"Admiral" James T. Kirk begrudgingly embarks on a cadet cruise in the newly christened Starfleet Academy training starship, the USS Enterprise. Then his whole world is really turned upside down when he crosses paths with his old nemesis – Khan Noonien Singh! After 15 grueling years of being exiled on the planet Ceti Alpha V, Khan and his followers have escaped by hijacking a starship. Even worse Khan has discovered the plans for testing the planet reconfiguring "Genesis Device." During the ensuing battle, both starships are crippled. However Khan is able to locate and steal the device to use it as a weapon. Their cat and mouse game eventually turns deadly for both ships. Revenge minded Kahn is more than ready to sacrifice everything. Kirk isn't and he desperately tries to save his ship. The fatal solution will cost him more than he's ever had to pay before, his friend!
"Galloping around the cosmos is a game for the young."
Despite its box office success, 'Star Trek: The Motion Picture' was considered a disappointment by most fans and critics. The film was perceived as being too slow and ponderous, lacking the adventure and excitement expected from a major science fiction movie released in the wake of 'Star Wars'. Counting their receipts, the executives at Paramount knew that enough interest in the property remained to justify a sequel. They also knew that they wanted the next movie to be nothing at all like the first. Hoping to jump-start the franchise, the studio hired TV producer Harve Bennet ('The Six Million Dollar Man') and up-and-coming filmmaker Nicholas Meyer ('Time After Time'), neither of whom was all that familiar with 'Star Trek' beforehand. Their mandate: to make a new movie with considerably more action yet a considerably lower budget. Fortunately, the two men rose to the challenge. 'Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan' is almost universally acknowledged as the definitive 'Star Trek' movie.
To familiarize himself with the material, Bennett screened all 79 episodes of the original 'Star Trek' series in a short period of time. He quickly honed in on the relationship between characters Kirk, Spock and McCoy as the centerpiece of the show. He also found himself drawn to first season episode 'Space Seed', in which the starship Enterprise encounters Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalban), a genetically-engineered super warrior from the late 20th Century, cryogenically frozen for three centuries until thawed out by Kirk and crew. Having been bred with tremendous ego and ambition, Khan tried to hijack the ship. The episode concluded on an open-ended note, with Khan and his compatriots exiled to an unpopulated planet in a seldom-visited sector of the galaxy. This seemed to Bennett an excellent launching point for the new movie.
As the film begins, Federation starship Reliant has been sent to evaluate an uninhabitable planet as the potential test site for a new terraforming initiative called Project Genesis. Unfortunately, what Captain Terrell (Paul Winfield) and First Officer Chekov (Walter Koenig) don't realize is that the planet isn't as uninhabited as they thought. Khan is there, driven more mad with time and thirsting for revenge against the Captain (now Admiral) James Kirk who abandoned him years earlier. In short order, Khan hijacks the Reliant, attempts to steal the powerful Genesis Device, and lures the starship Enterprise into a sneak attack.
Within this framework, Bennett and Meyer set about to change the course of the 'Star Trek' franchise. Whereas 'The Motion Picture' had been conceived as an old-fashioned, intellectual science fiction epic, Meyer saw 'Wrath of Khan' as a rousing naval adventure in the vein of C.S. Forester's 'Horatio Hornblower' novels, with starships standing in for sailing ships. The screenplay is smartly structured to recap the events of 'Space Seed' for those viewers who hadn't seen it, and has few direct ties to 'The Motion Picture'. Of course, the movie also features a dramatic increase in action. The battle scenes between the Enterprise and Reliant are tensely directed, a highlight not only of this movie but the entire 'Star Trek' series.
Although disavowing the weighty philosophical overtones of 'The Motion Picture', 'Wrath of Khan' has a very strong script with tight plotting and great character interaction. Meyer pits two oversized personalities against one another, and allows the actors (Montalban and William Shatner) to ham it up to heart's content. The rest of the cast are well-developed (Chekov finally has his own storyline!), and the film climaxes with a moment of stunning emotional impact.
Afraid the movie would underperform at the box office, Paramount cut the budget for 'Wrath of Khan' significantly in comparison to 'The Motion Picture'. This is evident in a decreased scale and scope, as well as a few special effects shots directly recycled from the first movie. Nonetheless, the effects work by Industrial Light & Magic is very well done for a film of the era. The computer simulation of the Genesis Effect was one of the earliest uses of extensive CG animation. The final battle between Reliant and Enterprise in the Mutara Nebula remains quite visually striking. Meyer also saw fit to dump all of the drab-looking costumes from the first movie in favor of new burgundy uniforms that both call back the vibrant reds of the original series and also emphasize his nautical themes. The new wardrobe would become the dominant image of the next several movies.
