And the trek continues with Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan...
This time, it’s war! Oops, wrong movie...
Both the theatrical cut and the director’s cut.
Well, it sure is a better film than the previous one. In pretty much every way (some would argue not the music, but whatever). And it’s different in pretty much every way, too. The first film was a slow-paced contemplative picture, this one a breakneck pace actioner (with Horner’s music participating a lot in giving a sense of constant drive to the whole picture). And it works splendidly.
In a way, it feels like a reboot of the film series. There are absolutely no mention of anything from the first film and the first act of the sequel basically repeats what happened in the first film: Kirk is still an Admiral, he ends up on the Enterprise somehow and replaces the current captain (in the first film Decker, in this one Spock) to go on a mission where only the Enterprise can go because… well, because it’s the nearest ship in the sector. Of course, what follows is completely different, but the similarity in the premise is kind of funny.
This time around, the budget was four times less than what they had for the first entry, yet the film looks just as impressive, if not more. You can see how they managed to save some money by reusing footage here and there (it’s pretty damn obvious when Kirk takes the space shuttle to go on the Enterprise) and also by reusing the floating office from the first film and rebranding it as the space lab Regula I just by putting it upside down. But otherwise, it all looks good to me: the uniforms in particular look better. No more space pyjamas! The cinematography of the previous film was possibly a bit superior, though (there weren’t as many impressive shots here).
Another aspect that may seem minor but isn’t quite (since film is first and foremost a visual medium): this film is much more colorful (literally) than the previous one. TMP was mostly devoid of colors, which were basically grey, beige and pale blue, and felt rather dull in that regard. Here, you have the red of the Starfleet uniforms, the orange of Khan and his men, the blue and purple of the Mutara Nebula, etc. It’s another thing I preferred over the film. However, there is one major difference I noticed between the two cuts: the color grading is much, much better in the director’s cut than in the theatrical cut (but this may actually be a difference between the DVD and Blu-Ray, rather than between the cuts). It seems that on the Blu-Ray, a blueish tint was added throughout the whole film (it’s most noticeable in the Genesis cave scene, which is where I really noticed the difference), while the DVD looks much more natural and, well, better.
Ricardo Montalban is pitch perfect as the grandiloquent Khan. I’m even more impressed by his acting knowing he never even faced Shatner while playing his scenes. Truly a great actor. And a great character, too. The scene where he reveals himself to Chekov and Terrell is chilling. That’s how you introduce a villain! The shot before that (when Chekov and Terrell see Khan and his men while trying to escape from Ceti Alpha V) is equally awesome. I love how he and Kirk keep outwitting each other throughout the film and how Horner plays with that idea, too. On a sidenote, it is funny to see Khan’s crew younger than it was in Space Seed. It’s also a bit odd that McGivers is never referred to by name. Khan only talks about her as “his wife” who passed away, and the crew of the Enterprise doesn’t really seem to care about her fate (yes, she betrayed them, but still!).
The characters are much more relatable this time around, as the acting feels much more natural, and their relationships are way more developed than they were in the previous film. McCoy is quickly becoming my favorite member of the crew. His constant cynicism and skepticism really resonate with me! Kirk is also more interesting in this one: he has a bit less of a cocky attitude, he doubts, he has to face the fact that he’s getting older (even though it’s kind of funny to see him says he feels too old for that shit, when he’ll still be in action 12 years later (probably more in the Trek universe) and in five more films). Spock completes the trio of main characters quite nicely, and you get to see more of his human side, with a slightly more nuanced performance by Nimoy here. It is a bit of a shame that his death can’t have as much of an emotional impact as when the film was released, when you know that the third film is called The Search For Spock and is all about getting Spock back. Still, it is a well done scene and perfectly acted by Kirk and Nimoy.
There is one minor issue I have with the film: the Genesis device is a bit sidelined as the story goes on, to make room for all the action and revenge story between Kirk and Khan. I would have liked to see the characters talk a bit more about it and its implications: how do they feel about it? What consequences can such a device have on the entire universe? It is a bit touched upon in the scene where they reveal what Genesis is, but never do the characters talk about it in more depth later on, and I think that’s a missed opportunity here.
Apart from that, it really is a fantastic film from start to finish: a great villain, great characters, great music, great action, great themes (getting older, facing the consequences of past deeds, etc.), great visuals… A well-rounded entry in the Star Trek franchise.
FULL POWER! DAMN YOU!
So, if I understand correctly, this is considered by many (everyone?) to be the best Star Trek film ever. So is there any point in watching the other ones, if they’re all not as good as this one?
About the Director’s Cut: Well, yet again, the changes were minimal and didn’t add much to the overall story (if anything). The only worthy addition is the scene where they reveal Preston is Scotty’s nephew (which is something that should have been in the theatrical cut), as it explain why Scotty and Kirk are so affected by his death (whereas in the theatrical cut, you’re left wondering: “Why do they care so much about some random engineer?”). I suppose the director’s cut is the superior version because it develops the characters slightly more, but really, the difference with the theatrical cut is not major (even less than the difference between the TC and DC of the first film, which was already rather insignificant).
It is weird that two more interesting bits were left out of the director’s cut, though. Firstly, the bit of dialogue where Spock reveals that Saavik is half-Romulan. I guess it can be explained by the fact that, in the later films, she was considered 100% Vulcan, so restoring that bit of dialogue in the director’s cut of TWOK would have contradicted the way her character is portrayed in the next films. Still, it would have been a nice addition, and would have explained why she cries at the end of the film. The other bit that would have been nice to see is the “subplot” (don’t know if it’s really an appropriate term here) regarding Khan’s son. It’s unclear how important this story thread would have been in the final film, or how it would have worked in the film, but it’s an oddity I’d like to see.
On a sidenote: the poster of the film offers a funny ‘WTF?’ moment by depicting the Enterprise shooting at the Regula I space station for no reason whatsoever. Also, Saavik looks bit more like Robin Curtis than Kirstie Alley on that poster.
On a second sidenote: one thing I noticed is that there are two funny similarities between the first two Star Trek films and the first two Alien films. The most obvious one is of course that Jerry Goldsmith scored both first films, while Horner composed the music for both sequels. The other similarity is that both first films are slow-paced atmospheric pictures, while the sequels made the franchise take a 180°turn by offering fast-paced actioners. This, of course, explains the tagline at the beginning of this review.
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On a third sidenote:
Khan Noonian Stiff