(some spoilers below.)
Arguably a sci-fi classic and the best of the original "Trek" films, "Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan" offers a thrilling adventure and one of cinema's most memorable villains. The sequel builds off of an episode ("Space Seed") from the first season of the series, where Kirk (William Shatner) sent the evil Khan (Ricardo Montalban) and his followers to live on a barren planet after they tried to rise to power, starting with an attempt to overthrow the Enterprise.
Early in the film, the crew of a Starfleet ship head to check out a desolate planet, but instead find Khan, as well as the followers that remain. Khan hijacks the ship and escapes from the planet he was imprisoned on, with only one mission in mind: to take revenge on Captain Kirk, who put him on the planet in the first place.
Soon enough, Kirk is contacted by his former nemesis, and the two start a race to get a hold of the Genesis device, an all-powerful scientific instrument that can create new life on a barren planet in the right hands - or be an incredibly destructive weapon in the wrong ones. Thrown into the mix are Kirk's son, David (Merritt Butrick), and his ex, Carol (Bibi Besch), who were part of the team who created the Genesis.
The performance by Montalban is certainly the highlight of the film, completely becoming the unhinged villain. While it's certainly over-the-top, it's not corny - the actor manages to harness a remarkable rage from deep within, and delivers the film's most sinister lines perfectly. Shatner, seemingly as a result of going up against a similarly over-the-top performer in Montalban, rises to the occasion (the famed "KHHAAANNN!") and gives his most powerful, entertaining effort in the "Star Trek" films. Nimoy also gives a superb supporting performance, as well. Butrick is forgettable as Shatner's son, and it's a good thing that the whole "Kirk's son" thing is a slight segment of the movie at best.
With classic scenes, a few fantastic performances and a warp-speed pace, "Wrath of Khan" still remains incredibly entertaining years later.
I'm still unsure why many don't seem to be fans of the third entry in the "Star Trek" series. Although clearly not the finest hour of the original cast, it's still a film that provides the usual mix of action, adventure and themes such as friendship, loyalty and courage.
Anyways, "Trek III" opens up after the events of "Star Trek II", where Spock had given his life to save those of his crew. His body was then given a proper funeral and shuttled off to the Genesis planet, created in the midst of the battle between Kirk and Khan. As was discussed on the supplemental featurettes on the "Wrath Of Khan" DVD, fans of the series were none too pleased with the passing of one of the favorite characters in the series. Given the reaction and success of the second feature, the creators were unsure of how to proceed.
Thankfully, the third film does manage to overcome this potentially awkward story hurdle with success. Although the opening thirty minutes of "Search For Spock" is a little on the slow side, the film sets up the story nicely and then finally kicks into high gear. Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley) has started to act strangely as the film opens and a visit by Spock's father reveals that Spock's soul has inhabited the body of McCoy. The soul must must be brought out and returned to Spock's body on his home planet. Breaking the rules set forth by the Federation, Kirk and crew steal the soon-to-be-docked Enterprise (in a scene that's certainly one of the highlights) and head off to reunite their old friend with his spirit. Unfortunately for the crew, a rebellious Klingon named Kruge (Christopher Lloyd, not really one of the better villians in the series) is also on course to Genesis in an attempt to steal the weapon.
While Shatner's ridiculous (and short) turn as the host of the US version of the "Iron Chef" show was embarassing and some of his interviews can be a bit much, his performances in the "Trek" feature films have - in my opinion - always been enjoyable. He clearly portrays the awe of the kind of missions set before him, presents terrific slow-boil anger at his enemies (see "Khan") and convincingly plays the emotional moments (especially those in "II" and "III"). Although Nimoy obviously isn't really in this one given the story (and also given the fact that he's directing), the usual "Trek" players all offer fine performances.
Although not always as successful as the prior picture (Lloyd doesn't make for a particularly interesting villian, the first thirty minutes could have gone faster), "The Search For Spock" still provides a handful of marvelous action scenes (heightened further by James Horner's marvelous score), a few great dramatic and/or emotional moments and a great deal of fun, accompanied by occasional witty humor. While one of the lower-budgeted efforts in the series, technical credits are still quite nice, as production design is generally convincing and cinematography by frequent TV director Charles Correll ("Melrose Place", "CSI") often boasts some effective compositions. Leonard Nimoy also proves to be a superb director, confidently helming material he's at home with and leading actors confident in his talent.
