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Episode 95: STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN

  

214 members have voted

  1. 1. Is WRATH OF KHAN canon?

    • Yes
      139
    • Khaaaan!
      75


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Serious question to Trekkies, if we are considering Star Trek the multiple series as canon worthy then isn't Wrath of Khan extremely important in that regards? Before Khan came out Star Trek was more like Firefly, a cult hit show that had a big budget movie that didn't do very well. WOK pushed the series back into relevancy and I think if it bombed we wouldn't have TNG and all it's offshoots which to me personally are Star Trek at its heights. So even though I personally rank WOK as 4th in the Trek films, I do acknowledge it as the most important one of the bunch for both culture and Trek.

 

So the question remains does it need to be in The Canon. The Trek film series is a weird franchise, one that has tons of entries but rarely had the same cultural impact of say a Star Wars or Bond. It was always a bit of an anomaly, but I think the hold Khan has on culture is enough to justify its entry into The Canon, but I acknowledge this as a soft yes. Even though I think First Contact and TPM are better films I respect what Khan did for the franchise and sci-fi filmmaking in general.

 

And frankly I'm kind of tired of the Roddenberry's vision argument. Star Trek has often been better without Roddenberry around, particularly in the later years when TNG got so much better after his death. He's an incredible genius but his approach to an ideal future is often limiting. As much as I love TPM, WOK injected energy and life back into the franchise. To me Roddenberry is a lot like Lucas, best as a collaborator and a good person to put limits on.

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Divorcing this movie from the franchise, I don't think it is anything more than a good movie. I found a lot of the arguments from devon/dave particularly towards the end to focus a lot on Star Trek as a whole and I don't think that's fair. The movies feels to me like fun little excursion in Trek, away from the main path of the tv shows and I think that is indicative of which canon to put Trek in. It's just not that important to film for me to vote it in.

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Divorcing this movie from the franchise, I don't think it is anything more than a good movie. I found a lot of the arguments from devon/dave particularly towards the end to focus a lot on Star Trek as a whole and I don't think that's fair. The movies feels to me like fun little excursion in Trek, away from the main path of the tv shows and I think that is indicative of which canon to put Trek in. It's just not that important to film for me to vote it in.

 

I agree completely. I don't recall if it was Devin or Dave that said it, but somewhere near the end one of them says something like "this film embodies everything that is Star Trek", and I'm thinking "uh, no it doesn't". There's no sci-fi concept in Wrath of Khan. There's no social politics. There's no real exploration or inquiry. It's almost literally just a chase/revenge movie using the Trek setting and characters. It's fun, and it digs deep in a few places with the characters and themes directly related to the characters, but none of the classic Trek hallmarks are a part of this film to me, at all.

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Agreed. "Anyone" definitely should not be the standard of a "great film" nor of "The Canon". Art that anyone can appreciate tends to be terrible or, worse, mediocre and harmless. I kind of hope that the majority of The Canon gets filled with titles that not everyone would think are "great". (speaking of, isn't it about time some David Lynch films got nominated?)

 

You're taking me too literally and out of context. I was responding to something very specific.

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Regardless of what anyone thinks of this movie, this episode was bad. So much (to use an awful neologism) mansplaining. If you're not going to listen to Amy just let her take a day off

 

It's not mansplaining if the men are actually more knowledgeable about the subject. Devin and Dave certainly are more knowledgeable about Star Trek than Amy is.

 

This term ("mansplaining") is so badly misused now, it's used to describe ANY time a man says something you don't like to a woman. That's not what it means. It's when a man goes on explaining something to a woman who almost certainly knows more (or at least as much) about the subject than he does. I don't think it's fair to accuse Devin and Dave of that.

 

If the argument is that they talked too much and didn't allow Amy a chance to give her take, then that's something else (not mansplaining). Personally, I don't think so. Amy got a chance to make her points. Devin and Dave may not have AGREED with those points, but it's not like they didn't actively try to give her space (Dave especially).

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As I noted at BMD (before I even listened to this), I agree with Amy that Star Trek is more of a TV than movie franchise. This film by itself is not canonical, even if it is the best of the Trek films.

