Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (4K UHD)

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 II: The Wrath of Khan 4K UHD
Star Trek: The Motion Picture

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 the time-traveling Jack the Ripper yarn Time After Time (1979), 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 intriguing 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 is clever and well-constructed, alternating action sequences with meaningful character development. It is 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 boiling over into 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 4K UHD + Blu-ray + Digital
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is available as part of the Star Trek: The Original 4-Movie Collection 4K UHD / Blu-ray Set.
Aspect Ratio2.40:1
Audio
  • English Dolby TrueHD 7.1 surround
  • French Dolby Digital 2.0 surround
  • German Dolby TrueHD 2.0 surround
  • Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 surround
  • Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • SubtitlesEnglish, English SDH, French, German, Japanese, Spanish, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish
    Supplements
  • Audio commentary by director Nicholas Meyer
  • Audio commentary by director Nicholas Meyer and Star Trek Enterprise producer Manny Coto
  • “James Horner: Composing Genesis” featurette
  • “A Tribute to Ricardo Montalban” featurette
  • “Collecting Star Trek’s Movie Relics” featurette
  • “Starfleet Academy: Mystery Behind Ceti Alpha VI” featurette
  • “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
  • DistributorParamount Home Entertainment
    Release DateSeptember 7, 2021

    COMMENTS
    It would be quite the understatement to say that fans have been chomping at the bit for the Star Trek films to finally get the fully remastered 4K treatment, and while it seems like the wait has been interminable, I can say that it has been worth it. The first four films in the series, included in this eight-disc box set (each film is on a 4K UHD disc and a Blu-ray, with all the non-commentary supplements on the Blu-ray discs), are generally outstanding, with the best video and audio presentation the films have ever seen on any home video format. I should note up front that this set only includes the theatrical cut of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, although it is widely known that Paramount is busy prepping a separate release for 2022 that will include both the theatrical version and the Director’s Cut in remastered 4K. This set includes both the theatrical cut and Director’s Cut of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan via seamless branching.

    Each film has been newly scanned in 4K from the original 35mm camera negatives and master interpositive elements, restored, and color graded for High Dynamic Range (HDR). The results are uniformly fantastic, with all four films boasting better sharpness, depth, and detail than previous releases and without some of the problematic noise reduction that marred earlier Blu-rays (notably Star Trek: The Motion Picture, although the other films also suffered from digital smoothing that removed some of the image density and resulted in a less film-like appearance.). Film grain is present throughout and beautifully rendered to create a genuinely filmlike experience that looks gorgeous in motion. There are some inconsistencies in the image, notably some softer shots here and there and notable matte lines in the visual effects shots, but these are all inherent to the source material. Colors look bold and beautiful (note, for example, the intense swirling hues in the nebula in Wrath of Khan), and darker scenes hold up well. Colors on all three movies are excellent throughout, with strong blacks and often stunning detail. All four films appear to include the same Dolby TrueHD 7.1-channel surround soundtracks that were originally created for the 2009 Blu-ray releases. I can see why they didn’t create new mixes, because these are pretty incredible already, immersing you in both the orchestral scores and the various space battles. Surround effects are consistently impressive, especially during the shoot-outs in The Wrath of Khan and The Search for Spock.

    All of the supplements have been ported over from previous DVD and Blu-ray releases.

    Library Computer
    The “Library Computer” 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
    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 ...

    Audio commentary by director Nicholas Meyer and Star Trek Enterprise producer Manny Coto
    On this track, 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
    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
    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
    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
    It’s hard to describe this three-minute faux training film about the demise of Ceti Alpha VI as anything other than pure filler.

    “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).

    “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.

    “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.

    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.

    “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.

    Storyboard Archives
    This section includes an extensive array of black-and-white storyboards for 13 major sequences in the film.

    Original theatrical trailer

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    All images copyright © Paramount Home Entertainment

    Overall Rating: (3.5)




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