While maybe not the "favorite" of fans, this third adventure in the "Star Trek" series is still fine, intelligent entertainment that its creators should be proud of.
The fourth film in the series offers the same grand entertainment and great characters, but it falls a bit short in delivering the same kind of gravity and drama of the second film. There's a bit more comedy here and really, no distinct villian character like the ones that the other pictures have offered. Surprisingly, it was one of the most popular of the "Trek" pictures at the box office.
This feature opens with a giant alien probe heading towards Earth. The strange sounds of the probe and its energy are disrupting Earth, causing chaos and destruction. The crew eventually decipher what the noises are - the vocal noises of the humpback whale. The only problem: the humpback whales are extinct in the 23rd century. The crew's only choice to save Earth is to head back into the 20th century and bring back a pair of the whales to respond.
The crew of the Enterprise lands in the middle of San Francisco and start to look for a couple of whales to transport back with them. Kirk (William Shatner) and Spock (director Leonard Nimoy) stumble upon a marine park, chatting up one of the workers (Catherine Hicks), who drops the fact that both of the humpback whales in captivity at the park will soon be released into the wild. At the same time, McCoy and Mr. Scott are building tanks and Uhura and Chekov are looking for reliable sources of power to get back.
This fourth edition in the series was certainly a departure from the prior two "Trek" films, which were more dramatic. The comedy, which may have been perfectly entertaining in the 80's when the film was released, does occasionally feel rather dated. However, the cast certainly seems at home in their characters once again, and their interaction does go a long way towards making this lighter outing work. The Hicks character is really the weakest link: she seems strangely unconcerned when Kirk tells her that he's from the 23rd century. The thin romantic angle between the two is also unnecessary.
This isn't the finest tale that the "Trek" universe has ever offered, but it still remains charming in its own way. The cast works together well once again and the eco-friendly message is well-handled.
VIDEO: "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" is presented in 2.35:1 (1080p/AVC) and the presentation looks awfully good (too good, maybe, as the clarity of the Blu-Ray transfer makes some of the effects in the film look more primitive.) Sharpness and detail are quite pleasing, as while the picture never appeared crystal clear (and some moments veered towards looking somewhat soft) definition is certainly improved over the prior DVDs. Smaller details (such as control panels) are now clearer than ever before. Some minor specks are occasionally seen on the print used, but the film otherwise appeared clean. Some mild grain was occasionally seen, but gave the picture a "film-like" appearance. No edge enhancement, noise or additional concerns were seen. Colors saw some benefit, looking slightly warmer and bolder here than on the prior DVD.
"Trek III: Search for Spock" (1080p/AVC/2.35:1) and "Trek IV: The Voyage Home" also see improvements in sharpness and detail, and "Trek" fans may enjoy pausing the films on Blu-Ray in order to see some of the smaller details of the sets and locations that were not as crisp in prior home video editions. While there are still the occasional softer-looking scenes, the presentations for both films otherwise offer a level of clarity that hasn't been seen on prior home video presentations. For the most part, both films appear smooth and clean, but there are some infrequent sightings of minor specks, marks and debris on the elements used. Colors don't look incredibly better on these presentations, but they certainly do look a bit more vibrant in comparison to the prior DVDs.
SOUND: All three films are presented in Dolby TrueHD 7.1. Although the presentation for the second film is a fairly front-heavy audio experience, the surrounds are employed for a decent amount of sound effects and general ambience. The most wonderful element of the soundtrack is thankfully highlighted - James Horner's score, one of his finer efforts - sounds marvelous and gets terrific presence here, really filling the room. Dialogue, music and sound effects don't have the kind of warmth and smoothness that newer soundtracks have, but the soundtrack does not sound thin or hollow, either.
While the audio for the third film certainly isn't up to the level of modern soundtracks, Paramount's enjoyable repurposing of the soundtrack does liven up the audio and make it sound fresher than the film's age would indicate. The bold and wide front soundstage really brings out the best in James Horner's terrific score, while also clearly presenting dialogue and the various sound effects. Surrounds kick in fairly frequently, offering sound effects and music with nice depth and clarity to the audio. Dialogue sounds crisp and clear, while Horner's score has nice warmth and fullness. Although it's almost twenty years old at this point, the audio is pretty dynamic at times, delivering an unexpected kick now and then.
