Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982 Movies)
Director:- Nicholas Meyer
Jack B. Sowards
Music by:- James Horner
June 4, 1982
Country:- United States
Budget:- $11.2 Million
Box office:- $97 Million
In the year 2285, Admiral James T. Kirk oversees a simulator session of Captain Spock‘s trainees. In the simulation, Lieutenant Saavik commands the starship USS Enterprise on a rescue mission to save the crew of the damaged ship Kobayashi Maru. When the Enterprise enters the Klingon Neutral Zone to reach the ship, it is attacked by Klingon cruisers and critically damaged. The simulation is a no-win scenario designed to test the character of Starfleet officers. Later, Dr. McCoy joins Kirk on his birthday; seeing Kirk in low spirits, the doctor advises Kirk to get a new command and not grow old behind a desk.
Meanwhile, the USS Reliant is on a mission to search for a lifeless planet for testing of the Genesis Device, a technology designed to reorganize matter to create habitable worlds for colonization. Reliant officers Commander Pavel Chekov and Captain Clark Terrell beam down to the surface of a possible candidate planet, which they believe to be Ceti Alpha VI; once there, they are captured by genetically engineered tyrant Khan Noonien Singh. Fifteen years prior (see “Space Seed“), the Enterprise discovered Khan’s ship adrift in space; Kirk exiled Khan and his fellow supermen to Ceti Alpha V after they attempted to take over the Enterprise. After they were marooned, Ceti Alpha VI exploded, shifting the orbit of Ceti Alpha V and destroying its ecosystem. Khan blames Kirk for the death of his wife and plans revenge. He implants Chekov and Terrell with indigenous creatures that enter the ears of their victims and render them susceptible to mind control, and uses the officers to capture the Reliant. Learning of Genesis, Khan attacks space station Regula I where the device is being developed by Kirk’s former lover, Dr. Carol Marcus, and their son, David.
The Enterprise embarks on a three-week training voyage. Kirk assumes command after the ship receives a distress call from Regula I. En route, the Enterprise is ambushed and crippled by the Reliant, leading to the deaths and injuries of many trainees. Khan hails the Enterprise and offers to spare Kirk’s crew if they relinquish all material related to Genesis. Kirk stalls for time and uses the Reliant’s prefix code to remotely lower its shields, allowing the Enterprise to counter-attack. Khan is forced to retreat and effect repairs, while the Enterprise limps to Regula I. Kirk, McCoy, and Saavik beam to the station and find Terrell and Chekov alive, along with slaughtered members of Marcus’s team. They soon find Carol and David hiding deep inside the planetoid of Regula. Khan, having used Terrell and Chekov as spies, orders them to kill Kirk; Terrell resists the eel’s influence and kills himself while Chekov collapses as the eel leaves his body. Khan then transports Genesis aboard the Reliant. Though Khan believes his foe stranded on Regula I, Kirk and Spock use a coded message to arrange a rendezvous. Kirk directs the Enterprise into the nearby Mutara Nebula; static discharges inside the nebula render shields useless and compromise targeting systems, making the Enterprise and the Reliant evenly matched. Spock notes however that Khan’s tactics are two-dimensional, indicating inexperience in space combat, which Kirk then exploits to critically disable the Reliant.
Mortally wounded, Khan activates Genesis, which will reorganize all matter in the nebula, including the Enterprise. Though Kirk’s crew detects the activation of Genesis and attempts to move out of range, they will not be able to escape the nebula in time due to the ship’s damaged warp drive. Spock goes to the engine room to restore the warp drive. When McCoy tries to prevent Spock’s entry, as exposure to the high levels of radiation would be fatal, Spock incapacitates the doctor with a Vulcan nerve pinch and performs a mind meld, telling him to “remember”. Spock successfully restores power to the warp drive and the Enterprise escapes the explosion, though at the cost of Spock’s life. The explosion of Genesis causes the gas in the nebula to reform into a new planet, capable of sustaining life.
