Okay, for you youngsters out there you might not realize how groundbreaking Wrath of Khan was. You just see the repeated jokes with Shatner screaming “KHAAAN!” and not think much more of it. See, thing about it is, back in 1982 when it was first released, it hit like a bomb.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture had come out three years earlier and was a snoozefest. Sure, it looked pretty and it was pretty cool seeing all the characters back together after over a decade but essentially it was just Paramount trying to capitalize on the sudden boom in interest in Sci-fi movies after Star Wars had taken the world by storm. Suddenly they were a bankable commodity instead of ‘B’ movie fodder.
Anyway, I wasn’t exactly chafing at the bit to see the sequel.
I changed my mind in a hurry.
First thing that hit me was that they were wearing uniforms–that looked like military uniforms. They weren’t wearing t-shirts or leotards–they were in uniforms. Second thing was that the ship and sets had a definite look of grim, military purpose to them. They weren’t day-glo lit and friendly–they meant business. Third, the movie had a definite brutality that had been lacking. People bled, burned and died in some hideous fashions. It hearkened back to the more martial episodes of TOS like “Balance of Terror” except it was taken to the next level.
I think these elements sparked my interest in military sci-fi and such authors as Pournelle, Drake, Weber and others.
The opening skirmish with Khan encapsulates all these elements perfectly, along with some grim humor and cleverness.
Lastly, in what might seem a trivial matter to a generation brought up on CGI effects, was the problem of the special effects. There hadn’t been an actual space combat in the new ST universe and no one was quite sure how they were going to do it. Everything was filtered through the behemoth known as Star Wars at the time. It had to be as interesting and as flashy as SW but it had to be true to the source material. How were they going to do the phasers? How would the ships move?
The special effects crew outdid themselves and it set up a new standard. The power of the scenes still holds up even after 30 years.