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STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN - The Director's Edition Arrives Next Month and We've Reviewed This Highly-Anticipated DVD Release!

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Posted: 15:09:54 on July 26 2002
By: Steve Krutzler
Dept: TrekWeb Features

STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN -- THE DIRECTOR'S EDITION (1982)
116 minutes
Rated PG
Two discs
List price: $24.95
Street date: August 6, 2002

Written by Steve Krutzler

The undisputed prince with power over millions of STAR TREK fans, even after seven far more expensive sequels, remains 1982’s THE WRATH OF KHAN. Directed by Nicholas Meyer after only one film under his belt, KHAN was largely viewed not as a sequel to the successful yet critically panned big screen debut for the franchise, STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE (see review), but as a second try. Imbuing the world of Captain Kirk and crew with his own radically different version of Gene Roddenberry’s future, Meyer redefined every subsequent TREK picture with more reverence to HORATIO HORNBLOWER than the 60s source material.

Amazingly, this transformation took place mostly on top of the sets remaining from Robert Wise’s 1979 attempt. With the stingiest budget ever thrown at a TREK feature, a brand new writer/producer in Harve Bennett and a story firmly grounded in earthliness, STAR TREK II resurrected the franchise and made it increasingly difficult for later films to diverge from its formula successfully. Twenty years after its release Nick Meyer has finally been given the responsibility of piecing together the first official director’s cut of the film (the television version a decade ago was a new cut by Meyer unavailable elsewhere). But for a film regarded by many as a masterpiece, would the new Director’s Edition succeed as well as Wise’s stellar effort with THE MOTION PICTURE last year?

The Director’s Edition
There isn’t much in need of “fixing” in KHAN and the final result yields a pleasant if sometimes uneasy experience. Unlike TMP, Meyer’s film suffers not from lofty visual effects sequences that were ahead of their time or a rushed production schedule that demanded an incomplete edit serve as the final release. In fact, STAR TREK II doesn’t suffer from anything and improving the experience is, arguably, a tall order.

Aside from the digital 16:9 widescreen and spectacular surround sound capabilities (even a French stereo track is included) – that make finally upgrading from your ancient VHS copy an absolute necessity – the most obvious attraction is the “extended director’s edition” of the film (for a super-technical review of image and sound check out DVD File). Weighing in at just three minutes longer than the long-standing version of the movie, the new cut is somewhat of a mixed bag. What might not be an obvious choice for diehards who know the movie line for line is to watch it once without Meyer’s intrusive commentary. For a complete run down of the exact dialogue in the newly inserted scenes, check out TrekWeb’s feature article from 2001, but suffice it to say Meyer’s director’s edition follows the television version closely.

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If you’ve grown up with your VHS of STAR TREK II, some of the inserts can be a jarring experience, like McCoy’s “they’re for your eyes!” in the apartment scene. The most important change is the addition of an important subplot for Scotty due to the restoration of scenes involving Midshipman Peter Preston (played by Ike Eisenmann), which reveal the cadet to be Scotty’s nephew. This adds gravitas to Scotty weeping over his loss later in the film but one has to wonder whether the complete discourse between Kirk and Preston needed inclusion. Kirk, on his inspection of engineering, banters to Preston that Scotty is always telling him the ship is a “flying deathtrap,” prompting the young man to deliver a short speech naively comparing Kirk to a blind “Tiberian bat.” Sounding as if it came out of 1967, the scene is awkward and unnecessary to establish the relationship to Scotty; had the edit simply picked up after Kirk's brief interrogation and Scotty’s introduction of the boy been inserted, a decidedly cheesy moment would’ve been avoided.

The single most eloquent addition is the completion of this storyline after the Enterprise’s first encounter with Khan in the Reliant. Preston dies in Sickbay as in the theatrical version but Scotty goes on to ask why; Kirk says Khan doesn’t care who gets in the way of his revenge; Scotty tells Kirk getting the mains back online won’t be easy, thanks McCoy and exits. But then we get a much needed interlude between Kirk and McCoy, in which the two talk frankly about their situation and Kirk voices a lack of confidence in his ability to outwit Khan again: “We're alive only because I knew something about these ships that he didn't,” he says before exiting Sickbay.

