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"Star Trek: The Motion Picture"
"Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan"
"Star Trek III: The Search for Spock"
"Star Trek IV: The Voyage home"
"Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country"

Star Trek II - The Wrath of Khan

by Jim Bray

Paramount appears to be intent in squeezing yet another round of sales from its venerable Star Trek movie series. This could be quite an annoyance to fans who've already poured considerable amounts of their after-tax disposable income into the franchise, and I couldn't blame them if there were beginning to feel a tad used.

Now the studio has begun releasing special "Director's Editions" of the films. At this time I don't know if they're all slated for such treatment, though it seems to make sense - especially since the first such release to have an earlier DVD with which to compare it (Star Trek II) is appreciably better than the initial digital disc version.

So bite the bullet, Trekkies who are also audio/videophiles; this is the version you'll want. "Just Plain Trekkers" will love the extra material Paramount has added.

"Star Trek II - The Wrath of Khan" could be credited with having saved "Star Trek" from a premature (well, to many of us) fate.

"Star Trek - The Motion Picture" was a big disappointment in that it forgot what made Trek great and concentrated instead on special effects and "bigness' - in short, it was form over substance.

Paramount decided, for whatever reason, to take control of the series from Gene Roddenberry's hands for successive films and handed it over to Harve Bennett. The result was a much smaller movie than "TMP" and, other than the special effects (which are fine, but not breakthrough like the first movie's) a much better movie.

The story's a sequel to the "Space Seed" episode from the original TV series' first season. Khan Noonian Singh (Ricardo Montalban, in all his scenery-chewing glory) is a superman from the late 20th century. The result of genetic engineering, and one of the causes of the Eugenics War that led to his - and his "tribe's" - eventual exile from Earth, he has no delusions of grandeur. No, he IS grand, and has no intention of letting the galaxy forget it.

In the original episode, Kirk ends up marooning Khan and kin on the planet Ceti Alpha 5, where he's free to build whatever society he chooses.

Jump ahead fifteen years and Khan and the remnants of his community are discovered by Captain Terrell (Paul Winfield) and his aide Commander Chekov (yes, of course, THAT Chekov) who think they're actually on Ceti Alpha 6. One would think the Federation would have better galactic road maps than they do, so their starships wouldn't make such silly and elementary navigation mistakes, but what's a plot hole or two in Star Trek?

Plot holes are a grand Star Trek tradition, and it's nice to see them being exploited so well again...

Anyway, Khan gets free and takes control over Terrell's ship and uses it to seek out now-Admiral Kirk to have his revenge.

There's a nifty subplot involving the Genesis machine and its "Life from lifelessness" theme that will carry through the next Trek movie as well. It's the Khan stuff we're really here for, though, and Bennett, Montalban, et al, don't disappoint.

Star Trek II is the first of the trilogy that concludes with IV, and the three can almost be viewed as a single movie - especially II and III, which relate directly to each other.

Besides Montalban, we're also introduced to Kirstie Alley as Lt. Saavik (played by Robin Curtis, and not nearly as well, in STIII). This was probably her breakout role, and she's very good as the confused young Vulcan being mentored by Spock. Director Nicholas Meyer (who also made the terrific "Time After Time") does a nice job of riding herd on the production.

The Director's Edition adds about four minutes to the running time, and there's some interesting stuff in it, but on the whole the movie isn't really improved from its initial version. In fact, I'd have to say that I like the original better, but would have to opt for this newer version because of its superior quality as a DVD.

According to these old eyes, the DVD has been given a new transfer and this one is appreciably better looking and sounding than the original DVD. The anamorphic widescreen picture (16x9 TV compatible) is, for the most part, terrific, with a razor sharp image (though in places it's a tad soft and a little "muddy") and wonderful color texture. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround audio is equally as good, with good use of the rear channels and the subwoofer.

Then there are the extras - and they stretch over the two discs of the set. First up there's a running commentary with director Nicholas Meyer, and a text commentary from "Star Trek Encyclopedia" co-author Michael Okuda.

Disc two includes a bunch of new extras, all of which are also presented in anamorphic widescreen, which is a terrific idea. In fact, the only thing that isn't widescreen is the collection of "vintage" interviews made around the time of the film's initial release in 1982. These "eye stretching" extras including a rash of new cast/crew interviews, a feature on the film's design, another one on the special effects (with new interviews of the old ILM people who did them), and "the Star Trek Universe," a feature promoting two Star Trek novels that relate to the subject matter of "The Wrath of Khan" and feature the novels' authors.

