The year is 1967, and at the tail end of the first season of NBC’s genre defining television show Star Trek, the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise encounters a decaying ship. After boarding the ship, and discovering that there are 72 crew members on board, frozen in time, they decide to defrost and examine their leader. As it turns out, the man’s name is Khan Noonien Singh, and he’s been genetically engineered to be faster, smarter, and stronger than the average human being.
Using his superior intellect, he takes control of the Enterprise from Captain Kirk, and holds Kirk ransom in order to blackmail the crew into following him. In a daring attempt, Kirk is freed, and with Spock’s help, he is defeated and restrained. In a moment of mercy, Kirk and his crew decide to exile Khan and his people to the fertile, but un-colonized planet of Ceti Alpha V. That episode, Space Seed, went on to become a beloved treasure for fans of the now classic sci-fi series.
Note: 2016 4K restoration Blu-ray screenshots are on the right, with the 2009 2K restoration Blu-ray screenshots on the left.
Fifteen years later, in 1982, after the middling critical success and gargantuan budget of Star Trek: The Motion Picture threatened to destroy the future of Star Trek on the big screen, Harve Bennet and his creative team decide to revive the character of Khan as the perfect villain for the substantially cheaper follow up movie. After running into trouble finishing the script, Paramount executives suggest that newly found director Nicholas Meyer be brought on board to help tame the film’s script. Meyer ended up rewriting the script in 12 days, and ended up directing the film as well. His vision of the Star Trek universe was more militant, and action oriented – the perfect vision to bring to the big screen. Their work resulted in the most polished, engaging, and iconic Star Trek film to ever be produced – Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
The film picks up 15 years after Space Seed, where Khan’s abandoned ship and crew are discovered on a thought to be abandoned test site for an experimental terraforming device known as, “The Genesis Project” was to be demonstrated for the Federation. Khan, using his superior intellect and his large crew of loyal followers, takes control of the ship that’s orbiting the planet. From there, he launches an elaborate plan to revenge on Captain Kirk, the man who he holds responsible for exiling him to a devastated world, as well as for the death of his wife. The film that follows is an intense game of cat and mouse, as Kirk and his crew aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise are drawn into certain destruction by Khan, pushing both men to their limits as they face off once again.
Under the creative control of Bennet and Meyer, The Wrath of Khan took the Star Trek franchise from stale and derivative, simply cashing in on the popularity of Star Wars’s release in 1977, to silver screen legend status. Meyer’s script, focusing on themes such as aging and restlessness, vengeance, regret, and the sweeping changes of time is immense in scale, and yet intimate in its execution. Khan’s plan to destroy Kirk digs up all sorts of depth in slightly under two hours with expertise, edited into a fast paced, thought provoking action film. Gone is the stagnated pacing, and shallow depth of The Motion Picture, which took an intriguing idea and stretched it out into an agonizing mess.
Meyer’s retooling of Starfleet into a sleek, naval machine was the breath of fresh air the franchise needed. The sleek new uniforms and interior design of the Enterprise, and its counterpart, the U.S.S. Reliant, give the Federation officers a more intimidating, militant feel, which contrasts perfectly with the savage, desperate visual style of the costumes and attitude that Khan and his crew bring to the bridge of the Reliant. They look like outsiders trying to fight their way out of containment, adding a subtle layer of sympathy to their plight. The detail in the costumes and makeup thrive in a minimal style, reflecting the significantly smaller budget – nearly a fourth of the previous of the film’s budget. The effects used to bring the epic starship battles to life, while smaller in scale than the grand vastness of V’Ger, embrace the reduced budget, keeping flashiness to a minimum. The lack of expansive destruction and mayhem typical of most 80s films serves to sharpen the conflict between Khan and Kirk as the focal point.
