Blu-ray Review: ‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan – Director’s Cut’ (2016)

(C) 2016 Paramount Home Media Distribution

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan – Director’s Cut  (2016)

Written by: Jack B. Sowards, Nicholas Meyer (uncredited)

Based Upon: Star Trek, Created by Gene Roddenberry

Starring: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, Kirstie Alley, Ricardo Montalban, Bibi Besch, Merritt Butrick, Paul Winfield

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

On June 7, 2016, Paramount Home Media Distribution released Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan – Director’s Cut, a “one-movie, two cuts” Blu-ray reissue of director Nicholas Meyer’s 1982 science fiction/adventure that continues the voyages of the original Star Trek crew as they face an old adversary from their historic five-year mission in space.

Actors William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and DeForest Kelley, the three top-billed stars of Star Trek: The Original Series (1966-1969) are joined by their cast mates Nichelle Nichols, Walter Koenig, George Takei, and James Doohan in what amounts to a soft reboot to Paramount Pictures’ Star Trek feature film series after the fair-to-middlin’ performance of its very expensive ($45 million in 1978 dollars) Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979).   

Although Star Trek: The Motion Picture did reasonably well at the box office and had some good things going for it – it was directed by Robert Wise, its score was composed by Jerry Goldsmith, and it had a strong first half which featured the reunion of Captain James T. Kirk (Shatner), his stalwart crew, and a redesigned, refit USS Enterprise – the studio execs were unhappy with the muted reaction from fans and critics alike, as well as how its budget ballooned due to the expensive special effects sequences and the haphazard way in which Gene Roddenberry produced the film.[1]

Chastened by this experience but not quite yet willing to pull the plug on Star Trek at a time when Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Alien proved that there was an audience for science-fiction films, Paramount decided to give the franchise a second bite at the apple – but without Gene Roddenberry in control, and through the supervision of the more fiscally frugal Paramount Television division.[2]

After giving Roddenberry a ceremonial “executive consultant” position, Paramount hired Harve Bennett, who was the head of its TV movie division. His assignment: to make a better “Star Trek” feature for less than $46 million.

Though Bennett disliked Star Trek: The Motion Picture due to its lack of a villain, glacially slow pacing and unexciting story, he accepted his new job. He schooled himself in Star Trek lore by watching the entire 79-episode TV series. After watching “Space Seed,” the first season episode which introduced Khan, he decided that Star Trek II would be a continuation of that story.

After Bennett and original screenwriters Jack B. Sowards, and Samuel A. Peeples failed to come up with a script the studio liked, Bennett listened to a recommendation by Paramount executive Karen Moore to hire Nicholas Meyer, a young writer and director (The Seven Per Cent Solution, Time After Time).

“How we deal with death is at least as important as how we deal with life, wouldn’t you say?” – Kirk, to Saavik

Meyer’s final script took elements from the screenplays by Bennett, Peeples, and Sowards (who got the on-screen writer’s credit). Meyer’s main contribution was to make Star Trek II about aging, friendship, and death.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is more than a typical adventure film set in outer space. It does have many of the tropes one expects from a Hollywood space opera – dueling spaceships exchanging phaser fire and photon torpedoes, a menacing villain with a deadly superweapon, and a resolute band of heroes intent on stopping him – but there’s more to its story than that.

It’s no spoiler to point out that Meyer’s choice of themes (growing old, friendship, vengeance, and sacrifice) all stemmed from the death of Spock.

This once-controversial plot point came about because the studio believed Star Trek II would be the final movie and wanted a story that would attract a large audience. It was also conceived to convince Leonard Nimoy to play the character and allow Spock to go out on a blaze of glory.

As writer-director Meyer intended, the movie had to deal not just with death as a major theme, but the related themes of aging (as reflected by Kirk’s wistful attitudes in Act I), vengeance (Khan’s obsession with getting payback for being exiled on Ceti Alpha V and the death of his wife), friendship (the bond between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy), and sacrifice.

The Vengeance of Khan

Years after the Starship Enterprise’s historic five-year mission, Admiral James T. Kirk (William Shatner) is experiencing a midlife crisis. His former ship is now a training vessel under the command of Captain Spock (Leonard Nimoy), and Kirk is relegated to “sitting behind a computer console” as a Starfleet Academy faculty member in San Francisco. Along with Dr. Leonard McCoy (DeForest Kelley), Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott (James Doohan), helmsman Hikaru Sulu (George Takei), and communications officer Nyota Uhura (Nichelle Nichols), Kirk’s job is to help train young Starfleet officers like Lt. Saavik (Kirstie Alley) to carry on the Fleet’s mission “to boldly go where no one has gone before.” The only times Kirk goes out into space are when he makes an occasional inspection tour or goes on a “little training cruise.”

