Friday, March 6, 2015

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan - a toupological analysis

And so there was a sequel: Khan. Genesis. Kirk's son. Spock dies...

1982's Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is widely considered as either one of the best, or indeed the best of the original series big screen outings.

Firstly, why was this film ever made? For all its creative failings and production turmoil 1979's Star Trek: The Motion Picture managed to rake-in a respectable $139 million worldwide against what was then an astronomical budget of $46 million (a barley acceptable 302 percent return; incidentally 1977's Star Wars cost only $11 million and ended up making $775.4 million - a 7,049 percent return!).

Asides from satiating a hungry army of Star Trek fans, we suspect that a considerable part of ST:TMP's box office success was a direct result of the Star Wars boom - for many non-Trekkers, the Enterprise crew's premiere big screen outing served as a sufficient sci-fi fix in the run up to the mid-1980 release of The Empire Strikes Back.

In many ways, Star Wars (1977) was more like the Star Trek TV series than ST:TMP

And so Star Wars saved Star Trek not once, but twice. Fox had a franchise in Star Wars. Did Paramount have one in Star Trek?

"The Creator" Gene Roddenberry was out. Kicked upstairs to the ceremonial role of Executive Consultant. TV producer Harve Bennett instead assumed the reigns. "Could you make [a better picture] for less than forty-five f*@#ing million dollars?" Bennett recalled a studio exec asking him.

"Oh boy, where I come from, I could make five movies for that."

Harve Bennet and Gene Roddenberry.

After a few months, however, Bennett and writer Jack Sowards were stuck in rewrite hell. Lots of ideas, but no workable script. Enter the famously neurotic writer-director Nicholas Meyer. He described a meeting with Bennett and fellow producer Robert Sallin:

"Why don’t we make a list of everything we like in these five drafts? Could be a plot, a subplot, a sequence, a scene, a character, a line even . . .And then I will write a new script and cobble together all the things we choose."

A miraculously quick rewrite ensued, which led to a rather miraculous script.

Testing the waters? Bill Shatner performs a scalp meld on director Nicholas Meyer.

We should note that at this point in the history of Star Trek, the behind-the-scenes story and on-screen antics of the Starship Enterprise essentially fuse into one.

The now-defunct Cinefantastique magazine.

During the 1980s, it wasn't enough to merely go see Treks II, III, IV etc... Rather, in magazines such as Starlog and Cinefantastique, fans could learn about every aspect of how these films were made, from discarded story ideas to the effects magic of ILM. All part of the package...

Creating a nebula in a tank - source.

Another crucial factor in Star Trek II was Leonard Nimoy's initial reluctance to return for a "cash-in" adventure: "I really was adamant that I would not work on Star Trek II because I had been so frustrated with [The Motion Picture] and I was feeling very negative about the whole thing," the actor recalled.

But Harve Bennet had a potentially irresistible hook: "Leonard, how would you like to play your death scene?" the producer asked Nimoy over the phone. Spock was in.

So this sequel ended up defying logic - the fragmented nature of its construction actually helped rather than hindered the final product. Crucially, the audience watches a story unfold with no idea about what will happen next...

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is responsible for creating something of a storytelling fallacy: discard the loftiness of the original and bring in a bad-ass "black hat" villain in the sequel. Wham! Bang! Boom! That's more like it!

As director Bryan Singer said of his never-realised plans for a sequel to (the yawn-fest that was) 2006's Superman Returns: "I plan to get all Wrath of Khan on it." Flash forward to 2013 and the literal sequel to the literal re-boot of the Star Trek franchise, which literally brings back Khan; and, in case that wasn't subtle enough, it was literally called Into Darkness. Get it? Dark. Villain. Is we becoming more dumber?

Khan - now blond and mulleted.

But the strengths of the 1982 sequel arguably have very little to do with Khan alone. Indeed, he is barely in the movie. Stuck on the bridge of the starship Reliant spouting histrionic tongue-twisters, one could even argue that the villain represents the weakest part of The Wrath of Khan, a mere shadow of the devious, ultra-manipulative tyrant of the original series episode "Space Seed".

