Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan (Director's Edition) Review
In the aftermath of Star Wars, the reinvigorated Star Trek franchise returned financial rewards to Paramount despite The Motion Picture being a stilted, middling effort. The Star Trek cast were uninterested, particularly Leonard Nimoy, the man behind Mr. Spock, who noted that Star Trek had finally run its course. Now in charge of the franchise, producer Harve Bennett decided that the science-fiction legacy needed an anchor; a back-to-basics approach that would transport the show's original mystique into its cinematic incarnations.
Bennett screened each of the Original Series episodes to try to unlock the original magic once again. Stopping at an episode named Space Seed, in which Kirk and co are pitted against a band of genetic supermen fleeing the twentieth century, Bennett knew he had found the perfect villain in the form of Khan, played so menacingly by Fantasy Island's Ricardo Montalban. Bennett also noted that the wonderful on-screen chemistry between Kirk, Spock and McCoy was sorely absent from The Motion Picture, and so he tasked himself with restoring it for the next Star Trek movie. Bringing onboard the young, talented director Nicholas Meyer, who had directed three years previously the intriguing Time After Time, Bennett also talked around Leonard Nimoy, who was given certain 'assurances' about not having to appear in Star Trek again. The Wrath Of Khan was born, and has since been deservedly acknowledged as the greatest Star Trek movie and one of the greatest sequels of all time.
The USS Enterprise is now a mere training ship for new Starfleet recruits. Lead by Captain Spock (Leonard Nimoy), it's a youthful and inexperienced ship. Admiral Kirk (William Shatner) and his main former Enterprise colleagues are now in charge of running test simulations, with the exception of Chekov (Walter Koenig) who is serving a post aboard the USS Reliant. Whilst inspecting the Enterprise aboard a three-week short sting, Kirk is thrown back into the Captain's chair when the Reliant inadvertently helps one of Kirk's former adversaries, Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalban), escape from the Ceti Alpha V planet he was confined to. Not only is Khan after revenge against Kirk, but he also has his sights set on a top-secret project named Genesis that can terraform any planet in minutes.
Everything that was wrong with The Motion Picture was thrown out by Bennett and Meyer for The Wrath Of Khan. The weak-coloured uniforms, the reliance upon special effects, even Admiral Kirk's dynamic persona was altered to make the sequel a broody, reflective masterpiece of science-fiction adventure. The Wrath Of Khan is best described as a naval battle in space. Kirk and Khan never meet face-to-face; their battles are conducted via their ship and crew, like a larger-scaled submarine conflict. Even the new Starfleet uniforms, with their striking red and black colour scheme, resemble the discipline and rigid-procedural structure of a ship at sea, and this helps generate a thick swirl of tension that the film never relinquishes its hold of. The film's score, by James Horner, in what would prove to be one his most underrated efforts, is a rousing and highly memorable piece of music that conjures up notions of a big ship setting out to sea. Far from being astronauts on a cosmic voyage, Starfleet are presented in The Wrath Of Khan as a benevolent military presence in space. The film succeeds on a much stronger level because of this, primarily due to the ease at which the audience can identify to the presence of rules and regularity, even if it is in a fictional space.
Another reason the film is so successful is that it hits the targets it aims for. The chemistry between Kirk, Spock and McCoy in The Wrath Of Khan is near-perfection, as opposed to being almost vacuous in The Motion Picture. Kirk is bitter and twisted at having to give up the Captain's chair for the cause of bureaucracy, and his mid-life crisis is compounded by the sudden arrival of the adult son he had forgotten about since birth. Spock, on the other hand, seems suited to a role in Starfleet's captaincy, and he embodies the essence of logical wisdom. McCoy's role has been advanced from the two-dimensional, cardboard cut-out in The Motion Picture to a character as equally important as Kirk and Spock. McCoy is ultra-passionate on the one hand and also acts as Kirk's personal conscience on the other. Joining them in terms of quality is Ricardo Montalban, who contributes one of the finest and most memorable of screen villains in Khan. Montalban has a strong charismatic aura that is almost hypnotic and passionate. Seeking to avenge his wife, Khan is completely focused and ruthless in his quest - the hallmark of any great screen villain.
This version of The Wrath Of Khan is an extended director's cut, with a few minutes of additional characterisation for some of the film's minor players. Relatively, there are little differences between this version and the original version, but at least some of the smaller gaps have been filled in here.
Although it's fun to have humour arise from Star Trek, the show has in whatever format, be it television series or movie, always been at its best when pitched at an ultra-serious level. The Wrath Of Khan not only takes itself seriously but is clearly aimed at adults. Indeed, the infamous Ceti Eel sequence earned the film a '15' certificate on its theatrical release in the UK. Even the film's cinematography by Gayne Rescher is edgy, focusing on as much shadow as light. It certainly gives the film a moody touch, steering away from primary colours to deliberately avoid pleasing the eye.