Other scenes amount to mostly novelty, whether it’s Carol Marcus uttering a few more words in her initial subspace exchange with Chekhov, McCoy continuing his debate on the ethicality of Genesis with Spock, or Saavik being educated on Kirk’s plan to lure Khan into the nebula. One final insertion comes after Kirk & Co. return to the ship and have to climb up through a nautical-style hatch and tube to reach the bridge; the dialogue with Kirk informing Spock that David Marcus is his son is unneeded but the scene makes sense following Spock’s report about the inactivity of the turbo-lifts.

Even in their awkward placement these scenes provide a delightful boost to the viewing of your favorite STAR TREK movie and this two-disc set would have been greatly served to have either included the theatrical release or presented the less meaningful scenes in a separate gallery where they could be viewed without disrupting the flow of the film. For the most part, THE DIRECTOR’S EDITION succeeds in adding value to a timeless classic but at times it seems like Meyer simply turned in his television edit for the project. He did, however, return the Kirk/Saavik turbo-lift scene to its original single-shot widescreen composition from the theatrical release (you’ll recall the TV version cut this into a sequence of close-up shots).

The Commentaries
Perhaps more bothersome is the ambivalence of Nicholas Meyer’s audio commentary. With interesting observations mostly throughout the first half hour, Meyer soon begins to wander into discussions irrelevant to the scene at hand and at one point misidentifies a line just uttered by McCoy as coming from Scotty – seriously questioning Meyer’s own familiarity with and preparation for the material. But this sort of detached subjectivity characterizes the entire commentary. The director’s meandering remarks leave you wondering about his own confidence in the new cut of the film. He spends time describing the artistic process as visceral, ambiguous and beyond explanation and then in the middle of the film muses that excluded scenes shouldn’t be revered as “missing parts” of a work rather than legitimate flaws excised by a committed filmmaker. Meyer didn’t seem of this opinion when he restored countless edits for this new cut of the film.

Making the ambiguity even more present is the lack of any real explanation for the reinsertion of most of the new scenes. There is little or no talk of the decisions to remove them originally or add them now; the director instead opts to quote literary figures from Tolstoi to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to spend plenty of time justifying why he isn’t talking specifics, making the commentary decidedly mixed. The intellectuality of the man is beyond question, but some of the conversation goes far of field and tempts you to return to the menu to shut him off. Unfortunately, accomplishing this is easier said than done. There’s no clear “on” or “off” for the commentaries and the only way to eliminate Meyer’s droning is to completely eject the disc from the machine and then fast-forward back to where you left off.

But it would be a mistake to say the long-awaited treatment is unwelcome. Finally KHAN’s director speaks on subjects ranging from his strategy to defuse audience knowledge of Spock’s death, to the ingenious ways he saved money on the production, including the cut-out technique that allowed the shot of Kirk and Spock in the Starfleet lobby to be largely comprised of a model strategically placed in front of the camera. Other high points include his analysis of William Shatner as an actor giving his best performances after numerous takes rendered him less “acting” than “being,” the director’s choice to have Ricardo Montalban tone DOWN his performance of Khan (can you imagine?) and Meyer’s aloof recollection of the film crew tearing up during the filming of Spock’s death scene (he was a detached observer he says, because “I’m not supposed to cry, I’m supposed to make you cry”). The long-awaited commentary track is also important in establishing Meyer’s divergent vision for STAR TREK, with significant time devoted to justifying the decisions to give the film a more realistic feel than its predecessor and Meyer’s own disavowal of Roddenberry’s utopian future.

Mike Okuda’s text commentary can easily be enjoyed during a regular viewing and covers all sorts of trivia from redressed sets to reused props and goes all the way up to ENTERPRISE and NEMESIS with continuity points. You’ll be surprised to learn how many sets were actually used from 1978 through the end of VOYAGER in 2001 and Okuda weaves jovial remarks about inconsistencies or scientific impossibilities into his subscript. Funny how science can’t explain why a planet would spontaneously explode, yet this film has rarely if ever been criticized for it.