On a sidenote, the bit about being introduced to these works through Khan reminded me of Deus Ex, which introduced me to Voltaire, Kahlil Gibran (I can't recommend that), and indirectly via Steve Jackson Games (more specifically Illuminati) the works of H. P. Lovecraft (and associated "weird fiction") and the Illuminatus trilogy. I don't know if it belongs in a list of canonical games though, important as it is to me personally.

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Amy is great. However when she assures Devin and us that she "gets it"--"it" being the film in question--sometimes, *just sometimes*...I feel like she doesn't get it.

What does that even mean, anyway? That if Amy doesn't like something that she just doesn't understand it? I mean, I can't imagine anyone getting it more than Amy--as often as I disagree with her--but it's possible she gets it and still doesn't care for the movie.

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You can't really say the same about 2001: A Space Odyssey, Moon, Solaris, Ex Machina, or a bevy of other genuine sci-fi films that really use technology and the advancement of humans as a lens through which we can view ourselves and re-examine just what the heck it is we're doing on this floating rock.

 

That definition of sci-fi is so narrow to me. Yes, sci-fi allows us a new setting to explore different aspects of our humanity, but that's not it's only purpose. That would exclude so many works that are undeniably sci-fi, stuff like "Stargate," "Escape From New York," and "Dredd." A lot of pop sci-fi uses the genre to create a new, exciting, lived in world that allows the viewer to escape from their life for a while.

 

Trek, for me, has always been about a hopeful look into the future. "Wrath of Khan" takes that glimpse of hope and reminds us that mortality is something we won't escape in any future. I think that's a worthy theme to represent within the genre.

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This movie is ugly and tedious; it ought to have been consigned to television, with its shallow plasticy performances and just general unpleasant sweatiness. Not everything of cultural significance should be in the canon, especially a movie referenced culturally for campy effect more than due to its inherent quality.

 

Further, I'd like to plead with Amy to have a smack down with Devin on his odd faith in Authorial Intention, which used to be considered a fallacy. I bring this up, because on each and every episode Amy suggests that movies sometimes do things the filmmakers might not have intended and Devin shuts it down. He's claimed that having been on the sets of movies he knows that everything put into them are the results of careful choices, though in fact that just is not always true. I've been on the sets of films as well and the way they come together is often dependent on what can be done and the accidents that get in the way of achieving what was wanted; and the desperate measures taken to rejigger what one wound up with. This insistent belief that the viewer may not see themselves as smarter than the picture (I guess a form of unbearable elitism to Devin) has led Devin to some absurd assertions. In the Forrest Gump episode, to the observation made by Amy about Gump's putting the white feather in a Curious George book being ironic, since the character is utterly incurious, Devin confidently claimed her subjective reaction was one hunnerd percent intended by Zemeckis. As Amy's interpretation itself was questionable this idea of Devin struck me as highly fucking Dubious. Even a meticulous director like Kubrick made mistakes in the Shining, and was certainly not capable of programming all different responses to it, which as we all well know have been all over the map and contradictory. Therefore how could there not be accidental meanings coming off movies like stink waves? Don't let Devin make you feel like you're being snooty, Amy, push back against Devin's intentional fallacy hard. It won't be difficult winning that argument. Think: Jaws.

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That definition of sci-fi is so narrow to me. Yes, sci-fi allows us a new setting to explore different aspects of our humanity, but that's not it's only purpose. That would exclude so many works that are undeniably sci-fi, stuff like "Stargate," "Escape From New York," and "Dredd." A lot of pop sci-fi uses the genre to create a new, exciting, lived in world that allows the viewer to escape from their life for a while.

 

Trek, for me, has always been about a hopeful look into the future. "Wrath of Khan" takes that glimpse of hope and reminds us that mortality is something we won't escape in any future. I think that's a worthy theme to represent within the genre.

 

You're not entirely wrong in that the terms we use to describe different kinds of art don't necessarily have hard edges, and that many examples of art will bleed over from one type to another, or borrow elements of several types.

 

However, I don't think that means we can't also analyze a work to determine what its main thrust/purpose is, and to derive some sort of classification from that. The heart and soul of Wrath of Khan is a chase/revenge story and a character drama. Sure, Khan is a product of genetic experimentation and he's a man out of time, but the film doesn't really do anything with that - none of the plot beats or themes really hinge on his status as a "superior" human - it's all related to the past Khan has with Kirk.

