DIRECTOR’S EDITION – 1982/2002
DIRECTOR: Nicholas Meyer
May Contain Spoilers!
31 years old today, Star Trek II is still the go to film of the franchise, even in the year which saw in Star Trek Into Darkness (2013), which, without giving anything away, drew a lot of “Inspiration” from this classic. It’s a near perfect piece, obviously hampered by a reliance on its established characterisations and topics which have been built up elsewhere but it is what it is, a franchise movie and it has to be one of the best.
Capturing the magic of the cult series which Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) had failed to do, Nicholas Meyer, known more as a theatre director, but also known in the U.S. for his influential nuclear drama, The Day After (1983) the following year, Star Trek II’s new producer, Harve Bennett and he crafted a screenplay which would turn the franchise on its head and possibly stand as a conclusion, before the revival which this movie would usher in.
What we have here are a series of good choices; from faithfully adapting the look of The Motion Picture, without adopting its sterility, bringing back Khan (Ricardo Montalban) and making him an iconic character rather than just a villain of the week, ramping up the action and effects to show us Star Trek in away which we had never seen before and the choice leave us one man down at the end.
The pacing is brilliant, with pauses in the action but each scene serves as a build up to something else, whether it establishes character or action. Kirk’s (William Shatner) old flame Carol Marcus (Bibi Besch) introducing his long-lost son, David, as well as the Genesis device, effectively a sci-fi nuclear bomb with the power to create new life from the matter which it had just destroyed and the concept that Kirk and his crew are older, now preparing to usher in the next generation of explorers whilst being unwilling to leave it all behind.
It’s this theme of age and experience which allows us to believe that Kirk could defeat Khan against the odds; we learn that he cheated on the Kobayashi Maru test at the Academy and that Kirk’s ethos of cheating death is ultimately flawed. Meyer knew what he was doing with these characters and it’s this character drama which drives the explosive and thrilling action.
Simply put, genre movies don’t come much better than this. The film rejuvenated Star Trek on the whole, which had its fans and followers but was still only a cult show and transformed it into something much more relevant and iconic.
Even none Trekkies enjoy Star Trek II and the “Khaaaaaaaaan!” moment is as well-known as the never spoken “Beam me up Scotty”. The visuals are stunning, even today and Spock’s (Leonard Nimoy) death scene, which as a child had me in floods of tears, is truly one of the cinemas great scenes, posing questions as it adds depth of characters. This is an earned death scene between Kirk and Spock which carries weight and is given the space and gravitas which it deserves and is impossible to recreate.
The 2002 DVD edition features what it calls the Director’s Edition, which I believe to be a proper restoration of the ABC TV version and it works well. It only serves to flesh out a few characters moments here and there but is best for restoring the scenes in which it is clear that the critically injured cadet which Scotty (James Doohan) carries onto the bridge, inexplicably, is actually his nephew.
This is an unreserved classic of the Sci-fi genre and certainly the best Star Trek film ever made. Though as a genre movie, it’s never going to gain the prestige that it may well deserve on the grander stage, though does it stand alone well? Yes, but it works best as a part of the greater Star Trek whole, therefore it’s between a rock and hard place in Hollywood. Both TV and Movie.