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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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Somehow, I doubt that. I checked. Most of them are on Devin's side. Here, it's more an even split. He's looking at these opinions about WoK - Galactiac's view, your's, etc - with a sad shake of the head.

 

There are a handful of negative takes over there, so it's probably both.

 

I'd actually say this thread tilts towards the negative (or perhaps mostly "soft no" votes -- people who like the film but don't think it's a Canon film). And yet, it's held a pretty consistent 65-35% lead in the voting.

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From Amy's arguments, I have concluded that she is not a science fiction fan. She wants her space movies to be about space people doing space things in space rockets, which is Star Wars, which is action/fantasy more than Sci-Fi. True Sci-Fi is about the human condition, and how it is affected by extreme situations (traveling the galaxy, facing the unknown, etc). That's what makes Trek, especially the smaller stories (Balance of Terror, WOK) so great. And I get her point that Trek works best on television, but this is a great film, and don't great films deserve to be in the Canon?

 

I hate to keep going back to this but I have to pretty deeply insist that Wrath of Khan is not a sci-fi movie. The overall premise of Trek is definitely sci-fi in nature, but Khan is one of the least sci-fi stories ever told with this property. It's a character drama and an action/revenge movie.

 

The few sci-fi concepts it has (genetic engineering, ability to create life w/ technology) are not meaningful to the plot or themes in any significant way.

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I haven't seen the film, so I won't be voting this round. But I did want to chime in and say this was the most uncomfortable I've ever been listening to a Canon episode. Dave Schilling's presence (unintentionally, I'm sure) somehow disrupted the balancing act the show typically is. I don't think Devin has ever been so brusque or dismissive in an episode, perhaps emboldened by Dave's tittering.

 

Also, the Canon's surfeit of indulgence picks has transformed it into a fat blowhard, in the likeness of one of its creators. Zing.

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Wow, way more comments than I expected, so I don't know if I'm treading on well-worn territory here.

 

Anyway, I fully agree with Amy's point that we don't have to put a Star Trek movie into the Canon. It is more famous and popular as a TV series than as a movie series.

 

However, I disagree with most of her other points this week. I believe she raised the question of whether people who are not fans of the TV series would be into this movie. I certainly fall into that category. Aside from catching a few seconds of TNG while flipping channels and wondering why the dude from Reading Rainbow was wearing a visor over his eyes, I had seen no Star Trek until the Abrams reboot came out. (My college roommate was astonished that I had never even heard the original series theme song before.) I knew from a general knowledge of pop culture that Shatner had played Kirk, Nimoy had played Spock, there was a Scottish guy, and Patrick Stewart was in the newer series. There were lines and phrases I was familiar with: "Live long and prosper," "Beam me up, Scotty," "I'm giving her all she's got, Captain!", "I'm a doctor, not a ____," and of course, "Khaaaaaaaaaan!" But I had no context for any of it until I saw the 2009 reboot, and I greatly enjoyed that film. It motivated me to find out whether these characters were as or more interesting when played by their original cast, and I had seen enough Robot Chicken/Family Guy style spoofs of Kirk shouting "Khaaaaaaaaan!" that I figured I'd start with that. I was blown away by it in many ways, not the least of which being how well it informed the reboot. (For example, I liked the idea of the Kobayashi Maru in the reboot, but found it much more satisfying as introduced in Wrath of Khan and actually used as a major theme of the film.) Due to the limitations of special effects, the emotional arcs of the characters were the crutches to lean on instead of action scenes, and despite Shatner and Montalban putting on an overacting clinic, the emotional core was extremely solid. Suffice it to say, I was impressed by the film.

 

Interestingly enough, seeing Wrath of Khan made me want to see Space Seed and other TOS episodes, and... I didn't like them. Space Seed is not great except for Montalban's enjoyable performance, and I completely reject the idea that you have to have seen Space Seed to understand or appreciate Wrath of Khan. And the other dozen or so episodes I saw ranged from fine to boring. (Sorry, hardcore Trekkies. Off the top of my head, the episodes I saw included The Naked Time, The Enemy Within, The Menagerie, Balance of Terror, Arena, The City on the Edge of Forever, Amok Time, Mirror Mirror, and The Trouble With Tribbles. It just didn't do it for me.) Never even tried any of the other series after that, since the only thing I really did like from the original series were the characters.

 

The points are:

- I'm not a Star Trek fan, but I really liked Wrath of Khan.

- I saw Wrath of Khan without having seen Space Seed and I still enjoyed it.