On his 50th birthday, Kirk is in a deep funk. He believes his best days are behind him, something that Dr. McCoy strongly disagrees with. “Get back your command, Jim,” the good doctor counsels. “Get it back before you really grow old.”

Meanwhile, out in the Ceti Alpha sector, former Enterprise navigator Commander Pavel Chekov (Walter Koenig) is on a top secret scientific mission aboard the Starship Reliant. Starfleet has loaned Captain Clark Terrell’s (Paul Winfield) ship to a team of scientists led by Dr. Carol Marcus (Bibi Besch) and her son David (Merritt Butrick). A former flame of Kirk, Carol is the head of Project Genesis, an ambitious terraforming endeavor that, if successful, can turn lifeless planets and moons into worlds capable of sustaining life.

But when Chekov and Terrell beam down to the desert-like fifth planet in the Ceti Alpha system, they find more than they bargained for. To their shock, instead of discovering pre-animate matter they can transfer off-world, the Reliant officers find the survivors of the Botany Bay, the 20th Century sleeper ship which had carried 90 genetically engineered supermen led by Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalban).

Captain Terrell meets Khan and his followers]


Khan:
 Uh, Captain! Captain. Save your strength, Captain. These people had sworn to live and die at my command two hundred years before you were born! Do you mean he[refers to Chekov] never told you the tale? To amuse your Captain, no? Never told you how the Enterprise picked up the Botany Bay, lost in space from the year 1996 with myself and the ship’s company in cryogenic freeze?


Capt. Terrell:
 I’ve never even met Admiral Kirk!


Khan:
 ‘Admiral?’ ‘Admiral!’ ‘Admiral’… Never told you how Admiral Kirk sent 70 of us into exile in this barren sandheap, with only the contents of these cargo bays to sustain us.


Chekov:
 [furious] You lie! On Ceti Alpha V there was life! A fair chance –


Khan:
 [shouts] THIS IS CETI ALPHA V!!! [walks back to Chekov and calms voice] Ceti Alpha VI exploded six months after we were left here. The shock shifted the orbit of this planet, and everything was laid waste. Admiral Kirk never bothered to check on our progress! It was only the fact of my genetically-engineered intellect that allowed us to survive. On Earth . . . (grins wistfully). . . two hundred years ago . . . (sighs nostalgically). . . I was a prince . . . with power over millions.


Chekov:
 [angrily] Captain Kirk was your host. You repaid his hospitality by trying to steal his ship and murder him!!

Khan and his crew, with the aid of mind-altering Ceti eels, gain control of Chekov and Terrell and take over the Reliant. Obsessed with his vendetta against James T. Kirk, Khan leaves Ceti Alpha V behind and sets off to find his old nemesis.

The Blu-Ray

Although Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan – Director’s Cut and the theatrical version are nearly identical, the slightly longer Director’s Cut includes footage that was edited from the 1982 film but was added for its network television release in 1985. The additional three minutes were small but revealing bits about the characters.

 In one scene, for instance, we learn that Midshipman 1st Class Peter Preston (Ike Eisenmann) is Montgomery Scott’s youngest nephew; this explains why Scotty is so distraught when the young man is killed during Khan’s first attack on the Starship Enterprise.

The 2016 Blu-ray of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan – Director’s Cut – which Paramount marketed as part of Star Trek’s 50th Anniversary –  was remastered from a new 4K scan under Nicholas Meyer’s supervision. It presents both versions of “Star Trek II” in seamless branching: the viewer simply chooses which edition to watch on the Play Movie option in the menu and it’s off into the 23rd Century with Admiral Kirk and the Enterprise.

Paramount’s Blu-ray team attempted to give viewers – especially Star Trek fans –  a bigger bang for their buck. This is because Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is the only film of the six Original Series features that received the full remastering treatment to 1080p high definition back in 2009. According to Memory Alpha, director Nicholas Meyer said that the movie’s negatives were “in terrible shape” and required a complete digital rehabilitative effort.

The big difference between the new version and the 2009 one (which was also a 4K scan but was made with first-generation 4K technology) is that the resolution is so good that viewers can see small details (such as the patterns of the starships’ hull plates) in the 2016 Blu-ray that can’t be seen in the 2009 one.

In addition to better video quality and a 7.1 Dolby TrueHD English audio track, comes with a starship’s cargo bay’s worth of extras.

