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Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Director: Nicholas Meyer
Screenplay: Jack B. Sowards (story by Harve Bennett and Jack B. Soward)
Stars: William Shatner (Admr. James T. Kirk), Leonard Nimoy (Capt. Spock), DeForest Kelley (Lt. Cmdr. Leonard H. “Bones” McCoy), James Doohan (Cmdr. Montgomery “Scotty” Scott), Walter Koenig (Cmdr. Pavel Andreivitch Chekov), George Takei (Cmdr. Sulu), Nichelle Nichols (Cmdr. Uhura), Bibi Besch (Dr. Carol Marcus), Merritt Butrick (Dr. David Marcus), Paul Winfield (Capt. Clark Terrell), Kirstie Alley (Lt. Saavik), Ricardo Montalban (Khan Noonien Singh)
MPAA Rating: PG
Year of Release: 1982
Country: U.S.
Star Trek: Motion Picture Trilogy Blu-Ray
Khaaaaannnnn!!! Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is the best of the Star Trek film series, a gloriously operatic revenge tale full of sound and fury, violence and vengeance, humor and empathy. It followed three years after Robert Wise’s elegant, but somewhat tedious Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), and Wrath of Khan couldn’t have been any different. Taut, tense, and deliciously over the top (and made on a substantially smaller budget), this sequel also managed to better incorporate the vibe of the original series into a big-screen scenario, which thrilled longtime Trekkers to no end without alienating nonfans (it’s probably the only entry in the original movie series that you can know virtually nothing about Star Trek and still enjoy).

The screenplay by television scribe Jack B. Sowards (who had never written for Star Trek before, or in the science fiction genre, for that matter) was a continuation of one of the original TV episodes, “Space Seed.” In that 1967 episode, the Starship Enterprise, led by Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner), happens upon a ship floating in deep space that is filled with cryogenically frozen men and women from the late 20th century. It turns out that they are genetically engineered super(wo)men led by the devious, Milton-quoting mastermind Khan (Ricardo Montalban), who was a dictator back on Earth (in his romanticized view, he was a prince). Khan attempts to take over the Enterprise, but Kirk defeats him (doesn’t he always?) and sends him and his followers into exile on a distant planet called Ceti Alpha V.

Wrath of Khan picks up some 15 years later. Kirk has now been promoted to Admiral in the Federation Starfleet, and he is dealing with the hard realities of aging. Not the young man he once was--a little gray around the temples, a bit paunchy in the middle--he still yearns to travel the galaxy, despite his having accepted a new role as bureaucratic overseer. It is while he is on a training mission on the Enterprise, which is now captained by the half-Vulcan Spock (Leonard Nimoy), that Kirk finds himself in Khan’s crosshairs. Having escaped the barren wasteland of Ceti Alpha V and taken control of another Federation ship, the Reliant, Khan can think of nothing but avenging himself on his old nemesis, about whom he has been brooding for so many years.

The primary reason Wrath of Khan works is because Ricardo Montalban makes us believe that Khan has been stewing in his anger for all those years; his desire for revenge is palpable. Montalban, who was then best known for playing the always-smiling lead on the TV series Fantasy Island, plays Khan with a seething passion and intensity of hatred that makes him the movie’s true star. More than anything else, it is his eyes and his scowl that you remember--they’re the movie’s best special effect. Dressed like a barbarian and glowering with a fierce intelligence that is undermined only by his single-minded relentlessness, Khan dominates the screen every moment he’s on it. (It helps that Montalban has such a commanding physical presence, so that we know his intellect is matched by a superior physicality.)

Director Nicholas Meyer, a novelist best known for The Seven-Percent Solution whose only other directorial feature was 1979’s time-traveling Jack the Ripper yarn Time After Time, brings just the right sensibility to the material. Not steeped in the lore of Star Trek, he has a fresh take on the characters and the scenario, pumping up the melodrama and adding elements of violence and horror that had always lurked just beneath the surface of the old episodes (when Khan, almost defeated at the end, drags his wounded body up from the ground, one half of his face a mess of blood and gore, he is truly monstrous). Meyer also allows more humor than Robert Wise did in the first movie, particularly the sparring interplay between the always logical Spock and the passionate humanist Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy (DeForest Kelley).

