In the world of science fiction, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is held up as a fan-favorite film. For a film franchise that struggled with its initial entry, Wrath of Khan features a smart decision: bringing back a villain from the original show to become a worthy adversary for Captain Kirk (William Shatner). And although I did enjoy the film personally, I felt it was lacking a pivotal moment, a confrontation between Khan and Kirk then never quite materialized. This feeling that Wrath of Khan could have been elevated to an even greater film if only they found a way to make such a confrontation happen stuck with me for a while. And strangely enough, I finally got that moment not in Star Trek, but in a different sci-fi series: Snowpiercer.
What makes Star Trek a unique storytelling challenge is that a lot of it takes place in space. This means the characters, specifically adversarial characters, are on separate ships that don’t often connect with one another. So quite often, characters that oppose one another communicate only through a video screen. Snowpiercer has a similar problem. The story focuses on trains traveling along a track in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Because of this, opposing characters might not be able to meet face-to-face if the trains can’t connect.
But while Wrath of Khan never quite creates that much needed face-to-face moment between Khan and Kirk, Snowpiercer is able to find a way to make that scene happen. It figures out a way to put the two control rooms of the trains up against each other so that the main characters can see each other through the windshield. Even more importantly, it uses this opportunity as a prominent plot device, a diversion to take down the villain. Even though the characters never came face-to-face directly, just being able to see each other created a personal moment, an intimate connection that alluded the two foes in Wrath of Khan. Of course, it’s easy to criticize a film that came out decades ago, but it just goes to show that storytelling is a process and that you can always build upon what came before.