A possible key reason for The Wrath of Khan's strong script is that it avoided the narrative traps, which to greater or lesser extent ensnared no less than four of the original Trek films:
ST: I - We'll get there and see something amazing!
ST: III - We'll get there and hopefully find something amazing (and then bring it back)!
ST: IV - We'll get there and hopefully find something amazing (and then bring it back)!
ST: V - We'll get there and see something amazing!

ST:TMP - staring and waiting to get there...

Only II and VI present story structures, which are more snake-like, meaning countless unexpected twists and turns. VI, we would argue, is less successful at this with its somewhat muddled murder-mystery plot. From a storytelling viewpoint Star Trek II is mature, literate and bursting with all kinds of well-woven themes and tensions. And that has very little to do with the cliché about "getting all Wrath of Khan on it". That is just far too simplistic.  

Star Trek II isn't about explosions and villains - it is about life and death; old age and the creation of life; friendship and family; love and loss. It is Horatio Hornblower meets Charles Dickens. Back in 1958, Robert Wise, director of ST:TMP, directed a submarine movie called Run Silent, Run Deep - ironically, very similar to Meyer's deliberately more militaristic and claustrophobic Star Trek film...

Life and death...and life.
The production also included contentious re-shoots, filmed without Meyer's participation, in which Spock's death was made less final. As the end of production neared, it became clear that this movie might actually be good - so what the hell have we done by killing Spock? Backpedaling ensued, from "Remember..." to a coffin on Genesis. The groundwork had been laid for a Star Trek III.

"Remember..." (to leave room for a sequel)

For all the it's strengths, including a terrific score by James Horner, other movies in the series arguably do better in terms of cinematography (III and IV) and production design (again III and IV). Star Trek II never looked very good on home video with its very 1982-ish yellow-blood red color palette.

When the Enterprise bridge goes red for red alert, it goes almost totally red, which always looked pretty horrible on VHS and even DVD.

"Bleeding" reds on home video.

Speaking of Gayne Rescher's cinematography, why is Khan's Reliant bridge lit so cheerfully bright (with hints of minty green), while the Enterprise - along with the rest of the movie - is lit with far greater broodiness and contrast?

Odd mismatch - the "bright" villainous Khan and the very red Enterprise.

But there is something of a revelation to be had here, too: for anyone who hasn't seen this movie remastered on Blu-ray (hitherto the only one of the six properly restored for release on this format) we strongly recommend it. Though still unusual in terms of its aesthetic feel, the movie looks far better. The conscious effort to move away from the muted, under-lit look of ST:TMP and revive some of the colored gel techniques used in the Original Series leaps through the screen with a clarity not seen since Khan was released in cinemas.

In summary: certainly Khan suffers less from its low budget than TMP suffered from its excessive budget. But the lack of any location photography (until the tacked-on ending) is somewhat stifling, and the interior Genesis Cave (pictured above) set is rather odd and implausible. And, of course, Khan and Kirk never meet face to face. Lots of small gripes like that, but overall very successful.

Let's move swiftly to the hair...

Bill Shatner promotes Khan on the Merv Griffin Show. Note the easily identifiable demarcation line between toup and real hair.

The immovable "patty" of TMP is laid to rest in Star Trek II.

Rather, the hair returns to a slightly less perfect state, akin to the toup seen in newly-revealed (thanks to readers for tip) costume/makeup tests for Star Trek: The Motion Picture:

Bill Shatner in 1978, before he went on a crash diet. Note the less patty-like hair.

All part of a conscious effort by both Meyer and Bennet to have the characters look like they had aged since TOS. "I had to be dragged in kicking and screaming," Bill Shatner recalled of his reluctance with regards to spotlighting the middle-agedness of Captain Kirk.

While III has wind and IV has water, II sees very little physical action to challenge or disrupt the toupee. Perhaps this is why the movie represents the final Trek appearance of the "cap" version of the "T.J. Curly". For the next movies (no doubt caused by the demands of the very physical T.J. Hooker TV series in which the actor was starring) a sturdier, more resilient "T.J. Curly" would be affixed to the top and also the sides of the head.

