It must have been on September 12, 1991, during the night hike through the dunes, when Thorsten told me the complete plot of “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan”, old spoiler boy. But I didn’t even know the term “spoiler” at the time – and anyway I was a sponge in 1991. What sponge? Maybe I should explain that. I’ve been a fervent Star Trek fan for a good six months, because I celebrate my Trek birthday every year on March 3rd, when in 1991 my first Star Trek episode was broadcast on ZDF: “Skin of Evil”. The Black Soul”, from the Next Generation.
While this episode isn’t considered a particularly good one, I was smitten when I saw this freaky story about a demonic tar puddle killing security chief Tasha Yar for no reason. For a few weeks after this starting signal for my Trek enthusiasm, more Next Generation was shown on ZDF on Saturdays, but then it was suddenly over. Hardly a fan, already a drought! Fortunately, however, Premiere showed an unencrypted episode of the original series with Kirk & Spock every day throughout the summer holidays (always accompanied by an unencrypted episode of Alf), so that after Picard’s adventures I was also able to get to know and love the stories of the “old crew”.
I was totally on board and as a new Trek fan, I absorbed all the “content” (another newfangled term) like a sponge. In July 1991 the first Star Trek movie “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” even ran on SAT.1. A film about the history of its creation and my great affection for it I have already had the privilege of writing a long article.
Be sure to read Sebastian’s special on Star Trek: The Motion Picture
About two months later, on September 8th, SAT.1 showed the second cinema film, “Der Zorn des Khan”, in its German premiere, a full nine years after its theatrical release, quite a delay. This is where the night hike comes in, because on September 8th I couldn’t see the film as I wasn’t even at home.
Star Trek 2 The Wrath of Khan: A Journey From The Midlife Crisis And Back (2) Source: Paramount
Instead, this was the fifth day of a 13-day school trip that my entire year in seventh grade took to Ameland. And as nice as such a ride is: The fact that I missed the Khan “FilmFilm” was a big minus point. But I didn’t have to do without Star Trek even from afar, because, as mentioned before, my closest school friends and I were veritable Star Trek sponges in the fall of 1991.
That’s why my friend Thorsten and I each took a book or two about our new passion to the Dutch island. Thorsten was at the forefront, because he had the novel adaptation of the second film with him, which was shown on television during our trip. A great book, by the way, written alive by Trek writer Vonda N. McIntyre, with lots of inner dialogue from my favorite characters and some plot details that were dropped between the script and the finished film.
In the run-up to the school trip, clever Thorsten had been to the bookstore a few days before me and had snatched the last copy of this coveted book from me, while I had to be content with the incredibly tough implementation of the fifth Star Trek film “At the Edge of the Universe”. .
And when Thorsten had happily browsed through the book after a few days in Ameland, he took the long night hike on September 12th as an opportunity to tell me a detailed summary on a starry night, cows on the left, dunes on the right. I didn’t miss the film, by the way, because of course I asked my parents to record the film in absentia on video so that I could watch it immediately after we got home.
I did that on September 17th or 18th. I made myself wonderfully comfortable in my parents’ living room in front of the big TV, didn’t have to fear any big surprises thanks to Thorsten (I already knew the biggest spoiler) and got started. It was wonderful, because just as I was fascinated by the first film, the second one also captivated me.
Nevertheless, it was of such an unexpected intensity that I had to abandon “The Wrath of Khan” on the first try. But I’ll tell you later why I pulled the emergency brake. Now it’s time for the origin story of “Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan”.
We remember: The first movie was a huge financial success, but due to a special effects disaster behind the scenes – and also the creative accounting of Paramount – it was booked on the cost side with an unbelievable 40 million dollars as a medium failure.
With its somewhat secretive success, a sequel was only a matter of time, but the untrue tale of the bottomless cost hole continued to be trumpeted in order to snub Gene Roddenberry, the disagreeable and pugnacious creator of Star Trek. He was simply too stubborn and no one wanted to bother with him any further.
Star Trek 2 The Wrath of Khan: A Journey From The Midlife Crisis And Back (3) Source: Paramount
Now the old habits were cut off and one took on a quickly and cheaply produced television film – an insane drop after the opulent “Star Trek: The Motion Picture”. With a view to the potential box office revenue, however, people quickly changed their minds and then planned a movie after all, which, however, was to be produced by Paramount’s TV division.
On the one hand an absolute novelty, but on the other hand also an anticipatory cost-saving measure, because the television experts know how to budget. A well-known television producer with genre experience was then hoisted by the Paramount bosses after only a short consideration to the empty Roddenberry throne: Harve Bennett, on whose account the Lee Majors vehicle “The Six Million Dollar Man” and his Spin-off The Seven Million Dollar Woman left.
Speaking of millions of dollars, Bennett was immediately given an unequivocal message that this new film shouldn’t be allowed to cost $40 million again. Bennett, who always had the joke on his neck, countered spontaneously: “$40 million? I’ll make you three Star Trek films for the money.” As cost-conscious as the new leader of the franchise was, he was generally uninformed about Star Trek.
That’s why he underwent a radical cure and within a few weeks looked at whole stacks of VHS cassettes on which the 79 episodes of the original series were.
It quickly became clear to the old television fox in which direction the new film would have to go. Because the criticism of the first feature film, which Bennett had also read and which coincided with the mood in Paramount’s executive suite, was mainly aimed at the fact that the majestic, first feature film was too worn, too serious, not at all as light-footed as the TV series which he was based.
The camaraderie and the humorous spirit definitely had to be recaptured. Bennett’s second creative idea was to bring back an adversary from the series who could be an equal to Captain Kirk. Because of his extensive experience as an author, Bennett knew that a good adventure story stands and falls with its antagonist.
He had pretty quickly zeroed in on Space Seed’s Khan Noonien Singh, a genetically engineered 20th-century superman who had returned to the Star Trek future after centuries of hibernation is woken up – only to immediately make a fuss.
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