Everything about Wrath of Khan delivers. Meyer, although he had never shown any previous interest in the Star Trek franchise, wrote a script that truly embodies the essence of each character – McCoy and Spock still fight like a married couple, Scotty grounds the story by facing the most difficult and traumatic aspects of the battles with a comforting expertise in his craft, and Kirk proves that he’s still got a way with the girls, and always has in the most grandiose way. The reveal of Kirk’s son in this film forces our beloved Captain to face reality while struggling against some of the highest stakes he’s ever faced. Even though the film grinds through its run-time, it leaves plenty of room for heaps and bounds of character development, something that I always felt the previous film, and Khan’s follow up really lacked.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is one of those films that I could ooze over for hours – some of the most iconic lines in Star Trek history have come from this film, and even get referenced in later Stark Trek films. The battles are spectacular, tense, and have real dramatic weight to them – something many modern blockbuster movies seem to lack. James Horner’s score excels in every way, truly embodying the epic naval tone of the film in a swashbuckling sense. Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, delivers as a cast and crew in this film. The film is so influential and popular, that it and its predecessor, Space Seed, served as the basis for J.J. Abrams’s Star Trek Into Darkness, the 2013 follow up to the 2009 reboot of the Star Trek film franchise. Regardless of that film’s merits, which I will dissect at a later date, the impact of The Wrath of Khan is undeniable. It is the golden standard, Star Trek on the big screen at its absolute finest.
Note: This Blu-ray, while featuring a fresh 4K scan of The Wrath of Khan from the original negatives, also features the Director’s Cut of the film. The Director’s Cut does not alter the film in a substantial way, but rather re-cuts a few preexisting sequences, adds two short scenes, extends certain dialogue sequences, and adds some dialogue to a character that was previously featured in a minor capacity, but now is known as Scotty’s nephew, making his role more substantial. The film is just as strong with these changes, and my score stands for both cuts of the film.
Note: 2016 4K restoration screenshots are on the right, with the 2009 2K restoration screenshots on the left.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was shot on 4-perf 35mm film using Panavision anamorphic lenses, resulting in a theatrical release using the 2.35:1 aspect ratio. This brand new Blu-ray release was created using a fresh 4K scan of the original camera negative, and is presented in 1080p. It retains the 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio.
Wrath of Khan, because of its lower budget, was shot using a cheaper Fuji film stock. As a result, the negative deteriorated due to age much faster than any of the other Star Trek feature films, and required extensive digital work to bring it back to life. In 2009, to generate hype for the Star Trek reboot film, as well as in an effort to restore the film to its previous glory, Paramount commissioned a 2K restoration to get it to market as quick as possible. The efforts resulted in a cleaner release of Khan, but one that didn’t exactly look incredible, especially when compared to this fresh 4K scan. The older 2K release was adequate however, especially when compared to the dated 1080p DVD-era scans of the other original Star Trek features that were released as part of a box set that released right before the reboot.
Recognizing that the 2K effort hastily created for the original Blu-ray release was not going to stand the test of time – the 35mm print that I saw that was created in 2009 looked horrendous back in 2013 – and preparing to cash in on the new 3rd Star Trek reboot film, Paramount made the decision to prepare a fresh restoration of Wrath of Khan using 4K resolution, with plans to also release a 4K UHD Blu-ray soon. In 1080p, the results of their efforts are immediately apparently. Boasting a slightly colder, more vibrant and saturated color timing, Khan’s new transfer has far more life-like skin tones and overall colors when compared to its 2009 predecessor. Detail is greatly increased in close-up shots, and effects shots featuring models of the Reliant and Enterprise reveal the excellent work put into their creation that has never been fully realized before. Grain is more consistent overall and sharper than in the previous transfer. Of note however, is the fact that this release is slightly more compressed than its 2009 brother; I found that it made little impact on image quality overall. Star Trek II will never look as fresh as its brand new reboot peers, but what we have here looks phenomenal – I am sure its UHD Blu-ray counterpart will be incredible. This praise is spread equally across the theatrical and director’s cut presentations.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was originally released to theaters in select locations in 70mm with a 6-track magnetic stereo track, mixed using Dolby 70mm 6-track sound. For the 2009 Blu-ray, the 6-track mix was remixed into 7.1 Dolby TrueHD. For this brand new Blu-ray release, a 7.1 Dolby True HD soundtrack is also featured. For review purposes, this soundtrack was listened to using a 5.1 surround sound setup.