Upon its release, 'Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan' was an enormous hit. Fans and general moviegoers very much approved of the change in direction. Paramount immediately greenlit another sequel. 'Star Trek' was finally living up to its potential, and was well on its way to becoming an indelible pop culture phenomenon.
Paramount Home Entertainment first released 'Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan' on Blu-ray in 2009 as part of the 'Star Trek: Original Motion Picture Collection' and 'Star Trek: Motion Picture Trilogy' box sets. That same disc was later broken out to its own individual release. To the disappointment of some fans, the Blu-ray contained only the original 1982 theatrical cut of the film, not the "Director's Edition" version that had previously been released on DVD in 2002.
The Director's Edition has since been relabeled a "Director's Cut." I find that a little misleading. This longer version of the movie originated in 1985 as an excuse to pad the length of the ABC television broadcast, and Nicholas Meyer stated that the theatrical cut was in fact his director's cut. The creation of the alternate version was more a marketing decision than an artistic decision. Regardless, Meyer had a hand in both the DVD and Blu-ray releases and has given his approval that he accepts the longer cut as legitimate.
The extended version runs three minutes longer than the theatrical release. Most of the changes are minor and insignificant – an extra line of dialogue here or an alternate take there. The most noticeable addition is a brief scene in which the young midshipman named Preston is identified to be Scotty's nephew, which clarifies Scotty's behavior later in the film. In all, the extended version neither improves nor harms the movie by any great measure. It's merely a slight bit different.
The new Blu-ray re-release contains both versions of the movie, seamlessly branched. Your decision of which to watch is made at the "Play" option in the disc's main menu. The disc comes packaged in a standard keepcase with a slipcover, both of which sport new artwork by artist Tyler Stout of the Mondo collective which is, to my eye, really hideous. Personally, I've never liked any of the art I've seen from Mondo, but the group has a rabid fan base that may appreciate this more than I do.
The Director's Cut Blu-ray has a couple of differences from the Director's Edition DVD. Two lines of superfluous overdubbed dialogue (heard while the characters face away from camera) late in the film were removed per Meyer's instruction. You'd never notice this unless you knew to listen for it ahead of time. More bizarre is an editing error during the opening scene where a shot of Sulu is mistakenly repeated. This has led to a great deal of fan outrage on the internet demanding an immediate recall and replacement of the disc. Most of that reaction is overblown. Frankly, I didn't see the problem when I watched the movie and only found out about it afterwards. On the other hand, it's the sort of thing that, once it comes to your attention, will likely bother you every time from then on. Whether Paramount will go to the trouble of correcting this gaffe remains to be seen.
When Paramount released all of the classic 'Star Trek' movies on Blu-ray in 2009, 'The Wrath of Khan' was the only title in the entire bunch that had been remastered at that time from a new 4k film scan. The other movies were all sourced from older video masters created for DVD or television broadcast, and they ranged in quality from pretty decent to kind of awful. 'Khan' was the best-looking of the group. For the re-release, I fully expected Paramount to build off its previous work and merely add in the new snippets of footage when needed. Instead, the studio actually rescanned the entire movie (in 4k again). I suspect this was done so that the new footage blends seamlessly with the rest of the movie, rather than jumping around in quality. Whatever the reason, the new 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer looks quite a bit different than the previous one.
Before I get into that, I have to note that 'Star Trek II' was produced on a much lower budget than its predecessor under the auspices of Paramount's TV division rather than its feature film division. As a result, some of its production values are rougher. The photography in 'Khan' is very grainy, was shot with a lot of soft focus to disguise the age of the actors, and frequently exhibits glaring focal errors. In one particular scene between Kirk and McCoy, Kirk holds a pair of glasses in front of him. The camera is focused on the glasses, not Kirk's face, and remains locked to that plane even when he lowers the glasses out of the frame, leaving the entire shot comically out of focus for an extended period of time. Similar examples abound. No disrespect to director Nicholas Meyer or his cinematographer Gayne Rescher, but they were forced to do the best they could with limited time and money, and it shows.
