Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan arrives for the second time on Blu-ray, this time with a presentation of the Director’s cut, featuring a few new scenes and extensions of existing scenes that adding roughly 4 extra minutes to the run time (116 vs. 112). For this release, Paramount has digitally remastered the film (from a 4K scan), producing stunning picture quality and delivering qualitatively the finest version of this film home video has ever seen.
Arguably the best outing for the original crew now looking better than it ever has, this release comes highly recommended. With strong sales, we can hope that similar treatment is given to the remaining Star Trek films (with the Director’s Cut of The Motion Picture deserving to be first in line).
The Production: 4.5/5
“Surely, I have made my meaning plain. I mean to avenge myself upon you, Admiral. I deprived your ship of power, and when I swing around, I mean to deprive you of your life.”
James T. Kirk (William Shatner), having given up command of the Enterprise with his promotion to Admiral, is restless. Overseeing Starfleet trainees, with his former First Officer, Spock (Leonard Nimoy), helping to usher the next generation of standard bearers for the United Federation of Planet’s explorers and peacekeeper, and the rest of the former crew of the USS Enterprise having stepped away from crewing missions into the unknown.
Across the stretches of space, First Officer Chekov (Walter Koenig), serving aboard the USS Reliant under Captain Terrell (Paul Winfield) in search of a lifeless planet to test the Federation’s Genesis Device (to create life from lifelessness), stumbles upon a former enemy of Kirk and the Enterprise – Khan. Khan, a genetically modified human from earth’s distant past (the 1990s), once tried to overthrow Kirk and take control the Enterprise, but was beaten and left to survive on a lush planet for the rest of his days with his loyal crew of fellow genetically modified humans. But Chekov, checking out faint signs of life on a now storm-ridden and hostile planet, is captured and mind-controlled along with Capt. Terrell, forced to do Khan’s bidding. The USS Reliant, now under Khan’s control, sets off to hunt down the man who had beaten and abandoned him 15 years earlier to exact his vengeance upon him.
Following the modest critical praise and relative financial success of Star Trek: The Motion Picture (which reportedly cost Paramount a stunning $43MM to make), Paramount sought to continue the work of Star Trek on the big screen with a considerably smaller budget (under $10MM), and brought in TV producer Harve Bennett to help make that happen. Harve promised to deliver at that price (the eventual cost would be a little more than the $10MM), and while Wrath of Khan’s overall box office take was lower, the profits were much higher. And despite the noticeable cost cutting (by comparison to The Motion Picture), Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan was a hit with fans and critics alike – and a bona fide cinematic franchise was (re) born!
On board as Director was Nicholas Myer. His assured hand in the director’s chair ushered in the third and perhaps most resonant phase of Star Trek’s existence. The first phase was born with the television series – colorful, potent science fiction premises and a near-utopian future where adventure, fisticuffs, and beautiful women lit up the small screen. Robert Wise’s lofty and grand The Motion Picture represented a short but distinct second phase as Kirk and crew were launched on the big screen with high-minded concept science fiction and a leap in scale. The third phase, arriving with Khan, adjusted the tone and conceptualization of Starfleet, more explicitly embracing the military framing of the organization through a naval paradigm, and executing the action – particularly the standoff between the USS Reliant and the USS Enterprise – as an “Enemy Below” inspired submarine-like tale, echoing the original series episode Balance of Terror, and recapturing a genuine spirit of adventure along the way.
A drastically reduced budget from the grandiose The Motion Picture, The Wrath of Khan becomes a legendary example of the economy of excellence. Serving as the first of its kind – a sequel film to an episode of television (The Original Series’ “Space Seed”), the stripped down sets and ‘bottled’ nature worked to emphasize an intimacy to the action and bring the audience closer to the characters through tight mining of character interactions. Along with a brilliant return to the Khan role by Ricardo Montalban and his masterful dance of dialogue, The Wrath of Khan was faster, sleeker, and decidedly more akin to the tone of the Star Trek audiences fell in love with from the series. With The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek was both familiar and new.
Even for non-Trek fans, The Wrath of Khan is an absorbing tale with the cast delivering fine performances, served by a tight and meaningful script. The special effects and model work from Industrial Light & Magic is of impressive quality, and to this day – in cinema drenched with boundless computer generated imagery – holds up well with shots of the Enterprise locked in a stealth battle with the USS Reliant inside the Mutara Nebula standing out.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan represents in the most intimate, yet least boundless way possible, everything that Gene Rodenberry (and the other many creative talents who brought the Star Trek series to life in the 1960s) aspired to; an examination of humanity through the lens of adventures in the unknown universe. Death and rebirth, action and consequence, choice and regret – it’s all deeply mature and, through smaller in scale and execution, ultimately equals the philosophical underpinnings of The Motion Picture’s V’ger premise. The difference here is a genuine sense of action and adventure, and a crew of characters given space to more formally reprise – and expand – the roles they delivered on the legendary Original Series. William Shatner, under Myer’s direction, is perhaps the finest he has even been as Kirk; welcomingly restrained in some ways, emboldened in others, and in the embrace of his aging – his performance sustains the philosophical flavors of the story well. Leonard Nimoy too, having returned for what he saw as his final turn as Spock, was flawless. Nimoy and Shatner as Spock and Kirk exchange moments here that underlie the philosophical theme of time and regret, and ultimately give rise to the potent and gut-wrenching final moments between them in the film.
