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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: USA
Star Trek II DVD Cover

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 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 cyrogenically 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 own 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-travelling 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 self-righteous 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 II: The Wrath of Khan: The Director's Edition Two-Disc DVD Set
The version of the film on this DVD is the extended "Director's Edition," which adds roughly four minutes of additional footage to the theatrical version.
Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
LanguagesEnglish, French
Subtitles English
DistributorParamount Home Video
Release DateAugust 6, 2002
SRP$29.99

VIDEO
2.35:1 (Anamorphic)
This new "Director's Edition" DVD of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is the first time Paramount has re-released a movie on DVD. As this is a slightly different version from the theatrical cut previously released, a new transfer has been ordered, and it is an improvement over the first. The new anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) transfer looks incredibly good for a movie that is two decades old. The colors have benefited the most from the new transfer, with improved flesh tones and a slightly brighter, more vibrant image, which is particularly noticeable in the Mutara Nebula sequence. Detail is good throughout, although the movie's look is somewhat soft in nature. The print used was very clean, with only a few instances of dirt and virtually no signs of aging or scratches.

AUDIO
English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, 2.0 Surround Stereo
French Dolby 2.0 Stereo

The Dolby Digital. 5.1 surround soundtrack is the same as the one featured on the original DVD. While certainly limited by the original mix, it is still effective when it needs to be, particularly in the battle sequences and whenever James Horner's excellent orchestral score dominates. Imagining and directionality are somewhat limited, but the overall scope of the soundtrack is quite good, as is the fidelity.

SUPPLEMENTS
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 ...

Text commentary by Michael Okuda
As on the Star Trek: The Motion Picture DVD, trivia fanatics can get their fix of minutiae by reading a text commentary by Michael Okuda, coauthor of The Star Trek Encyclopedia. Okuda supplies all kinds of trivia on both the making of the movie and the Star Trek universe in general, in addition to dropping little Mystery Science 3000-style jokes and pointing out the numerous inconsistencies and continuity errors that only the true perfectionist would notice.

"The Captain's Log" featurette
This 27-minute retrospective featurette includes new 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 new 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, Leonary 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)




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