William Shatner Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan

It was just last September when I saw “The Wrath of Khan” in a theater again. This second visit within such a short time reflects my love of the film, but more importantly, it was a special event that gave me an opportunity to encounter Captain Kirk IRL. William Shatner is making the rounds this year in an experience for fans that has slim production values but great emotional depth. 

Let me say, that whatever it is that William Shatner and Mel Brooks are eating in their lives, order me a plate. Brooks is 97 and Shatner turns 92 this year. If you have ever been to a live event with either of these gentlemen, you will know why I am impressed with their diet or exercise regime. These guys are as sharp as a tack and have boundless amounts of energy. I’ve seen Brooks a couple of times at the TCM FF and a presentation of “Blazing Saddles“. He has a boundless energy, like a kid with ADHD. This was my first time seeing Shatner live, but it was close to having lightning strike twice in the same place. He takes the stage, walks through the opening segment with commanding authority, and is never less than enthusiastic while talking to us.

The host who was interviewing him was in the same situation that I saw the hosts in the Brooks presentations found themselves, hardly able to focus the subject of the interview as he was overwhelmed with content, stories, stream of consciousness meanderings and quick quips. Yes the Captain spoke a bit about Wrath of Khan, but he also talked about the Original Series, The Robert Wise Star Trek The Motion Picture, and a bucket load of philosophical thought that seemed to overflow his brain. 

I’m sure he has told some of these stories before, but nothing that happened at this event sounded like it was pre-planned or anything less than spontaneous. A couple of things that he mentioned about “Wrath of Khan” are worth noting. He said that the scene with he and Leonard Nimoy, in the engine room at Spock’s death, was shot with the glass separating them and unable to do more than press their hands against the glass, was his suggestion. He also mentioned that his “favored nations” contract allowed him the same treatment as his friend Leonard Nimoy, and that after Star Trek III, he was supposed to direct Star Trek IV, but his TV contract with T.J. Hooker, prevented him from taking that opportunity. He was very complimentary of Nicholas Meyer, the director, who wrote and directed another Trek film, and dated Shatner’s daughter at one point. 

Shatner also confessed that he had not seen the other Star Trek films, so he was unfamiliar with the cast, and he shared an anecdote about accidentally stealing lines from a young actress (we think it was Zoe Saldana) at an event where they both appeared at the podium and he simply read everything on the teleprompter. He mocked himself a couple of times about the strange takes his career has followed, but he is quite proud that he has a song and music video coming that reflects an artistic level that he was once mocked for. His story about the Carson show was pretty amusing, he had to cut down a song routine that he did where he mixed his words and ideas in a mash up with contemporary songs. He ended up singing “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” without his contextual material and Johnny Carson was mouthing “WTF” in the background at his desk. 

When the host started asking the questions that the audience had submitted, Shatner gave answers, but they were not always direct. He joked that the host could ask anything he wanted, but that the answer might not always go in the direction that was expected. For example, he was asked why he continues to work, and make an effort like he was doing last night, when he is probably well off enough and old enough to skip it. While Shatner did say it was about boredom, he said it in a way that was anything but boring. The question about his reaction to traveling to space last year, was elaborate, enthusiastic and went in some strange but fascinating directions. It was not ultimately tied to the Star Trek question contained in the initial query, but it was close enough and interesting enough that no one seemed to care.

William Shatner spoke for an hour after the screening. The film itself sounded great in the concert hall that is the Long Center here in Austin. It is a beautiful venue, but could maybe use a slightly bigger screen for film presentations. I did see people come in late, and while the show was not sold out, the house looked above 75% and everyone there seemed pleased with the event. 

35th Anniversary Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan

One of the great movie experiences of my life was seeing Star Trek the Wrath of Khan when it opened in 1982. I was a huge fan of the original series and when the first film came out I was there on opening day. A lot of people seem to be disappointed in Star Trek the Motion Picture, but I ate it up and the audiences turned out in droves. Despite some lingering negative feelings it was a huge hit. In spite of the fact that Wrath of Khan was the second film in the series, it felt like the film franchise was being rebooted. The action was going to be more dramatic, the uniforms for the Federation were dramatically different, but the best thing about this film was that it would focus so much more on the relationship between the three main characters on the Enterprise.

