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STAR TREK II:  THE WRATH OF KHAN
The Director's Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, Kirstie Alley, Ricardo Montalban
Director:  Nicholas Meyer
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  Paramount
Features:  See Review
Length:  116 Minutes
Release Date:  August 6, 2002

“KHAAAN!!!”

Film ***1/2

When Star Trek:  The Motion Picture first debuted in 1979, it proved the franchise still had legs.  Star Trek II:  The Wrath of Khan showed that those legs were ready for the long run.

We fans proved with our box office dollars that we were ready for more Trek, but may have also demonstrated with grumbling that we were expecting something a little more from the series that had captured our imaginations for the previous decade.  No one really knew what to expect from the first sequel, but it turned out to be something better than we ever hoped.

The fresh talent involved might have helped.  Harve Bennett proved a formidable producer, and by re-watching all the original television episodes, found just the idea he was looking for in “Space Seed”.  Nicholas Meyer had only one director’s credit under his belt at the time and actually had little familiarity with Star Trek when he signed on.  Without a Trekkie’s experience, he instinctively tapped into the most important aspects of the show, and gave them new life in this movie.

But the veterans were all back as well, from creator Gene Roddenberry to his indelible cast, led by William Shatner as Kirk, Leonard Nimoy as Spock, and DeForest Kelley as Dr. McCoy, plus the rest of the favorites we all knew and loved.  Added to the mix were one other formidable veteran, Ricardo Montalban, and one fresh faced newcomer with a bright future, Kirstie Alley.  All of these elements together brought The Wrath of Khan an absolute wealth of raw materials with which to build a story.

From “Space Seed” came an idea and a terrific character called Khan (Montalban).  He was a genetically engineered super being who was picked up in space by the Enterprise and subsequently, along with his followers, tried to usurp the ship from Kirk.  The uprising failed, and Khan and his people were left alone on a healthy planet to live out their lives as they saw fit.

An unforeseeable disaster struck along the way, leaving many of Khan’s people dead (including his wife).  Embittered and enraged, Khan and the rest of his followers seize a chance encounter with the Federation as a means of hunting down and destroying Kirk and the Enterprise once and for all.

This is a film that remembered everything that was great about the original series.  Gone were the sterility and talkiness of the first picture, and back were the heart, humor, and the faith in well established characters.  The Wrath of Khan gave us suspense, action, excitement, and one of the most intensely dramatic finales in any Star Trek story…and amusingly enough, it did it all with the smallest budget of any of the franchise’s films!

The key to the success of the picture was the imagination of its creators, which didn’t cost a dime.  The filmmakers had the courage to add their own mark to the Star Trek lore, and their visions carried on far into the future of the franchise.  Kirk’s son, for example, or the impenetrable Kobayashi Maru test.  The Wrath of Khan even invented the concept of a Neutral Zone between the Klingons and the Federation…can you imagine what the course of Star Trek would have been like without that?

Many fans embrace the second film as the best of the series…if it isn’t THE best, it’s certainly one of them.  The Wrath of Khan built an empire upon the first movie’s simple foundation, and arguably was the keystone that insured that Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the future would live to see the future.

NOTE:  The difference between this director’s cut and the original theatrical version is about 4 minutes total.  The changes are mostly cosmetic, simply adding a line or two here and there to already existing scenes.  The extra footage neither detracts nor adds to the impact of the original.

Video **1/2

Given the twenty year age of the picture, Star Trek II comes across well, but not without problems.  Having owned the movie on laser disc before, I can say that the DVD is an overall improvement, offering brighter colors, more detail, and (yes!) anamorphic widescreen presentation.  Some of the darker scenes are a tad murky, and show a bit of aging artifacts in the form of a few spots and some shimmering.  Still, the representation here is good, and perhaps better than normal given the state of most 1980s movies on disc.  Trekkies should be pleased enough.

Audio **1/2

Again, the main problem with the audio is the age.  Though the 5.1 mix makes good use of all surround stages for effects and impact, the center channel of dialogue sounds a bit thin, like a 20 year old movie.  The .1 channel is used very sparingly, not even kicking in until the Enterprise launches from space dock.  Dynamic range is medium but selectively effective, and the music sounds quite good.  A worthy effort overall, given the limitations of the original source material.

Features ****

Paramount pulled out all the stops with this double disc set and certainly treated the movie like the fan favorite it is.  Disc One contains both Nicholas Meyer’s audio commentary and text commentary by Star Trek Encyclopedia author Michael Okuda (as with the DVD for Star Trek:  The Motion Picture).  While I enjoyed listening to Meyer, I have to say that Okuda’s text is the real treat, filled with trivia, inside info, history and perspective…it just flat out adds to the enjoyment of the film, especially for Trekkies who have seen it over and over already!

Disc Two contains a terrific new documentary “The Captain’s Log”…BRAND NEW interviews with Shatner, Nimoy, Montalban, Meyer and producer Harve Bennett.  I enjoyed it immensely…especially the bones Shatner still has to pick with a few people twenty years after the fact!  There are also featurettes on the design of the movie and the visual effects, which was quite interesting…some of the picture’s most memorable visuals were actually achieved quite simply and inexpensively.  There is also a trailer, storyboards, a short collection of original 1982 interviews with Shatner, Nimoy and Kelley, and finally, “The Star Trek Universe”, featuring exposition by ST novelists Greg Cox and Julia Ecklar.

All in all, a superb features package that fans will cherish!

Summary:

In this, Paramount’s 90th year, the studio has given fans of one of their biggest franchises one gift after another.  Not only are The Next Generation seasons rolling out one by one, but the movies are starting to get the full attention they deserve.  Star Trek II:  The Wrath of Khan in this new double disc form is as exemplary a DVD as Trekkies could want.