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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 6/30/00

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
1982 (2000) - Paramount

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B+/D

Specs and Features
112 mins, PG, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, theatrical trailer, film-themed menu screens, scene access (17 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 & 2.0) and French (DD 2.0), subtitles: English, Closed Captioned

"Ah, Kirk, my old friend... do you know the old Klingon proverb that says revenge is a dish that is best served cold? It is very cold... in space."

All right... I can't tell you how excited I am to have Star Trek II on DVD at last. This is film is, by all accounts, the best of the entire series. It's as good as Star Trek gets, and for anyone who thinks science fiction isn't capable of compelling drama, let them watch this film and recant.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is a clever follow up to one of the original series' best episodes, Space Seed (which is also on DVD). In that episode, the Enterprise found an old ship adrift in deep space, full of genetically engineered supermen in suspended animation. It turned out that they were Warlords who almost destroyed the Earth during its Third World War back in the 1990s. They eventually fled the planet to avoid persecution for their crimes. Their leader was Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalban), and when Captain Kirk and his crew attempted to revive and rescue them, Khan led his men in an attempt to hijack the Enterprise in a bid to conquer the galaxy. But Kirk and Spock managed to foil the effort, and banished Khan and his people a planet called Ceti Alpha V, figuring that at least they could make a life there without harming others.

But such was not the case. Six months after Kahn and his people were left there, a neighboring planet exploded and changed the climate of Ceti Alpha V, rendering it a wasteland. 15 years pass, and Khan and his people have barely managed to survive. Now he wants revenge against the man he holds responsible - Admiral James T. Kirk. And when the Starship USS Reliant arrives to survey the planet, not realizing that it's Ceti Alpha V, Khan suddenly has the means to exact his vengeance. But the stakes get even higher. Kirk and company are taking the Enterprise on a training cruise, with a batch of Starfleet Academy cadets aboard instead of an experienced crew, so they're badly undermanned. And it turns out that the Reliant was involved in the testing of an experimental device, code-named Genesis, which has unthinkable power to create or destroy. Now that power that is about to fall into Khan's hands, and Kirk and Spock may have to pay the dearest price to stop him.

If there's one important thing to know about drama and conflict, it's that great heroes require great villains. And there has been no better villain, in any incarnation of Star Trek, than Khan. Engineered for super intelligence and strength, he's almost impossible to beat. As played by Ricardo Montalban, he's brooding, sly, witty and extremely dangerous. Whatever else you think of Montalban ("Ah yes, Tatoo..."), he's simply amazing here. And William Shatner gives what I think is his best performance in this film as Kirk, matching Khan round for round, and blow for blow.

Nicholas Meyer's direction is perfect, keeping the action moving with great style and infusing the film with a dark, dangerous atmosphere. This isn't Star Trek: The Next Generation, where Starship bridges look like living rooms - this Enterprise is steeped in classic naval tradition, and feels like a ship capable of making peace or war. Hey - it's a tough galaxy. Uncredited screenwriters Meyer and Bennett add a great measure of dramatic flair and style, with lots of classic literature references in the dialogue. And the musical score by James Horner, who would eventually go on to score Titanic, Braveheart and Apollo 13, is absolutely thrilling. This is rousing stuff.

On DVD, this film looks better than I've ever seen it before at home, in very nice anamorphic widescreen video. It isn't reference quality - owing to the age of the film, no doubt, it does look a bit soft at times and there's plenty of grain visible. There's also a noticeable amount of edge enhancement used. But the colors are vibrant and accurate, and the black levels are excellent. I was also pleased to see very little dust and scratches in the image - this is surprisingly clean looking. I don't know if this was a new print, or if it was digitally cleaned after the transfer or both, but it looks very nice. I'm completely happy with the video.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is also good, although it's not quite as good as some of the more recent Trek DVDs have been. The mix is rich in bass, but you won't find quite as many nifty surround sound gimmicks as you might expect. On the other hand, dialogue is clear and when the action heats up, you'll definitely hear those rear speakers. This is also a very nicely atmospheric sound mix, and you'll hear that difference from scene to scene, and location to location. Better still, Horner's score has never sounded this good in my living room. Once again, I'm very happy.

As expected, this disc only really disappoints in one area, which is in the extras included. All you get is a theatrical trailer, of average quality. It's one I haven't seen in years though, and it's pretty cool. I do hope that Paramount at some point revisits this film (and all the Trek films) with a DVD special edition. I've got a VHS, off-air recording of this film, as shown on ABC more than a decade ago, and there's some cool extra and extended scenes that I'd love to see in DVD quality. In talking with the studio, I think there IS reason to hope that this might happen in the next few years. In any case, I'm pretty thrilled with this disc as is.

I remember the first time I saw Star Trek II as a teenager with friends. We had all been long time fans of the original series, so this film really grabbed us. It's a great movie rollercoaster ride, with a powerful and emotional conclusion. Sure, this isn't Citizen Kane. But it's absolutely perfect for what it is. In fact, it doesn't get much better. Exciting, gripping, thrilling and poignant, Star Trek II is one for the books. Whether you're a fan or not, this is a rare Sci-fi film anyone can enjoy. Do I even need to say it? Ah, what the hell... don't miss it.

Bill Hunt
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