An occasional flaw is visible (top left), but no real "toupological moments"

The closest we could find to a real "MTI" (Moment of Toupological Interest) was a shot from the end of the movie:

This, too, we believe, was part of the non-Meyer re-shoots. For some reason, there is an almost "Afro" look to Bill Shatner's hair in the wide shot. Why does the hair suddenly seem so curly? Is it to help visualize that Kirk is wound-up over the loss of Spock?

Finally, it is with great sadness that we publish this review at a time when three de facto "torch-holding producers" of the Star Trek franchise have passed away, all within the space of a little over a week - Maurice Hurley (a kind of Trotsky figure to Rick Berman's Stalin), Leonard Nimoy and Harve Bennett.

Bill Shatner made some eyebrow-raising headlines with regards to Leonard Nimoy's passing. Sometimes, the behind-the-scenes stories are far more complex, and the reactions of those who survive are not what we expect...

We note that Paul McCartney had not seen John Lennon for four years when his "brother" was tragically shot in December 1980. Never the most comfortable about expressing his feelings publicly, the devastated and deeply shocked former Beatle was unfairly berated for calling the news "a drag".

"We just don't have that kind of a relationship anymore - we used to..." Nimoy lamented of Shatner in a 2014 interview with Piers Morgan. The once brotherly pair seemed to have stopped their mutual Twitter banter some time ago, too. Were they really as close friends as Kirk and Spock? Did they have some kind of falling out? And do Kirk's rhetorical words in Star Trek II apply at all here?: " we deal with death is at least as important as how we deal with life, wouldn't you say?"

There are always possibilities...

Leonard Nimoy (1931-2015) and Harve Bennett (1930-2015)


  1. shats own real syrupMarch 7, 2015 at 12:52 AM

    Thanks shat toup, for the update! I must admit, that I absolutely hate the curly toupee, and therefore find, anything about it a crushing bore! I just cant stand that damn toupee, it's silly even ridiculous! And anyway, bill was starting too look, rather old by this time! I do like the back story too it, that was quite nice! But any photos, of him from any movies from 1976-2000, are going to have, that same boring old toup! He just worn it, for20 years too long! I really like, the old lace toupee, that was great, the old jk toup was a winner.

    1. When Spock dies in ST II Shat's hair suddenly becomes curly and in ST III and Spock comes back to life, Shat's hair becomes smoother and combed-through in the planet Vulcan scenes. What's the emotional subtext going on here? Perhaps these films have a greater depth than they're given credit for.

    2. geniecoefficientMarch 9, 2015 at 6:27 AM

      I'm with you SORS on hating the Curlys. I think they are the nadir, not the Lost pieces. They are worse than lost: they are trapped in the negative magnetic corridor (reference: fighting a ruthless enemy for all eternity. If they ever emerge the universe will be destroyed.

    3. Let's not confuse Curlies with Lost Years. While some of the TJ Curly might resemble Lost Years pieces, they are their own genus. While I understand your comment may be metaphorical, toupologicaly speaking they are part of a different toupee timeline.

    4. What? No one is confusing Curlies and Losts. That sentence means "They, not the Lost pieces, are the nadir". Never mind what the sentence says, that is what it means. As for your notion that a reader of this blog could confuse Curlies and Losts, all I can say is "Pffffft".

    5. Wife- What are you doing up so late on the computer?
      Me- I'm on the ShatToup blog debating the curly and lost years toupee styles
      Wife- You're an idiot

      I'm grateful we have a forum to engage in high level toupe talk. Thanks ShatToup!

    6. Six months later, Most Jerk, that is still hilarious.

  2. That pic of him on the mike Douglass show makes me really want to see whats under that rug. Because after he switched to a full wig with sides and all he started shaving most of his head to accommodate it. But I would have loved to have seen what a 1982 bare headed shatner would have looked like!

    1. thats a scary world to enter into. like pandoras box, somethings are best not seen. The karma and balance of the world would have swung in favour of Lord Satan if that happened.

  3. I meant to say Merv Griffin

  4. Deeply saddened by the passing of Leonard Nimoy, yet so glad that the sincere tribute of the previous blog update continues into this analysis.

    Feeling the distinct shadow of an elephant in the room- that of Ricardo Montalban's magnificent full-cap mullet hairpiece in 'The Wrath of Khan'. And did any other readers note the eerie similarity of the piece Ricardo wears in the TOS appearance with that of Shatner's in 'Naked City- Without Stick or Sword'?

