Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Wrath of Khan: A Father's Day Gift

Finding Common Ground Through Star Trek

Written by Matt Giles
Edited by Erin Accomando

Back when I thought I was too cool to sit down with my old man and watch Star Trek, my father attempted to connect with me by showing me one of his favorite movies: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. I've always been close with my dad but somehow I have the "movie gene" and he has everything else, thus creating a bit of a disconnect between us. Star Trek was a way to bridge that gap, as I had grown up watching Star Trek: The Next Generation, as well as all of the Next Generation movies that followed, and he was a fan of the original series. The irony was that watching the original crew wasn't the "cool" thing to watch, even though I thought watching The Next Generation was. Even if I was still a nerd, at least I was a modern-day nerd. Or so I thought.

It was years after this first unsuccessful attempt at watching Wrath of Khan that I revisited the film and came to understand my father's love and appreciation for it. I realized that my dad knew what he was talking about (not that I ever should have doubted him) and that he was trying to show me something about movies: If a certain genre of film feels foreign or seems like something you'd never be interested in, remain open-minded and get out of your comfort zone because you may find something truly special. Isn't this why we go to the movies in the first place?

Older, and less concerned with what other people thought of my love for Star Trek, I was disappointed in myself for being so closed off when we first watched Wrath of Khan. This is a movie so full of heart that anyone who isn't a fan of Star Trek would still enjoy it. The film deals with the themes of life, death and rebirth; growing older and rediscovering one's true passion; friendship and loyalty; self sacrifice; and what it means to be human. All of these elements make what ends up being an action packed, suspenseful thrill-ride of a movie. For anyone who's not a fan of Star Trek, and for all the other skeptics out there, Wrath of Khan is a lesson in great filmmaking.

It's not necessary to revisit the original series to appreciate the story in this film. However, it's a lot of fun to go back and see how Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and Khan (Ricardo Montalbán) first met and enjoy how it all sets up the events that unfold in Wrath of Khan. In the original series episode "Space Seed", The Enterprise finds a derelict spaceship, The SS Botany Bay, with about seventy passengers who have all been cryogenically frozen for two centuries. The Enterprise crew ends up reviving Khan, who happens to be the leader of these yet unknown people. It's discovered late in the episode that they are a type of genetic supermen, created during the last major war of the twentieth century for the purposes of securing peace among the nations. Instead, they ended up trying to take over the world and were exiled in a cryogenic sleep onboard the SS Botany Bay. The episode ends with Kirk exiling Khan and his men on the planet Ceti Alpha V, where they can create and command their own new world. At least that's what Kirk thinks.

Wrath of Khan picks up fifteen years after these events, where it's discovered that Ceti Alpha V was left in ruins shortly after Khan was marooned. (The nearby planet Ceti Alpha VI exploded and shifted the planet's orbit.) Khan is hell bent on destroying Kirk, and thanks to a chance encounter with one of Kirk's men, Chekov (Walter Koenig), Khan basically succeeds. Meanwhile, Kirk, now much older, questions his place in life with his newfound promotion to Admiral. He feels old and tired, longing for some kind of purpose. It's in these moments, as well as his conversations with Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and Bones (DeForest Kelley), that the film finds it's heart. Even without knowing anything about the original series, this film does an amazing job of establishing who these characters are and emphasizing the friendship between Kirk and Spock, making the ending of the movie that much more heartbreaking.

Every time it's on television my eyes are glued to the screen. Every time the credits role I smile, thinking of my dad and how he introduced me to a show, as well as a series of films that I will always cherish. My dad taught me an amazing lesson with Star Trek. This was a rare show that chose an optimistic view of the future: civilizations working together; sexism and racism being something of the past; and an enthusiasm for exploring and discovering 'strange new worlds'. It was very much ahead of its time and maybe, to a degree, still is.

I've wanted to write about Star Trek and specifically Wrath of Khan for some time and I could not think of a better opportunity than to do so by honoring my dad on Father's Day. Despite our differences, we're very close and it's because of this relationship that I not only love Star Trek, but also any movie with a really good father/son story to tell. Yes, I get weepy when fathers and sons hug in movies; yes, one of my favorite movie lines of all time comes at the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, when, after a whole movie of Indy (Harrison Ford) begging his father Henry (Sean Connery) to call him Indiana instead of junior, Henry, during a literal life and death situation says, "Indiana, let it go." What can I say except, "I blame my father".

My dad gave me the gift of Star Trek and a way of approaching movies that I'll always be grateful for. While we may struggle at times to find common ground, we'll always have Star Trek to talk about.

So to my father, and all of the other fathers out there, Trekkies or not, Happy Father's Day. 'Live Long And Prosper.'

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