STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN - DVD review

Fans should be extremely pleased. Well done, Paramount!

 
Eddie
Feng

"KHAAAAAN!" -James Tiberius Kirk

Paramount and Fox were the last two of the major studios to join the DVD revolution, and their first DVD products paled in comparison to the best discs in the marketplace. Both studios have gone to great lengths to improve their commitment to the DVD format, however, and they have created some sparkling gems. In particular, Paramount's "Special Collector's Edition" DVDs show how a wealth of well-organized and substantive bonus materials can provide hours of interactive entertainment.

Paramount released "Star Trek II" through "Star Trek: Insurrection" in reverse order (basically), and they were all lacking in noteworthy features. In some cases, the video and audio presentations could only be described as "lackluster". When the time came for the DVD release of "Star Trek: The Motion Picture", the studio decided that an about-face was in order--Paramount would create a special edition to inaugurate a revamped philosophy towards its flagship series. The studio seems intent on working its way through the movie series again (this time in theatrical release order) with 2-disc sets offering a plethora of extras, and it's also gotten around to releasing the TV shows on DVD. (Every episode of "Star Trek--The Original Series" is on DVD, and every season of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" will be on DVD by the end of 2002. "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" will be released in 2003, presumably to be followed by "Star Trek: Voyager".)

It has been almost 9 months since "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" was released on DVD, and now a spiffy new director's cut of "Star Trek II" arrives in stores. (Fans won't have to wait long for "Star Trek III"--it'll be in stores on October 22). Dubbed "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan--The Director's Edition", the new version includes about 3 or 4 minutes worth of footage not used during the film's initial theatrical release. For the most part, the changes made to "Star Trek II" aren't as extensive as the ones made to "The Motion Picture", so the film's content, tone, pacing, and overall feel has barely been touched at all.

"Star Trek II" took its inspiration from an episode of the original TV series called "Space Seed". Basically, at the end of that episode, Captain Kirk (William Shatner) sent Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalban) into exile on Ceti Alpha V. In the movie, the genetically engineered, super-genius Khan manages to escape from Ceti Alpha V, and he commandeers the starship Reliant to destroy Kirk. Khan also manages to steal the Genesis device, developed by Kirk's ex-flame Dr. Carol Marcus and their son, Dr. David Marcus. Genesis, designed to create life out of nothing, could be used as a weapon since it destroys pre-existing life in order to create its own "matrix". So, for the better part of 2 hours, Kirk and Khan chase each other across the galaxy. Admiral Kirk uses his experience with Starfleet ships while Khan uses his superior intellect in order to outwit one another.

Shatner and Montalban do their best to out-overact one another, and I have to say that they conclude with a draw. Although the two actors manage to chew up plenty of scenery, they don't actually stand face-to-face, sparing the story from becoming a free-for-all wrestling match. The usual suspects also appear in the movie, including Captain Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and "Bones" (a delightfully grumpy DeForest Kelley). Look for Kirstie Alley as Saavik, a Vulcan Starfleet cadet who learns a few things from Kirk and Spock about being "human".

A former DVD Town reviewer, Kevin Kaup, wrote about the first, single-disc DVD edition of "Star Trek II". (Star Trek II) In his review of the original release (the only way to get the theatrical cut of the movie), Kaup revealed that he likes "Star Trek II" more than any of the other "Trek" films. While I myself prefer "Star Trek VI", I agree with Kaup's assessment of "Star Trek II"--it is fun, spirited, moving, and highly enjoyable. There are a couple of tense space dogfights between the Enterprise and the Reliant, and the script focuses on the deep bonds that have developed over the years between Kirk, Spock, and Bones. If you've followed the series at all, you already know that a major character passes away towards the end of "Star Trek II". Don't worry--if you look at the title of the third movie, you'll know right away that he comes back to life. Oops, was that a spoiler? Heehee...

Video:
Thankfully, the filmmakers shot "Star Trek II" using a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen ratio for its visual composition. The wide image imparts a sweeping visual grandeur to the story, and it looks great on DVD. Boldly-rendered colors look natural, and the stable, smooth, clear print is a welcome improvement over the transfer of "The Motion Picture". However, due to the technology available at the time of the film's shooting, special effects shots suffer from heavy grain and dust problems.

Audio:
The Dolby Digital 5.1 English mix used for the DVD sounds comfortably spacious but unspectacular. Music cues benefit the most from a 5.1 re-mix, and a couple of whooshes courtesy of the Enterprise jumping into warp will have you looking from your front speakers to your rear ones. For the most part, though, the sound design is front-heavy (again, due to technological limitations in place at the time of the production). Most low-frequency effects sound thin and hollow.