- The fact that the Star Trek franchise is popular is not reason in and of itself to include a Star Trek movie in the Canon, but this particular film works on its own and, I believe, is Canon-worthy on its own. If there were no Star Trek TV series, no books, and no other movies than Wrath of Khan, then Wrath of Khan would still be a good movie. The fact that these characters exist in other media and are well-known in popular culture only serves to make the ending that much more emotional, but I don't think that should be held against the film.

 

So yeah, I voted yes.

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(Apologies if someone already said this.)

 

To Amy's argument about "Khan" borrowing from other works (i.e.Moby Dick) and not having an identity for itself, my counterpoint: hip-hop. Hip-hop was built on a DJ taking a sample from a certain song and looping it over and over while also combining that beat with a sample from another song to create a whole new song. All while an MC raps poetry on top of it. Does Public Enemy have their own identity even though their music is made up of pieces of other artists' work? What about Grandmaster Flash or GZA or Dr. Dre or Kendrick Lamar or Madlib?

 

To keep the argument in film, what do you say about Tarantino? His entire aesthetic is an amazing amalgamation or some of the greats in cinema from the 60's, 70's, and 80's. You could say the same thing about Steven Spielberg only swap out the decades with 30's and 40's and 50's and so on.

 

The point still stands that even if you're lifting direct quotes from some other work (which, granted, "Khan" does a bit too much), that doesn't really mean it's not making its own point. "Khan" is using Moby Dick and Tale of Two Cities to tell its own story. Those quotes are there to support a larger theme, much in the same way Kendrick Lamar uses beats from old jazz standards or how Tarantino uses crash zooms in "Kill Bill". It's not unoriginal or "lazy", it's purposeful and apt.

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Hip-hop was built on a DJ taking a sample from a certain song and looping it over and over while also combining that beat with a sample from another song to create a whole new song.

I hate to be pedantic here, but rap music precedes sampling. Rap was built on a DJ playing two copies of the same (usually disco) record and more specifically, Grandmaster Flash's pioneering use of the crossfader, which didn't previously exist in the modern sense. A DJ could play the 32 bar instrumental breakdown in the middle of Chic's "Le Freak" while cueing up the same breakdown on a second turntable and LP, fading between the two. (This is where "breakbeats" come from.) When it was time to record in the studio, instead of sampling (which didn't exist yet) a band was hired to play the same breakdown for 15 minutes straight.

 

Also, while I think your sampling defense can be applied to Tarantino, as he literally quotes (less generously "rips off") dialogue, costumes, and other elements from the exploitation films he loves, it's not really relevant here. Not to mention that -- unlike in music -- Tarantino doesn't have to license or pay royalties to the filmmakers whose works he borrows.

 

I think Amy has a legitimate criticism, but I don't think Khan's broad story concepts are so derivative. This film (and all good Trek) is character driven and the Trek characters, for the most part, possess their own strong identities that are applied to larger themes like "revenge" and "sacrifice".

 

*I don't mean to come off condescending, insert smiley emoji here

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This thread is full of commenters, like myself, who are either trekkies or at the very least admirers of the Star Trek series, and who are still voting no. So I think that what is central in this discussion is that it is undeniable that a knowledge or understanding of the Star Trek phenomenon is essential to understanding late twentieth century American culture. It is also undeniable that it is necessary to watch Wrath of Khan to be culturally literate - you don't want to be the person at the dinner party who can't catch the Khan reference - but the feeling among some here is that even granting all that, it is probably not essential to watch Khan in order to be film literate.

 

Even in 1982, there are three other sci-fi films that are more influential and hold-up a lot better in terms of their design, cinematography, performances, narrative, and overall vision. Those are Blade Runner, The Thing, and E.T. - all of which happen to be in the canon.

 

I completely get the love for these movies - I was 13 years old in 1982 and I saw all those films in the movie theater (multiple times, I might add) and I I have owned all of them in VHS, Laserdisc, DVD and now BluRay - but how many 1982 sci-fi films do we need in the canon?

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Personal attacks on Devin and Amy always make me uncomfortable. I don't really agree with one of them's style of criticism, and the other's manner of argumentation, but I feel like that's part of the package deal with this podcast. If these were two perfectly empirical, eminently polite critics, it wouldn't be much to listen to, and they don't seem to have problems with one another that ever extend beyond the heat of the debate. I also feel like Devin gonna Devin, in terms of pointing out what he thinks are crummy opinions. That said, it seems like he mostly takes issue with the question of what genre this is, and how it fits in said genre, and whether this even matters when considering its possible inclusion, that's raged throughout the comments. Now, I'm one of those people who will argue rather definitively that, say, Star Wars, is not a science fiction film. As for this, I'm inclined to say that it's a hybrid, a sci-fi drama/thriller. I don't think it uses the sci-fi to particularly good effect, but I think the question of Project Genesis, and the presence of however-clumsily-executed matters of ethics as they pertain to Starfleet and Genesis, gives it a sufficiently sci-fi leaning to place it within the genre. But I also don't think that matters terribly much here, honestly. The two biggest questions you have to ask about a Canon film are "how good is it?", and "how important is it?", and these apply to genre only selectively, I think. My own argument for Wrath's noninclusion is primarily based around not thinking it's good or specifically-influential enough, whatever exact type of film it is, and secondarily, not quite representative enough of Star Trek, if you allow that that point even matters.