After being alerted by McCoy, Kirk arrives in the engine room and discovers Spock dying of radiation poisoning. The two share a meaningful exchange in which Spock urges Kirk not to grieve, as his decision to sacrifice his own life to save those of the ship’s crew is a logical one, before succumbing to his injuries. A space burial is held in the Enterprise‘s torpedo room and Spock’s coffin is shot into orbit around the new planet. The crew leaves to pick up the Reliant‘s marooned crew from Ceti Alpha V. Spock’s coffin, having soft-landed, rests on the Genesis planet’s surface.
- A Starfleet Admiral and former commanding officer of the Enterprise. Kirk and Khan never confront each other face-to-face during the film. All of their interactions are over a viewscreen or through communicators and their scenes were filmed four months apart, although a draft script had Khan defeating Kirk in a swordfight. Meyer described Shatner as an actor who was naturally protective of his character and himself, and who performed better over multiple takes.
- A genetically enhanced superhuman who used his strength and intellect to briefly rule much of Earth in the 1990s. Montalbán said that he believed all good villains do villainous things, but think that they are acting for the “right” reasons; in this way, Khan uses his anger at the death of his wife to justify his pursuit of Kirk. The film was close to production approval when it occurred to the producers that no one had asked Montalbán whether he was interested in appearing in the film despite his character having been in the scripts for more than a year. Montalbán was unsure whether he could plausibly play Khan again after many years, especially given his current role of Mr. Roarke on Fantasy Island. Contrary to speculation that Montalbán used a prosthetic chest, no artificial devices were added to emphasize Montalbán’s muscular physique, since even in his 60s and despite an increasingly painful back injury, stemming from being thrown off a horse in the 1950s, Montalbán had a vigorous workout routine. Montalbán enjoyed making the film, and counted the role as a career highlight. His major complaint was that he was never face-to-face with Shatner for a scene. “I had to do my lines with the script girl, who, as you might imagine, sounded nothing like Bill [Shatner],” he explained.
- Nimoy had not intended to have a role in The Motion Picture‘s sequel, but was enticed back on the promise that his character would be given a dramatic death scene. Nimoy felt it was logical that as Wrath of Khan would be the final Star Trek film, having Spock “go out in a blaze of glory” would be an appropriate way to end the character.
- The Enterprise‘s chief medical officer and a close friend of Kirk and Spock. Kelley was dissatisfied with an earlier version of the script to the point that he considered not taking part. Kelley noted his character spoke many of the film’s lighter lines, and felt that this role was essential in bringing a lighter side to the onscreen drama.
- The Reliant‘s first officer and a former Enterprise crewmember. During filming, Kelley noted that Chekov never met Khan in “Space Seed” (Koenig had not yet joined the cast), and thus Khan recognizing Chekov on Ceti Alpha did not make sense. Star Trek books have tried to rationalize this discrepancy; in the film’s novelization by Vonda N. McIntyre, Chekov is “an ensign assigned to the night watch” during “Space Seed” and met Khan in an off-screen scene. The non-canonical novel To Reign in Hell: The Exile of Khan Noonien Singh explains the error by having Chekov escort Khan to the surface of Ceti Alpha after the events of the television episode. The real cause of the error was a simple oversight by the filmmakers. Meyer defended the mistake by noting that Arthur Conan Doyle made similar oversights in his Sherlock Holmes stories. Chekov’s screaming while being infested by the Ceti eel led Koenig to jokingly dub the film Star Trek II: Chekov Screams Again, in reference to a similar screaming scene in The Motion Picture.
- Paul Winfield plays Reliant captain Clark Terrell; Meyer had seen Winfield’s work in films such as Sounder and wanted to direct him. Meyer thought in retrospect that the Ceti eel scenes might have been corny, but felt that Winfield’s performance helped add gravity.
Principal photography began on November 9, 1981, and ended on January 29, 1982. The Wrath of Khan was more action-oriented than its predecessor, but less costly to make. The project was supervised by Paramount’s television unit rather than its theatrical division. Bennett, a respected television veteran, made The Wrath of Khan on a budget of $11 million—far less than The Motion Picture‘s $46 million. The budget was initially lower at $8.5 million, but it rose when the producers were impressed by the first two weeks of footage. Meyer used camera and set tricks to spare the construction of large and expensive sets. For a scene taking place at Starfleet Academy, a forced perspective was created by placing scenery close to the camera to give the sense the set was larger than it really was. To present the illusion that the Enterprise‘s elevators moved between decks, corridor pieces were wheeled out of sight to change the hall configuration while the lift doors were closed. Background equipment such as computer terminals were rented when possible instead of purchased outright. Some designed props, such as a redesigned phaser and communicator, were vetoed by Paramount executives in favor of existing materials from The Motion Picture.
