Thursday, April 27, 2017

Blasphemy: How "The Wrath of Khan's" centerpiece showdown could have been better

I don't have to tell the Trekkies among us that the scene where Khan ambushes Kirk in "Wrath of Khan" is the most exciting, suspenseful and hands-down the best sequence in any "Star Trek" film even to this day.

Every "Star Trek" film since then has tried to insert a mid-film showdown similar to the Khan sequence. And it's never as good.

They even tried to remake the whole film with Benedict Cumberbatch playing Khan.

I remember sitting in the theater on opening night. As the sequence unfolded I was dumbstruck. "The Enterprise is done! Kirk's going to beam over and Khan's going to kill him! And then he'll blow up the Enterprise just for laughs!" My mind was racing all over the possibilities, I had no idea how Kirk would get out of this.

We've seen this a million times. There's always a bad guy holding a gun over James Bond, and you think, "ehh, he'll throw sand in his eyes, he'll kick him in the shin, the love-interest will shoot the villain from behind." I've never thought James Bond was ever in real peril.

But this was the first time the villain was pointing a gun (or phasers) at a hobbled hero and I thought, "Crap! The movie is over!"

But then ... Kirk calls up the Reliant's command code, and orders the Reliant to lower its shields. The imperious Khan is suddenly stunned and clueless, and the audience gets this amazing release when The Enterprise starts firing on the now-defenseless Reliant (the audience opening night was cheering!)

(not to mention that for everyone in the audience, this sequence  more than made up for the dull, listless "Star Trek: The Motion Picture").


But could the sequence have been better?

Yes, and it would have been easy and made more sense.

While delaying Khan, Kirk asks Saavik for the command code for the Reliant. Saavik is confused, "Command code?"

Kirk then explains to her (and the audience) that every Starfleet ship has a command code "to keep an enemy from doing what we're about to attempt."

Oh, OK, that makes sense. Even in 1982, we had computer passwords to prevent hacking, so this wasn't an especially new concept. It had really never been introduced in the TV series.

But, why was this concept introduced as the sequence is progressing? It would have been super easy, and more enjoyable if the concept was explained at the beginning of the film.

Think about it, in the beginning, while Enterprise was in space dock, the Starfleet air traffic controller could have easily said, "Should I use your command code to steer you out of dry dock?" and Saavik would have said, "No thank you, I don't like handing over control of the comm," then the film would continue where Kirk looks shocked and Bones offers him a sedative.

And the audience would have enjoyed the scene, not realizing they were being set up for the big action sequence an hour later. And when the sequence unfolds, there would be no need for exposition.

Think of the CAT ekto-skeleton in "Aliens." James Cameron didn't introduce that thing at the end of the movie when Ripley needed it to defeat the Alien, he introduced it at the beginning, and turned it into a red herring by convincing the audience that the CAT's only purpose was to show that Ripley was a badass in front of a male chauvinist. It worked for me, and everyone else in the audience. Meanwhile, we learned it existed and how it worked early on.

What do you think?

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