The Extras
Finally giving the film it’s proper due, disc two contains a myriad of bonus materials fans will undoubtedly cherish. The first documentary, CAPTAIN’S LOG, is twenty minutes of new footage with William Shatner, Harve Bennett, Nick Meyer, Leonard Nimoy and Ricardo Montalban reflecting on the film. From Shatner’s deadpan remarks to Bennett’s verity, the feature consists mostly of close-up shots and a few scenes from the movie. Most notable is the lengthy telling of how Bennett and Nimoy inserted the McCoy mind meld and engineered the uplifting open-ended conclusion over the artistic objections of Meyer, who staunchly wonders what was he do to when “all that popcorn was on the line.” He refers of course to the closing shots on the Genesis Planet and Nimoy’s epilogue, neither of which he had a hand in but which guaranteed a future for the TREK franchise. Interestingly enough, despite Meyer’s protestations throughout the interviews and commentary, this “director’s edition” leaves the original ending intact. Also look for wonderfully genuine comments from Montalban on his preparation for the role of Khan after spending six years as Mr. Rourke on FANTASY ISLAND.

DESIGNING KHAN is the next featurette and includes some of the best comments by Nick Meyer on his visual goals for the film. Along with comments from designers Joseph Jennings, Robert Fletcher and Lee Cole, the documentary reveals some of the tricks of the trade behind the sets, consoles, props and redesigned costumes used in the film. From redresses that allowed both the Reliant and Enterprise bridges to use the same set to Fletcher's inspirations in designing the popular new red uniforms, the DESIGNING feature pleasantly reveals how director Meyer sought to achieve his "nautical but nice" visual style for the film.

Next up is an entire program on the VISUAL EFFECTS for the feature, including oodles of behind the scenes footage from the stages where the Enterprise and Reliant models were filmed and comments by several of the effects technicians at Industrial Light and Magic that brought KHAN's impressive yet cheap visuals to life. The segment even includes some side-by-side comparisons of finished effects shots with their storyboard drawings, giving you a real insider's look at just how the film came together.

One delightful addition to the line-up of extras is the inclusion of original interviews from 1982 with William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and DeForest Kelley. Usually you're lucky if these are included alongside updated interviews but here the DVD includes the extended interview sessions with all three men, allowing them to speak at length while promoting the film originally. As an added bonus, the last few minutes feature candid photographs of the cast and crew during production.

An extra worth noting but, ironically, better left off the collection is THE STAR TREK UNIVERSE: A NOVEL APPROACH featuring Pocket Books TREK authors Greg Cox and Julie Ecklar. The tongue-in-cheek documentary represents something of an innovation, with these fans-turned-authors demonstrating their obsessive knowledge of STAR TREK. Cox appropriately discusses his novels THE EUGENICS WARS, in which the character of Khan is unofficially fleshed-out. But soon the featurette continues longer than any other of the presentations on the disc and its mildly humorous mileage runs out after the first ten minutes.

The set is rounded out with a thick storyboard archive, featuring numerous sequences from which to view multiple original storyboards from the film, and the original theatrical trailer, an absolute must-have for any special edition that’s sure to generate a few chuckles when viewed in retrospect. Packaging features the slightly updated DIRECTOR'S EDITION movie poster artwork on the cover and the discs have impressive graphic labels. The set guide is just a folded sheet summarizing the contents of each disc and containing a cast photograph, while the interactive menus are impressively polished animations featuring elements from the movie.

After twenty years, a rogue television cut, universal praise and even a poorly devised prior DVD release several years ago, STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN -- THE DIRECTOR'S EDITION is the definitive addition to even the most casual fan's movie collection. For STAR TREK fans, the movie finally gets the treatment it deserves and you can treasure those all-enticing "missing scenes" for years to come. Meyer's new cut of the film brings nowhere near the level of improvement Robert Wise brought to THE MOTION PICTURE last year, but the effort here wasn't to improve so much as it was to add enjoyment to a superior film. Was STAR TREK II flawless in 1982; is it perfect now? No; but as Nick Meyer emphatically tries to convince us throughout his commentary, the greatest works of art rarely are.

(out of 5)

STII:TWOK: DE hits the street August 6th. Pre-order now to support TrekWeb.

© 2002 TrekWeb.com. All Rights Reserved.

Specifications (from DVD File):

- DVD-Video
- Two-Disc Set
- Region 1

Aspect Ratio(s):
- 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Dolby Digital Formats:
- English 5.1 Surround
- English 2.0 Surround - French 2.0 Stereo

DTS Formats:
- None

PCM Formats: - None

Subtitles/Captions:
- English Closed Captions
- English Subtitles

Standard Features:
- Interactive Menus
- Scene Access

Supplements:
- Extended Director's Edition
- Screen-specific audio commentary
- Text commentary
- 4 Making-of featurettes
- Cast and crew interviews
- Storyboards
- Still gallery
- Theatrical Trailer

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