The Enterprise was refurbished for its space shots, with its shiny exterior dulled down and extra detail added to the frame. Compared to the newly built Reliant, the Enterprise was hated by the effects artists and cameramen; it took eight people to mount the model, and a forklift truck to move it. The Reliant, meanwhile, was lighter and had less complex internal wiring. The ships were filmed on a blue screen with special film that does not register the color; the resulting shots could be added to effects shots or other footage. Any reflection of blue on the ship’s hull would appear as a hole on the film; the gaps had to be patched frame by frame for the final film. The same camera used to film Star Wars, the Dykstraflex, was used for shots of the Enterprise and other ships.
The barren desert surface of Ceti Alpha V was simulated on stage 8, the largest sound stage at Paramount’s studio. The set was elevated 25 feet off the ground and covered in wooden mats, over which tons of colored sand and powder were dumped. A cyclorama was painted and wrapped around the set, while massive industrial fans created a sandstorm. The filming was uncomfortable for actors and crew alike. The spandex environmental suits Koenig and Winfield wore were unventilated, and the actors had to signal by microphone when they needed air. Filming equipment was wrapped in plastic to prevent mechanical troubles and everyone on set wore boots, masks, and coveralls as protection from flying sand.
Spock’s death was shot over three days, during which no visitors were allowed on set. Spock’s death was to be irrevocable, but Nimoy had such a positive experience during filming that he asked if he could add a way for Spock to return in a later film. The mind meld sequence was initially filmed without Kelley’s prior knowledge of what was going on. Shatner disagreed with having a clear glass separation between Spock and Kirk during the death scene; he instead wanted a translucent divider allowing viewers to see only Spock’s silhouette, but his objection was overruled. During Spock’s funeral sequence Meyer wanted the camera to track the torpedo that served as Spock’s coffin as it was placed in a long trough and slid into the launcher. The camera crew thought the entire set would have to be rebuilt to accommodate the shot, but Sallin suggested putting a dolly into the trough and controlling it from above with an offset arm. Scott’s rendition of “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes was James Doohan‘s idea.
Spock’s death in the film was widely reported during production. “Trekkies” wrote letters to protest, one paid for trade press advertisements urging Paramount to change the plot, and Nimoy even received death threats. Test audiences reacted badly to Spock’s death and the film’s ending’s dark tone, so it was made more uplifting by Bennett. The scene of Spock’s casket on the planet and Nimoy’s closing monologue were added; Meyer objected, but did not stand in the way of the modifications. Nimoy did not know about the scene until he saw the film, but before it opened, the media reassured fans that “Spock will live” again. Due to time constraints, the casket scene was filmed in an overgrown corner of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, using smoke machines to add a primal atmosphere. The shoot lasted from midday to evening, as the team was well aware there would be no time for reshoots.
Special consideration was given during filming to allow for integration of the planned special effects. Television monitors standing in for computer displays were specially calibrated so that their refresh rate did not result in banding on film. Due to a loss of resolution and quality resulting from rephotographing an element in an optical printer, live action sequences for effects were shot in 65mm or VistaVision formats to compensate. When the larger prints were reduced through an anamorphic lens on the printer, the result was a Panavision composite.
With a short timeframe to complete The Wrath of Khan‘s special effects sequences, effects supervisor Jim Veilleux, Meyer, Jennings, Sallin and Minor worked to transform the written ideas for the script into concrete storyboards and visuals. The detailed sequences were essential to keep the film’s effects from spiraling out of control and driving up costs, as had occurred with The Motion Picture. Each special and optical effect, and the duration of the sequences, was listed. By the end of six weeks, the producers determined the basic look and construction of nearly all the effects; the resulting shots were combined with film footage five months later. Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) produced many of the effects, and created the new models; the Reliant was the first non-Constitution-class Federation starship seen in the series. Originally, the Reliant was supposed to be a Constitution-class starship identical to the Enterprise, but it was felt audiences would have difficulty distinguishing between the two ships. As the script called for the Reliant and Enterprise to inflict significant damage on each other, ILM developed techniques to illustrate the damage without physically harming the models. Rather than move the models on a bluescreen during shooting, the VistaVision camera was panned and tracked to give the illusion of movement. Damage to the Enterprise was cosmetic, and simulated with pieces of aluminum that were colored or peeled off. Phaser damage was created using stop motion. The script called for large-scale damage to the Reliant, so larger versions of the ship’s model were created to be blown up.