Meyer also seems to understand the essence of James T. Kirk, and instead of allowing Shatner to wallow in Kirk’s righteous self-confidence, he uses it against him in the power struggle with Khan. Granted, Kirk is still smug and cocksure, but his ego is tempered by his growing years and slight insecurity about his place in a Federation Starfleet run by younger men and women who he has to put down as “children” to reinforce his own standing. It’s not hard to see why Khan would hate Kirk so much, as he is even more assured of his own superiority than Kirk is. Thus, the vengeance in Wrath of Khan takes on a double edge: Khan wants to kill Kirk not only because he was responsible for Khan’s long exile and the subsequent death of his wife, but because Kirk’s self-confidence rivals his own. There’s room in the universe for only one ego that large.

Wrath of Khan brought to the Star Trek franchise a more action-oriented approach. It is filled with space battles between the Enterprise and the Reliant, which are more like games of chess than the World War II-style dogfights made popular in the Star Wars movies. Cruising slowly among the swirling gaseous clouds of a nebula, the two ships, both wounded and limping, much like their aging captains, play a game of hide-and-seek with deadly implications. Kirk emerges as the victor in the end, not necessarily because he proves to be smarter, but because he is better able to use Khan’s arrogance against him.

The movie also works nicely because it integrates many of the thematic tropes that were so important to the television series. Amid all the vengeful melodrama is an interesting subplot about a new invention called the Genesis Project that is capable of creating life on a dead planet. Of course, like splitting the atom, such an invention has apocalyptic menace in addition to the capacity to do good, particularly in the way it distills in a single device the scientific drive to play God. The movie also incorporates questions regarding the nature of sacrifice, which results in a crucial life-and-death choice made by a major character that sent shock waves through the Star Trek fan base back in 1982.

But, above all, Wrath of Khan is just a fun movie. It’s clever and well constructed, alternating action sequences with meaningful character development. It’s not afraid to take risks and push boundaries, but it maintains a sense of integrity that allows it to fit smoothly into the well-established Star Trek universe. Its sense of operatic overkill is tempered just enough to save it from complete campy excess. After all, any movie in which the villain, with his last dying breath, quotes Captain Ahab from Herman Melville’s Moby Dick--“from hell’s heart I stab at thee, for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee”--and it works, really genuinely works, is a true gem.

Star Trek: Motion Picture Trilogy 3-Disc Blu-Ray Set
This three-disc set includes Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.
Aspect Ratio2.35:1
  • English Dolby Digital 7.1 TrueHD surround
  • French Dolby Digital 2.0 surround
  • Spanish Dolby Digital 1.0 monaural
  • Subtitles English, French, Spanish, Portuguese
    Supplements Included on the Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan disc:
  • Audio commentary by director Nicholas Meyer
  • Audio commentary by director Nicholas Meyer and Star Trek Enterprise producer Manny Coto
  • “James Horner: Composing Genesis” featurette (HD)
  • “A Tribute to Ricardo Montalban” featurette (HD)
  • “Collecting Star Trek’s Movie Relics” featurette (HD)
  • “Starfleet Academy: Mystery Behind Ceti Alpha VI” featurette (HD)
  • “Captain’s Log”
  • “Designing Khan” featurette
  • Original interviews with DeForest Kelley, William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and Ricardo Montalban
  • “Where No Man Has Gone Before: The Visual Effects of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” featurette
  • “The Star Trek Universe: A Novel Approach” featurette
  • Storyboards
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Library Computer (BD Exclusive)
  • BD Live: Star Trek I.Q.
  • Distributor Paramount Home Entertainment
    Release DateMay 12, 2009