Paramount included a DD 2.0 surround English track (recommended for those of you without true DD 5.1 set-ups) and a DD 2.0 surround French dub. Optional English subtitles and closed captions support the audio.

Extras:
In order to provide the film with as much digital space as possible for maximum video/audio quality, most of the bonus materials have been placed on Disc 2 of this 2-DVD set.

--Disc 1--
Director Nicholas Meyer provided an audio commentary for the film. When he was given the reins to the movie, he was actually not at all familiar with the "Star Trek" universe. Therefore, he has many interesting anecdotes to share about the production. Meyer does not shy away from discussing on-set disagreements, including little incidents created by Leonard Nimoy. (Despite the fact that Spock the half-Vulcan had no ego to massage, Nimoy the human did. :-P) This is a great commentary, more informative and enjoyable than the one found on Disc 1 of "The Motion Picture" DVD set.

As with Disc 1 of the "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" DVD set, "Star Trek II" Disc 1 uses a subtitle stream as a "text commentary" of the film. Similar to New Line's "Fact Track" on its infinifilm DVDs and written by Michael Okuda (co-author of "The Star Trek Encyclopedia"), the text commentary provides a wealth of information about the production as well as "Star Trek" lore. For a challenge, try watching the movie with both the audio and text commentary running at the same time. :-)

--Disc 2--
"The Captain's Log" is a half-hour featurette about the making of the movie. This is one of the best "making-of" featurettes that I've seen because all of the participants--including William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and executive producer Harve Bennett--candidly describe how they felt about "Star Trek II". For instance, Shatner explains why he thinks that Nimoy's desire NOT to appear in the movie was a great negotiating ploy, and Bennett relates how he had to use several storylines in order to finally convince Nimoy to participate in the project. I'm happy that the participants realized that in discussing some of the not-so-smooth background details of the production, they manage to give viewers a greater appreciation of their efforts.

Next up is the "Designing ‘Khan'" featurette, a half-hour look at the creation of the movie's production design. As the text commentary on Disc 1 already states, director Nicholas Meyer managed to use his budget for other purposes by re-using sets and props that had been made for "The Motion Picture" and the TV show. Therefore, a lot of the sights in the film are echoes of scenes from the first movie and the TV series.

"The Visual Effects of ‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan'" basically complements the "Designing ‘Khan'" featurette. It gives viewers a brief overview of how visual effects specialists had to find creative methods to produce a space epic without the benefit of the powerful computers available to today's crews.

There are about 10-minutes-worth of original 1982 promotional interviews with William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, and Ricardo Montalban. You'll be ROFLYAO when you see the interviewees wearing some seriously outdated duds. Surprisingly, William Shatner--known for his cheerily campy behavior--wears the least-dated clothes of the bunch.

In the "The Star Trek Universe: A Novel Approach" featurette, two authors talk about their book-based relation to the "Star Trek" universe. Greg Cox, writer of "The Eugenics Wars: A History of Khan Noonien Singh", explains his creation of a complex backstory for the Khan character. Julia Ecklar, writer of "A Test of Character: The Kobayashi Maru Scenario", discusses the infamous test that puts Starfleet cadets in a no-win situation.

Under the "Storyboard Archives" umbrella, you'll find storyboards for 13 of the film's sequences.

Finally, there is the film's theatrical trailer.

--Miscellaneous--
A glossy booklet provides a list of the DVD set's features, chapter listings, and a photograph of the assembled Enterprise crew. You'll also find an insert ad for "Star Trek" books as well as a CD-ROM that lets you join www.StarTrek.net, an Internet Service Provider. Yes, "Star Trek" fans now have the chance to have their own "Star Trek"-based e-mail addresses.

Entertainment Value:
Undoubtedly, fans will rush to get "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan--The Director's Edition" in their hands as soon as possible. They shouldn't be the only ones buying this DVD release, though. "Star Trek II" is a remarkably accessible movie. My sister, Shing-yao Sandra Feng, enjoyed it even though she's not usually a fan of science-fiction. Given the fact that the single-disc releases of the "Star Trek" movies originally listed for $29.99, Paramount's 2-disc revamps, also listing for $29.99, are more than bargains--they are steals. The new "Star Trek" DVD sets reflect the studio's obvious pride in its beloved franchise. Fans should be extremely pleased. Well done, Paramount!

Ratings

Video
8
Audio
7
Extras
8
Film Value
7