Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Although the film showed its age at times, overall it appeared quite good, and this new DVD marked a noticeable improvement over the old one.
For the most part, sharpness seemed good, as much of the movie appeared nicely detailed and well defined. However, the image could slip at times, and some of the film seemed moderately flat and hazy. Modest softness crept into some wider shots, and since Khan included more than a few of those, the issue caused some concerns. Jagged edges and moiré effects created no problems, but I did notice some light edge enhancement at times. In regard to print flaws, I saw moderate but not severe levels of grit and speckles, and mild grain cropped up at times as well. The latter appeared mostly during effects shots.
Colors seemed good as a whole, but they demonstrated some moderate problems. Trek movies often offer dense imagery, and this one's no different; it tended toward reds and other dark hues that don't always resolve correctly. For the most part, the colors stayed within the bounds of acceptability, and they often looked pretty good, but Khan ran into a little trouble with red lighting; when the bridge of the Enterprise was bathed in these tones, it could appear somewhat murky.
Black levels appeared adequate but unspectacular, as did shadow detail. Trek productions have never been big on those aspects of filmmaking, as they tend to stick to either fairly brightly-lit areas or bathe everything in various colors, so they don't seem as prominent as you might expect. Overall, Khan offered a fairly satisfying visual experience, and this DVD presented it well. At times the image faltered, but it also looked outstanding on other occasions.
I compared the new DVD with the old one. Although I didn’t expect any differences, to my surprise I discovered that the “director’s edition” looked substantially better. The new release improved on the original because it tightened up matters noticeably.
The old Khan showed higher levels of grain; that actually might have resulted from compression artifacts on the single-layered disc. The original release also demonstrated more prominent edge enhancement and showed some shimmering absent from the new DVD. For example, the scene in which David and Kirk chat in the latter’s quarters displayed moiré effects not present on the new disc. Again, I suspect compression resulted in most of the improvements, as the new Khan simply provided a smoother and more film-like experience; the old one looked slightly “digital”.
For better or for worse, my comparisons revealed no differences between the audio on the two DVDs. The mix for the “director’s edition” of Khan appeared to be the same Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack heard on the old disc, so included the same positives and negatives.
The movie offered a pretty active soundfield, albeit one that distinctly favored the forward channels. The front speakers got a nice little workout, with quite a lot of discrete audio in all three channels; the sound traveled well between the areas and added to the experience. The surrounds also received more use than you might expect from a movie of this vintage, but don't expect anything tremendous; their general usage tended toward ambient effects and music, and though a few split surround instances occurred, there's not much of that. Still, the surrounds contributed a nice sense of atmosphere to the film, and a few scenes - like those in the nebula - worked extremely well.
The quality of the audio seemed less consistent. Most problematic was the dialogue, which went from solid to muddy in the blink of an eye. I thought speech always remained intelligible, but a lot of it sounded flat or dull or harsh or distorted. Most of the dialogue seemed natural, but it's a serious crapshoot, and the inconsistent speech occasionally became a distraction. Effects also offered occasional bouts of distortion, but these were more expected, as they happened during explosions, so I'm felt less bothered them. Despite some crackling at those times, most of the effects appeared pretty clear and concise, and they even offered some decent bass at times; the warp jumps and ship fly-bys sounded deep and tight.
Music lacked very precise highs or lows, but the score seemed generally smooth and listenable, with no problems related to distortion or excessive muddiness. The music could have displayed greater range, but the score never became harsh or shrill. Although the quality displayed some issues, the soundtrack of Khan remained a bit above average for a movie of its era.
So far I’ve not detailed much about this new DVD of Star Trek II that significantly improves upon the original “movie-only” disc. However, now that I can discuss the package’s supplements, that situation will rapidly change. Most of the extras appear on DVD Two, but the first disc includes a couple of significant pieces. First we find a running, screen-specific audio commentary from director Nicholas Meyer. Though the piece suffers from too many empty spots, overall Meyer offers a nice look at the production. He covers a variety of subjects; from sets to story to Trek continuity to working with the actors, Meyer gives us a nice glimpse at the creation of the film. I especially liked his discussion of how he got the best performances out of Shatner. Meyer even tries to defend Merritt Butrick’s much-maligned sweater! (In my opinion, he fails, for he misses the point of the criticism. The sweater itself isn’t the problem; it’s the preppie way in which David wears the sweater that badly dates the movie.)
