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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 7/29/02

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
The Director's Edition - 1982 (2000) - Paramount

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan - The Director's Edition Film Rating: A

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

Specs and Features

Disc One: The Film
116 mins, PG, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, dual keep case packaging, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:00:24 in chapter 9), audio commentary with director Nicholas Meyer, subtitle text commentary by Michael Okuda (co-author of The Star Trek Encyclopedia), booklet, animated film-themed menus with sound and music, scene access (17 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 & 2.0 Surround) and French (DD 2.0 Surround), subtitles: English (for the hearing impaired), Closed Captioned

Disc Two: Supplemental Material
4 documentaries: Captain's Log (27 mins - 16x9, DD 2.0), Designing Khan (24 mins - 16x9, DD 2.0), Visual Effects (18 mins - 16x9, DD 2.0), and The Star Trek Universe (29 mins - 16x9, DD 2.0), Original Interviews featurette (11mins - 4x3, DD 2.0 - with William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelly and Ricardo Montalban), storyboard archive (for 13 scenes - 16x9), theatrical trailer (16x9, DD 2.0), animated film-themes menus with sound and music, subtitles: English

"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... this is as good as Star Trek gets. 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.

This new DVD presents the film in a slightly longer (by roughly 4 minutes) director's cut. The added footage isn't major, and any of you who have seen this film broadcast on ABC will be familiar with it. It's mostly little scene extensions here and there - a moment or two with Scotty when Kirk and company first board the Enterprise, a slightly longer conversation between Kirk, Bones and Spock about Genesis, another moment with Scotty and Bones in Sickbay after Khan's first attack and other little odds and ends. The restored footage doesn't really add any dramatic impact to the film, but (importantly) it doesn't really detract either. Fans should be quite pleased to see it.

Most of you will be happy to know that this DVD utilizes the same excellent video master produced for the prior, movie-only DVD release, with the exception that it's been re-color-timed (presumably with the director's supervision). The video on this disc is slightly warmer that the previous release, with slightly more vibrant colors. As before, the video isn't reference quality, owing to the age of the film. It looks a bit soft at times and there's plenty of grain visible. There's also a certain amount of edge enhancement used. But, as I mentioned, the colors are vibrant and the black levels are excellent. I was also pleased to see very little dust and scratches in the image. This is about as good as you'll ever see this film looking at home, save for a future HD release. As with the other DVD, I'm completely happy with the video here.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is (as near as I can tell) the exact same track found on the earlier DVD. It's very good overall, although 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 one would expect, Paramount's produced a nice batch of bonus material for this DVD that, for the most part, satisfies. Disc One kicks off the fun with a great audio commentary track by director Nicholas Meyer. He talks about how he got involved with this film, his unique approach to the Trek universe and this film in particular, and several funny moments with the various actors. There's a lot of really good stuff here. You realize that much of what makes this film so good and so accessible to a large audience comes directly out of Meyer's efforts to make sense of this universe for himself. He's very well spoken and his intelligent perspective on this film is absolutely refreshing to listen to. In addition to Meyer's track, there's also another great text commentary by author (and Trek consultant) Michael Okuda. I'm really enjoying this feature on these DVDs, and I hope the trend continues. Okuda delivers lots of interesting little factoids, bits of trivia and arcane technical details that avid Trekkers have come to love.

Disc Two features mostly the sort of video featurettes that Paramount seems to use for all its Trek DVDs. They're full of substance and fascinating interviews with numerous members of the cast and crew. BUT... there is one nit I have to pick here. Whoever shot these interviews needs to take a quick refresher course on video production technique. All of the featurettes are 16x9, which is a very cool touch. But the interview set-ups are terrible. The lighting's bad, the camera isn't white-balanced, the backgrounds are awful, the camera is zoomed in way too close to people's faces... the list of problems is quite long. This is getting more and more common on DVD - badly shot video footage in major studio DVDs. Look... it's not hard to get yourself a cheap light kit and make these people look good. And it's not like there aren't TONS of experienced and talented crew people willing to work for cheap or free in Los Angeles - you can spit and hit them. This isn't home movies of the kids, folks... this is a major studio DVD. Bottom line - video should never look this bad. NEVER.

Okay... so that's the bad. The good is that the featurettes all manage to overcome the technical problems. These people are all very interesting and what they have to say is absolutely fascinating. Not only do you get interviews with all the major actors and the director, but also producer Harve Bennett, production designer Joe Jennings (who also worked on the original series), numerous visual effects people and lots more. Some of this is funny, some of it is fascinating, and it's all worth checking out. The Captain's Log in an in-depth look at the production overall, from its humble beginnings, to dealing with the actors (convincing Nimoy to return was a MAJOR effort), to the actual filming and beyond. Thankfully, it includes many new interviews with the major cast members. Designing Khan features interviews with Jennings, costume designer Robert Fletcher, art director Lee Cole and others on the design work for the film and the logic behind it. And Visual Effects includes interviews with effects supervisor Ken Ralston and many of the ILM staffers who worked on the effects, along with tons of cool behind-the-scenes photos and video clips.

There's also a series of interviews with several major cast members (including Shatner, Nimoy, the late DeForest Kelly and Ricardo Montalban), done in the 1980s at the time of the film's original release. There's a featurette called The Star Trek Universe, in which a pair of Star Trek novel authors are interviewed - Julia Ecklar and Greg Cox. It's a little uncomfortable at times... kind of like one of those squirmy moments you get at Trek conventions at times (yes, I've been to a few), when you realize some of these people take the show a tad too seriously (if you know what I mean). But both of these authors have written novels that further flesh out characters or issues introduced in this film, so what they have to say is relevant and interesting. And rounding out the extras are a gallery of storyboard art from the film and the theatrical trailer. The storyboards are presented nicely for 16x9 TVs, so the art is big and bold. Some 13 scenes are presented, and my only issue with these is that I wish you could tab through all the scenes in the film from beginning to end (they're broken up by scene instead). Still, I love seeing this kind of artwork for science fiction material (and Trek in particular).

All in all, these features are pretty darned good. Could Paramount have put more effort into this release? Sure. But given the sheer volume of Trek DVDs they're releasing these days, you can appreciate why they do it this way. And both of the discs in this set are iced with really nifty little animated menu screens, which take you to the Regula One space station and down onto the Genesis planet. A very nice touch.

The Wrath of Khan is far and away the undisputed jewel of the Trek feature film franchise. And Paramount has FINALLY delivered this film as a worthy DVD special edition that everyone should enjoy. You simply can't claim to be a fan of Star Trek and not have a place for this DVD in your collection. It's absolutely a must have. And if it could be a somewhat better DVD special edition than it is, it's still more than good enough to please. Hey... it's not like there aren't a TON of other great Trek DVDs out there these days to keep the buzz going when you're done with this one. Highly recommended.

Bill Hunt

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