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It gets in on quality alone. It's an intelligent, gripping, charming, heartbreaking drama. It's well-scored, has a very fun performance from Montalban, and is basically the definition of a "space opera". Doesn't matter if Trek works better on TV. Doesn't matter if it's iconic to the point that Paramount keeps trying to re-make it over and over and over again. Doesn't matter if there's a steep drop-off to even the #2 Trek film ("the one with the whales"), which itself would not be close to Canon-worthy.

 

Wrath of Khan is a sensational adventure with many, many unforgettable scenes and an ending for the ages. Of course I'm voting it in.

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Personal attacks on Devin and Amy always make me uncomfortable.

I hope you're not implying that anyone here is attacking Amy or Devin, especially not by reposting tweets.

 

Someone accused Amy of "not getting it" but things have been pretty civil. By the way, have you noticed how small Devin's hands are? What's he hiding under that beard, anyways?

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I hope you're not implying that anyone here is attacking Amy or Devin, especially not by reposting tweets.

 

Someone accused Amy of "not getting it" but things have been pretty civil. By the way, have you noticed how small Devin's hands are? What's he hiding under that beard, anyways?

 

There was that one dude who made a "zing" out of calling Devin a fat blowhard. So, aside from that one guy...

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There was that one dude who made a "zing" out of calling Devin a fat blowhard. So, aside from that one guy...

 

 

Yeah, it's mostly this I'm referring to. The comment about Amy as well. But in general a lot of these threads have one or two people, sometimes a lot more, saying less-than-civil things.

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There's a good chance this will get me banned from the forum for life, but I couldn't resist when viewing the last few posts about personal attacks on Devin. If you can accept this as all in good fun, then here's a supercut of The Wrath of Devin:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f3feqyi23Mc

 

This is not intended maliciously or as antagonism. If I see comments that it is not viewed as funny, I will remove this post.

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Yeah, it's mostly this I'm referring to. The comment about Amy as well. But in general a lot of these threads have one or two people, sometimes a lot more, saying less-than-civil things.

 

Devin tends to attract less-than-savory characters.

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The argument I heard on the podcast in favor of the film could be summed up as "we agree with many of the flaws Amy points out, it's a pretty flawed movie, but there are a lot of Trek movies and this one is the best of the batch. I know there's more to it but that's what I heard and it's lame.

 

I like the one with the whales more.

 

And Amy's right this time -- there wasn't enough Spock until the very end. I think that's why I like the one with the whales more.

 

There are several good Bond movies.

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If these were two perfectly empirical, eminently polite critics...

 

You might as well say, "if these were two unicorns..."

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And Amy's right this time -- there wasn't enough Spock until the very end. I think that's why I like the one with the whales more.

 

Chekov gets more to do in this movie than Spock. I think Spock's death scene is a classic scene, but if they really wanted to knock it out of the park they should have given him some kind of beefy arc that resolved itself when he died. It feels a bit like they set up the "needs of the many" line near the beginning, and then took him for granted until they need him to save the ship.

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So I grew up watching TNG and being into Star Trek movies (not necessarily the show as much as a kid). But I also grew up in a humanities family, and I kind of get where Amy's coming from being supremely unimpressed with Trek's literary references. Trek has always suffered from a bit of a high school reading list syndrome. That is to say, it's always felt like the writers of Trek were the kind of guys who read pretty much every piece of sci-fi and fantasy they could lay their hands on but their general knowledge of the popular literary canon was pretty much limited to whatever was assigned to them in their high school or first year college curriculum. So you get a lot of real basic classic works (although TNG had a deep cut Epic of Gilgamesh reference so kudos for that) that they lean REAL heavily on as if to say "hey look, this is serious stuff to be taken seriously, serious minded people who don't think sci-fi is serious" when they should probably be referencing guys like Jules Verne and Edgar Rice Burroughs if they're being honest with what inspired them to begin with.