With the fourth film being probably the least action-oriented of the "Trek" films, there's simply not a lot of reason for surround use, outside of the opening scenes and a couple of fly-overs later in the picture. For the majority, the film's audio is certainly front-heavy, but audio quality is clear, with natural dialogue and warm, crisp music.
EXTRAS: (reviews of the supplements carried over from the prior DVDs are from the original DVD reviews. The new supplements for each of the three films are discussed separately.
Star Trek II:
Previously released supplements carried over to this release:
Commentary: This is a commentary from director Nicholas Meyer. The director's commentary is really one of the stronger audio commentaries that I've heard in quite some time. Meyer provides a frank and honest discussion of his involvement with the series - he was not entirely familiar with the entire "Trek" universe, but quickly found himself wrapped up in the elements. After listening to a great deal of commentaries lately that simply gush over how wonderful everyone involved was, it's refreshing to hear Meyer discuss here the kind of disagreements, arguements and obstacles that came up during the making of this film. The discussion, a mixture of technical production details, great analysis and behind-the-scenes stories, never falls into the trap of simply discussing what's going on on-screen. For a complete "Trek" experience, viewers can actually have the subtitle fact track on-screen while the audio commentary plays.
Captain's Log: This 27-minute featurette opens the second disc of the set. A newly produced supplement, this offers recently recorded interviews with director Nicholas Meyer, actors Shatner, Nimoy and Montalban and writer/producer Harve Bennett. This featurette continues the tone of the commentary - total honesty. A fair amount of the opening minutes is focused on the fact that Nimoy didn't want to return and the opinion of Shatner on why that could have been. Shatner, as always, is a fascinating character unafraid to share his opinion and the other participants are equally willing to explore their roles within this production in great detail. I've watched a lot (probably all, at this point) of the supplemental featurette/documentary DVD material that Paramount has produced for various "Star Trek" features and I must say, this is one of the best.
Designing Khan: This is a 24-minute featurette that reunites many members of "Khan"'s crew, who discuss planning the look of the film - the debates about which became more heated at times due to the fact that "Star Wars" was a large source of competition.
Visual Effects: "Visual Effects" is an 18-minute featurette that features interviews from many of the effects artists of ILM that were involved with "Khan" and also shows the progression of how some of these early visual effects were created.
Also: "Trek" novelists Greg Cox and Julia Ecklar discuss "Khan" as well as their general thoughts about the entire "Trek" universe; 10-minutes of original interviews from the cast are included; the trailer (looking not as worn as I'd expect) is offered as well as a pretty major storyboard archive that covers 12 scenes and concepts for the main titles.
New features for "Star Trek II" included here:
Commentary This is a commentary from director Nicholas Meyer, who is joined for this new track by fan and former "Star Trek: Enterprise" producer Manny Coto. Coto acts as interviewer throughout much of the running time, chatting with Meyer regarding some of his choices regarding the film and asking about his experiences on the film. Some of the information overlaps information offered on the old commentary and Coto does spend some time praising the film, but the two keep the discussion going and Coto does provide quite a few thoughtful questions.
"A Tribute to Ricardo Montalban" (HD) This is a touching tribute to the late actor, with thoughts from director Nicholas Meyer. It runs just under 5 minutes. "Collecting Trek Movie Relics" (HD) is an 11-minute piece that provides a tour of many of the famed props from the movies. "Composing Genesis" is a 9-minute interview with composer James Horner, who discusses his experiences working on the film's terrific score. Finally, "The Mystery of Ceti Alpha VI" is a short piece on this aspect of the film's story.
Star Trek III:
Previously released supplements carried over to this release:
Commentary: This set offers a full-length audio commentary from director Leonard Nimoy, writer/producer Harve Bennett, cinematographer Charles Cornell and actress Robin Curtis. For such a low-key (although very good) actor, Nimoy is surprisingly energetic on this commentary, enthusiastically chatting about all things "Search for Spock", including directing, the story and a lot of the technical/production obstacles involved in the making of the film. Bennett's involvement with the series has been remarkable and extensive (having producing, writing and even a couple of acting credits on many of the feature films) and his comments here do a nice job of highlighting the themes and story of the picture, as well as some additional information about the production. Cinematographer Cornell offers some technical tidbits, but he and actress Curtis do not speak that often throughout this track. Although there's occasional gaps of silence and a few slow patches, this is the least "dry" of the "Trek" commentaries that I've listened to and I certainly recommend a listen for "Trek" fans.