The battle in the nebula was a difficult sequence to accomplish without the aid of computer-generated models. The swirling nebula was created by injecting a latex rubber and ammonia mixture into a cloud tank filled with fresh and salt water. All the footage was shot at two frames per second to give the illusion of faster movement. The vibrant abstract colors of the nebula were simulated by lighting the tank using colored gels. Additional light effects such as auroras were created by the ILM animation department. Using matte work, the ships were physically stuck on a background plate to complete the shot. The destruction of the Reliant‘s engine nacelle was created by superimposing shots of the engine blowing apart and explosions over the model.
The scene in which Terrell kills Jedda, a Regula scientist, by vaporizing him with a phaser was filmed in two takes. Winfield and the related actors first played out the scene; this footage became the background plate. A blue screen was wheeled onto the set and actor John Vargas, the recipient of the phaser blast, acted out his response to being hit with the energy weapon. A phaser beam element was placed on top of the background plate, and Vargas’ shots were optically dissolved into an airbrushed disintegration effect which matched Vargas’ position in every frame.
The Ceti eel shots used several models, overseen by visual effects supervisor Ken Ralston, who had just finished creature design for Return of the Jedi. He tied a string to the eels to inch the models across the actors’ faces before they entered the ear canal.The scene of a more mature eel’s leaving Chekov’s ear was simulated by threading a microfilament through the floor of the set up to Koenig’s ear. The scene was filmed with three variations, which Ralston described as “a dry shot, one with some blood, and the Fangoria shot, with a lot of gore.” Footage of a giant model of Koenig’s ear was discarded from the theatrical release due to the visceral reaction it elicited in test audiences.
Additional optical effects were provided by Visual Concept Engineering (VCE), a small effects company headed by Peter Kuran; Kuran had previously worked at ILM and left after finishing The Empire Strikes Back. VCE provided effects including phaser beams, the Enterprise reactor, additional sand on Ceti Alpha V, and an updated transporter effect. Meyer and the production staff were adamant about not using freeze frames for the transporter, as had been done in the original television series. Scenes were shot so that conversations would continue while characters were in mid-transport, although much of the matte work VCE created was discarded when the production decided not to have as much action during transports.
The Wrath of Khan was one of the first films to extensively use electronic images and computer graphics to speed production of shots. Computer graphics company Evans & Sutherland produced the vector graphics displays aboard the Enterprise and the fields of stars used in the opening credits. Among ILM’s technical achievements was cinema’s first entirely computer-generated sequence: the demonstration of the effects of the Genesis Device on a barren planet. The first concept for the shot took the form of a laboratory demonstration, where a rock would be placed in a chamber and turned into a flower. Veilleux suggested the sequence’s scope be expanded to show the Genesis effect taking over a planet. While Paramount appreciated the more dramatic presentation, they also wanted the simulation to be more impressive than traditional animation. Having seen research done by Lucasfilm’s Computer Graphics group, Veilleux offered them the task. The graphics team paid attention to detail for the sixty-second sequence; one artist ensured that the stars visible in the background matched those visible from a real star light-years from Earth. The animators hoped it would serve as a “commercial” for the studio’s talents. The studio would later branch off from Lucasfilm to form Pixar.
Jerry Goldsmith had composed the music for The Motion Picture, but was not an option for The Wrath of Khan given the reduced budget; Meyer’s composer for Time After Time, Miklós Rózsa, was likewise prohibitively expensive. Bennett and Meyer wanted the music for the film to go in a different direction, but had not decided on a composer by the time filming began. Meyer initially hoped to hire an associate named John Morgan, but Morgan lacked film experience, which would have troubled the studio.