    Ricardo appears to have been a hair wearer in real life, frequently choosing the curly option too. His styles often look similar to that worn by rock 'n' roll star, Carl Perkins.

    One of the big attractions of curly hair is that crisp styling is not so critical, or even desirable. Also, hair density can be much lower as the hair lengths tend to lie over each other, which made sense for older actors in the 70s and 80s when permanent waves were fashionable. It's also much more forgiving at the blend area where the piece meets the growing hair- provided the glandular hair has a similar curl and lower density.

  5. I wonder if he was trying to use the toupee to add height? He was known to wear lifts. Maybe in his thinking he could add a couple inches to the top of his head he could still claim to be 5'11".

    1. shats own real syrupMarch 11, 2015 at 10:43 PM

      Brilliant observation mark! Yes Shatner is quite short.

    2. Nice one Mark! It really does add height, especially in full-tousled mode from the Star Trek movie test shots and the blow-dried anti-gravity Merv Griffin appearance.

      The fuller, bulkier hairstyle also has the bonus effect of disguising a fuller, bulkier frame...

  6. A cool Lost Years toupee from 1972

    1. Wow adidas, that's quite a find. I'd agree it belongs in the "Lost Years" family. Shattoup, can you assign a toupologist to have a quick look?

    2. Wow, that is indeed one hell of a lost years "style". I just can't take my eyes off this thing. Apparently, neither can that lady in the picture.

    3. We're told that several key departments at the WSSTS have added a study of this picture to their schedules.

      To add to the considerable amount of highly admirable mutual encouragement and superlatives flowing from our commenters: great find! -ST

    4. Look at the extraordinary morphology of that specimen and consider the horizon (stratum) in which it was unearthed: Shat was visiting a teentsy hamlet in PA to star in community or college theater. It is really a stunning find that could yield unprecedented insight into the Lost lineage. Imagine the possibilities as local and community archives digitize and become searchable: they may emerge as Burgess Shales to this branch of the toupee tree. A new age is dawning...

  7. 10 things about William Shatner you didn't know
    #10 is the funniest,manual

    1. Indeed adidas!

      It's funny how they use a pic of him in number ten that looks like he is wearing a piece of carpet that was cut into sharp lines with a Stanley knife.

    2. Number 10 blows up the other facts, which all appear to be true. Well, nine out of ten isn't that bad. Maybe WSSTS should contact Avitt and direct him to the volumes of evidence and studies showing that his fact 10 is bogus beyond pretty much any doubt.

  8. Touposcopes up! Urgent analysis of photo needed ( This appears to be as bad a toup as Shats has put on in the public eye in many years. Could be its disheveled state that makes it look almost lost years bad.

    1. This toupee needs to do a reddit, and soon! (For another view: Most Jerk inserted a pic in the Nimoy post.)

    2. Shatner wearing a lace front toupee in Barbary Coast from 1975

      Also, some hairstyles I wish he'd worn instead in Star Trek The Motion Picture or Wrath of Khan


  9. A word about the budget of "Star Trek: The Motion Picture". Many people don't understand that the aborted attempt by Paramount to launch a 4th network and the proposed "STar trek: Phase II" TV series to lead it were rolled in to the production budget of "ST:TMP". That's why the expense of this picture was so astronomical. When the film actually made some money, the powers that be at Paramount felt that a modest investment in a second film might yield impressive profits and help them climb further out of the financial black hole that the aborted projects had put them in. In this, they were correct.

  10. ShatToup, it certainly looks like the Shat is slipping in what he has been sporting on his head lately. Some of the pictures that have trickled in online show increasingly fake looking appliances. I suggest it begs for a detailed toupological analysis of the latest toups and trends!

  11. shats own real syrupApril 23, 2015 at 12:55 PM

    Can you please tell us a little more touperup! I would be most grateful. And shat toup, when are we going, too get an update? there's clips of bill, as early as his 1969, guest staring role, in the bold ones, that shows some extremely poor toupees.

  12. Prime Examples

    Bird's Nest: (there are larger versions of the photo floating on line)

    Color Mismatch 1:

    Color Mismatch 2 (big time):