Captain's Log: This is a 25-minute documentary that provides a good general overview of the making of the feature. However, as per usual on these "Trek" featurettes, the real highlight is wondering what incredibly hilarious and somewhat smirky comment William Shatner will offer next - his first comments about Nimoy are incredibly funny. While Shatner provides the humor, Bennett and Nimoy provide insightful remarks about dealings with the studio and how they approached continuing the series. As informative as this documentary is, Shatner's occasionally brilliant ability to lightly goof on himself and "Trek" is the highlight here.
The Star Trek Universe: This section provides three additional featurettes, the highlight of which is "Space Docks and Birds of Prey", which interviews some of the effects wizards at ILM on their work in the film. While a little bit slow and technical, this piece still provides an interesting look at the work on the more primitive effects and design of this 1984 picture. "Speaking Klingon" seems like not enough of a topic to fill 21 minutes, but this interview with the creator of the language actually manages to be a bit more interesting than I'd expected (and I certainly didn't expect much, given the topic.) Last, but not least, we're offered "Klingon and Vulcan Costumes", which provides a solid look at this area of the film's costume design. All three of these pieces add up to a little over an hour of material.
Also: Rounding out the disc is a final featurette, the 25-minute "Terraforming and the Prime Directive", which was a nice departure away from the look at the film and towards the topics it explores. Participants from NASA and other scientists offer their opinions on the possibility of life on planets other than our own. Also included is the standard "archives" section (which provides loads of storyboards and production photos), as well as an awful trailer for "Star Trek III".
New features for "Star Trek III" included here:
Commentary: This is a commentary from Ronald Moore (best known for being a producer on "Star Trek: Enterprise", "Star Trek: Voyager" and "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine", as well as the new "Battlestar Galactica") as well as Michael Taylor, who has worked with Moore on "Trek" efforts. The two, obviously enormous fans of the series, are quite knowledgeable about the history of the series and - despite having nothing to do with the making of the film - are still able to share a lot of insights regarding the production. The two seem to be having a lot of fun, sharing some of their "Trek" stories and providing enjoyable analysis of the film.
"Industrial Light and Magic: Visual Effects" (HD) is a 13-minute documentary that has a team of ILM artists talk about the work put into some of the now-primitive visual effects that are seen in the earlier "Trek" films. While they seem quite basic now, many of them were groundbreaking for the time. This is certainly one of the most interesting of the new featurettes on this set. Less interesting is "Spock: The Early Years" (HD), a 6-minute interview with one of the actors who played young Spock. "Star Trek and the Science Fiction Museum Hall of Fame" is a 16-minute combination interview with "Trek" producer Harve Bennett and tour through some of the "Trek" displays at the museum. Finally, we also get the brief featurette: "Starfleet Academy: The Vulcan Katra Transfer" (HD).
Star Trek IV:
Previously released supplements carried over to this release:
Commentary: This is a commentary from actor/director Leonard Nimoy and actor William Shatner. Having these two together for one commentary does certainly seem like a promising idea and, for at least the first half of the film, this is quite an enjoyable time. Nimoy, who also offered a commentary on the last "Trek" special edition, provides quite an informative discussion of the challenges in getting another film in the series off the ground, once again with not a particularly high budget. Shatner is much like he was on some of the supplements for the prior "Trek" DVDs - he's funny, somewhat smirky and occsionally makes some unexpected comments. The two were recorded together, but don't have a great deal of back-and-forth discussion, mostly just adding their own perspective when the other is finished. The commentary does go forward quite nicely during the opening half, but there seemed to be more gaps of silence as the film entered the second half.
Time Travel: The Art of the Possible: This 11-minute documentary is the first piece that leads off the second disc of this two-disc set. This piece visits with three quantum physics experts, who discuss the possibilities of time travel and the effects that it could have on our world. Interesting stuff, even if it only touches on the surface of the subject.