 

But then I also think Amy largely misinterprets the movie as being about revenge when it is pretty explicitly about mortality. It's not about Kirk vs Khan, but Kirk vs time. You get older. You have regrets. Your kids become strangers, and then your friends start dying. Even the conflict with Khan, which doesn't seem all that applicable to every day life on the face of it (most of us don't have arch enemies waiting in the shadows), reflects the way past actions can blindside you with their consequences way on down the line. And I think the movie is really kind of smart about exploring all these things in a way that most sci-fi adventure films really aren't because it's not often we get a honest to god middle aged person as a protagonist in that genre.

 

I'm a soft yes on this one. I love Trek. I would put three Trek films in my personal canon, and this would be one of them. And my stance has always been to vote on the personal level for this thing. So I vote a soft yes (only soft because I like IV and VI a little more if I'm being honest).

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This is not intended maliciously or as antagonism. If I see comments that it is not viewed as funny, I will remove this post.

 

It's kinda funny, though I have to wonder how much time went into editing this clip. It's not like Devin's the only person out there these days who seems compulsively drawn to umming and uhhing all the time. Not just talking podcasts, it's a national epidemic.

 

Which is why I advocate an all-typing society. Snapchat style. Imagine being able to edit everything you say. Much better that way. Sometimes I go weeks without actually conversing with anyone vocally. I'm much happier that way.

 

The argument I heard on the podcast in favor of the film could be summed up as "we agree with many of the flaws Amy points out, it's a pretty flawed movie, but there are a lot of Trek movies and this one is the best of the batch. I know there's more to it but that's what I heard and it's lame.

 

I like the one with the whales more.

 

And Amy's right this time -- there wasn't enough Spock until the very end. I think that's why I like the one with the whales more.

 

There are several good Bond movies.

 

Ummm...yes there are. And there are several good Trek movies. If four counts as several. But as there are twice as many Bond films as Trek films, I think it's reasonable to wonder if there are eight such good Bond films. And, of course, there are. There are probably sixteen good Bond films. No one who's a fan of both series (of which I am eminently qualified) would doubt that Bond has had the better run. But Bond doesn't have 400+ TV episodes as counterweight. Yeah, Trek's better on TV. Cinematically, it had a good run, once upon a time, but it fell flat on its face when it tried to take a adult-leaning dramatic sci-fi series and turn it into something to compete with trope-y 90s action movies. And when they tried to turn that into post-Marvel action movies, they just dragged that face-planted series along, and scraped off every bit of head-y flesh down to the bone, revealing a grisly, long-dead, completely unrecognisable corpse. And with a face no less-punchable, given Chris Pine.

 

Back to the point: WoK isn't Spock's film. TMP was Spock's film. WoK is an ensemble pic, with Kirk at the center, but with Spock, Khan, and guest actors filling out the lead roles. But Spock owns the finale, and that's enough. It's the most moving part of the film, and giving that to the most-fan-favorite character is a 10/10 moment. A film that finishes strong is always gonna get extra points with me. WoK starts well enough, and just gets better and better as it goes along. Only escalation, and with a tear-dripping final scene. Even Shatner does a great job of losing his/Kirk's composure during the eulogy.

 

With the advantage of time (and I never believed Spock was dead, because I didn't get into Trek until 1992, so I even saw "Unification" YEARS before WoK), the end of this movie feels a lot like how I've heard the end of Sergeant Pepper's described, that final chord (or whatever, I don't know music) from "A Day in the Life". I first heard it described as indicating that "rock could go on forever". The end of WoK doesn't feel like an ending. It feels like a promise that this franchise will never die. With an ending like that, with such a dramatic, then heart-shattering, then moving, then touching, then poignant, all within ten minutes. It made Trek feel bigger than ever. Even for someone who had already seen all of TNG, DS9 and VOY (I came to the TOS movies very late). This one ending, of this one film, from 1982, just dwarfed everything I grew up with throughout the 90s. To me, it reads that Trek will always live, because it has this one moment of unmitigated greatness to live up to and cherish always. WoK is Trek eternal. Never was there so much greatness so greatly condensed. It was humanist, character-based, continuity-based, mystical, logical, and just plain great entertainment. There are episodes of TNG and DS9 that I feel are, minute-for-minute, more effective than WoK, but they don't feel half so grand.

 

Yeah, WoK is a highpoint of the franchise. But that's not why I'm voting for it. It's also a highpoint of genre filmmaking in general.

 

But I also grew up in a humanities family, and I kind of get where Amy's coming from being supremely unimpressed with Trek's literary references. Trek has always suffered from a bit of a high school reading list syndrome. That is to say, it's always felt like the writers of Trek were the kind of guys who read pretty much every piece of sci-fi and fantasy they could lay their hands on but their general knowledge of the popular literary canon was pretty much limited to whatever was assigned to them in their high school or first year college curriculum.

