Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan represents a complete rethink of Gene Roddenberry's television series as a big screen property. A course correction even. Nicholas Meyer's film junks the celestial wonder of the financially unsuccessful Star Trek: The Motion Picture to focus on a smaller scale story, one ruled by heated human emotions rather than budget munching miniatures. Frequency and intensity of special effects aside, Wrath of Khan's most obvious and consistent points of departure from its predecessor are the ways in which this future is depicted. Motion Picture offered up an atypically fleshy intergalactic utopia - extras and the main cast both dressed in form-fitting slips that seemed to be reaching for a classical, Roman, immodesty. In practice, the wardrobe department delivered something closer to the lusty permissiveness of a Californian health farm. Wrath of Khan is gussied up by comparison, the Enterprise crew kitted out in ceremonial naval suits with Napoleonic overtones.
Wrath of Khan then is a high seas adventure; a hermetically sealed submarine film played out against the backdrop of a massive purple nebula. Its climactic action sequence features two blinded, crumbling, craft rooting around in the ocean of space, both Captains attempting to gaze through static screens to get a bead on their quarry. When the Enterprise and Khan's hijacked Starfleet ship do clash they pull up alongside each other, emptying their photon cannons at exposed flank and battering their opponent's vulnerable, human, crew. Khan, played by Ricardo Montalban, thrashes around in a Shakespearean mania throughout; a raging storm of blood and invective, surrounded by muted, beardless, chattel. As wonderful as Montalban is - last seen chanting himself through ruinous head injuries with Herman Melville quotations - it's the dignity and quiet heroism of Leonard Nimoy's Spock that proves indelible. Braving a localised nuclear disaster to save his crewmates, a blistering and irradiated Spock uses his final moments to reassure William's Shatner's cocksure Captain that, despite appearances, he has acted logically - trading his own life for those of his friends.