Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan [DVD]
Screenplay : Jack B. Sowards (story by Harve Bennett and Jack B. Soward)
MPAA Rating : PG
Year of Release : 1982
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)
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.|
|Distributor||Paramount Home Video|
|Release Date||August 6, 2002|
| 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.
| 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.
| 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
"The Captain's Log" featurette
"Designing Khan" featurette
"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
Original theatrical trailer
Copyright © 2002 James Kendrick