 

[..]

 

I'm a soft yes on this one. I love Trek. I would put three Trek films in my personal canon, and this would be one of them. And my stance has always been to vote on the personal level for this thing. So I vote a soft yes (only soft because I like IV and VI a little more if I'm being honest).

 

You like VI more than II? How do you reconcile General Chang's flagrantly, inappropriate, unprofessionally gratutious Shakespeare-quoting? It almost kills the movie for me. Though it's still my fourth-favorite of the series, if only because the film has other characters.

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Really into the love for IV on here, it's my favorite Trek film. But I'm also one of the few who actually really digs The Motion Picture so what do I know (I really like the ideas it tries to dig into and yeah the pacing is a real problem but I admire it as an ambitious failure).

 

Also no one's said anything totally unreasonable so far on this forum so I have no idea what Devin's on about? Especially when the passionate "no" arguments are coming from Trekkies themselves. "The sort of dismissive comments about Trek and scifi I thought we were done making thirty years ago" anyone know what he's referring to here?

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(most of us don't have arch enemies waiting in the shadows)

 

Speak for yourself.

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So I grew up watching TNG and being into Star Trek movies (not necessarily the show as much as a kid). But I also grew up in a humanities family, and I kind of get where Amy's coming from being supremely unimpressed with Trek's literary references. Trek has always suffered from a bit of a high school reading list syndrome. That is to say, it's always felt like the writers of Trek were the kind of guys who read pretty much every piece of sci-fi and fantasy they could lay their hands on but their general knowledge of the popular literary canon was pretty much limited to whatever was assigned to them in their high school or first year college curriculum. So you get a lot of real basic classic works (although TNG had a deep cut Epic of Gilgamesh reference so kudos for that) that they lean REAL heavily on as if to say "hey look, this is serious stuff to be taken seriously, serious minded people who don't think sci-fi is serious" when they should probably be referencing guys like Jules Verne and Edgar Rice Burroughs if they're being honest with what inspired them to begin with.

 

But then I also think Amy largely misinterprets the movie as being about revenge when it is pretty explicitly about mortality. It's not about Kirk vs Khan, but Kirk vs time. You get older. You have regrets. Your kids become strangers, and then your friends start dying. Even the conflict with Khan, which doesn't seem all that applicable to every day life on the face of it (most of us don't have arch enemies waiting in the shadows), reflects the way past actions can blindside you with their consequences way on down the line. And I think the movie is really kind of smart about exploring all these things in a way that most sci-fi adventure films really aren't because it's not often we get a honest to god middle aged person as a protagonist in that genre.

 

I voted no (my long ass post is a few pages back) but this is the best argument for a yes that I've seen and your thematic description actually makes me want to re-evaluate it.

 

And yeah, Star Trek (especially the movies and TNG era) is really heavy-handed with the rather obvious and basic literary references. Sherlock Holmes, Moby Dick, Shakespeare, etc.. not that those aren't great works (they are!) but they're just the most cliched idea of "grrrrreat LIT-reh-CHAHHHH".

 

Self-indulgent TNG sidenote since we're talking about Trek anyway- why on earth didn't they just make Picard a Brit? Patrick Stewart is just SOOO British that the conceit that he was playing a Frenchman just always felt like a thing the writers should've dispensed with once he was cast.

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A vote yes for me. The original movies were my first impression of Trek in any form, so it wasn't decades of history that made the film or Spock's death land for me. The film just works, as adventure film for me as a kid and now. More so as an adult I appreciate the themes of mortality and aging better now than I did then, especially after seeing how many other aging franchises tired and thoroughly failed to tackle the same themes (looking at you KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL).

 

Could Spock be in more scenes? Sure, but so could Sulu, Uhura, even Bones. For the purpose of a stand alone film, he makes in impression early in the film, sets up his core role of being one of the pillars on which Kirk steadies himself on... and then he's taken away, in the one no-win situation that Kirk can't rewrite the system for (until the next movie, but that's outside this discussion).

 

I don't think being the "best" Trek should give it a pass into the Canon. Its legacy has never been defined by its cinematic achievements, it's high point are mostly elsewhere. But I do think it earns a place placed on just piece a great adventure film that never relies on punching out the bad guy or refrigerating the hero's girlfriend. A boy's adventure film, to be sure (and that may serve a better ground to vote against it, sure), but its does a superb job of presenting an thrilling movie with just people thinking and outsmarting each other.

 

Amy may have point about the literary quotes tho. I hadn't realized it, but I did laugh when she pointed it out. I do wonder how many people in the future will think they're quoting this movie by mistake.

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