What if The Wrath of Khan had shown us the Spacedock we came to expect?
If asked which Star Trek movie first shows us the Enterprise leaving Spacedock, most fans would answer Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.
But In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Captain Spock asks Saavik, “Lieutenant, how many times have you piloted a starship out of Spacedock?” Then he yields the center seat to her so she can do so for the first time.
Spacedock in Wrath of Khan looks nothing like Spacedock in Search for Spock, and—courtesy of much recycled footage—everything like the refit drydock from Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
What would the Wrath of Khan Spacedock sequences have looked like if we’d first seen Starfleet’s cavernous orbital facility in that film?
Film artist and Star Trek fan Nick Acosta wondered, and has used his talents and technical know-how to show us all his answer to that question.
Wrath of Khan Spacedock revised through rotoscoping and recompositing
Using footage from other Star Trek movies, his own original artwork, and even an Enterprise toy, Nick created a fan edit to “fix” the two Spacedock sequences from Wrath of Khan.
He posted his video to YouTube earlier this month.
Now, I’ve got nothing but admiration for Wrath of Khan and its creative team. They were working on a fraction of the previous film’s V’Ger-sized budget. As producer Robert Sallin said, “This time we came in so close to budget that you couldn’t go out for a decent lunch on the difference” (Gross and Altman, The Fifty-Year Mission: The First 25 Years, page 398).
But what if the budget had allowed for a true Spacedock?
Undoubtedly, we would have gotten scenes like the ones Nick Acosta has created.
Nick has undeniably made the movie’s Spacedock sequences more visually interesting.
What’s more, as he notes in his video description, his edit gives Kirk’s white-knuckle reaction to Saavik’s Spacedock maneuvers some much-needed context:
"When Spock lets her command the ship out of Spacedock it is played for tension. Kirk seems very uneasy at her piloting the ship. In the original cut all the ship has to do is thrust straight forward. Now in this new version there’s a bit more jeopardy if she can successfully navigate out of the huge hanger bay they are docked in."
I reached out to Nick via Twitter to find out a little more about how his vision and version of Spacedock in Wrath of Khan came to be.
“These series and movies are so ingrained from my childhood I feel I know these things back and forth,” Nick told me in a direct message. “The glorious Spacedock Model wouldn’t be built by ILM [Industrial Light & Magic] until the next film … I decided to recomposit the Enterprise into Earth’s Spacedock using rotoscoping and new matte paintings I created for this sequence.”
Nick looked through later Star Trek movies for background shots of Spacedock’s interior. He also cut the Enterprise in drydock out of key ST:TMP sequences frame by frame.
Nick says the rotoscoping was his biggest challenge—“keeping it all clean and [having] the color grading match.”
“All the editing and rotoscoping were done in Final Cut Pro,” he says. “The new Matte Paintings were made in Photoshop.”
But Nick didn’t do all his work in a computer. The shot of the ship pulling away from Spacedock features a toy Enterprise Nick repainted and animated.
All told, the project took Nick about a month’s worth of nights and weekends. He says it was a great way to unwind after days on the job as a professional art director.
This Spacedock video isn’t the first time Nick has reworked Star Trek movie material, and he doesn’t plan for it to be the last.
“Recently I redid some Matte Paintings from [ST:TMP] that were very rushed and unfinished,” he says. Next, he’d like to fix some shots from Star Trek V: The Final Frontier “It’s the only film with the original cast that [wasn’t] using ILM … [I’d] love to get to replace those shots to have them match the quality of the other films.”
I’ve been watching and rewatching Wrath of Khan for decades. Not once did Spock’s mention of Spacedock ever strike me as illogical! But I know the next time I watch the film, I’ll be seeing the Spacedock sequences by Nick Acosta in my mind instead of what’s on my screen.