In addition to Meyer’s track, the DVD provides a text commentary written by Michael Okuda, the co-author of the Star Trek Encyclopedia. He provides a wealth of interesting notes. Okuda details all of the scenes added for the “director’s edition” and includes Trek lore like notes about Vulcan names, minutiae in the background, footage reused from the first film, effects, sets, story elements, and much else. Okuda even tosses in some gently snide remarks about the story and various inconsistencies. It’s a very interesting piece that added to my knowledge of the Trek universe.
After this, we move to DVD Two, where the remainder of the supplements reside. The Captain’s Log offers a 27-minute and 20 second compilation of recent interviews with director Nicholas Meyer, executive producer Harve Bennett, and actors William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and Ricardo Montalban. Though the piece doesn’t really try to be a total overview of the film’s creation, it covers the most significant topics. We learn how the story was developed and the main participants brought into the fold and also hear a strong discussion of the film’s primary controversy. Some solid production anecdotes are tossed into the mix as well during this engaging and informative program.
In Designing Khan, matters take a more technical bent. The 23-minute and 52-second program uses the same format as the “Captain’s Log”. We get interviews with production designer Joe Jennings, costume designer Robert Fletcher, art director Lee Cole, director Meyer, producer Bennett, and actor Montalban. These folks cover a nice variety of topics. We learn of the Navy influences that showed up in Khan, the challenges of the dogfight sequence, ship design, the new costumes, the invention of the rank insignia, set design, development of the Genesis device, and a bunch of other areas. The show moves at a brisk pace and includes a great deal of compelling material.
More technical data appears in Visual Effects. Again, interviews constitute the bulk of the program, as we hear from special visual effects supervisor Ken Ralston, computer graphics technicians Ed Catmul and Loren Carpenter, modelmaker William George, supervising modelmaker Steve Gawley, model electronics technician Marty Brenneis, and director Meyer during this 18-minute and 13-second piece. In addition to those segments, we see a nice variety of photos and test footage from the production; those elements help illustrate the work put into the film. As with the other featurettes, this one proceeds in a lively and informative manner that makes it quite enjoyable.
The only non-original featurette on this DVD, Original Interviews offers 10 minutes and 56 seconds of clips from 1982. (Actually, only the first eight minutes and 15 seconds or so contain interviews; the remainder of the piece presents some interesting production photos.) We get information from actors Shatner, Nimoy, Montalban and DeForest Kelley. Some decent information appears, but for the most part, the data seems fairly bland, and some of it seems to be wrong. For one, Nimoy states that Meyer had a great love for Trek before he came on board, but during a modern session, the director clearly indicates his ignorance of the show. And who dressed these guys, anyway? Nimoy and Kelley wore especially silly outfits.
For a glimpse at some serious fans, look no further than The Star Trek Universe. This 28-minute and 55-second program features interviews with authors Julia Ecklar and Greg Cox. Both write books placed in the Trek universe, and they appear here because they have tomes directly related to Khan; Ecklar did work about the Kobayashi Maru scenario, while Cox fleshed out Khan’s past with his novels.
While not a great piece, “Universe” offers a decent look at dedicated Trekkies. On the negative side, at times it feels like it exists as a promotional deal. We hear a lot about the books and see far too many TV and movie clips. However, for less obsessive fans like me, it’s interesting to learn more about various facets of the series and its followers. For the record, Ecklar seems reasonably well-adjusted, but Cox clearly gets a little too wrapped up in Trek, as demonstrated when he nearly blows a gasket due to some continuity errors connected to Khan’s Sikh heritage.
Within the Storyboard Archives domain, we get 13 different sets of drawings. These include between six and 64 images for a total of 227 pictures. Although storyboards don’t do a lot for me, I thought this was a pretty solid little collection.
The DVD then concludes with the film’s theatrical trailer. Presented in a 1.85:1 ratio, the clip offers Dolby Surround 2.0 audio and anamorphic enhancement. Actually, almost all of the video supplements in this package feature anamorphic images; only the “Original Interviews” appear 1.33:1. As usual with Paramount’s releases, almost all of the extras provide both English and French subtitles.
Arguably the best film in the series, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan continues to work 20 years after its theatrical release. The movie combines action, intelligence and drama into one compelling package that make it a winner. As for the DVD, it improves in almost every way over the original bare-bones release from 2000. Audio quality remains identical, but the picture seems noticeably stronger, and the set includes a mix of useful supplements.