Wrath of Khan, for the most part, sounds great in Dolby TrueHD. It’s soundtrack, which originated in an era during which many theaters still held out with mono sound, uses the soundscape quite well, much like its sci-fi peers of the day. Sound effects pan to the left and right front speakers, and although dialogue is restrained to the center speaker, it comes off as crisp and clear as the source allows. Occasionally, recorded dialogue comes off as boxy, but I’ll credit that to the limitations of the productions and the early 80s technology. Sound effects occasionally pan to the surrounds, but never feel gimmicky or forced. Subwoofer action is present, but limited to battle sequences and starship action for the most part. Wrath of Khan sounds fairly good on Blu-ray, source limitations aside.
Special Features and Packaging:
I have to give credit where credit is due; Paramount could have reissued Wrath of Khan with the same artwork that it has always featured on home video, and for $14.99, I probably would have still bought it twice. However, they went the extra mile and commissioned a brand new piece of artwork to adorn the new Blu-ray restoration. Complete with a matte slipcover, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan – Director’s Cut’s front artwork for both the blue keepcase and slipcover features this brand new, limited color palette artwork, featuring Khan, Kirk, and Spock in the center in a stylized presentation, surrounded by the various supporting characters, costumes, and models of starships that are featured prominently in the film. It looks amazing. Back artwork, which is practically identical for both case and slipcover, minus some slight rearranging and resizing, is just a couple of shots from the film, accompanied by a large list of features, a paragraph about the film, credits, and technical information for the film. The only way this release could have better packaging is to maybe have some reverse cover artwork, or a booklet, but its a minor complaint.
Now, onto the features – which are a mix of old Blu-ray features, and new features, and will be noted as such:
Library Computer (Theatrical Edition) RECYCLED – a collection of facts about the various aspects of the film, such as Culture and Starfleet Ops, that appear at each relevant moment of the film. A decent collection of fun facts for die hard Star Trek fans
The Genesis Effect: Engineering The Wrath of Khan – a fascinating documentary of the process of making The Wrath of Khan, featuring as many of the creative team and various contributors to the film as possible. A real treat for fans of the film, as it goes fairly in depth and features fantastic anecdotes about the production.
Production RECYCLED – A large collection of older material, with features that cover the designing of Khan’s look in the film, interviews with cast members, a breakdown of the film’s visual effects, and a piece on composing the score, etc….nothing new to see here!
The Star Trek Universe RECYCLED – another collection of older features, this time a set of features that look at collecting Star Trek memorabilia, a look at Star Trek’s book adaptations, a piece on Ceti Alpha VI, the planet where Khan is rediscovered
Farewell RECYCLED – a farewell piece, commemorating the life of Ricardo Montalban, who played the titular role in both Space Seed and The Wrath of Khan
Storyboards – a huge collection of storyboards from various points in the film. Great if you’re really into that kind of stuff.
Theatrical Trailer – the film’s theatrical trailer, presented in high definition
Commentaries RECYCLED – 3 commentaries: 1 by Director Nicholas Meyer for the Director’s Cut, 1 by Nicholas Meyer and Manny Coto for the theatrical cut, and 1 text commentary by Michael and Denise Okuda for the Director’s cut. Each of these three commentaries offer something different, with a variety of anecdotes and fun facts to be gained from each one.
Although there isn’t a whole lot of new material included, The Genesis Effect documentary is worth the price of admission, as is the Blu-ray’s fantastic packaging.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is a masterpiece. From the ashes of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, arose a tense, exciting, witty, fun action movie that embodies everything that made Star Trek great. It covers a variety of thought provoking themes, and features some of the most iconic moments in Star Trek history. The movie was a huge success, and carries with it a massive legacy. It’s not hard to see why. The movie is one of those rare sequel that pops up every now and then, dwarfing the original in terms of entertainment factor and impact. The brand new restoration of Khan’s theatrical and Director’s Cut are absolutely astounding in 1080p, and the soundtrack, while limited by its early 80s origin, is no slouch. This brand new budget reissue, while kind of dropping the ball a bit in the special features department, knocks it out of the park by be adorned with a fantastic new piece of artwork commissioned for the film. This one comes HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.