1982: The Summer of Khan

This summer marks the 25th anniversary of my all-time favorite movie summer, and today is the 25th anniversary of the release of my all-time favorite summer film, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

Here’s the trailer, in case you’re unfamiliar:

I was 13 years old at the time, so yes, this was also the incredible summer of the likes of Blade Runner, The Road Warrior, Tron, Conan the Barbarian, The Thing, E.T., Rocky III and Poltergeist (and Porky’s, which came out in March), as well as the peak of my arcade video game addiction (mostly Galaga, Donkey Kong, and Crazy Climber). But TWOK trumped them all.

It’s very difficult to condense what this film means to me in a short blog post. Suffice it to say that the film worked then so well because I was 13 and faced with all the usual early teen life-altering realizations and decisions, which included whether or not I was “outgrowing” my interest in SF, and in Star Trek in particular. We all go through this in one form or another at this point in our lives. If it’s not SF, it’s comics, or stuffed animals, or Barbies, or whatever, all anchoring us to a childhood that other bits of culture (sex, cars, music, drinking, drugs – in actuality or (more likely) in any combination of allusions and representations) are pulling as away from.

TWOK reinscribed Trek (and SF, and fandom in general) back into anxious existence through its wit, panache, thrills, and (yes) heart. Mock all you want, but damn it, Spock’s “death” scene is (still) genuinely moving, as is Nimoy’s voiceover of the familar “Space…the final frontier” delivered a few minutes later. Along the way: some joyous scenery chewing, copious blood and gore (at least for Star Trek), a few bravura effects sequences, and James Horner’s unabashedly bombastic score. I love this film.

I should also point out that the first time I saw this film, way back in a three-plex over by NAU in Flagstaff, Arizona (that’s now, alas, an office suite), was the most engaging moviegoing experience I’ve ever had. A packed house, very into Trek, experiencing it all anew, laughing, gasping, and cheering, and bursting into sustained applause as the closing credits rolled. I went back to Trek opening nights for years thereafter, and I keep hoping that experience happens again in newer films, but nothing has ever come close to that night.

Let me also mention the second-most important film of my all-time movie summer, Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

If TWOK reaffirmed one kind of identity, Fast Times introduced to me, mere weeks before I started high school, a particular vision of 1980s teenage life as sexy, scary, irresponsible, depressing, and intoxicating. A world of trying on identities, of figuring out girls as sexual and emotional and intellectual, and navigating your own and your male friends’ changing masculinities. I didn’t live in Southern California, but I could still recognize the film’s situations and archetypes in my own experiences. That is, that big question, “Who are you?”, at this age, and not quite realizing, until much later, that that “you” is fleeting.

I’m missing out on much of the “big” movie summer of ought-seven due to other responsibilities, but I hope the children of 1994 get as much out of this one as I did back in ’82.

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3 Responses to “1982: The Summer of Khan”

  1. Jason Davis Says:

    Sounds like someone needs to pick up the latest issue of CREATIVE SCREENWRITING and read my 25th anniversary interview with TREK II writer-director Nicholas Meyer…

  2. Scott Ellington Says:

    I think that’s CS Vol.14 #3 on page 14 Lost Scenes: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
    an article that’s both informative and valuable, although my hands-down favorite CS feature was in
    Vol.13 # 2, pg 55, Jason’s Breaking the Story: Showrunner Tim Minear on Creating a TV Episode,
    along with the article that follows it, concerning reinventing Angel and The Inside.

    The single thing I think would most immediately benefit convergence cultural evolution is a glossary that
    defines terms like “breaking”, “moments vs. moves”, “fan”, and “flobotnam” so that an increasingly vast
    spectrum of readers stumble less. I also think “fan” is a transitive verb, which would explain why
    counting the heads of transformative, intoxicated nouns tends toward academic fruitlessness.

  3. Scott Ellington Says:

    Correction:
    It’s CS 14,3; Nicholas Meyer and The Dramatist’s Truth”.
    I wish Bernard C. Meyer had put fan/cult-genic texts on his couch.


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