Admiral Kirk is unsatisfied with a desk position in Star Fleet. Spock is now the Captain of our beloved ship, and Dr. McCoy continues to be the kind of sage friend that both of them need to have in their lives. The film begins with a fake out on the rumored death of Spock, and then gradually refocuses on the melancholy that seems to hang over Kirk as he faces the fact that he is indeed getting older. The Enterprise is a cadet training vessel and it suddenly gets called into service and Kirk, McCoy and Spock are reunited on the bridge that we always want to see them at. There are the usual crew aboard and a new character that held the promise of important things to come. One of the old crew is now the First Officer on another Federation vessel ( or wessel as he was likely to pronounce it) , Captained by actor Paul Winfield. In the process of finding a location for an important experiment, they happen upon an old nemesis of Captain Kirk and the fireworks begin.

So many Star Trek tropes are introduced in this film that it already feels like the start of a new show. This is the film that gave us the Kobayashi Maru, the refusal to accept the No Win scenario, “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”, “I have been and always shall be your friend”, “Khaaannnn”, the old Klingon proverb and a dozen more. Kirk gets a lot of back story with the introduction of two other characters and the effect is to make the film even more personable. The biggest impression however is made by the guest star returning to a character introduced in the original series, Ricardo Montalban. He not only steals the Reliant, he steals the movie with his bare chest and long flowing white hair. Montalban spews out the lines with an elegance at one moment and a spiteful vengeance in the next. He is the embodiment of the genetically engineered superman that supposedly practically conquered earth in the 1990s, two centuries earlier. He mixes Shakespeare and Melville and still is convincing as he outwits and id outwitted by Kirk.

The first time I saw the film was at the National Theater in Westwood on opening day. It was a beautiful wide and large auditorium with a gold motif and curtains. It was famously the Theater where “The Exorcist” first played in Los Angeles, and it was only just now that I discovered it has been torn down for almost a decade. The movie was packed and the sound system was terrific. The impact of the film on me at the time was profound. Characters that I had loved were getting old or dying, the ship that we marveled at is severely damaged, and there is a bagpipe salute that will bring a tear to any stout hearted Trekker.


The Fathom event that put this back in Theaters featured a so called “Director’s Cut”. Nicholas Meyer who is responsible for putting the movie together with one fourth of the budget of the previous film did a fantastic job in 1982, but there were a few things he was unhappy about. The final scenes of the casket on the Genesis planet were filmed and added against his wishes, he wanted Spock to stay dead. According to the information being screened before the movie, he has subsequently acknowledged that he was wrong and that the scene works for the series. Most of the additions are small moments with a single line or two that elaborate on the characters motivations or fill in a plot element. The best additions were some small scenes that clarified that cadet Preston is Scotty’s nephew and then Mr. Scott gets a better dramatic scene after the first attack on the Enterprise.

Before the program this evening, I watched the Original Episode “Space Seed” last night. Khan’s impervious nature in that show has given way to personal vendetta in the film, and that works really well given how the plot sets up his situation. William Shatner was interviewed for about twenty minutes as an extra for the event and he was entertaining and eccentric as heck. He conflated a couple of the movies as he was talking about them, but he was an impressively sharp 86 year old. He seems quite vital and he keeps pretty busy. Kirk was always my favorite on the show. Spock was the popular character and I loved Leonard Nimoy, but let’s face it, Captain Kirk was about as close as you could get to James Bond in space. He had a string of lovelies across the galaxy and he got to ham it up on a regular basis. His shouting of the name exemplifies the theatricality of his performances but also fits with the nature of his character.


Frankly, I may not stop smiling for a few days. From the first notes of James Horner’s score with the Alexander Courage theme woven in, to the Amazing Grace electronic music at the end, I was hooked. This is another commercial for a video release, but it is exactly the kind of value added commercial that makes me want to spend my money and reward everyone involve. The word is given, Warp Speed my friends.