Sunday, November 22, 2015

Don't...Make a...Scene: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn

The Set-Up: Noel Coward said, "It's extraordinary how potent cheap music is."

Just so.

With that in mind
, I wanted to do a "Star Trek" scene. There could be only a couple of the movies I'd want to pick from: II (The Wrath of Khan) and IV (The Voyage Home),* both with scripts partially written by Nicholas Meyer, who, before directing and scripting II, had never watched "Star Trek," was mildly contemptuous of it, and still managed to breathe new life into it.** His scripts are witty, mildly respectful but not afraid to shake things up and give the cliches a fresh perspective.

But, the death of Ricardo Montalbán tore it. It had to be this deliriously put together confrontation-that's-not-a-confrontation between "old friends" Captain Kirk and Khan Noonian Singh. Both performers are gleefully chewing their respective sceneries in this: Montalbán, teeth-bared like an irritated badger, hissing across the light-minutes; and William Shatner, in full vein-popping, eye-bulging fury, taunting his nemesis even though he's trapped in the middle of an asteroid. Shatner's...ex-cesses as are...very well...documented. But, here he boldly goes where he's never gone before (And Meyer hilariously compounds it by taking his overblown screams and echoing them far off into space. In space no one can hear you scream, unless...of course, you're William...Shatner).

"It's extraordinary how potent cheap music is."

But give everybody credit. This scene is so ludicrously over-the-top, it works!*** Shatner's histrionics energizes the movie at a fairly dull spot in the proceedings, and keeps the thing afloat, amping up the competition between Kirk and Khan**** to a boiling point that hooks the audience to anticipate how it'll all come out. A few minutes later, Shatner will do some of the best acting in his career (the quiet "worn-out" scene with Bibi Besch), but here he and Montalbán give the movie so much juice, they make the movie...and "Star Trek" again.

That was the problem with Star Trek: The Motion PictureGene Roddenberry was so mired in his self-promoted "Trek-philosophy" and Paramount Studios so respectful of the property that had seemingly infinite "legs," that they treated it like it was Holy Text, rather than a swashbuckling space knock-off of "Horatio Hornblower." In Khan, they toss out the Meaning Of It All, and let the photon-torpedoes fly. I hate to admit it as much as I love the genre, there has to be a certain amount of pulp and cheesiness to science fiction to keep it from becoming just equations...and the occasional extended ship landing.

(And I have the added advantage here of including more than just the dialog—I had access to the full script by Meyer and others—and it's entertaining to see his scripted directions with the screen-captures)

Shatner can be a blow-hard (it's like he took the Horatio Hornblower metaphor a little too literally). He has made a resurgent career out of being "Mr. Dynamic Reading" for quite awhile now—but you gotta hand it to him: he has a special genius for longevity, whether using his self-mocking image, his rather contemptuous siphoning of "Trek" profits with his "own" line of books, or his bizarre, though measured, Emmy-winning turns as "Denny Crane" on the late lawyers-on-crack series "Boston Legal."

And, also, it should be noted that when J.J. Abrams and band did their own version of Star Trek IIInto Darkness—they couldn't help themselves bringing back Carol Marcus (in the form of Alice Eve) and evoking...this very...scene, but giving the line to Zachary Quinto's Mr. Spock. It was only effective in reflection.

The Story: It is a dark time for the Galaxy. The exiled leader of a race of super-humans, Khan Noonian Singh (Ricardo Montalbán), has escaped his prison-planet and hi-jacked the Federation science ship, the U.S.S. Reliant. With it, he's lured his arch-enemy, Admiral James T(iberius) Kirk (William Shatner)and his ship, the U.S.S. Enterprise into a death struggle, which has nearly crippled both ships. Now, the Enterprise limps to a research station orbiting a dead asteroid, trying to ascertain what has happened to the Reliant's crew and the researchers (including–natch!–an old flame of Kirk's) who've abandoned the station.

Phasers on Stun! Annnd....Action!

120 EXT. SPACE - THE PLANETOID REGULA 120 CAMERA MOVES TOWARD it as the BEAM SOUND continues, with irregularity. The planetoid is ugly and dead. The sound frightens us, and climaxes with:
121 INT. ROCKY CAVERN - REGULA 121 The BEAM SOUND screeches, then settles into its comfortable mode as the FIVE FIGURES FLUCTUATE. FADE, then APPEAR. They look around in wonder and relief.
SAAVIK Admiral -
She indicates something O.S. They cross as CAMERA REVEALS a cave wall stacked with technical materials and crowned by a LARGE PROJECTILE, a giant version of the model we saw earlier. They stare, (N.B. FEATURE GENESIS ARMING CONTROL BOX.)
BONES Genesis, I presume?
They walk by a group of crates. It all happens very fast: David leaps out and tackles Kirk, throwing him to the ground and landing atop him, a knife at his throat. At the same time, Bones and Saavik reach for their phasers, but Jedda, already armed, steps out. He has them covered and helpless.
JEDDA Phasers down!
122 DAVID (to Kirk) You!
KIRK Where's Doctor Marcus?
DAVID I'm Doctor Marcus!
Carol reaches the tunnel entrance to the cave -

KIRK Is that David?
DAVID Mother! He killed everybody we left behind.
CAROL Oh, of course he didn't. David, you're just making this harder -
TERRELL I'm afraid it's even harder than you think, Doctor.
He and Chekov have their phasers trained on them.