 

There are certainly sci-fi elements to Khan, but the post of yours I was responding to specifically said you'd pick this film to be a great representative of the sci-fi genre, and I think it is an incredibly poor choice to serve that role. It has its pleasures and it's not just an action movie, but picking it to be the one film you'd use to represent sci-fi in cinema? No way, not by a long shot.

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Voted no. I love Star Trek, but we're not discussing placing the Star Trek phenomenon into the Canon, we're talking about this one movie. It's a decently plotted and written story, but it is a bit clumsy and campy. I do love this movie, but objectively I can see how silly it all is and figure I love it because I grew up with these characters and they move me. When Spock dies and I cry my head off, it's not just because of the way this movie told Spock's story.. it's because of all the HISTORY I have with the character of Spock and Kirk.

 

It's not bad, it's a good movie! But is it a "great film"? There is just too much bizarro not-thought-out filmmaking going on here for that. Bones's hamfisted opposition to Genesis (and for all the overacting Shatner's accused of, really it's Kelley who takes the cake with the hammy acting here). I have to ask.. why on earth did Scotty bring the dying man to the bridge? You'd think he'd be desperate to get to Sick Bay first. It was just to drive home this weird theme of Kirk having been guilty of something. That's the other thing that feels forced in this movie. The movie seems to basically agree with Khan that Kirk has all these sins, that making decisions that can get people killed is a moral failing when it's actually his JOB! The idea that Kirk has never dealt with loss or no-win situations.. I mean, my memory could be faulty but I seem to remember Kirk being fully willing to die in some of the old episodes, fully willing to sacrifice himself and his ship to save a species or a loved one and luck (and the sponsors, haha) coming through and saving the day in the nick of time. I can see where this is the post-Vietnam malaise and self-doubt creeping in, but Amy is right that there are far better movies for that and it's kind of clumsy here. There is no sub-text and the themes are spelled out in the dialogue. All that said, Nimoy and Shatner transcend the material. Nimoy always has been truly the best performance in Trek (yes, along with Patrick Stewart who is fantastic), and Shatner also really rises to the occasion.

 

Ok let's talk Khan. Khan was far more interesting as a character in Space Seed. No comparison. You actually saw the "superior intellect" at work there. You saw how he seduced a woman to give up everything she was for him. You saw how he played Kirk like a fiddle and got the upper hand. You could even see the value in his existence in the end and why it was better for Kirk to drop him off on a new uninhabited world to conquer rather than just hand him to a Federation prison or kill him. In this movie, he's just a bumbling revenge monster. I'm ok with the revenge theme, but a little complexity and reflection would've been interesting to see in him. Montalban gave a great performance with the material he had, so no complaints about him.

 

Anyway, I feel like I'm overbashing it to make a point. Truthfully I enjoy this movie very much but I recognize that it's the nostalgia and love for the characters that I'm feeling. It's just not a "great film" and I think so much of what works in it works in the context of Star Trek as a whole rather than standing alone as a brilliant work of art. So, it's a "no", but a "no" that hurts me more than it hurts the movie.

 

Just a side-note about the "mansplaining". I'm not generally a fan of that term, as I think it's often used to just tell guys who don't agree with you to shut up. But in this case, it really felt like I was listening to a movie critic (Amy) trying to discuss the merits of a film on its own terms and the guys were all Ain't-It-Cooling in their corner, assuring her that she just doesn't get it because she's not a Trekkie. And I think the fact that she's not a Trekkie gave her response to the film a certain purity that I would've taken more seriously if I were them. They're just too in love with the genre and their own childhoods to see the flaws in the movie.

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Listening to this episode was interesting and once again illustrates this sort of pop cultural divide between Amy and Devin.

