Long considered by Trek fans to be one of the best entries in the (very) long running series, "The Wrath Of Khan" offers one of the more action-packed "Trek" adventures, and the film still holds up very nicely even 18 years after its original release. With one of the best villians of the series in Khan (Riccardo Montalban), this film sets up a revenge plot and battle between Khan and Captain Kirk.
After many grumbled that the original picture was slow-paced (I still don't understand that complaint,as I think the original - while certainly not the best in the "Trek" series - is still entertaining), the filmmakers obviously wanted to create a more epic adventure this time out and pick up the pace from the get-go. This sequel is a continuation of one of the original series episodes ("Space Seed"), where the evil Khan (Ricardo Montalban) was left on a barren planet with his followers by Kirk. When Khan escapes, he seeks revenge on Kirk, who he blames for the death of his wife. Khan takes over a Federation ship as well as the weapon Genesis (made by Kirk's son), while constantly hunting down the Enterprise.
The performances are generally better than the other films that the first "Trek" cast appeared in. William Shatner has largely been known for overacting (and lately, joyfully parodying himself in a couple of recent pictures), but "Wrath Of Khan" really offers Shatner's finest effort; a finely controlled and emotional performance that is terrifically compelling. Riccardo Montalban has long gained fame from his entirely over-the-top performance as Khan, but the performance works so well because Montalban seems so convincingly into the character. The usual cast of supporting "Trek" members also provide above-average efforts, aided by - in several cases, at least - more well-defined characters.
"Trek" outings have usually fallen a little more one way or the other, either going too deeply into action or a little more focused on discovery. "Khan" actually brings a nice balance of both sides, while also managing to offer one of the finest rivalries in sci-fi cinema. James Horner's score, about as uplifting, dramatic and exciting as any the composer has done, is another brilliant piece of the superb puzzle. "Khan" also remains very well-paced and visually enjoyable. While the effects in this 1982 picture are certainly considered primitive at this point, they still manage to look pretty good. As with most of the "Trek" pictures, a considerable amount of imagination has been put into the production design and overall appearance, making for a film that I still don't think is "dated".
I've always enjoyed the "Trek" features and have even gotten into the "Next Generation" series thanks to Paramount's recent box sets of that TV show. However, as enjoyable as most of the "Trek" feature films have been, none of them have quite managed to offer the kind of suspense, thrills and intelligence of "Khan". It's a terrific story and marvelous entertainment. Even if you're not a "Trek" fan or remotely interested in the series, you still should check out "Wrath Of Khan".
VIDEO: Paramount presents "The Wrath Of Khan" with a new 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The picture quality is generally very good and slightly better than the prior release. Detail is still rather average, but the picture at least appears consistently crisp and clear, only occasionally falling into very slight softness.
There are a few flaws present, but I expected them, given the film's age. Some effects shots show a mild amount of dust, while the print does occasionally show a couple of minor specks now and then. A slight trace of pixelation and a tiny, brief instance or two of edge enhancement were both spotted, but hardly were a distraction.
The film's color palette, often showing deep reds and other colors, looks a little bit smoother and more well-rendered on this edition. Colors did appear very slightly smeary once or twice here, but they still looked better overall here than the prior release.
SOUND: The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is the same as the previous release and generally, sounds very good, considering the age of the picture. While most of the soundtrack is a fairly front-heavy audio experience, the surrounds are employed for a decent amount of sound effects and general ambience. The most wonderful element of the soundtrack is thankfully highlighted - James Horner's score, one of his finer efforts - sounds marvelous and gets terrific presence here, really filling the room. Dialogue, music and sound effects don't have the kind of warmth and smoothness that newer soundtracks have, but the soundtrack does not sound thin or hollow, either.
MENUS: Paramount has provided vivid, energetic animated main menus for both discs that use film-themed images as backgrounds quite well.
Commentaries: There are two commentary tracks included: one is an audio commentary by director Nicholas Meyer and the other is a text commentary, offering various facts about the production. The director's commentary is really one of the stronger audio commentaries that I've heard in quite some time. Meyer provides a frank and honest discussion of his involvement with the series - he was not entirely familiar with the entire "Trek" universe, but quickly found himself wrapped up in the elements. After listening to a great deal of commentaries lately that simply gush over how wonderful everyone involved was, it's refreshing to hear Meyer discuss here the kind of disagreements, arguements and obstacles that came up during the making of this film. The discussion, a mixture of technical production details, great analysis and behind-the-scenes stories, never falls into the trap of simply discussing what's going on on-screen. For a complete "Trek" experience, viewers can actually have the subtitle fact track on-screen while the audio commentary plays.
Captain's Log: This 27-minute featurette opens the second disc of the set. A newly produced supplement, this offers recently recorded interviews with director Nicholas Meyer, actors Shatner, Nimoy and Montalban and writer/producer Harve Bennett. This featurette continues the tone of the commentary - total honesty. A fair amount of the opening minutes is focused on the fact that Nimoy didn't want to return and the opinion of Shatner on why that could have been. Shatner, as always, is a fascinating character unafraid to share his opinion and the other participants are equally willing to explore their roles within this production in great detail. I've watched a lot (probably all, at this point) of the supplemental featurette/documentary DVD material that Paramount has produced for various "Star Trek" features and I must say, this is one of the best.
Designing Khan: This is a 24-minute featurette that reunites many members of "Khan"'s crew, who discuss planning the look of the film - the debates about which became more heated at times due to the fact that "Star Wars" was a large source of competition.
Visual Effects: "Visual Effects" is an 18-minute featurette that features interviews from many of the effects artists of ILM that were involved with "Khan" and also shows the progression of how some of these early visual effects were created.
Also: "Trek" novelists Greg Cox and Julia Ecklar discuss "Khan" as well as their general thoughts about the entire "Trek" universe; 10-minutes of original interviews from the cast are included; the trailer (looking not as worn as I'd expect) is offered as well as a pretty major storyboard archive that covers 12 scenes and concepts for the main titles.
Final Thoughts: "Khan" remains an absolutely phenomenal adventure; energetic, dramatic, emotional and well-acted, this is a film that, in my opinion, gets better with every viewing. Paramount has delivered a superb Special Edition that will likely delight fans of this sci-fi classic - audio/video quality remains good and the included supplements are excellent. Very highly recommended.