STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN
Of all the STAR TREK films featuring the original cast, the two directed by Nicholas Meyer are definitely the series best. While I feel that STAR TREK VI: THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY gave the original cast members many of their most shining moments, it was the success of highly entertaining STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN ($30) that assured the future of the TREK movie franchise. Unlike the plotless and special effects laden first film, STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN features a well-written screenplay (unofficially polished by Nicholas Meyer) that places the characters and story in the forefront, while relegating special effects to the background.
STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN is a direct sequel to the SPACE SEED episode from the original series, with some elements of MOBY DICK thrown in for good measure. Ricardo Montalban returns to the role of Khan Noonien Singh, the genetically engineered superman from Earthís late 20th century. In the original episode, Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and the crew of the Enterprise unwittingly release Khan and his band of genetically enhanced criminals from suspended animation after discovering their 200-year-old spacecraft adrift in interstellar space.
After Khanís failed attempt to seize control of the Enterprise, Kirk placed him and his followers into permanent exile on the planet Ceti Alpha V. STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN opens 15 years later, with another Starfleet vessel unwittingly stumbling onto Khan, while surveying what they believe to be Ceti Alpha VI. Unlike his previous encounter with Starfleet, Khan is able to seize the Starship Reliant and strand its crew on Ceti Alpha V. Once freed from his exile, Khan sets out to take his revenge against Admiral James T. Kirk.
Unfortunately for Kirk, the Enterprise is on a training cruise with a crew of Starfleet cadets and a few experienced officers, when it first encounters Khan in his hijacked Starfleet vessel. When the two adversaries meet, several thrilling space battles ensue, with Khan playing the role of the obsessed Captain Ahab to Kirkís elusive Moby Dick (insert whale joke hereÖ). Khan Noonien Singh is the absolute best villain found in any STAR TREK movie, thanks to Ricardo Montalbanís outstanding performance, as well as his characterís incredibly florid (and infinitely quotable) dialogue.
STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN also affords Shatner the opportunity to do some of his finest work in the series. Shatner is unforgettable going head-to-head with Khan, as well as during his moving final scene with Spock (Leonard Nimoy). The cast of STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN also features series regulars DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Walter Koenig, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, as well as, Bibi Besch, Merritt Butrick, Paul Winfield, Kirstie Alley, Ike Eisenmann and John Winston.
Paramount Home Entertainment has done a first-rate job with their DVD edition STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN, delivering the best looking and best sounding version of the film released to date. STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN was a modestly budgeted film that was released in 1982, so it lacks the glossy, high-tech look of the latest entry in the movie franchise. The image is reasonably sharp and well defined, but it lacks the hyper realistic clarity of a brand new movie.
Still, I am impressed with the good looking 16:9 enhanced wide screen presentation, which blows away everything that has preceded it (hey Paramount, please donít forget that THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY, GENERATIONS and THE FINAL FRONTIER all need to be remastered in anamorphic wide screen). The element utilized for the transfer is very clean and displays very few blemishes. Film grain is apparent in many places, although it never becomes overwhelming. Flesh tones are natural, while the rest of the hues provide solid saturation. Reds, which were problematic in the previous analogue Laserdisc editions, are especially well rendered here. Blacks are pure, but the level of shadow detail is nowhere near that of a new film. Digital compression artifacts do not make their presence known.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack is a definite improvement over the original matrixed surround track, although the original recordings do have their limitations. Clearly directional sound effects seem to be limited to the space battle scenes, however the track does serve up a great deal of ambience from the surround channels. The sounds of the starshipís engines provide a strong sense of presence that effectively places the viewer on board the Enterprise. Dialogue is always clean and intelligible, even during the battle sequences. However, any dialogue that was looped in postproduction tends to sound somewhat compressed. Bass reproduction is respectable during the battle sequences, but lacks the gut wrenching quality one finds in newer soundtracks. The one very big plus on this soundtrack is James Hornerís musical score. Hornerís music has never sounded this detailed as it does here; I can detect subtleties in the orchestrations that I never noticed before. English and French Dolby Surround soundtracks are also encoded onto the DVD, as are English subtitles. The very basic interactive menus provide access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a theatrical trailer.
No matter which generation you consider, STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN is definitely one of the very best TREK offerings from the whole movie franchise. Paramount Home Entertainment has done a very good job with this movie only DVD, providing audio and video quality that is far superior to anything released in the past. Fans will certainly want to add this disc to their collections, although I hope that Paramount will revisit this title in the future as a full-fledged collectorís edition that will include numerous supplements, as well as the extra footage contained in the television broadcast version that appeared on ABC.
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