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Two Discs of ‘Wrath’

‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan’ Better than Ever

By Eric J. Plosky

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Written by Harve Bennett and Jack B. Sowards

Directed by Nicholas Meyer

Starring William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Walter Koenig, Ricardo Montalban, Kirstie Alley

Rated PG

113 minutes

KHAAAAAAAANNNN!!!” If you’re a fan of Star Trek, you’ll know that line -- Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) delivers it in this movie, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, to his arch-nemesis, the magnificently evil Khan (Ricardo Montalban).

In fact, you probably know all about this film, widely regarded -- even after two decades -- as the best big-screen Star Trek movie. Kirk’s midlife angst, the fantastic space battle between our heroes’ Enterprise and the hijacked Reliant, the disgusting eel crawling out of Chekov’s ear, Spock’s valorous death -- it’s all here.

If you’re not a fan, then this is the movie to see. Captain Kirk, promoted to admiral, again rides aboard the starship Enterprise during a training cruise, overseeing, with Spock (Leonard Nimoy), the performance of a cadet crew led by Lieutenant Saavik (Kirstie Alley, in her first film role, well before Cheers).

Meanwhile, the diabolical Khan, a genetically-engineered superman who fled Earth way back in the 1990s (yes, the 1990s), manages to take over the starship Reliant, with which he attacks Kirk and company in search of the Genesis device, this film’s all-powerful MacGuffin. The aging Kirk frets at being caught off-guard by Khan, but Spock fares worse; he dies while saving the Enterprise. Did I mention that Kirk bumps into his son along the way? There’s a lot to keep track of.

Thanks to the miracle of the DVD format, Khan looks better than ever. The widescreen format fills in details missing on the VHS release. Picture quality is top-notch -- so good, actually, that you can now see matte lines and other indications of special and optical effects. When the Reliant flies in front of Ceti Alpha V, for instance, the planet can still be seen through the starship! The sound is clear and crisp; James Horner’s score, all brass and cheerfulness, is loud and distinct.

Packed with extras, this two-disc set really satisfies. Following up on last year’s special edition of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Wrath of Khan includes all sorts of goodies guaranteed to satisfy and amuse even the most ardent fans. The director’s commentary wanders on and off the topic of this film, but Nicholas Meyer does answer the most common question -- yes, that is Ricardo Montalban’s real chest, not rubber padding. A text commentary by legendary tech guru Michael Okuda is a good simultaneous counterpart to Meyer’s ramblings.

Harve Bennett, the man behind this movie, explains in one featurette how the project got off the ground, and how it had to be made as economically as possible. There’s a short documentary on Khan’s groundbreaking special effects and computer-generated imagery. Another segment includes interviews with Shatner, Nimoy, and Montalban, discussing their involvement in the film. Finally, the DVD includes some original interview footage from 1982. Particularly frightening is Nimoy’s awful suit.

All in all, this DVD release goes a long way toward explaining how Khan revitalized the Trek franchise and ensured it a future in feature films. Departing from the first movie, Khan featured more color, more action, more focus on the Kirk-Spock-Bones relationship which Bennett calls the “trinity,” a charismatic villain -- basically, the elements that made the original 1960s television series a success.

How Kirk copes with reaching middle age is one of the movie’s major story arcs. Right from the beginning, when he complains that “galloping the cosmos is a game for the young” and reluctantly accepts a birthday present of eyeglasses from Bones (McCoy), it is apparent that this movie belongs to Kirk; Shatner is more than up to the task of doing some serious acting, the aforementioned “Khan” cry notwithstanding. His scenes with ex-lover Carol Marcus (Bibi Besch) and his heretofore unknown son (Merritt Butrick), and his eulogy of Spock at the movie’s end, during which Scotty plays “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes, are truly moving.

In addition, Meyer was able, at long last, to include some of the scenes that Paramount chopped out of the original theatrical release. One crucial bit explains Midshipman Peter Preston’s special credentials, giving greater weight to his grisly death in the aftermath of Khan’s surprise attack on the Enterprise. Other, less substantial, additions include snippets of dialogue between Kirk and McCoy, McCoy and Spock, and Spock and Lieutenant Saavik. Also, a couple of scenes are represented by different takes; Okuda’s text commentary points them out.

If you’re a Trekkie, you’ve already gone out and bought this DVD set. If you’re not, well, go buy the set, or at least rent it. You may not yell “KHAAAAAAAANNNN!!!” any time soon, but your time will surely be well spent.