As I write this, J.J. Abrams spectacular reimagining of the Star Trek universe is currently kicking major ass in theaters, and introducing a whole new generation to the franchise. The beauty of Abrams film is that it serves as an excellent starting point for new fans to check out the old classic Trek series and films, and, seeing as how the new Trek's central theme focuses on the development of the friendship between Captain James T. Kirk and the Vulcan science officer, Spock, I can't think of a better way to follow up a viewing of Trek 2009 than with the excellent original cast films, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek III: Search for Spock, and Star Trek IV: the Voyage Home. This trilogy shows viewers how said friendship evolved, revisiting the characters in the twilight of their respective careers while facing down not only enemies both old and new, but their own mortality, as well.
Widely considered the best of the Trek films, The Wrath of Khan opens with a visit to a seemingly uninhabited planet whereupon Chekov (Koenig) and his new captain discover the wreckage of the U.S.S. Botany Bay - the ship captained by old nemesis, Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalban), the "superman" from the original series' "Space Seed" episode. Marooned on the planet (which was at one time, hospitable) by Kirk fifteen years earlier, Khan and his crew have eked out an existence in the wastelands, where Khan has spent every waking moment dreaming of the day in which he'd have his revenge. Now, with a Federation starship under his control, Khan has the means to satiate his thirst for vengeance, and uses Chekov and a secret project known as Genesis to draw Admiral Kirk (Shatner) into his trap. What follows is one of Trek's most epic space battles, as well as the series' most heart-wrenching moments; the death of Spock. Kirk and crew mourn the loss of their fallen comrade, launching his body into the heart of the newly formed Genesis planet, and begin a somber journey home.
In The Search for Spock, we rejoin the crew in the aftermath of their fateful battle with Khan. Dr. McCoy (Kelley) has begun exhibiting strange behavior which Kirk initially mistakes as overwhelming grief and exhaustion over the loss of their friend, but soon discovers is a result of a mind meld between Spock and McCoy, just before the former sacrificed himself for the rest of the crew. Spock, it seems, has implanted McCoy with his "spiritual essence", and, in keeping with Vulcan customs, Kirk must deliver both McCoy and the body of Spock to Vulcan, where both men's suffering can be put to an end. The Genesis planet, however, is under Starfleet quarantine, and Kirk is forbidden to travel there. Never one to let regulations stand in the way of what he thinks is right, Kirk and his crew steal the Enterprise, and head back to the Genesis planet. Meanwhile, Kirk's estranged son, David (the late Merrit Butrick) and Saavik (Robin Curtis, replacing Kirstie Alley who originated the role in Wrath of Khan) are leading a scientific team investigating the newly formed planet, where they discover a young Spock, somehow reborn within the Genesis matrix. Complicating matters is the arrival of a Klingon vessel, captained by the rogue Commander Kruge (Christopher Lloyd) , who believes Genesis to be a Federation weapon. Kruge destroys the Federation science vessel orbiting the planet, stranding Saavik, David, and young Spock on the Genesis planet, which, thanks to an unethical shortcut taken during the project's inception, is rapidly aging and reforming everything it's created, including Spock. In this film, we lose yet another dear friend, as the U.S.S. Enterprise is sacrificed so that those on the surface of Genesis can be saved.
Completing the trilogy, The Voyage Home follows the reunited crew as they head back to Earth (in a Klingon Bird of Prey, no less) ready to face their punishment for violating Starfleet orders. Spock is still a shadow of his former self, suffering from a sort of amnesia and the "shock" of being reborn. When the crew arrives at Earth, however, the discover the planet is being destroyed by a mysterious vessel. It's discovered that this vessel has been sending and receiving messages to and from Earth, communicating with the now-extinct humpback whale. Spock postulates that somehow returning the whales to Earth would be the only way in which to save the planet, and comes up with a plan to send the crew back in time to do just that. It's a far-fetched and somewhat goofy concept, but it also provides some of the most enjoyable and humorous Trek moments ever, and stands as my personal favorite film of the original series cast.
Nicholas Meyer's Wrath of Khan is a true space opera, with the rousing action sequences and swagger that were so notably absent from the dismal first theatrical outing, Star Trek: The Motion Picture. It's a film filled with iconic moments (KHAAAAAAAAN!) and awesome performances, and it's understandable why most fans would consider this the best of the Trek flicks. Personally, I just love the dynamic between Shatner and Nimoy in the Nimoy-directed The Voyage Home, and the film's irresistible humor and dazzling special effects (which still hold up quite nicely more than two decades later) just won me over back when I first saw it in theaters in 1986. This is the Trek film I've revisited most often, and for good reason.
