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Boldly Going Where the ‘Wrath of Khan’ Director’s Cut Has Never Gone Before

Whether you want the original theatrical cut and all of the previously released extras, or a revised cut and new bonus content, this Blu-ray release has almost everything.

Sometimes, a film franchise simply needs an outsider to step in, look at the setting and characters with fresh eyes, and give it an overhaul. That’s what happened when Nicholas Meyer, a Trek newbie, was tapped to direct Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982). As he explains in the new The Genesis Effect: Engineering the Wrath of Khan featurette on this Blu-ray, he decided to pivot from the “explorers in space” premise of the original TV series and the first feature film and instead establish the idea that the Enterprise is a military vessel, with the characters obeying the appropriate protocols.

That’s a concept well-ingrained in the minds of Star Trek fans these days, but coming on the heels of the bloated, silly story in Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), it was a breath of fresh air that allowed Paramount to essentially reboot the franchise and prevent it from becoming a pop culture footnote. As Meyer goes on to explain in the new interview, he wanted to focus on themes centered around aging and mortality, not just through Spock’s infamous death scene but also other characters’ feelings about growing old and passing their torches to a new crew.

It’s an idea touched on many times during the film’s first act, as Admiral James T. Kirk oversees a training simulation gone awry and then hands the captain’s chair to Lieutenant Saavik, a Vulcan who is expected guide the Enterprise through a three-week training voyage with her new crew. Kirk is accompanied by Spock, Dr. McCoy, Uhura, Scotty, and Sulu, and when his old nemesis Khan makes his entrance, Kirk is forced to assume command of the ship and rely on help from his old crew to save the day.

Kirk must also deal with the appearance of his son, David, who has been working on a secret project called the Genesis Device with his mother, Dr. Carol Marcus: Kirk’s ex-lover. Khan has stolen the Genesis Device and commandeered the Reliant, a ship where Chekov, another of Kirk’s old crew members, has been serving as a science officer. Khan takes Chekhov and another Reliant crew member along for the ride, and the story becomes an intense battle between the two Starfleet ships during acts two and three. As Meyer notes in the new interview, he saw the climactic battle inside a nebula as something akin to dueling naval subs during World War II.

In the end, Star Trek II is a rousing film with a pitch-perfect script and a finalé that set the stage for a storyline that ran through the next two films, before the series was derailed by William Shatner’s ill-fated Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989). However, Meyer returned to co-write and direct Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991), which proved to be a memorable send-off for the original cast.

Meyer is joined by several others in the new featurette, including producers involved with the movie, well-known Star Trek fans John and Bjo Trimble, Leonard Nimoy’s son Adam, Big Bang Theory co-creator Bill Prady, The Flash producer Gabrielle Stanton, and others. The piece runs nearly half an hour and combines a look back on the making of the film with some of the participants’ personal experiences with it, including Stanton’s memory of seeing it dozens of times in the theater in 1982.

Star Trek II has been on Blu-ray before, as part of a collection of the first six movies, but the video quality has been improved from that release, and this disc also features the first high-def release of Meyer’s director’s cut, which was previously available only on DVD. While the four minutes of footage added to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan aren’t a huge deal, they give a little more insight into a few things, such as establishing a dead crew member as Scotty’s nephew. If you’re paying close attention, you’ll probably notice that two lines of dialogue were actually removed from the earlier version of the director’s cut (released in 2002), at Meyer’s behest. (It’s an exchange in which Kirk tells Spock that David is Kirk’s son, to which the half-Vulcan replies, “Fascinating.” The audience already knew that information, so it makes sense why Meyer wanted it chopped.)

With the new release, you can choose either the theatrical or director’s cut when viewing the movie, and the disc also ports over all the bonus materials found in the previous DVD and Blu-ray releases, including making-of documentaries, a piece about film score composer James Horner, featurettes about those who collect Star Trek props and two of the people who write Star Trek novels, 13 storyboard galleries, archival interviews with Shatner, Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, and Ricardo Montalban, and more.

This disc also has plenty of commentaries, starting with a solo track with Meyer on the theatrical and director’s cuts. Meyer also joined Manny Coto, the show runner for the fourth season of Enterprise, for a commentary on the theatrical version. Meyer’s solo commentary is a fun listen because he wasn’t much of a Star Trek fan when he was approached to direct this film, so he delves into such influences as Henry James, Greek tragedies, and others as he talks about how he found his way to the thematic heart of the story. If you want some “How’d they do that?” information, he indulges in a bit of that too. The commentary with Coto and Meyer repeats some of the information from the other track, but it’s also an interesting discussion between two creatives with unique perspectives on the franchise.

While neither of those tracks go too deep down the Star Trek rabbit hole, those who want the super fan viewpoint will appreciate the text commentary by Michael and Denise Okuda on the director’s cut. There’s also a Library Computer feature in the theatrical version that serves up tons of information about the Star Trek universe. There’s some overlap between the Okuda and Library Computer text commentaries because the Okuda track was dropped for the original Blu-ray release and some of its information was repurposed for the new Library Computer track.

Fans who haven’t upgraded to a high-def version of Star Trek II will find this new release a great excuse to do so, since it’s a complete port of everything from the 2002 two-DVD director’s cut and the 2009 Blu-ray theatrical version, minus the BD-Live feature found in the latter. (It was just a bunch of Star Trek trivia quizzes, so it won’t be missed.) The deleted scenes that have been written about extensively on the Internet are still missing, but it’s anyone’s guess if Paramount has plans to eventually release them.

RATING 9 / 10
PopMatters