 

Devin breathes geek, schlock and lowbrow cinema. We've seen him get defensive (or on the offensive) in certain episodes when he champions movies like Re-Animator or Cannibal Holocaust... and whenever Amy expresses skepticism about their quality. Every time. Meanwhile, Amy has repeatedly shown a greater appreciation for film that's, well, basically the exact opposite of everything Devin loves. We've seen her exasperation with schlock cinema and b-films, and when it comes to geek cinema her weariness and frustration of gen-x geek staples getting universal love and acclaim-

 

So here, it's interesting. She's the outsider. She's had no real experience with Star Trek, her exposure has been limited, and unlike Devin or Dave she has no special attachment to the overall franchise that elevates this movie to her beyond just "okay." I was playing the episode at work while my friend and I were packing chocolates (I work in a chocolate shop. Nice, ain't it?), and my friend---a huge Trekkie---had more than a few bones to pick with Amy's approach to Wrath of Khan as a film-

 

But the more I've thought about it, the more I find myself sympathizing with Amy's approach. Yeah, she doesn't know anything about Star Trek. For a movie that banks on even a passing familiarity with the series, without that connection what should be a dramatic epic of aging heroes forced to deal with mortality and legacy... becomes a mediocre TV movie with cheap set designs and slightly melodramatic acting.

 

For those who love Star Trek, that's part of the charm! For Amy, it's (heh, appropriately enough) alien and strange.

 

She's by no means a geek cinephile like Devin. So whenever episodes focus on geek fare, I am amazed by how far she's willing to argue from her position as a decidedly non-geek film fan (in the classic sense of the word) against BMD's uber-geek. She's less forgiving of certain tropes and clichés and traditions and so she expects higher standards for the Canon. Without that emotional connection, Wrath of Khan fails for her in every possible way.

 

Amy put up an admirable fight against two hardcore Trek fans, gotta say.

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I love that Amy gives these kinds of movie a hard time. They need to be challenged because the "geeky" movies that transcend their genre are the ones that really deserve extra recognition. It's vital to have someone that isn't steeped in the fandom so that they can approach it more objectively. I think that's a critical test for these kinds of movies, and as a huge genre fan I'm constantly thinking about how these films play for someone that comes in cold because those are the ones you can share with the most people.

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I haven't commented on my vote yet, so here goes:

 

I voted yes. The first time I saw the film I liked it very much, but I'm not sure I would have voted for it at that time. However, over the years I have come to see how much it means to people, both hardcore Trek fans and casual ones (I'd count myself in the latter group). It's clearly had a life beyond just being "good for a Star Trek movie." The "Khaaaaan!" scream and Spock death/funeral have entered the larger cultural lexicon, perhaps not on the level of, say, the most iconic Star Wars scenes, but on a level just below that. The clincher for me was watching it last week in preparation for the podcast, and damned if the movie didn't still work. I found it just as entertaining and engrossing as ever. Spock's death and Kirk's speech were still moving, Montalban still a very entertaining villain, and the thematics hit home very well.

 

Some of the criticisms laid out in this thread make a certain logical sense, but I think miss the point of why the film has power: it is a simple, elemental genre story. So yes, of course the themes are obvious, and of course the conflict lacks nuance: that's the strength of it! Wrath of Khan is about simple, easily understood human themes -- aging, death, revenge -- and it weaves those themes consistently throughout the narrative. That seems easy, but when you think about how many genre films fail at this "simple" task, the focused, muscular storytelling of Khanseems like even more of a miracle. It's not reinventing the wheel in terms of technique, but I think on a technical level (given budget restrictions, etc.), I think it's well made. I didn't have any issues with Meyer's choices re: editing or camera placement.

 

As for Amy's arguments against it: some of them I think are valid: it's fair to question how well this works for a non-fan, or to point out that Star Trek might be better served by inducting the whole series into the Canon rather than singling out one movie. What I don't like is when she starts getting into "remaking the movie" criticisms. For example, taking issue with the fact that Kirk doesn't ever struggle with wanting revenge himself. Could that be an interesting take if he did? Sure, but at that point you have a different character and a different film with different concerns. You'd practically have to re-write the whole thing to make that work. I'd rather hear about what this film is trying to do and why that does/doesn't work. Whatever Devin's faults may be, I think he's usually good about sticking to that. Sometimes Amy exasperates me with her digressions.

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Bones's hamfisted opposition to Genesis (and for all the overacting Shatner's accused of, really it's Kelley who takes the cake with the hammy acting here).

 

Heyheyheyheyhey now, DeForest Kelley sells the best damn ham this nation has ever seen, and we will not besmirch him by questioning it.

The best evidence that Bones never seeming too ridiculous in Kelley's hands is a minor miracle is Karl Urban. Saw Star Trek Beyond recently, and, yknow, solid movie, and I got used to Urban by the end, but speaking the way Bones does just doesn't sound right out of anybody but Kelley's mouth.

