|Star Trek II - The Wrath of Khan (Director's Edition)|
|Written by Tara O'Shea|
|Tuesday, 06 August 2002|
"Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" is the movie which truly launched the franchise. Do not be fooled by the fact that it is a sequel to the dismal "Star Trek; The Motion Picture." There would have been no film franchise, no “Next Generation,” “Deep Space Nine,” “Voyager” or “Enterprise” had this film not only captured the minds and hearts of die-hard fans of the original series, but also proved to Paramount that mainstream audiences would flock to a well-made character-driven science fiction film even if they'd never seen the 1960s TV series.
"Khan" is a sequel to an exceptionally strong episode of the original series, "Space Seed," in which a late 20th-century genetically enhanced dictator and his cronies are found cryogenically frozen in space and revived by a clueless Enterprise crew. The story of “Khan” picks up 15 years after Kirk (William Shatner) had marooned said dictator, Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalban), and the crew of the Botany Bay on Ceti Alpha V. Chekov (Walter Koenig), now a member of the crew of the USS Reliant, is scouting for a dead world which can be terra-formed in a top-secret experiment called "Genesis," run by Kirk's old flame Dr. Carol Marcus (Bibi Besch), and their son, David. The landing party is captured by Khan, who is out for revenge for the death of his beloved wife. A cat-and-mouse game ensues, as Khan and the Reliant ambush Admiral Kirk, who is conducting a cadet training cruise aboard the spiffed-up Enterprise.
In many ways, the film codified the "Trek" universe in terms of production design and storytelling. Starfleet was closely identified with the Navy, both in terms of design and vocabulary, but also feel. Drawing on sources such as C.S. Forester's Hornblower novels, the battle sequences hearken back to tall ships in the fog, or submarines in the black depths of the ocean, navigating by "pings." While crude by today's special effects standards, the Mutara Nebula sequence stills holds up fairly well, and the audience forgets that they're seeing two models going at it thanks to motion-controlled cameras and cleverly lit salt-water. Backed by James Horner's fantastic and dynamic score, the audience is drawn in and the film never lets go until the very end.
Special effects aside, the strength of the screenplay, and Nicholas Meyer's direction, lies in the characters. The film focuses on Kirk as a man trying to cling to his youth and experiencing a mid-life crisis, particularly when faced with the next generation as represented by Scotty's (James Doohan) nephew, an earnest and wet behind the ears engineer, and Spock's (Leonard Nimoy) Vulcan protege, Lt. Saavik (Kirstie Alley), who is introduced in the spectacular "Kobayashi Maru" simulation opening sequence which gets the film off to a running start.
Meyer adds some lovely grounding touches, such as Bones (DeForest Kelley) and Spock's birthday gifts of a pair of reading glasses and a book -- "A Tale of Two Cities" -- which add texture and resonance to creator Gene Roddenberry's slick and occasionally sterile future. The clean lines of the original series are still here, but the color palette is warm. The sound mix has, beneath every scene aboard Enterprise, the mechanical hum of engines (actually, a sample of the giant air conditioner fans that would be used to cool the stages where the film was shot, Meyer reveals on the commentary). While not the dingy eclectic mix of the “Star Wars” universe, the film's production design gives a genuine sense of "lived in" environments, which the original series and first film lacked.
Montalban's performance as Khan is at times over the top, but in a way that only adds to the film. Khan is meant to be larger than life, with an operatic feel that enhances the epic battle between Kirk and Khan. It is remarkable, especially given the fact that the two actors are never physically in the same scene through the entire film. Shatner delivers an unusually restrained and naturalistic performance (for him) as Kirk, full of warmth, humor and poignant drama. Both Shatner and Nimoy give standout performances in Spock's death scene, as do Kelley and Doohan. But this is Khan's movie, as Montalban delivers almost Shakespearian dialogue with passion and grace, and commands every scene in which he appears.
The transfer is excellent, with bright, saturated colors with little or no bleeding. The black levels are particularly impressive, given how dark some of the scenes were shot. The Director's Edition restores three minutes of footage and an entire subplot establishing Scotty's nephew, which had previously only been seen in the TV cut of the film, and this adds tremendous resonance to both Kirk's relationship with his estranged son and that of Khan and his second in command.
In terms of sound, the mono dialogue comes from the front three channels, and at times the sound effects and dialogue tracks seem to be vying for attention with Horner's score. However, the mix does make good use of sound effects, particularly the transporter effects (which can almost be overpowering at times) and during the battle sequences. On the commentary, Meyer laments the fact that he wanted to have the ships silent in space, as sound does not travel in a vacuum, but that audiences would never stand for it. Also, the roar of sound as the ships cross one another and zoom across the star fields almost single-handedly convince the audience that they are seeing starships, and not eight-foot-long models.
The most popular of the “Trek” films, the two-disc set of “Khan” includes a banquet of extras, starting with an excellent and entertaining commentary by Meyer, which explores every aspect of the film. A text commentary by Trek Encyclopaedia author Michael Okuda is also included, which annotates and documents the film down to the smallest details. The second disc includes brand new interviews with Meyer, stars Shatner, Montalban and Nimoy and executive producer Harve Bennett, as well as comprehensive featurettes on the production design, interviews with the cast and crew done to promote the film in 1982, storyboard archives, and a surprisingly entertaining segment with tie-in authors Greg Cox and Julia Ecklar. The discs feature computer-animated menus recreating the space station and the Genesis planet, under snippets of Horner's score, which are easy to navigate and aesthetically pleasing.