Arguably the best "Star Trek" film and certainly a turning point in the franchise, the success of "The Wrath of Khan" (not just financially, but stylistically and in terms of creating the religious adherence to detailed "Trek" lore) is directly responsible for the viability of subsequent films and spin-off TV series.
William Shatner gives his very best James Kirk performance in this story about a genetically engineered enemy from the original "Trek" series escaping a desolate planet and seeking his revenge upon the captain who exiled him there. Ricardo Montalban chews scenery with style and conviction in the title role as he commandeers another Star Fleet vessel with his rag-tag followers and engages in visually spectacular, submarine-like combat to the death with the Enterprise inside a nebula.
Surprisingly, the film was made on the cheap, and director Nicholas Meyer explains in great detail on his commentary track and in supplementary interviews how he cut costs and recycled sets while breathing new life into "Star Trek." Meyers comes across as being a bit egotistical, but what he has to say is fascinating. He talks about the influences of the Horatio Hornblower stories and submarine movies in making the film, and about coaching Shatner, trying to make his performance more an exploration of the Kirk character, and about the symbiotic relationship between Shatner and Montalban that arose even though they're never on screen together.
But the real fan-boy goodie is a text commentary by Michael Okuda, co-author of The Star Trek Encyclopedia, which is overflowing with fascinating detail upon detail about everything from the set dressings to how various parts of the story tie into Trek lore. Enjoyably, Okuda is not above poking some fun at the plot points that lack logic. This text commentary also tells you exactly when you're watching restored footage for this "director's edition."
OTHER NOTABLE BONUS MATERIAL
The package's second disc is packed with amazing extras, including a superb 25m feature about the design of the film, including a lot of info on its naval inspiration -- right down to rank insignia. A special effects featurette is pretty engrossing as well since this was the first movie to ever use CGI effects (granted it was just for the Genesis Project graphics). Ten minutes of interviews from the film's original press junket are especially interesting in conjunction with the new interviews included elsewhere on the features disk.
Hardcore Trekkers should really enjoy "The Star Trek Universe" feature in which two very geeky "Trek" novelists (and major fans in their own right) talk about the books and how they jive with "Trek" continuity problems.
Why on earth doesn't the disc include "Space Seed," the original series episode that spawned this film? Meyer and the cast talk about it quite a bit in the interviews, and that ends up feeling like a tease. Being able to watch the two back-to-back would have really made this disc the ultimate "Star Trek" DVD. Whatever the reasons for it (copyright issues? greed?), this is a major oversight.
1.85:1 ratio; 5.1 Dolby surround, 2.0 surround
A few blemishes in the transfer print, but otherwise very good.
DVD RATING: ***1/2
THE FILM: ***
-- By Rob Blackwelder