The Language of Whales: This short featurette offers an interview with marine biologist Ree Brennin, who discusses the theories about what the language of whales really is and she also offers an update on the health of the population.
Kirk's Women: This overlong featurette has some of Shatner's female costars going on and on about how much they like working with him.
A Vulcan Primer: A little too "Trekkie" for my taste, this featurette has an author discussing some of the evolution and history of the Vulcan race.
Futures Past: This nearly 30-minute piece offers a very good overview of the picture's production. Interviews are offered with Nimoy, Shatner, producer Harve Bennett, the film's executive producer and many others. All discuss the changes that were made for this fourth film in the series, some of the obstacles that came up during the production and how the story came together. Alternately silly and informative, this documentary does give a fine idea of how the film was made and how the creators were able to bring in a lighter tone for this outing.
On Location: This 7-minute piece offers comments from executive producer Ralph Winter, Nimoy and others. All offer an informal chat about deciding the classic San Francisco locations where the film would be shot. There's also some fun stories about what happened on-set and how some of the sets were created.
Dailies Deconstruction: This is a four-minute look at multiple-camera dailies for some scenes in the film. It would have been nice if the multi-angle feature would have been used here, but the straight-foward presentation worked fine.
Sound Design: This 11-minute piece offers an interview with sound effects editor Mark Mangini ("Raiders of the Lost Ark", "Green Mile"). Mangini discusses the conversations that took place between himself and director Nimoy on some of the most crucial sound decisions in the picture, as well as how some of the sounds were created. This is a fun, informative featurette, but I would have liked to have heard some information about how the film's soundtrack was remixed to 5.1.
From Outer Space to the Ocean: In this 14-minute piece, the film's effects artists discuss their contributions to the picture, most notably the film's animatronic whales. The viewer also learns more about the film's early computer graphics effects. There's some test footage of the "time travel" sequence here, as well as some good looks at the construction of the Bird of Prey.
Bird of Prey: In this short 2 1/2 minute featurette, Nimoy discusses the concepts that he discussed during production about how the Bird of Prey ship featured should appear. The view is also given a brief look at some of the blueprints for the ship.
Original Interviews: The original interview featurettes with Leonard Nimoy, Deforest Kelly and William Shatner are offered.
Tributes: This section offers two featurettes: one is an 8-minute piece that has son Eugene Roddenberry offering interesting facts about his father's life and career, while the other is a tribute to actor Mark Lenard by his wife Ann and his daughters. Both are very enjoyable and personal tributes that give a lot of insight into their subjects. Both are great, if rather brief, tributes.
Archives: This section offers a moving production photo gallery, along with storyboards for "Encounter with the Saratoga", "The Probe Approaches Earth", "Time Warp", "Mind Meld", "The Whaling Ship", "Return to the 23rd Century", "Communicator" and "NCC 1701-A".
Also: Last, but not least, the film's theatrical trailer.
New features for "Star Trek IV" included here:
Commentary: This is a commentary from Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, the writers of the new "Star Trek" movie. The two chat about the fourth film from a fan perspective and provide some good insights regarding the story, the film's place in "Trek" history and quite a bit more. Worth a listen.
"Chekov's Screen Moments" (HD) is a 6-minute interview with actor Walter Koening, who discusses his experiences with the role and thoughts on the character. "Star Trek: Three Picture Saga" (HD) is a 10-minute piece that discusses how the second, third and fourth films gradually turned into a trilogy, although that was not the initial intent. While not particularly in-depth, this provided an enjoyable overview of how the success of the series lead to further sequels and how the production approached doing further films with these characters. "Star Trek For A Cause" is a 5-minute look at the message of the fourth film, with interviews with members of Greenpeace. Finally, we get the brief, "Starfleet Academy: The Whale Probe" (HD) featurette.
All three films include a "Library Computer" function (which brings up a fact/text database during the film) and are BD-Live enabled ("Trek IQ").
Final Thoughts: Although the second in the series is the best of the bunch, "Star Trek III" and "Star Trek IV" still stand out as entertaining adventures. This new "Trilogy" Blu-Ray set provides noticeably improved audio/video, as well as some informative and entertaining new supplemental features. Recommended.