Wednesday, June 23, 2010

"Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" (1982)

"Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan"
Starring William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and Ricardo Montalban
Written and directed by Nicholas Meyer

"He's dead already!"

Man, I tell ya... 1982 was a good year.  Not only was yours truly born in June of that year, but check out all the great movies that came out:

"ET: The Extra Terrestrial"
"Blade Runner"
"Creep Show"
"First Blood"
"Fast Times at Ridgemont High"
"Rocky III"

And of course, "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan."

Picking up some years after "Star Trek: The Motion Picture", a genetically-altered super-genius escapes exile on a dying world, and seeks revenge on the Starfleet officer that marooned him there: James T. Kirk. Khan learns of a secret scientific experiment called "Genesis," which has the power to destroy and create entire worlds. Commandeering a Federation starship, Khan steals Genesis and uses it as the bait in his ultimate trap to destroy Kirk.

Kirk has settled into a dull life with an unfulfilling desk job at Starfleet Academy along with the rest of the crew of the USS Enterprise, training the next generation of Starfleet. While undertaking a training crew with a ship filled with inexperienced cadets, Kirk and his crew are drawn into a battle of wits with Khan and his followers.

Nicholas Meyer made a taut, suspenseful thriller in space. 'The Wrath of Khan' is filled with well-crafted set-pieces and crackling dialogue delivered by a cast with excellent chemistry. The cast also deals deftly with the themes of aging, retirement and death. Shatner and Montalban get to chrew the scenery with infectious energy, while still bringing enough depth to their characters to be genuinely engaging. The battle between Khan's intelligence and Kirk's experience is engrossing and highly entertaining.  What makes it all the more intriguing is that Kirk and Khan never meet in person, even though their interactions are so intense. 

It may have been shot for considerably less money than its predecessor, but "Wrath of Khan" is exciting, fun, and at times, quite visually stunning. The climactic starship battle in a nebula is striking, with visual effects that still hold up rather well nearly 30 years later. James Horner's score exhibits less philosophical wonder than Jerry Goldsmith's work on "The Motion Picture", but is excellent in its own right, to the point where Horner would reuse much of it in later hits like James Cameron's "Aliens."

On blu-ray, "The Wrath of Khan" doesn't get quite the five-star presentation fans might have been hoping for. Perhaps as a result of its lower budget, the film's transfer is inconsistent, at times appearing murky and soft. The opening Kobayashi Maru sequence isn't the best way to start off, with soft visuals and soupy-looking grain patterns. I've read that numerous sequences in the film were actually shot in soft focus, so how much of an effect this has had, i can't say. At best, the transfer looks very natural with deep blacks and bold colors. There are no signs of any kind of print damage like scratches or dirt, so it's a very clean transfer.

Overall, it's a definite improvement over the previous DVD releases, it's just not up to the level of other catalog releases like Warner's "2001: A Space Odyssey." Whether a better restoration can be done, who knows? This may be the best this movie will ever look, or maybe it needs a full-on, frame-by-frame 4K scrub like the James Bond series.

The audio is also serviceable, with some excellent bass and surround work. Dialogue can be a bit tinny, a result of the recording technology at the time. There's one scene that seems to alternate between on-set dialogue and ADR recording that's almost laughable, and it only gets worse as the releases of this movie get better and better. Still, everything comes through with admirable clarity and quality, as much as one can expect from a somewhat low-budget feature from the early 1980s.

It's a little hard to recommend "The Wrath of Khan" on blu-ray, not because the film isn't excellent but that it may simply not be as much of an upgrade over the DVD as one would hope. If you don't already have "Khan" on DVD, then by all means, pick up this blu-ray. If you're looking to upgrade from the DVD, go ahead and pick up the blu-ray if you can get it at a reasonable price. It might be years before another blu-ray edition hits shelves, if ever. All the special features from the previous 2-disc DVD are ported here, along with new HD features. This is also the theatrical version of the film, as opposed to the longer director's cut on that DVD. But none of that footage was especially necessary, and in fact featured some rather terrible acting from a bit player, and a less solid take of a familiar scene for the benefit of a few added lines of dialogue.