Blog Post: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn vs Star Trek: Into Darkness

My aim here is to carry out a comparison of two different eras of Star Trek, both dealing with the character of Kahn. Now, before I begin, I want to talk a little bit about nostalgia. You see, my era had Star Trek: The Next Generation. Even now, I still have fond memories of Picard, Data et al. The result of this is that I have no nostalgia-laden attachment to the original series.

So how does that affect things? Well, nostalgia can potentially cause one of two things. The first is that you view things with rose tinted spectacle. No matter how badly something ages, you can’t see it because you’re so wrapped up in the warm fuzzy glow of past enjoyment. The other is that you’re memories ae so good that, when you see how badly something has aged, it becomes fare worse than it actually is.

Now, having reiterate that said effects will not be playing a part of this comparison, let’s begin. Please note however that I will likely say more about Into Darkness than Wrath of Kahn. My reason for this is simple: Wrath of Kahn is so well remembered that much has been said already. Into Darkness meanwhile … I’m not sure it’s always had a fair shake o the stick. So I shall try to look at that one objectively. So …

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn is the much loved second Star Trek movie. Released in 1982 and clocking in at 108 minutes, it tells the story of Admiral Kirk as he deals with the threat of Kahn. Set fifteen years after Kahn‘s last appearance seen in the TV episode ‘Space Seed’, a good deal of the film is centred around the idea that Kirk has become disillusioned since taking his promotion and is now feeling his age. With some gentle prodding from Spock, he manages to get over this and of course saves the day.

But does the film hold up? Actually, yes it does. My own recollections of the original series were mainly of the much mocked over-acting of William Shatner. In this particular film, I didn’t get the air of that. In fact, the acting throughout the film was pretty damn good by all involved. Special effects wise, it is to a degree what you would expect from the 1980’s. That’s not really a bad thing though. You see, I’m not a big fan of modern CG. No matter how far it advances, it still grates on me because it is so clearly computer generated and as a result removes me from my state of suspended disbelief in most cases. Being 1982, this has little in the way of computer effects. By far my favourite effect of the film are the eels that Kahn uses to make various people susceptible to mind control. They appear to be animatronic puppets and look magnificent to me. Perhaps a little hokey by modern stands, but very much a part of the world they exist in. The film itself runs along at a great pace and is every bit as good as it is said to be, provided you can look past the aged quality of the footage.

So what of Star Trek: Into Darkness? Not quite a remake but rather something inspired by the aforementioned 1982 classic, the film had mixed reviews. I will deal my views on this later on, and will instead focus for now on the film itself. Released in 2013, it serves as a direct sequel to the 2009 reboot. Now, the 2009 reboot was something that I enjoyed immensely, in part because I had low expectations going into it, but also because it is in all honesty a good film. Into Darkness is perhaps not quite so good, but it does still succeed in being a decent piece of work.

The current cast is very good, with Scotty in particular providing much amusement for me. Oh, and Benedict Cumberbatch has an absolutely amazing voice. The effects are good, with plenty of straight up sparking and explosions rather than an over-reliance on CG. Story-wise it differs from STII insofar as it focusses initially on Kirk seeking revenge against Kahn rather than it being the over way around. It’s also worth mentioning that this features the first appearance of the Klingons in the rebooted universe, and the film makers appear to have gone for a look that sits somewhere between the simple look of the original series and the prosthetic-enhanced look of ST:TNG. In my opinion, the result is actually quite nice. The Klingons have a sturdy, aggressive look to them.

OK, so I already mentioned that Into Darkness had mixed reviews. Personally, I think that this was always going to be case, no matter what quality they achieved with the film. The reason for that is that it was inevitably going to draw comparisons with the 1982 original, and when you place a new piece up against something that loved, it is never going to come out on top. Why? First, there’s that nostalgia effect, and second, classics tend to hold up well. If you look past this however and choose to view Into Darkness as a stand-alone piece then it is a perfectly enjoyable film featuring plenty of action, a good story and a strong cast, all of which are things that can also be said about Wrath of Kahn. There are also some cool little references to be found that, much like the story, see various role reversals. There is a wonderful moment at the end of the film where they (mostly) play-out the same sequence from Wrath of Kahn but with Spock and Kirk’s roles reversed. Oh, and, ‘Kaaaaaaaaahn!’ Spock also uses the line ‘The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few’ in both films. Of course, while cool, this only helps pile on the comparisons that can in turn only lead to the film being viewed less favourably.

So what of my own comparison? The truth is, when taking the films from a neutral stance, they’re both good fun. Wrath of Kahn is a worthy classic that is well worth watching if you don’t mind your films looking vintage. Into Darkness meanwhile is better than it is sometimes given credit for and features a stellar cast that has successfully reintroduced some classic characters to a new generation.

I highly recommend viewing both, but I would definitely avoid drawing too many comparisons in terms of quality if you can as, depending on your viewpoint, it will lead to one or the other being treated unfairly. View each as a standalone piece of cinema that shows different interpretations of the same world and you’ll find something to enjoy regardless of what era you’re watching.

As a side though, it’s worth noting that, from a personal standpoint, I find it quite sad watching both the 2009 reboot and the 2013 sequel though. Seeing Leonard Nimoy and knowing that he no more is … well, it’s not nice. He was a truly great man, a wonderful actor and one that will be sorely missed for years to come.

Here’s to you Mr Spock.

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