Part of an unofficial trilogy with The Search For Spock amd The Voyage Home, The Wrath Of Khan is pure grand seas adventure remixed into a futuristic space voyage. Pulsating with adrenaline and intelligence, combined with a healthy dose of grace and charm, the film remains one of those bizarre instances of a sequel that manages to better the original. Nicholas Meyer restores so much faith to the Star Trek legacy with The Wrath Of Khan, that he should almost single-handedly be credited with the series' rebirth. It was believed that this was to be the last chapter of the franchise, but Meyer's directorial efforts rendered the film such a success that twenty years later Star Trek continues.
Presented in anamorphic widescreen 2.35:1, the transfer to this extended version of The Wrath Of Khan is excellent, with colours that appear fresh and vibrant and images that are sharp and rich in tone. It's certainly a new lease of life for the film, and is relatively free from artefacts or grain.
Presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, the sound mix for The Wrath Of Khan appears to be a direct port from the original barebones release. It's a decent mix, which doesn't fully utilise all of the spatial channels, although the battle sequences are very atmospheric, and the sound gives a tense underscore to the proceedings. The original 2.0 mix is also included.
Menu: Both discs have excellent animated menus. The first disc has a designed based on the Space Station Regula I, whilst the second disc bases itself on the Project Genesis, and both complement the DVD splendidly.
Packaging: Presented in a doubly amaray casing with a grey, minamlist framework, the DVD comes with a four-page chapter listings insert and a free CD that gives you thirty days free to startrek.net. Bear in mind, that the Canadian version of this release features bilingual packaging.
Audio Commentary With Nicholas Meyer: Although it is a pity that Meyer is alone on the commentary, the track is still a thoroughly entertaining way to sit through the film. Meyer talks about how he became involved in the project, and how he planned to reinvigorate the Star Trek legacy. Filled with many technical details, as well as the more pedantic anecdotes that fans love, this is an excellent commentary and far better than the one produced for the The Motion Picture.
Text Commentary By Michael Okuda: Following on from his brilliant textual commentary on The Motion Picture, Star Trek Encyclopedia co-author Michael Okuda throws a tremendous amount of worthy anecdotes and Trek facts at the audience via text on screen. It's a refreshing change to be able to watch the film in its entirety and also be subjected to the views of an expert on the film, and Okuda's comments here better that of The Motion Picture's, primarily because he clearly favours the film and is therefore more passionate. Everything is discussed, from the idea that real submarines do not have aft-torpedoes, to how the special effects shots were designed.
Captain's Log: This is a good, twenty-four minute revisionist documentary exploring The Wrath Of Khan and how it came into production. Featuring new interviews with William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Harve Bennett, Nicholas Meyer and Ricardo Montalban. It's interesting to note how the film was deemed to be Star Trek's final outing, and yet each of the cast and crew were so surprised by how good the film was turning out that they wanted to make more. Presented in anamorphic widescreen.
Designing Khan: This is a twenty-three minute featurette that concentrates on creating the distinctive universe of the film. Production Designer Joseph Jennings and Costume Designer Robert Fletcher are just two of the cast and crew members that talk about how extensive detail was paid to the film in order to restore a sense of seriousness and believability. Ranks, costumes, sets were all given a dramatic overhaul, and this featurette is an excellent guide when studying the new face of Star Trek. Presented in anamorphic widescreen.
Visual Effects: This is an eighteen minute featurette designed to focus on how the visual effects shots of The Wrath Of Khan were created. The most prominent crewmember to discuss the visual effects is chief supervisor Ken Ralston, and he explains how time and budget constraints had a heavy effect on the construction of the special effects, and how they were implemented and often borrowed from other productions. Particularly interesting is how the infamous Ceti Eel sequence was designed - a sequence that was deliciously creepy in its day. Presented in anamorphic widescreen.
Original Interviews: This is a ten minute collection of 1982 interviews with William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley and Ricardo Montalban taking from the chat-show circuit. They are pleasant to watch, particularly Montalban's take on the concept of screen villains, but they are slightly promotional in nature. This is also backed with a roll of behind-the-scenes production stills at the end. Presented in fullscreen.
The Star Trek Universe: A Novel Approach: This is a leftfield choice for a featurette subject, as it explores the idea of how literary authors explore the backdrop of the Star Trek universe by creating parallel storylines and filling in the gaps. In this case, authors Julia Ecklar and Greg Cox talk about their love of writing Trek novels, in particular Cox who plugs his 'biography' of Khan entitled The Eugenics Wars. It's certainly an interest topic, and at twenty-eight minutes in length is explored with a good amount of depth. Presented in anamorphic widescreen.
Storyboard Archives: Split into thirteen sequences of the film, this is an excellent presentation of the many storyboards used to shoot the film, accessible with a decent user navigation interface.
Theatrical Trailer: A brilliant example of how a good trailer can generate intense anticipation for a film, the trailer for The Wrath Of Khan is tense, says little about the film but still renders it a must-see. Presented in anamorphic widescreen.
The best Star Trek film, extended, with decent picture and sound qualities and some excellent extras focusing on many departmental aspects, this second release of The Wrath Of Khan clearly maroons the original barebones release on Ceti Alpha V. A highly recommended purchase, and a film worth revisiting again and again.