    All three of the Star Trek films included in this box are presented in high-definition 1080p transfers (apparently Wrath of Khan is the only film in the set that has been completely remastered, as the other two had previous high-def transfers that were simply downgraded for DVD release). The Collector’s Edition DVDs, which were themselves upgrades from the initial single-disc DVD offerings, were by no means terrible, but seeing these films in true high definition is quite amazing. The Wrath of Khan looks the best (perhaps because it has been improved so substantially from the DVD), and if there is any complaint about The Search for Spock and The Voyage Home it is that they look like they’ve been digitally smoothed a bit, which removes some of the image density and results in a less film-like appearance. Colors on all three movies are excellent throughout, with strong blacks and great detail. All three films also boast upgraded Dolby Digital 7.1 TrueHD surround soundtracks, which immerse you in both the orchestral scores and the various space battles. Surround effects are consistently impressive, especially during the shoot-outs in Wrath of Khan and The Search for Spock.
    With one exception, all of the supplements that were included on the two-disc Collector’s Edition DVD set from 2002 are included here, along with a half a dozen new supplements. So, we’ll start with what’s new:

    Library Computer
    Easily the coolest new feature on this Blu-Ray set, the “Library Computer” effectively replaces the text commentary by Michael Okuda, coauthor of The Star Trek Encyclopedia, with a more thorough, graphically intensive, and user-controlled interface. Essentially, this is an interactive experience that allows you to access information about the Star Trek universe while watching the film. The Blu-Ray creates a frame around the film with constantly shifting icons that represent different categories of information related to whatever is on screen at that moment: Culture, Science & Medicine, Starfleet Ops, Life Forms, Planets & Locations, People, Technology, Ships, and Miscellaneous. At any given point there can be six or seven of these icons available for clicking, and you also have access at all times to an Index that includes every term in the computer. A real geek fan’s delight.

    Audio commentary by director Nicholas Meyer and Star Trek Enterprise producer Manny Coto
    Honestly, I’m not entirely sure why they felt the need to record a new audio commentary with Meyer given that the previously included one was quite good, but here it is anyway. Meyer is joined by Star Trek: Enterprise producer Manny Coto, who takes the opportunity to ask the director pressing questions and share a few laughs. There is some obvious redundancy with the previous commentary, but some good new stuff, as well.

    “James Horner: Composing Genesis” featurette (HD)
    This new 10-minute interview fills in one of the real gaps in the original DVD supplements by allowing composer James Horner, who arguably wrote the best score of any Star Trek movie, to talk about his work and his inspirations.

    “A Tribute to Ricardo Montalban” featurette (HD)
    It is great that they wanted to honor the late great actor (who died earlier this year), but this 5-minute featurette is little more than an awkward setpiece in which director Nicholas Meyer rather stiffly (but sincerely) gives tribute to Montalban and his often underappreciated gifts as an actor.

    “Collecting Star Trek’s Movie Relics” featurette (HD)
    Much more interesting is this 11-minute featurette hosted by Alex Peters, CEO of Propmax. Peters shows us dozens of props, models, and costumes from his own collection and also talks with several other avid Star Trek collectors who display some of their own holdings, which stretch across all the films and television series.

    “Starfleet Academy SCISEC Brief 002: Mystery Behind Ceti Alpha VI” featurette (HD)
    It’s hard to describe this three-minute faux training film about the demise of Ceti Alpha VI as anything other than pure filler.

