Tuesday, June 05, 2007

From Hell's Heart, I Stab At Thee

Where were you 25 years ago this week? Perhaps you were lining up around the block to see STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN, which opened nationwide in 1621 theaters on June 4, 1982. It was the #1 film at the box office, making more money than ROCKY III and POLTERGEIST, which also opened June 4, and it was the #6 money-making movie of the year, behind E.T., TOOTSIE, AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN, ROCKY III and PORKY'S and just ahead of 48 HRS., POLTERGEIST, THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS and ANNIE. Obviously, 1982 was an excellent year for movies, and STAR TREK II's quality is such that it is not out of place among the Top Ten.

For some reason, 1979's STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE, which also opened at #1 and eventually earned more at the box office than even STAR TREK II, was considered a flop, so Paramount undertook the sequel with trepidations, slicing the budget by over half, changing the costume design, and ensuring the story was packed with action and a villain the audience could identify with. Drawing from the 1967 TV episode "Space Seed," STAR TREK II brought back actor Ricardo Montalban as megalomaniac Khan Noonian Singh, who escaped from the prison planet to which he had been exiled and began his mad pursuit of revenge against the man who had sentenced him: Admiral James T. Kirk (William Shatner).

Considering I don't think Paramount has ever produced a good trailer for a STAR TREK movie, STAR TREK II mainly earned its financial plaudits through excellent word-of-mouth, plenty of writeups in the sci-fi magazines of the era (such as STARLOG), and the enormous publicity generated by pre-release rumors that fan favorite Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) would die in the film. Spock's demise was on the lips of every SF fan during the summer of 1982, and though the rumors were proven true, there was little doubt that the stage was set for Spock's resurrection in STAR TREK III.

Here's the theatrical trailer for STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN, which I believe to be one of the greatest science fiction films ever made, jammed with action and suspense, an excellent score by James Horner, well-mounted visual effect setpieces, and terrific performances by Shatner and Montalban, whom I still believe deserved Oscar consideration. Strangely, though the inferior STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE was nominated for three Academy Awards, STAR TREK II earned none.

Also worth noting is that William Shatner had two films in the Top Ten this week in 1982. While STAR TREK II sat on top of the charts, VISITING HOURS, a Canadian-produced slasher movie with an ace cast including Lee Grant, Linda Purl and Michael Ironside, was the #6 movie at the box office.


Robert said...

It's a great movie no matter how you perceive it - as science fiction, as adventure, or even as a character drama. I saw the first four STAR TREK films at the exact same theater - auditorium one of the sadly extinct Lougheed Mall - in big screen glory, and in fact saw the second film with my Dad. The perfect venue for this film.

The odd thing is the genesis (no pun intended) of STAR TREK's big screen presentation. Originally the resurrection of TREK was to be for TV. When shifted to the feature film wing it was modestly budgeted at $4 million, to be directed by Philip Kaufman. The budget progressively grew, Kaufman was replaced by Robert Wise, more than $4 million was squandered in an initial special effects debacle that saw the eleventh hour involvement of Douglas Trumbull & John Dykstra to save the day....and that modest budget swelled to a then-gargantuan $42 million. Even though the movie made money it was not the STAR WARS type hit Paramount had salivated for, and when STAR TREK II did arise it was once again farmed back to the television division. Harve Bennett was a small screen vet, and he was now the man in charge. The budget on the second venture was $12 million. Despite the dramatic restructuring it succeeded magnificently, both due to Bennett's commitment to the film and most certainly due to Nicholas Meyer's vision for the type of story he wished to tell. Both men also deeply believed in the characters and gave the actors the material they really deserved to work with.

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