What I thought would be the weak link in this trilogy turned out to be the most pleasant surprise. I was never a big fan of The Search for Spock, and, to be honest, haven't seen this film since it was released on VHS! Seeing it again, many years later, I have to say that I was taken aback by how much I enjoyed it this time out. Watching this film in the context of a trilogy rather than as a "one-off" really heightened my emotional investment in the material. I also have to say that Nimoy's ironically human take on the series is really effective, here, as Kirk's grief in losing Spock is much more palpable this time out, and provides a wonderful emotional core to this spectacular trilogy.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture Trilogy warps onto Blu-ray in high style, with new HD transfers and 7.1 Dolby True HD soundtracks.
The Wrath of Khan sports a completely restored print that cleans up the 27 year old film considerably. While there's still evidence of print damage and the occasional artifact, grain is substantially reduced. Black levels are impressively deep and rich, with solid contrasting throughout, while skin tones are natural and pleasing. The overall image is especially vibrant, taking advantage of the Trek universe's very bold use of color.
The Search for Spock surprises once again, as this middle chapter features arguably the best image quality of the three films. Detail is extremely impressive, here, especially in the film's space sequences. The Enterprise has never looked finer! As with Wrath of Khan, I was truly impressed by the vibrancy of the image. Red and Blue "pop" nicely, and are never oversaturated. This transfer also sported the most depth and dimensionality.
The Voyage Home looks fantastic, but, due to some stylistic choices (ie; late eighties soft focus), the image isn't quite as crisp as in the previous film. Still, detail here is astounding, especially in faces and surfaces. This transfer isn't quite as vibrant as the previous two films, but, to be fair, the crewmember's aren't wearing their colorful Starfleet uniforms, and the sequences set on "modern day" San Francisco are meant to look somewhat grimy when compared to Trek's idealistic future version of the city.
All three films feature thunderous 7.1 Dolby TrueHD audio mixes. I couldn't find a fault in any of them, but Wrath of Khan - with its newly restored audio track - takes top prize here, as the film benefits from state-of-the-art mastering techniques that kick the aged mix into the 21st century. Still, all three films sound amazing. Each mix offers a soundscape that is lush and expressive, with wonderfully enveloping surround effects, crystal clear dialogue, and gut-rumbling bass. The bottom line is that these films have never looked or sounded better.
Paramount goes all out with the Trek film's Blu-ray debut, loading them up with an incredible and exhaustive assortment of supplemental goodies. In addition to hours of previously released standard definition material, we are given more than two and a half hours worth of all new features presented in 1080p! Since this review is already running a little long, here's a quick rundown:
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
• Commentary by director Nicholas Meyer
• New Commentary by director Nicholas Meyer and Manny Coto
• James Horner: Composing Genesis (HD)
• A Tribute to Ricardo Montalban (HD)
• Collecting Star Trek’s Movie Relics (HD)
• Starfleet Academy: Mystery Behind Ceti Alpha VI (HD)
• Captain’s Log
• Designing Khan
• Original interviews with DeForest Kelley, William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and Ricardo Montalban
• Where No Man Has Gone Before: The Visual Effects of Star Trek I: The Wrath of Khan
• The Star Trek Universe: A Novel Approach
• Theatrical trailer
• Library Computer (BD Exclusive)
• BD Live: Star Trek I.Q.
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
• Commentary by director Leonard Nimoy, writer/producer Harve Bennett, director of photography Charles Correll and Robin Curtis
• Commentary by Ronald D. Moore and Michael Taylor
• Library Computer
• Captain’s Log
• Terraforming and the Prime Directive
• Industrial Light & Magic: The Visual Effects of Star Trek (HD)
• Spock: The Early Years (HD)
• Space Docks and Birds of Prey
• Speaking Klingon
• Klingon and Vulcan Costumes
• Star Trek and the Science Fiction Museum Hall of Fame (HD)
• Starfleet Academy SCISEC Brief 003: Mystery Behind the Vulcan Katra Transfer
• Photo Galleries
• Theatrical Trailer (HD)
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
• Commentary by William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy
• New Commentary by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman
• Pavel Chekov’s Screen Moments (HD)
• The Three-Picture Saga (HD)
• Star Trek for a Cause (HD)
• Starfleet Academy: The Whale Probe (HD)
• Future’s Past: A Look Back
• On Location
• Dailies Deconstruction
• Below-the-Line: Sound Design
• Time Travel: The Art of the Possible
• The Language of Whales
• A Vulcan Primer
• Kirk’s Women
• From Outer Space to the Ocean
• The Bird of Prey
• Original interviews with Leonard Nimoy, William Shatner and DeForest Kelley
• Roddenberry Scrapbook
• Featured Artist: Mark Lenard
• Production Gallery
• Theatrical Trailer (HD)
• Library Computer (BD Exclusive)
• BD Live: Star Trek I.Q.
Whether you're an old school Trekkie like me, or a newly minted fan courtesy of the excellent new film, this set is an absolutely essential purchase. Three great films are presented here, each looking and sounding better than ever, and each sporting a virtual Starfleet armada of extra goodies! It's an exciting time to be a Trek fan, and sets like this just make it that much better! Highest recommendations!