Paramount’s vice-president of music Joel Sill took a liking to a 28-year-old composer named James Horner, feeling that his demo tapes stood out from generic film music. Horner was introduced to Bennett, Meyer and Salin. Horner said that “[The producers] did not want the kind of score they had gotten before. They did not want a John Williams score, per se. They wanted something different, more modern.” When asked about how he landed the assignment, the composer replied that “the producers loved my work for Wolfen, and had heard my music for several other projects, and I think, so far as I’ve been told, they liked my versatility very much. I wanted the assignment, and I met with them, we all got along well, they were impressed with my music, and that’s how it happened.” Horner agreed with the producers’ expectations and agreed to begin work in mid-January 1982.
In keeping with the nautical tone, Meyer wanted music evocative of seafaring and swashbuckling, and the director and composer worked together closely, becoming friends in the process. As a classical music fan, Meyer was able to describe the effects and sounds he wanted in the music. While Horner’s style was described as “echoing both the bombastic and elegiac elements of John Williams’ Star Wars and Goldsmith’s original Star Trek (The Motion Picture) scores,” Horner was expressly told to not use any of Goldsmith’s score. Instead Horner adapted the opening fanfare of Alexander Courage‘s Star Trek television theme. “The fanfare draws you in immediately — you know you’re going to get a good movie,” Horner said.
In comparison to the flowing main theme, Khan’s leitmotif was designed as a percussive texture that could be overlaid with other music and emphasized the character’s insanity. The seven-note brass theme was echoplexed to emphasize the character’s ruminations about the past while on Ceti Alpha V, but does not play fully until Reliant‘s attack on the Enterprise. Many elements drew from Horner’s previous work (a rhythm that accompanies Khan’s theme during the surprise attack borrows from an attack theme from Wolfen, in turn influenced by Goldsmith’s score for Alien). Musical moments from the original television series are also heard during investigation of the Regula space station and elsewhere.
To Horner, the “stuff underneath” the main story was what needed to be addressed by the score; in The Wrath of Khan, this was the relationship between Kirk and Spock. The main theme serves as Kirk’s theme, with a mellower section following that is the theme for the Starship Enterprise. Horner also wrote a motif for Spock, to emphasize the character’s depth: “By putting a theme over Spock, it warms him and he becomes three-dimensional rather than a collection of schticks.” The difference in the short, French horn-based cues for the villain and longer melodies for the heroes helped to differentiate characters and ships during the battle sequences.
The soundtrack was Horner’s first major film score, and was written in four and a half weeks. The resulting 72 minutes of music was then performed by a 91-piece orchestra. Recording sessions for the score began on April 12, 1982 at the Warner Bros. lot, The Burbank Studios and continued until April 15. A pickup session was held on April 30 to record music for the Mutara nebula battle, while another session held on May 3 was used to cover the recently changed epilogue. Horner used synthesizers for ancillary effects; at the time, science fiction films such as E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and The Thing were eschewing the synthesizer in favor of more traditional orchestras. Craig Huxley performed his invented instrument—the Blaster Beam—during recording, as well as composing and performing electronic music for the Genesis Project video. While most of the film was “locked in” by the time Horner had begun composing music, he had to change musical cue orchestration after the integration of special effects caused changes in scene durations.
The Wrath of Khan opened on June 4, 1982 in 1,621 theaters in the United States. It made $14,347,221 in its opening weekend, at the time the largest opening weekend gross in history. It went on to earn $78,912,963 in the US, becoming the sixth highest-grossing film of 1982. It made $97,000,000 worldwide. Although the total gross of The Wrath of Khan was less than that of The Motion Picture, it was more profitable due to its lower production cost. The film’s novelization, written by Vonda N. McIntyre, stayed on the New York Times paperback bestsellers list for more than three weeks. Unlike the previous film, Wrath of Khan was not promoted with a toy line, although Playmates Toys created Khan and Saavik figures in the 1990s, and in 2007 Art Asylum crafted a full series of action figures to mark the film’s 25th anniversary. In 2009 IDW Publishing released a comic adaptation of the film, and Film Score Monthly released an expanded score.