 

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Empire Strikes Back is not in this Canon, and Wrath of Khan almost certainly will be.

 

This is almost the greatest deleted scene from Fanboys II.

 

 

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I'm really on the fence with this one. I'm not a Trek guy. In fact, this is the first Star Trek anything I've seen that wasn't from Abrams. I will say that Devin and Dave were totally right about this being an easy film for non-Trek people to get into. The history of the series is there, but it doesn't overwhelm the film and alienate outsiders. I liked the film, but I just didn't connect with it much beyond that, and while I fully recognize Treks historical and cultural significance, like Amy, I question whether the films should get much credit for that significance.

 

I think I'm a soft no on this one, but I won't fault anyone for voting yes. And if nothing else, watching Khan might be the push I need to dive deeper into the Star Trek universe.

 

I couldn't have said it any better, but allow me to elaborate further.

 

As a non-Trekkie, I felt that Wrath of Kahn was a good introduction to this Universe. I felt welcome, and will be coming back for sure. So, is it Canon? Well, as Amy rightly put it - it's fine.

 

The whole thing ticks along nicely, I get the story arcs and character motivations for the Enterprise crew, and I am on board for the big discussions. The whole Kobayashi Maru parable is great, and makes a lot of sense to me. The fact that Kirk essentially did not understand it, but Spock did, is a wonderful aspect of the story. That's pretty cool. The big emotional consequence of Spock's actions registers, impacts and delivers.

 

As for Kahn and his motivations, I am less convinced. His arc feels contrived - I was half-expecting some kind of flashback with him and his wife having a picnic in a green field, under a tree, with a kid running in the foreground. It was that cheesy. The key moment should be when his second in command suggests they've won, so should move on, but Kahn decides to press on and overreaches. But this comes and goes, and it all sort of gets jumbled. Kahn's subsequent defeat, and his role in the deaths of his crew, ends up being kind of damp. Again, something that Amy said.

 

And then there's the subplot with David. What was that all about? I swear I watched the film 2 days before I listened to the podcast, and by then I had forgotten all about the David subplot. I get the argument that it's happening on the edges of the main thrust of the story, but isn't that poor storytelling? I'd have preferred it if that part of the story ended up on the editing room floor, to give Kahn some more space.

 

Because of these issues, the end felt like baloney to me. Why would Kirk be feeling young? His best friend died to save him and the ship from Kirk's past errors; Kahn and his crew are goners as well; the detonation they were trying to avoid ended up happening anyway. Is Kirk that much of an adrenaline junkie that this series of disasters reinvigorated him? Has he not learned anything from the Kobayashi Maru story?

 

Now, don't misunderstand me. As a coincidence I have watched two of Wrath of Kahn's contemporaries in the last few months: Flash Gordon and Krull. Both are terrible - horrible visuals, incomprehensive storytelling, insufferable characters made worse by wooden acting. The Wrath of Kahn may be cheap, a little muddled and poorly edited (in my opinion), but it's a masterpiece compared to what used to pass as SFF back in the early eighties. And this is not an attempt at damning with faint praise.

 

So, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn. It's a good film. It's fine. But it's a soft from me.

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I love that Amy gives these kinds of movie a hard time. They need to be challenged because the "geeky" movies that transcend their genre are the ones that really deserve extra recognition. It's vital to have someone that isn't steeped in the fandom so that they can approach it more objectively. I think that's a critical test for these kinds of movies, and as a huge genre fan I'm constantly thinking about how these films play for someone that comes in cold because those are the ones you can share with the most people.

 

Hear, hear.

 

It's exactly that sort of quality film criticism - from both Amy and Devin - that makes The Canon some of the best film criticism available in any format. You know that even if they tackled Citizen Kane they'd give it a hard time.

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I love that Amy gives these kinds of movies a hard time. They need to be challenged because the "geeky" movies that transcend their genre are the ones that really deserve extra recognition. It's vital to have someone that isn't steeped in the fandom so that they can approach it more objectively. I think that's a critical test for these kinds of movies, and as a huge genre fan I'm constantly thinking about how these films play for someone that comes in cold because those are the ones you can share with the most people.