The fresh faces in the film, Saavik played by then-newcomer Kirstie Alley, the lovely Bibi Besch as Dr. Carol Marcus, the late Merritt Butrick as David Marcus (Merritt would later show up on Star Trek: The Next Generation in the first season episode, “Symbiosis”) and Paul Winfield as Captain Clark Terrell, deliver precisely what the film calls for (Paul Winfield would also appear on The Next Generation in the highly regarded 5th season episode, “Darmok”).
The story, pacing, direction, performances, special effects, modesty of production, and script, augmented by James Horner’s magnificent brassy and bold score, conspire to create a quintessentially exciting adventure for the crew of the USS Enterprise and a worthy claimer of the title of very best Star Trek film.
3D Rating: NA
When Paramount released Blu-ray editions of the original crew movies, Khan was lauded for its greatly improved image and audio (over earlier home video releases,) – and was the only film to have been digitally remastered. But it was met with some displeasure over a noticeable increase in blue tones throughout. This release of the Director’s cut (which also includes the theatrical cut) addresses that complaint, and the results are a delightful array of sharp contrast, beautifully saturated colors, intact grain structure and detail that “show you something that will make you feel… young — as when the world was new.”
The heavy-duty red uniforms a richly red, blacks are deep, the star field (notably during the opening credits) crystal clear, and skin tones warm but still very natural. Certainly there is some softness to be found, but attributable to the source not the remastering. There are moments in this film where the image looks absolutely flawless (several of them being close-ups of Kirk!)
Featuring what sounds like the same English 7.1 Dolby TrueHD audio from the previous Blu-ray release, The Wrath of Khan sounds terrific. With involving surround effects, stable bass, healthy low frequency effects, and detail in the spacing – including a fire crackling from an early scene between Bones and Kirk that still surprises me – and crisp dialogue focused in the center channel all come together to the film justice.
As a lifelong James Horner fan, the true delight for me is hearing is rollicking score abound in 7.1. With his brassy, celebratory sound, his use of Alexander Courage’s theme from the show, and his main theme brilliantly triumphant and spirited, the music is a wonderful successor to Jerry Goldsmith’s (debatable) pièce de résistance
Special Features: 4.5/5
In addition to the previously available special features being available, a new almost 30-minute documentary, “The Genesis Effect: Engineering The Wrath of Khan,” that dives into the development and production, is available. The audio commentaries offer informative listens with the partnering of Director Nicholas Myer and Manny Coto (Star Trek: Enterprise writer/producer) being especially revealing and entertaining. The text commentary by Michael and Denise Okuda – a version of ‘pop-up’ video factoids – is great to see again for the first time since the DVD release.
This release represents what Paramount should be doing with their Entire Star Trek film library – delivering the accumulated special features, along with new retrospectives, with top-notch audio, superb video quality and, where one has existed, a directors or special cut to go along with the theatrical version. All that’s really missing here are the variations of a few short moments that would have appeared in the ABC broadcast – but I’m trying desperately not to be too greedy here.
Commentary by director Nicholas Meyer (Director’s Edition & Theatrical Version)
Commentary by director Nicholas Meyer and Manny Coto (Theatrical Version)
Text Commentary by Michael and Denise Okuda (Director’s Edition)
Library Computer (Theatrical Version)
The Genesis Effect: Engineering The Wrath of Khan—NEW!
- Captain’s Log
- Designing Khan
- 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
- James Horner: Composing Genesis
The Star Trek Universe
- Collecting Star Trek’s Movie Relics
- A Novel Approach
- Starfleet Academy: The Mystery Behind Ceti Alpha VI
- A Tribute to Ricardo Montalban
There’s a reason The Wrath of Khan is so often cited as fan’s favorites in the series (for me, The Motion Picture just pips this adventure for a myriad of reasons I’d love to go into WHEN Paramount does the right thing a releases an upgraded Director’s cut of that film in HD). It saved Star Trek on the big screen, gave the movie series a lifeline in its framing for how Kirk and crew should exist on the big screen (in ways very different to the television series) – and did so in a way the studio believed was economically sound.
The Director’s cut is my preferred version of the film. The added character moments, particularly offered to Scotty in the reveal of his nephew serving aboard (that would add emotional depth later in the film following Khan’s surprise attack), and the exchange between Saavik and Spock as they discuss Kirk, are meaningful additions.