There's also, not surprisingly, the theatrical trailer and a storyboard archive.

In all, an excellent package, but we wish Paramount would have offered these versions right off the bat instead of expecting fans to ante up once more. Still, we particularly look forward to a new version of VI, which wasn't released in anamorphic widescreen the first time around.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, from Paramount Home Video
116 minutes, Widescreen (2.35:1), Dolby Digital
Starring William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Deforest Kelley, George Takei, Nichelle Nicholls, Walter Koenig, James Doohan, Ricardo Montalban, Bibi Besch, Merritt Butrick, Kirstie Alley, and Paul Winfield
Written by Jack B. Sowards, Produced by Harve Bennett
Directed by Nicholas Meyer

Star Trek III - The Search for Spock

Star Trek III is the warmest of the Trek movies, and my personal favorite, yet it's still a ripping yarn with enough action and adventure to keep Trekkies happy.

Directed by Leonard Nimoy (who explains on Disc Two how that came to be), the film picks up where "Star Trek II - the Wrath of Khan" left off. Spock has just died and his mortal remains (which turn out to be not nearly as mortal as originally suspected) have landed on the new Genesis planet.

The Enterprise limps back to space dock and the crew, devastated by the loss of the Vulcan first officer, waits for a reassignment that never comes.

McCoy, meanwhile, has gone from crusty and curmudgeonly country doctor to the personification of weirdness (though he stops short of imitating Michael Jackson) and it turns out his metamorphosis is due to Spock having put his life essence into him before making his nearly ultimate sacrifice.

Of course nobody, including McCoy, knows this until Sarek (Mark Lenard), Spock's father shows up at Kirk's apartment and explains the facts of Vulcan life.

Armed with the new knowledge that there's a chance to save Spock, Kirk pleads with Star Fleet to let him return to Genesis with McCoy to try "reunifying" Spock. The pencil necked bureaucrats turn him down, however, so Kirk and his inner circle of series regulars steal the Enterprise right out of space dock and head for Genesis.

Unfortunately, the Klingons have gotten wind of the Genesis device and want to turn it into a weapon, so they're cloaked and waiting for the Enterprise when it arrives at the Genesis planet. This provides the film's conflict as Kirk and his merry band have to find and save Spock while fighting off the Klingon bastards who'll stop at nothing to acquire the Genesis device.

Some wags have written off every odd-numbered Star Trek movie as being wastes of time and, though they're not far off the mark when it comes to "V," "Generations," and the second half of "The Motion Picture," "The Search for Spock" is one of the best entries. Besides being a good Star Trek yarn, it's also about friendship, respect, and duty, and though it could easily have gotten bogged down in schmaltz it manages to resist that temptation and instead ends up being quite inspiring.

The cast does a good job in their familiar roles, especially Shatner as Kirk, who comes off as more human and less pompous than in any other entry (until you see him in the supplemental material). Christopher Lloyd is also very good as Klingon Commander Kruge - and watch for John Larroquette in an early role as a Klingon crewthing.

It's nice to see them taking chances, too. In "Khan," they had the guts to kill off Spock (even if only temporarily) and in "III" they blow up the beloved Enterprise. In both cases they do it very well and instead of angering Trek fans they endeared themselves to the legions even more.

Leonard Nimoy, who also directed "Star Trek IV," does a good job with this flick. So did Paramount when it comes to creating a DVD version. The widescreen anamorphic picture looks good, and in places it looks great. It's not a lot better than the original DVD release, but the picture is mostly sharp (though sometimes grainy) and very colorful. Overall, the movie looks older than it is, but it's still quite satisfying on a good big widescreen TV.

The audio has been translated into Dolby Digital 5.1 and while what surround there is is pretty good, the overall sound quality could have benefited from a good re mastering. As with the video, the audio sounds dated. Paramount should have given this movie the re mastering it deserves - though we wouldn't be surprised if they're saving that for yet another trip to the well to get more after-tax income out of hard-working Trekkies.

