Today I was travelling by train. An aside point, but for once I bought the paper instead of reading it online and inside I saw the obituary for Ricardo Montalbán who died last month at the grand old age of 88. He was one of the greatest actors ever and for those who are old, he will be remembered as the man from Fantasy Island. For those that are a lot younger, he will be remembered for his fantastic role in Spy Kids.
However, his most memorable role came in Star Trek as the villainous and genetically altered Khan Noonien Singh. His appearance in the Original Series is one of the few things I remmber from that timewarp. But he was most breath taking in Star Trek II - The Wrath of Khan, possibly the best Trek film of the lot.
While in the TV incarnation he was subdued and eventually convinced by Kirk to 'settle down' and raise kids, it was in the film itself that Khan came to light and was able to truly flex his muscles as the superior intellect.
I will chase him round the moons of Nibia... - only Montalbán could carry out those ridicuoous lines with such conviction. It was Montalbán who saved Star Trek, that put it into the popular consciousness. And despite all the incarnations of the films, none of them have managed to live up to the brilliant climactic finale of Film number 2. Not only was there the drama with Spock but the continuous game of wits being played between Kirk and Khan.
You see, Khan was not just Kirk's nemesis in a simpleton bad guy kind of way. Kirk could not just get away with giving him a licking. He was intelligent, in every way possible. He had years in which to intricately plan his vengeance while Kirk was caught out by his appearance. Khan was articulate, when he spoke, he commanded a presence that has not been matched since on screen in any Star Trek incarnation since. His battle of wits against Kirk was so much more than just beatng Kirk He wanted to witness Kirk's demise for himself. He was not evil for the sake of it (as was seen when he was in the tv series) but was evil as he became twisted though his grief. You could understand Khan, he had a human touch, and that is why he could outsmart anyone pitted against him. It was because he had that vulnerability that could not be whisked away by a simply superior mind.
Montalbán's performance as Khan was probably his most legendary role. He was given complete freedom and he relished the part every single step of the way. While Montalbán has appeared across a range and depth of roles, it is as Khan that he was truly magnificent. Even today, a quarter of a century or so on from that film's release, it is immensely watchable. You still love Khan, and the acting while powerful is not over the top. To simply put it, Montalbán portrayed the perfect Star Trek villain and the one by which everyone else is measured. In years to come, people will still be watching Star Trek II and it will take a lot to better the film in terms of story, on-screen chemistry, drama, tension and ending. Other films and virtually all the other Star Trek films since have tried to emulate it, none have succeeded.
If there is one piece of the Original Series you much watch, then make it Space Seed. And if there is one tar Trek film you must see, then it has to be the Wrath of Khan.
Khan - possibly the bestt Bad Guy ever created and definitely Star Trek's greatest villain. Played by the legendary Ricardo Montalbán who passed away last month. RIP.