Viking Night - Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
By Bruce Hall
February 8, 2011
Most consumers have no problem loving a huge budget blockbuster. Movies that are meant to appeal to the widest possible audience usually do just that. But some films have a narrower vision, or simply contain more complex meaning than meets the eye. They aren't always art, and they aren't always even very successful. But for a devoted and eccentric few, they're the best entertainment money can buy. Once, beginning with Erik the Viking, a group of dedicated irregulars gathered weekly in a dingy dorm room to watch these films and discuss how what pleases the few might also appeal to the many. Time has separated the others in those discussions so that I alone remain to ponder the wider significance of cult cinema. But while the room is cleaner and I no longer have to skip class to do it, I still think of my far off friends whenever I hold Viking Night.
Star Trek and Star Wars are a lot like cousins who aren’t really a lot alike but suffer from similar problems because they share the same environment. Star Wars is the dumb one that everyone likes anyway because he’s fun, friendly and knows how to dress. Star Trek is the brainy one that thinks he’s smarter than everyone else, alienates friends as fast as he makes them, and by the cut of his pants is expecting high water. But being cousins, they do come from the same family and do share similar limitations. Both franchises lost sight of what originally made them popular and initially failed in their attempts to adapt to the changing entertainment landscape. Star Wars attempted to take itself seriously with a series of prequels that were just juvenile toy fantasies passed off as drama – at ten dollars a pop. I think we all know how that worked out. Star Trek always took itself more seriously than such a cheap looking television show should have, but that’s what was once good about it. It was a show about ideas, not about imagery. But by the early '90s, Trek’s brand of snooty intellectual self indulgence had grown tiring and the feature films had turned into nothing more than bad television on a big screen - at ten dollars a pop.
Star Wars should have ended with Luke’s swan dive from the top of Cloud City after discovering his father was the most evil person alive. After watching his own son die rather than convert, Vader would realize that the Dark Side wasn’t worth the sacrifice. He'd join the Rebellion and lead the fight against the Emperor with the newfound knowledge that trust, honor and friendship are more powerful than a hundred Jedi. Yeah, you’re trying to laugh but inside you know that’s a better idea than what really happened. With Star Trek, take away the 30 or so truly good original episodes and a couple of great middle years of The Next Generation, and you have about three generations of missed potential. Trek insists on considering itself drama but is never quite willing to commit, often resorting to cheesy camp and techno babble when things get heavy.