    And, of course, all of the original DVD supplements are also here:

    Audio commentary by director Nicholas Meyer
    Director Nicholas Meyer has quite a bit to offer in this screen-specific audio commentary. He seems to be less interested, though, in discussing specific aspects of making the movie (though he does talk quite a bit about the details of the production) than he is in ruminating on more general elements of filmmaking, working in the Star Trek universe, and his own philosophical approach (sample: “In the specificity, you will find universality. But, in universality, you will only find cafeteria food.”). He has a relaxed, easy tone, and he isn’t afraid to point out what he doesn’t like (such as his lack of attention to Spock’s cabin) and the extensive amount of recycling he employed (of sets, costumes, props, etc.) to make the budget go as far as possible. Meyer is clearly an intellectual, as he likes to discuss Wrath of Khan as a film about aging and death, and he is given to quoting from Tolstoy and Dante. Come to think of it, he may have identified more with Khan than with Kirk ...

    “The Captain’s Log” featurette
    This 27-minute retrospective featurette includes video interviews with director Nicholas Meyer, producer Harve Bennett, and actors William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and Ricardo Montalban. While there is no behind-the-scenes footage, a few production photos are included, as well as a few brief scenes from the original 1967 Star Trek episode “Space Seed” (it’s really too bad, though, that whole episode couldn’t have been included as a supplement). Presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1).

    “Designing Khan” featurette
    This 24-minute featurette focuses specifically on the various design elements of the movie, from the sets, to the costumes, to the ships, to the symbols for the ranking hierarchy within the Starfleet. While it is primarily composed of video interviews with production designer Joe Jennings, costume designer Robert Fletcher, art director Lee Cole, director Nicholas Meyer, and producer Harve Bennett, there are also some interesting behind-the-scenes photographs of the Ceti Alpha V set. Presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1).

    “Where No Man Has Gone Before: The Visual Effects of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” featurette
    This 18-minute featurette is a quick, but comprehensive overview of the various special effects used in the film. These include elaborate models for the ships, prosthetic and puppetry effects for the eels sequence, the creation of the Mutara Nebula, and the then-groundbreaking use of computer-generated imagery for the Genesis Project demonstration. The featurette includes behind-the scenes photographs and effects test footage along with video interviews with special visual effects supervisor Ken Ralston, computer graphics experts Ed Catmul and Loren Carpenter, model maker William George, supervising model maker Steve Gawley, model electronics expert Marty Brenneis, and director Nicholas Meyer. Presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1).

    Original Interviews
    The interviews included in this segment, which include actors William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, and Ricardo Montalban, were originally recorded in 1982 as part of the film’s theatrical promotion. These interviews are historically interesting, although it’s sometimes hard to take them seriously because they have such an amusingly dated quality, with each actor wearing some atrocious variation of ’70s-disco-going-on-’80s-new-wave fashion: Shatner’s smarmy open shirt collar and protruding chest hair, Nimoy’s striped suit and matching pink shirt and tie, and Kelly’s inexplicable green suede scarf. There are also a few odd moments, such as a long segment of Nimoy’s interview in which the actor is almost drowned out by police sirens in the background. The eight minutes of interviews are followed by a montage of production and behind-the-scenes photographs. Presented in full-frame (1.33:1).

    “The Star Trek Universe: A Novel Approach” featurette
    This 29-minute featurette won’t be much of a revelation to longtime fans who understand the centrality of original creative production to fandom. But, for those not steeped in the details of the enormous Star Trek universe, this is an interesting look at how two fans have parlayed their knowledge into full-time jobs. The featurette focuses on Greg Cox and Julia Ecklar, both lifelong Trekkers who have for many years written officially licensed spin-off Star Trek novels. Cox is the more interesting of the two, if only because his trilogy of novels is about Khan, tracing his life from birth, through his rise to dictator amid the Eugenics Wars, to his exile on Ceti Alpha V. The featurette also includes clips from the “Space Seed” episode, as well as a fantastic montage of every cheesy-looking alien creature to ever appear on the TV series. Presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1).

    Storyboard Archives
    This section includes an extensive array of black-and-white storyboards for 13 major sequences in the film. Presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1).

    Original theatrical trailer
    Presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1).

    Overall Rating: (3.5)

    Thoughts? E-mail James Kendrick

    All images copyright © Paramount Home Entertainment

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