The real joy of this Collector's Edition is the second disc of extras and the audio commentaries on Disc One. The commentaries are by director Nimoy, producer Harve Bennett with Director of Photography Charles Correll and "Saavik" Robin Curtis (who, unfortunately, was a pale imitation of Kirstie Alley). It's a good commentary in all - and you also get a text commentary with some interesting stuff from the authors of "The Star Trek Encyclopedia.

Disc Two includes a bunch of documentaries and, as seems to be the most welcome trend now, for the most part they're also presented in anamorphic widescreen. Besides the theatrical trailer and a teaser for 2002's Star Trek Nemesis, there's "Captain's Log," featuring new interviews with Leonard Nimoy, William Shatner, Robin Curtis, Harve Bennett and Christopher Lloyd. You also get "The Star Trek Universe," a series of documentaries including "Space Docks and Birds of Prey (interviews with ILM model creators), Speaking Klingon (the creation of the Klingon language), Klingon and Vulcan Costumes (featuring the designers), "Terraforming and the Prime Directive," a featurette about Terraforming hosted by NASA scientist and Planetary Society bigwig Dr. Louis Friedman. There are also storyboards & photos.

It's good stuff, which combines to help make this whole Collectors Edition an eminently watchable Star Trek episode.

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, from Paramount Home Video
105 minutes, Widescreen (2.35:1), Dolby Digital
Starring William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Deforest Kelley, George Takei, Nichelle Nicholls, Walter Koenig, James Doohan, Christopher Lloyd
Written and Produced by Harve Bennett,
Directed by Leonard Nimoy

Star Trek IVStar Trek IV is the series' lightest entry, but it's also the most serious in that it's a cautionary tale about our fragile environment and how over the long term our short term shortsightedness could have horrible consequences for the human race in ways we could hardly dream.

It's also the third in a continuous trilogy of films (that began with "The Wrath of Khan") in which Admiral Kirk manages to regain command of the Enterprise, fight an old nemesis, kill his best friend, resurrect him, destroy the Enterprise, get court martialed and busted back to Captain, then be given command of a new Enterprise.


Leonard Nimoy directs again, as he did so well in STIII, and he does a fine job of taking our heroes through their misadventures in 1980's San Francisco. The Enterprising bunch are fish out of water as they stumble through what to them are virtually the dark ages as they try to kidnap a couple of humpback whales and bring back to the 23rd century to save the Earth.

They need the whales because a mysterious probe has come into the solar system and begun hollering for the whales - and, not finding them, is wreaking havoc on the rest of God's creatures that aren't yet extinct.

Saving the whales retroactively and thereby saving the Earth proactively gives Kirk and his now-renegade crew the big stick with which to beat any rap Starfleet would give them for their actions in Star Treks II and III, and all ends happily with the crew taking up their traditional duties in a brand new Enterprise that just happened to be waiting for them in space dock when they just so happen to need a new ship.

It's standard Star Trek stuff, and that means it's a good ride with likeable, comfortable characters, a healthy dose of action/adventure, and even some food for thought thrown in for good measure. It's the least action-packed of the Trek movies (with the possible exception of the unfortunately ponderous "The Motion Picture," but you don't miss the shoot 'em ups because there's plenty more stuff to like.

Besides the usual crew members, who deliver their usual journeyman performances, Catherine Hicks is along this time, as a whale expert and the requisite Kirk love interest that had been missing since the original TV series (not including Dr. Marcus, of course). And who'd have thunk - she dumps HIM at the end of the movie!

This Special Collector's Edition DVD of the film is in anamorphic widescreen (16x9 TV compatible), with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio and the picture quality is very good - perhaps the best of the "original" Trek movies to date. Sound quality is good - though there isn't a lot of surround used.

And as befits such a so-called Collector's Edition, there are extras in abundance, an entire second disc's worth as well as commentaries (including a text commentary) on the first disc.

And Paramount must be commended for releasing the lion's share of the extra disc's material in anamorphic widescreen - a welcome touch for owners of 16x9 TV's or for people who don't yet have these TV's but who will.

Anyway, disc two starts off with a series of interesting documentaries under the umbrella "The Star Trek Universe." They include talks about the feasibility time travel (and faster than light travel) by some high ranking quantum physicists, "The Language of Whales," a Vulcan primer (which focuses on Vulcans and their society and not their language), and "Kirk's Women" - the lamest of the bunch but it's interesting to see how these former "Kirk chicks" have aged and how they remember their time in the ST universe.

