It is nearly gospel now among Trekkies that the second Star Trek installment, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, is the undisputed best of the series, and will likely never meet its equal.
Inspired by classic literature like Moby Dick, Paradise Lost, and King Lear — along with classic navy films — Nicholas Meyer’s major directorial debut is indeed the best of the series and it’s a classic sci-fi flick on its own, outside the Trek mythology altogether.
Newly released on DVD with a director’s cut (which, per Meyer, is closer to the TV version than the theatrical one), the classic story follows an old Trek nemesis named Khan (Ricardo Montalban in the greatest role of his career), who is chasing Kirk and crew through the galaxy as he hunts for ‘Genesis,’ which turns out to be a kind of life-generating device used to create life on dead planets (or, as we learn, destroy existing life where it exists). It’s a classic cat-and-mouse story, with our heroes playing the classic underdog who overcome all obstacles in the end.
I’ll leave further plot synopsis to the reader, but this masterful film is unavoidably enthralling even 20 years after its original release. But what makes this disc a must-own is not the juicy story and fabulous presence of Montalban, but the commentary from Meyer (a Trek neophyte who would later direct Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country) which ranges from comments on how to direct William Shatner to the ’80s-inspired appearance of a sweater on his character’s son. A subtitle commentary from Michael Okuda adds trivia to the proceedings, much like his comments in Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
A second disc adds some of the geekier elements, including interviews, featurettes, and trailers. Interviews with writers of Trek novelizations clarify what happened in the original Trek TV episode wherein Khan (yes, played by Montalban) is banished to that lonely planet. These are interesting (to the point of mocking their subjects), but it’s the classic structure of the film itself plus Meyer’s comments (and an admittedly fabulous score) that makes this extraordinary film worth owning. A probably-oughtta-own for any film fan, and an absolute must for any fan of sci-fi.