 

Plus, it makes it all the more interesting. It creates friction between the two. Devin "gets" geek, which often means playing by certain rules an outsider like Amy won't necessarily understand... or if she does, she'll question why the rules are there to begin with. Which, of course, leads an equally exasperated Devin to accuse Amy of nitpicking or hound after the conclusions she's come to.

 

Going back to what I said before, because Amy isn't as steeped into geekdom as Devin is, when she sees something like Re-Animator and Evil Dead II side by side, or Cannibal Holocaust and Blair Witch Project, she just sees two examples of a genre that share many surface-level similarities. She thinks about it in terms of functionality.

 

"Here's one gory horror flick, why do we need the other?"

 

But then Devin points out we already have at least a dozen coming-of-age narratives in the Canon. Amy will retort those movies at least approached things differently-

 

To which Devin pounces and says, "So do these two movies!"

 

And you know what? It's a legitimate counterattack. Amy is not as well-versed in these kinds of movies and---yeah, I'll say it---she doesn't quite "get it." Conversely, when the movie handles more female-oriented subject matter, the positions are reversed, the tables are turned. Strictly in the realm of geekdom cinema, though?

 

That right there is the strength of the show, especially where geek movies are concerned.

 

It's the Insider (Devin) vs. the Outsider (Amy).

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I think it's interesting how in the Boyz N The Hood episode, Devin took John Singleton to task for his unmotivated camera. Meanwhile Amy pointed out how Wrath of Khan is basically a tv movie with it's staging and it's written off as part of the 'charm'. I fear that nostalgia is causing some to lower the bar as to what is a great movie.

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At the end of the day when I watch Wrath of Khan I'm consistently reminded that with another director, and some script improvements this could be a much better movie.

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I think it's interesting how in the Boyz N The Hood episode, Devin took John Singleton to task for his unmotivated camera. Meanwhile Amy pointed out how Wrath of Khan is basically a tv movie with it's staging and it's written off as part of the 'charm'. I fear that nostalgia is causing some to lower the bar as to what is a great movie.

 

I disagree with Amy's characterization of the filmmaking in Wrath of Khan. The limitations are mainly ones of budget (having to re-use sets, not shooting on location, etc.). However, I think Meyer makes good use of the widescreen frame, and the editing does a pretty good job of "covering" for the fact that everyone is standing on cheap-looking sets (and in some cases not even in the scene together). He's not swinging the camera around like Scorsese, but it's a solid "classical" filmmaking approach. The camera is not unmotivated most of the time.

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The limitations are mainly ones of budget (having to re-use sets, not shooting on location, etc.).

 

It's a HUGE factor. They basically folded the budget of the failure-to-launch "Star Trek: Phase II" TV series into "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" budget which dramatically inflated the budget from what it really was, making if extremely unprofitable even though the box office wasn't terrible. To earn some of that back they pretty much stripped STII:TWoK down to the absolute bare bones. It's actually pretty amazing, considering what they had to work with. (for similar reasons, I am very forgiving of Hellraiser IV: Bloodline". Talk about some incredible budgetary & studio shenanigans!)

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I want this movie in the canon for all the reasons Devin articulated on the show, but I disagree with Dave that it has had a significant cinematic impact. All it could have done was thematically influence the movies that followed, but those themes are so broad that they surely would have organically found their way into the film lexicon over the last 34 years. As they talk about, the themes are mostly Shakespearean and existential. What is so unique about that? Just because they hadn't existed in a somewhat sci-fi setting (which I find slightly dubious in and of itself)? The idea that it had any impact on sci-fi space battles is absurd. Modern space battles involve ships zipping around each other like Top Gun in space or Star Wars, not lumbering tactical slogs like something out of The Hunt for Red October (which I appreciate very much).

 

I also never really thought of it as a deconstruction of the square jawed 60s hero. That argument is a little more persuasive, but so sidelined by the over the top performances. Even if the story is trying to do that I never felt that Kirk felt it in a meaningful way.

 

This is one of the first episodes where I can clearly see all sides of Devin's and Amy's arguments (and Dave's) and Amy's case for it not being necessarily a canon-level film has merit. But since there is no The Canon: TV podcast I have to put in my vote for a movie I love, but recognize as being corny, melodramatic, heavy handed and a lot of fun... almost as much as First Contact (but I know that will never get in).

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