise this film to new heights.
With the Reliant disabled and about to be boarded, Khan sets the Genesis Device to detonate. The Enterprise lost warp power in the initial battle, and on limited impulse, has no chance to escape.
Kirk calls down to Engineering. "Scotty. I need warp speed in three minutes or we're all dead."
Spock, unnoticed in the desperation, goes down to Engineering. He is about to enter the reactor room when McCoy stops him, saying "No human can tolerate the radiation that's in there!" Spock replies that as McCoy himself frequently points out, he isn't human; he then distracts McCoy and nerve-pinches him, apologizing that he has "no time to discuss this logically." Pressing his hand against McCoy's forehead to initiate a mind-meld, Spock intones "Remember". Spock then enters the room and successfully makes repairs amidst heavy radiation streams.
On the bridge, a cadet monitoring the Engineering station announces that the main engines have come back online. "Bless you, Scotty! Go, Sulu!" With seconds to spare, Kirk orders Commander Sulu to engage the warp engines, and the Enterprise narrowly escapes just as the Genesis Device detonates.
As Kirk would soon learn, it wasn't Scotty who saved the ship; it was Spock. Kirk races to engineering, arriving only in time to exchange a few brief words with his former first officer and closest friend. After Spock satisfies himself that the ship is out of danger, he states that it was "logical" because "the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few." Spock then declares his friendship for Kirk, offers the traditional Vulcan greeting ("Live long and prosper") and then dies. The two men, seperated by the glass of the chamber, sat as mirror images of each other.
It was heartbreaking. As was Spock's brief memorial service and his "burial at sea" as Scotty played "Amazing grace" on the bagpipes and Kirk declared "Of all the souls that I have encountered on my travels...his was the most human."
The final scene on the Enterprise features a captain's log voice over entry by Kirk (indicating the Enterprise will head to Ceti Alpha V to rescue the Reliant's stranded crew), followed by a brief conversation between Kirk, McCoy, and Carol on the Enterprise bridge as they wistfully watch the new Genesis Planet on the view screen. Both the log entry and the conversation are steeped in symbolism, and muse provocatively about how Spock's death may not be an end:
Kirk (voice over): "Captain's log, star date 8141.6. Starship Enterprise departing for Ceti Alpha V to pick up the crew of U.S.S. Reliant. All is well. And yet I can't help wondering about the friend I leave behind. 'There are always possibilities,' Spock said. And if Genesis is indeed life from death, I must return to this place again."
McCoy: "He's really not dead, as long as we remember him."
Kirk: "'It's a far, far better thing I do than I have ever done before. It’s a far better resting place that I go to than I have ever known.'"
Carol: "Is that a poem?"
Kirk: "No. Something Spock was trying to tell me on my birthday."
McCoy: "You okay, Jim? How do you feel?"
Kirk: "Young (voice cracking). I feel young."
We see the surface of the new Genesis planet, with Spock's torpedo tube lying in a clearing in the middle of one of the newly created forests. Then, at the end, the Genesis planet and its primary sun are shown, with a voiceover from Spock saying those immortal words:
"Space...the final frontier. These are the continuing voyages of the starship Enterprise. Her on-going mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life-forms and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone... before."
The audience applauded loud and long. We were stunned by Spock's sacrifice even as we immediately began to discuss the possibilities that Kirk mentioned. Could Spock somehow be alive? What about Kirk's son? What would become of the Enterprise now? The mind boggled. Even as the movie ended I knew that I had seen magic.
We drove home eagerly anticipating our next viewing of this movie. I would go on to see "The Wrath of Khan" four more times that summer. I watch the movie yearly. This is one of my all time favorite movies and I saw it for the first time on June 4, 1982.
The Wrath of Khan is in some ways a story of Kirk's mid-life crisis. Unsure of his place in the world, unable to break out of his rut as an admiral, it takes his encounter with Khan and his assumption of responsibility for an untried crew to show him where he truly belongs. Unfortunately, the price is high.
Ultimately the film is about life, death, and rebirths, and the relationships between two generations: Kirk with David, his son; Scotty with Peter Preston, his nephew; Spock with Saavik, his protege; and Khan with Joachim, one of his henchmen.
The Kobayashi Maru test is representative of the no-win scenario. As a cadet, Kirk essentially cheated by secretly reprogramming the simulator so that he could win. In doing so, he missed the whole point. Kirk has made a career of being able to gamble and win, of outwitting his opponents and always having a clever, ingenious trick up his sleeve, even when his opponent is smarter and stronger than he. Kirk himself sums it up: "I've cheated death, tricked my way out of death, and patted myself on the back for my ingenuity. I know nothing." Because of this, he feels that he has never truly faced death because he has been cheating it all his life. Spock's ultimate sacrifice taught him the true lesson of the Kobayashi Maru test: "How we face death is at least as important as how we face life."
A lot has changed in my life since 1982. And, 25 years later, I’m finally beginning to appreciate my age ("it’s not the years, it’s the mileage" - name the movie!). I’ve seen friends come and go, and people I cared for - family and friends - have left me for the Undiscovered Country. I think about life, death, and the universe a bit more these days – how they relate to each other, and how I understand very little about what comes next.
25 years later and I still don't have all the answers. I never will. However, I believe in the message that I learned all those years ago - "There are always possibilities."
I didn't understand that in 1982. I see it much more clearly in 2007.
There are always possibilities.


Blogger FoxInDetox said...

Raiders of the Lost Ark... Indiana to Marion: It's not the years,'s the milage" of my favorite lines.

You don't disappoint, my friend...that's for sure.
Great post.

1:15 PM, June 05, 2007  
Blogger Andy said...

Glad you liked it, Kathy. Heck, I'm glad that anyone even takes the time to read these ramblings of mine...

1:31 PM, June 06, 2007  
Blogger Cynthia said...

Excellent geekification!! Wish I had been there with you, though it would not have been the fabulous dude fest it was.

One of these days it would be great to watch a Star Trek movie with you and friends. There's nothing like riffing on a beloved movie!

(I got the Indiana Jones reference, but Kathy beat me to it.)

4:03 PM, June 06, 2007  
Blogger Andy said...

A "Star Trek" get-together sounds like fun, Cindy! Although, I'm guessing that Kathy would pass... :-)

11:17 AM, June 07, 2007  
Blogger FoxInDetox said...

Kathy is going to kick you ass if you don't write more about Scotland. I'm living vicariously through you...waiting to hear about the "favorite day" of the trip and you're throwing Captain mean Kirk in my face. I don't care if it's been a couple of weeks since you got back and you're over it. I'm not over it yet! Waaaaaaah!

I never pass... my life is just that dull. (no offense)

9:11 AM, June 08, 2007  
Blogger Andy said...

I'm pleased to say that I am almost done with the next Scotland post. Stay tuned!

11:50 AM, June 12, 2007  

Post a Comment

<< Home