By: Judd Livingston
Leonard Nimoy died last Friday. I was more upset than I expected. Upset at his passing certainly, but there was something more. Nimoy was 83, he’d lived a long and prosperous life; it should have been no surprise to me. He has been a part of my life since I was born. My father has been the proud owner of the vanity license plate TREKIE for over 40 years. (The missing K isn’t a typo: back then you were only allowed six characters). My childhood bedroom had a corner painted black with white stars and dozens of models of different Star Trek space ships that my father had built over the years. A Klingon Bird of Prey, a Romulan Bird of Prey (with an incredibly colourful decal of an alien feathered bird on the bottom of it), a Vulcan shuttle craft, and no less than three different versions of the Enterprise (1701, 1701-A, and eventually, 1701-D). I was immersed in Star Trek from the first, and I love it to this day. We watched it religiously, and once The Next Generation debuted, my father and us kids had a standing date every Saturday at 7pm. It was interwoven into the fabric of my everyday life, and with it, its characters. And while those characters will always remain frozen in time, knowing the men and women who played them are passing away grieves me.
When Deforest Kelly – the iconic Dr. McCoy – passed away in 1999, I was too busy being a teenager and wrapped up in my own world to take notice. But, beneath my adolescent facade, my heart twinged a bit. And now, it does more than twinge: it mourns. It mourns for Leonard Nimoy. It mourns for his family and loved ones. And it mourns for my childhood. With each successive passing of the heroes of my youth, my own ageing becomes more and more apparent.
Saturday night, I went back home after a long day and put on my favourite of the late Leonard Nimoy’s works: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, a film very much about ageing, losing your youth and what that means exactly. Don’t be mistaken: The Wrath of Khan is no action flick like Return of the Jedi; nor is it the other-worldly horror that is Alien. No, the film is a slow burning psychological thriller wearing Sci-Fi clothes. It’s about obsession, insanity, the inevitability of death; all the things the TV series was not. Gone is the light humour and the moral imperative that led us to believe all will end well. The film presents us with a nihilistic view of our individual futures, particularly through its central figure, Captain Kirk. This isn’t the show I used to watch on Saturday afternoons with my father. It’s something entirely different.
Released in 1982, when I less than a month shy of my first birthday, The Wrath of Khan has been just as omnipresent in my life as the Star Trek TV shows, but it would be years before I saw it, finally, when my old man got a VHS copy as a gift. I was still quite young, but I loved it. Mainly because of Ceti Alpha V’s only remaining indigenous life form, a disgusting insect-like creature whose young burrow into your brain and wrap themselves around your cerebral cortex. It was one of the most joyously gross scenes of my childhood. Still today, I get shivers when I watch it. And I have nightmares about earwigs.
Star Trek itself was close to death by this point in the 80s. It had been almost two decades since the original series began its short run, and an earlier attempt to bring the franchise (which it wasn’t back then, yet; just a cult classic TV show) to the big screen had failed to explode like Star Wars a couple of years before. For some reason, Paramount decided to give it another go, but this time with a budget a fraction of the size and without the show’s creator, Gene Roddenberry. (He died in 1991.) They brought in a new producer who had never seen an episode of the show. He hired a young director who had never seen an episode of the show. And together they brought Star Trek back to life.
The series was originally conceived as “Wagon Train In Space” to capitalize on two hot trends: westerns and space – fontier cowboys on the final frontier. Harve Bennett and Nicholas Meyer, the aforementioned producer and director, didn’t know this and didn’t see it that way. They saw a more nautical aspect. The ship and her captain, sailing through the Seas of Space. They drew heavily from Horatio Hornblower and Moby Dick, again changing the Star Trek that was into the Star Trek that now is. The film premièred and was a huge success among both critics and fans.
If you’ve never seen The Wrath of Khan, or you’re not a fan of Star Trek: please do me a favour, do yourself a favour, and watch this film. You need not see any other Star Trek film before or after it, for none can live up to its greatness. It isn’t a “Star Trek Film”, or a “Science Fiction Film”, it’s just a film. It stands on it’s own and says more than so many other movies out there. Nimoy is largely on the sidelines for its runtime, but his final scene is by far his most beautiful ever; it’s a complete culmination of his character. The simple act of Mr. Spock straightening his uniform before addressing his Captain and friend is a moment that tells you that Nimoy is – was – an incredibly fine actor. He knew his character, and he didn’t betray him for schmaltz. And Nimoy isn’t alone in this.
Many of the actors elevated their performances to levels they had never achieved before. There’s James Doohan, who died in 2005, as Scotty with his anguished cries to his friend in the final scenes. These sound all too real and still send a chill down my back. And William Shatner, who is regularly dismissed as a shlocky over-acter, is here heartfelt and tempered. Meyer said he would shoot many takes to allow Shatner to settle into a scene so the emotional aspects would eventually be dulled to him, and his performance would be reined in a bit providing a more realistic portrayal. Many laugh at the famous “Khan scream”, but they rarely mention the final scene in the engineering room (I won’t go into details here in case you haven’t seen it), where we can see James T. Kirk’s heart breaking.
I didn’t realize until I was done watching the film how sad I was that a man I had never met had passed away. Nimoy as Spock was a man who somehow helped shape me and participated in my childhood, whether he knew it or not. The Wrath of Khan has always been special to me, but watching it again so recently meant something more. If you are missing Leonard Nimoy, as I am, or missing anyone, watch this film. It’s a testament to love and friendship, a tribute to sharing one’s life. I’ve found that it provides me with an unexpected comfort, not just now, but always. It’s a sad movie, but ultimately uplifting.
Indeed, Wrath of Khan is one of my favourite movies of all time. Easily the best of the Star Trek films. Thanks for this, Joe. “Of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most… human.”