Looking back on it now, I think I overrated the 2009 Blu-ray when I reviewed it. Nevertheless, I fear that the new disc takes a step back from it. The 2.40:1 image (actually closer to 2.38:1 for some reason) is dimmer, grainier (often distractingly so), and the colors are drabber throughout. Without any inside information, I assume that's because the source materials for the extended cut probably came from an internegative or answer print rather than the original camera negative. If you scrutinize still-frame comparisons between the two discs (as I've provided here, matching the frames to the best of my ability), the new transfer may appear to have marginally better resolution of fine object detail in some shots, but the difference is so small it's not at all noticeable during playback. In other scenes, the older disc is more detailed.
The earlier Blu-ray had a slight blue push that was controversial among fans. I was never personally bothered by it (even though that sort of thing usually irritates me). Those who were upset by it may be pleased that the new transfer reduces if not eliminates that problem. Whites and grays have more neutral tones now. Unfortunately, other colors suffer. The burgundy Starfleet uniforms are purplish in many scenes.
I'm not prepared to say that one disc looks dramatically superior or inferior to the other. Both have their advantages and drawbacks. This is probably as good as I would expect the Director's Cut version of the movie to look. On balance, I think I prefer the old Blu-ray, but I can understand that some fans will feel the opposite.
Note that the "Theatrical Cut" version of the movie contained on the new 2016 Blu-ray shares the same video master as the "Director's Cut." The screenshot illustrations provided in this section of the review were taken from two separate discs, the 2009 Blu-ray and the 2016 Blu-ray respectively.
As it was on the previous theatrical cut Blu-ray, the soundtrack on the Director's Cut disc is also provided in Dolby TrueHD 7.1 format. The Director's Cut not only adds a few minutes of footage; it also uses alternate takes in some instances, and the musical score had to be re-edited to fit any altered scenes. Whether Paramount remixed the entire soundtrack into 7.1 from scratch again, or simply edited the scenes with differences into the previous 7.1 track, I can't say with certainty. Due to time constraints, I wasn't able to extensively compare the soundtracks on the two discs beyond a few key scenes. As near as I can tell, they sound more similar than not.
The opening theme music is a little thin. James Horner's score is clear but lacking in heft or impact. Bass usage is only moderate throughout the movie and never extends too deeply. Dialogue is a bit flat and occasionally clipped, which may possibly be endemic to the recording.
Surround usage is limited, even during the action scenes. That's not uncommon for a movie of this vintage, even if 'The Motion Picture' Blu-ray was remixed more aggressively. That said, certain effects such as the sound of the transporter device effectively fill the room.
Phaser blasts and certain high-pitched sounds are slightly shrill. Fidelity is adequate for a 1982 movie but, considering that the Blu-ray for 'Star Trek: The Motion Picture' sounds better, I think that a bit more probably could have been pulled from this soundtrack.
The new Director's Cut Blu-ray carries over all but one of the bonus features from the 2009 theatrical cut Blu-ray edition.
Additionally, the Director's Cut Blu-ray restores one feature from the 2002 DVD edition that was omitted from the 2009 Blu-ray.
HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?
The Blu-ray also offers one new exclusive feature.
The Cutting Room Floor: What Didn't Make the Blu-ray?
The theatrical cut Blu-ray was enabled with BD-Live and included a feature called "Star Trek I.Q." that allowed viewers to participate in online 'Trek' trivia quizzes. The new disc does not have BD-Live or access to that feature (if it's even still active on Paramount's servers, which it probably isn't).
More than three decades since its release, 'Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan' remains the best of all the 'Star Trek' feature films. While there was never anything wrong with the theatrical cut of the movie, the Director's Cut adds a few extra minutes of footage that some viewers may find interesting. Previously only available on DVD, fans and collectors will no doubt be relieved to finally have a Blu-ray edition, for completist purposes if nothing else.
Containing both the theatrical and Director's Cut versions of the movie as well just about every supplement from previous Blu-ray and DVD editions, I'd love to call the new disc the definitive copy of the film. I'm just not sure that the new video transfer is really an improvement over the last one so much as a lateral move away from it.
If you're a big 'Trek' fan who loves the extended version of this movie, the Director's Cut Blu-ray is certainly a worthy purchase. If you're a casual fan who was already pretty happy with the last Blu-ray and aren't concerned about the three minutes of added footage, I'm not sure that a repurchase is really necessary. You'll have to decide your interest level for yourself. Both Blu-rays are perfectly good discs.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.