Then there are featurettes on the production of the movie itself, and they're also very interesting. You also get a look at the film's visual effects, including some fascinating looks at the creation of the movie's cetacean co-stars (and while we knew going in that there were models used, we had never suspected that there were no real humpbacks used at all!).

And Paramount has thrown in a couple of tributes, one to Gene (The Great Bird of the Galaxy) Roddenberry himself, courtesy of his son, and one to Mark Lenard (Sarek), from his family.

Topping things off are some storyboard and a production gallery, original interviews with the three main stars, and the theatrical trailer.

In all, a fascinating presentation that really does this most popular Star Trek movie justice.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, from Paramount Home Video
118 minutes, Widescreen (2.35:1), Dolby Digital 5.1
Starring William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Deforest Kelley, George Takei, Nichelle Nicholls, Walter Koenig, James Doohan and Catherine Hicks
Produced by Harve Bennett, Screenplay by Steve Meerson & Peter Krikes and Harve Bennett & Nicholas Meyer, Directed by Leonard Nimoy

Star Trek VIStar Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

This chapter does a nice job of passing the torch to "Star Trek: The Next Generation." It's supposed to be the last film with the original cast (some of whom show up again in "Star Trek Generations") and it concerns the beginnings of the Klingon/Federation Alliance that's still in place by the time Jean Luc Picard and his merry band take over the bridge of a subsequent Enterprise.

The movie's also an allegory for the Cold War between the East and the West (on Earth, of course) and begins with the destruction of the over -mined planetoid from which the Klingons (the East) got much of their resources. This emergency leads them to seek peace with the Federation, which the goodhearted Feds grant. Captain Kirk (whose son was killed by these same "Klingon bastards" in Star Trek III) is given the job of being the liaison between the two races.

But trust is hard to find among peoples who've been at each other's throats through 79 TV episodes and five movies and it doesn't take long for a monkey wrench to be thrown into the peace process - via a well timed assassination that looks as if it were performed by Kirk or one of his minions.

Christopher Plummer chews the scenery as Chang, a Shakespeare-spouting Klingon who's always up for a good battle as long as it's glorious, and Kim Cattrall plays a Vulcan sidekick to Spock who's a lot more than she appears to be. We also get to see the former Yeoman Rand in a tiny role, as well as Spock's father Sarek. Michael (Worf) Dorn is even along for the ride in a tip of the hat to the Next Generation.

Star Trek VI is a reunion and a farewell at the same time, and succeeds well as both. It has an intelligent plot, with the usual action and social commentary, good special effects, and a memorable cast of familiar and new characters. It's a fine sendoff for the original cast, despite their refusal to stay gone when "Generations" was written.

The Collector's Edition DVD is presented in anamorphic widescreen, fortunately. The original DVD wasn't anamorphic for some reason, but Paramount has now corrected this oversight and it's a very welcome move. The picture quality is very good, inded, with sharp images and rich color.

Audio is Dolby Digital 5.1 surround and it's also very good, with nice use of the surround channels when the spaceships whiz by.

The collector's edition has plenty of extras, too. First up is an audio commentary featuring director Nicholas Meyer and screenwriter Denny Martin Flinn, and there's also a text commentary by Michael & Denise Okuda of "The Star Trek Encyclopedia."

Disc two has plenty to offer as well. We were particularly taken with the farewell tribute to Deforest Kelley, which was quite moving. There's also a series of featurettes on the making of the film, Star Trek lore, "Art Imitates Life" (The Perils of Peacemaking), interviews with the cast and crew dating back to the movie's original release, promo materials, a production gallery and storyboard collection.

It has been said that only the even numbered "Star Trek" movies are any good and we'd agree that they're the best, though we also have a very soft spot for III and the first hour or so of the first one. Five, however, is junk.

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, from Paramount Home Video
113 minutes, Widescreen (2.35:1), Dolby Digital
Starring William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Deforest Kelley, George Takei, Nichelle Nicholls, Walter Koenig, James Doohan, Christopher Plummer, David Warner, Kim Cattralll
Produced by Ralph Winter and Steven-Charles Jaffe, Story by Leonard Nimoy and Lawrence Konner & Mark Rosenthal,
Written by Nicholas Meyer and Denny Martin Flynn, Directed by Nicholas Meyer


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Updated May 13, 2006