TERRELL (continuing) Please don't move -
KIRK Chekov - !
CHEKOV I'm sorry, Admiral.
Terrell speaks into his wrist recorder.

TERRELL Your Excellency, have you been listening?

CAMERA PANS along Khan's arm to wrist radio and up to his face.
KHAN I have indeed, Captain.

KHAN'S VOICE You have done well.
DAVID I knew it! - You son-of-a...

David makes a reckless bread for Terrell, Saavik instantly throws herself on him bringing him down as Terrell fires,...
...hitting Jedda, who was behind David - a killing ray. Jedda dematerializes. Carol SCREAMS and David reacts with horror and guilt. Most importantly, Chekov begins to tremble. Terrell himself is shaken by his reflexive action. He's in semi-panic.
TERRELL Don't move - Anybody!

KHAN'S VOICE Captain? We are waiting.
125 INT. RELIANT BRIDGE - FAVORING KHAN 125 Joachim over his shoulder. Others in evidence. Khan speaks into the console.

KHAN What's the delay?

TERRELL All is well, sir. You - you have the coordinates to beam up Genesis...

KHAN First thing's first, Captain. Kill Admiral...

Reactions by all - only Kirk and Bones are unsurprised. David and Saavik, dazed, fight the urge to do something. Chekov is close to a seizure. Terrell fights conflicting mental signals.

TERRELL'S VOICE Sir, that is difficult. I try to obey, but...
KHAN Kill him!


As though tearing off a leach,, Terrell grabs at the wrist recorder and flings it to the ground.
A shockwave of pain hits Terrell. He recovers, trembling and tries to obey. Chekov is shaking badly. Terrell aims his phaser at Kirk. Chekov slowly raises his phaser and aims at Terrell, though his hands are like lead. We THINK Chekov is going to do the right thing. Then, shockingly: Terrell turns the phaser on himself.

KHAN'S VOICE (still emanates from wrist recorder) Kill him, Terrell. Now.
Terrell does, blowing himself into oblivion.
74.131 ANGLE - FAVORING CHEKOV 131 He SCREAMS, horribly, drops his phaser, clutching his head. Bones leaps to his side, pulls an injection device from his belt pack, jabs it into Chekov's arm. Chekov, almost with a sigh of relief, drops.
BONES God sakes!

They rush to his side, as do Carol and David

From the fallen man's ear, something begins to emerge.
133 VERY CLOSE - CHEKOV'S EAR 133 The Ceti eel crawls out. It has grown quite large.134 LOW ANGLE - KIRK 134 Horror from all. Kirk picks up a phaser. As the eel clears Chekov, he fires and destroys it.
He shudders, then sees the wrist recorder and grabs it.
KIRK Khan, you dirty bloodsucker!!


KIRK'S VOICE You're going to have to do your own dirty work now! Do you hear me?! Do you?!
Khan reacts to Kirk's VOICE: electric shock. he clutches the communicator, his eye-whites rolling.
KHAN Kirk! Kirk, you're still alive - my old friend...

KIRK Still 'old friend.' You've managed to kill just about everyone else.

KIRK'S VOICE But like a poor marksman, you keep missing the target.
KHAN (ironic) Perhaps I no longer need to try.

He punches several buttons.
138 INT. ROCKY CAVERN - REGULA 138 In the rocky cavern the transporter beam locks on to the Genesis torpedo and it's arming control box. As Kirk and the other watch, horrified, Khan beams up the materials. David tries to reach the torpedo, but Saavik holds him fast -
DAVID No - he can't take it - !
The beam disappears and Genesis with it, leaving them alone.

KIRK (desperate) Khan, Khan, you've got Genesis...

KIRK'S VOICE ... but you don't have me! You were going to kill me, Khan! You're going to have to come down here! You're going to have to come down here!
KHAN I've done far worse than kill you. I've hurt you.
KHAN And I wish to go on hurting you. I shall leave you, as you left me -

KHAN'S VOICE ... as you left her. Marooned for all eternity in the center of a dead planet -

KHAN Buried alive!

KHAN'S VOICE Buried alive!
KIRK Khan!
143 EXT. REGULA PLANET SURFACE 143 CAMERA PULLS UP and BACK over rocky surface.

INT. RELIANT BRIDGE 144 Khan closes his eyes in voluptuous satisfaction.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Words by Jack B. Sowards, Harve Bennett and Nicholas Meyer

Pictures by Gayne Rescher and Nicholas Meyer

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is available on DVD from Paramount Home Video.

* There were a couple scenes from IV I'd like to have done: Kirk's pizza dinner with Gillian–"No, I'm from Iowa. I only work in outer space" (not enough meat to that scene) and the oddball by-play of Kirk and Spock in the truck–the rhythm of which would be lost on the printed or pixelated page (Nevertheless, I did do that last one and I'll present it when the time is right).

** Meyer is still working in Hollywood, as one of the better script-doctors, having recently written two Philip Roth adaptations The Human Stain and Elegy, as well as the "Houdini" mini-series

*** I'll always remember going to the press premiere (at the late, lamented John Danz Theater) and as the credits rolled, looking up at the loges and seeing the then-movie critic of the Seattle Times, John Hartl, staring incredulously at the screen, not fathoming how the audience could have enjoyed this flick. He panned it.

**** And, again, I have to point out just what a difficult task it was to keep the rivalry believable, as Shatner and Montalbán were never on the same stage at the same time. The two actors took different tacks, but kept the competition alive between the characters each on their own.

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