All of the extra features from the 2002 Director’s Cut DVD and the 2009 BD editions are bundled together, including the behind-the-scenes documentary “Captain’s Log,” the shorter “Designing Khan” and “Original Interviews” featurettes, the original theatrical trailer from 1982, and various extras from the 2009 BD (the Library Computer interactive viewing mode is back, as is the audio commentary track by director Meyer with “Star Trek: Enterprise” producer Manny Coto.)

As was previously mentioned, the only new behind-the-scenes documentary is the (nearly) 30-minute long documentary “The Genesis Effect: Engineering The Wrath of Khan.” Written and directed by Roger Lay, Jr., it covers some of the same ground as 2002’s “Captain’s Log” but from a slightly different perspective.

Director Nicholas Meyer is back to explain why he made Star Trek II without paying much attention to fans’ wishes, the mythology or Gene Roddenberry’s vision – “I made the Star Trek movie I wanted to see on the assumption that if I liked it, other people would like it.”

Meyer also explains that not only was William Shatner reluctant to play Kirk as a middle aged admiral, but he didn’t want to play “Kirk depressed, Kirk defeated, Kirk not at the top of his game.” Shatner, it turns out, was not being vain or unprofessional, but rather protective of the Kirk persona.

What makes “The Genesis Effect” worth watching is the presence of new interviewees, including Robert Sallin, Mark Altman, Ralph Winter, Larry Nemecek, John and Bjo Trimble, Leonard Nimoy’s son Adam , Gene Roddenberry’s assistant Susan Sackett, film reviewer Scott Mantz, “Star Trek: Enterprise” writers David A. Goodman and Michael Sussman, Bobak Ferdowski, and TV producer Gabrielle Stanton (“The Flash”). Some of the contributions are, as Spock would say, fascinating. Others are not as riveting, but on the whole, the interviews are informative and also serve as a tribute to the late Harve Bennett and Leonard Nimoy.

Interestingly, although “The Genesis Effect” mentions that other writers were involved and that  the final revised script was done by Bennett and Meyer, no one mentions the late Jack B. Sowards. Sowards wrote the first draft in which Spock dies during the battle with Khan; the death scene in that script is what attracted Leonard Nimoy to sign up for Star Trek II. Considering that Sowards (who died in 2007 of Lou Gehrig’s Disease) is the sole credited screenwriter, this is an oversight that should have been avoided.


[1] In a behind-the-scenes interview on the Star Trek: The Motion Picture – The Director’s Cut, actor Walter Koenig explains that the film got underway without a finished script. The producers and screenwriters literally were doing rewrites and handing in new pages to director Bob Wise every day. It’s a miracle that Star Trek: The Motion Picture was finished at all.

[2] A long-standing myth among fans was that the decision to produce Star Trek II via the studio’s TV-movie division meant that Star Trek II was originally filmed as a made-for-television movie but was bumped up to the glitzier feature film realm when Michael Eisner, who was then the big cheese at Paramount, saw how good the finished movie was. Not true. Star Trek II was always going to be a feature film; Eisner and his fellow “suits” believed that the TV side of the company simply was better at telling good stories but with smaller budgets.

Published by Alex Diaz-Granados

Alex Diaz-Granados (1963- ) began writing movie reviews as a staff writer and Entertainment Editor for his high school newspaper in the early 1980s and was the Diversions editor for Miami-Dade Community College, South Campus' student newspaper for one semester. Using his experiences in those publications, Alex has been raving and ranting about the movies online since 2003 at various web sites, including Amazon, Ciao and Epinions. In addition to writing reviews, Alex has written or co-written three films ("A Simple Ad," "Clown 345," and "Ronnie and the Pursuit of the Elusive Bliss") for actor-director Juan Carlos Hernandez. You can find his reviews and essays on his blogs, A Certain Point of View and A Certain Point of View, Too.

2 thoughts on “Blu-ray Review: ‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan – Director’s Cut’ (2016)

    1. It’s not even implied in the theatrical release; Vonda N. McIntyre addressed it in her novelization, so that’s how I found out about it in 1982.

      It was first seen onscreen three years later when ABC aired “The Wrath of Khan” as a Special Edition. It’s not in the VHS version (at least I don’t think it is), but it is (once again) in the Director’s Cut DVD from the 2000s.

      This Blu-ray has both versions….so if you like one or the other, or both, you can have your cake and eat it, too!

      Thanks for the kind words, Patti!

      Liked by 1 person

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