Star Trek II is back on the big screen where it belongs

American actors DeForest Kelley, Leonard Nimoy and Canadian William Shatner on the set of Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, directed by Nicholas Meyer. (Photo by Paramount Pictures/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)
American actors DeForest Kelley, Leonard Nimoy and Canadian William Shatner on the set of Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, directed by Nicholas Meyer. (Photo by Paramount Pictures/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images) /

Star Trek II returns to movie theaters for its 40th anniversary.

Fathom Events is bringing a Star Trek movie back to big cinema screens for the second time in one year. After screening the gloriously restored Director’s Edition of Star Trek: The Motion Picture in May, Fathom is now marking the 40th anniversary of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan with showings of that film’s Director’s Cut.

Hard as it is to believe, director Nicholas Meyer’s cut of what remains one of the most commercially and critically successful Star Trek movies is already 20 years old itself. First released in 2002 and remastered in 2016, the Star Trek II Director’s Cut isn’t a thoroughgoing revision of the movie’s original theatrical version. It runs only about three minutes longer, and—if the reactions of friends I saw it with this weekend are any indicator—its departures from the theatrical cut are all but unnoticeable to casual viewers.

But—perhaps like you who are reading this blog—I am not a casual viewer of this film. I watched it first on cable in late 1982, a few years before I even became a Star Trek fan. I’ve been watching it off and on ever since. I even tried (in vain) to make the guests at my 40th birthday party sit down and watch the film with me.

But, until Sunday night, I’d never seen Star Trek II on the big screen. It’s still the same movie I’ve known and loved for so long. Khan’s still Star Trek’s scene-stealing-est villain ever. Saavik is still the most exciting new character who didn’t get to stick around with the original crew. Spock still dies. But even though the content held no surprises, the experience was rewarding and left me loving Star Trek II even more.

The big screen shows off Star Trek II as a masterfully made movie

If you are attending a Fathom Events screening of Star Trek II this Labor Day weekend or on Thursday, September 8—Star Trek’s 56th birthday—don’t go expecting to learn anything new about the film from the “insights” Fathom and Turner Classic Movies have been advertising.

Nothing personal against TCM host Ben Mankiewicz—grandson of Citizen Kane co-author Herman J. Mankiewicz, nephew of TOS episode “Court-Martial” co-author Don Mankiewicz—who introduces and provides an epilogue for this screening. I suspect he’s only delivering the script given him, and he deliversit well.

But his “intro” and “outro” are only as long as the ones he routinely gives on TCM—only a few minutes each. Neither segment includes any information most Star Trek fans don’t already know. (Gene Roddenberry leaked information about Spock’s death? Shocking!) And Mankiewicz’s comments misrepresent Star Trek: The Motion Picture as a “failure.” Whatever you think its merits are or aren’t, TMP’s worldwide box office is four times its production budget. We should all have such failures.

But Ben Mankiewicz isn’t the main attraction. Star Trek II looks fantastic on the big screen. The two epic submarine-style fights between the Enterprise and the Reliant are where you can most fully appreciate the movie’s size and scope. But the big screen also pays off in letting you see more details in the sets and costumes, in the actors’ choices (I don’t think, in all my viewings, I’d ever noticed Nichelle Nichols smiling at Walter Koenig as Chekov returns to duty in the last act), and in the special effects. The film’s many pyrotechnics, for instance, are brighter than I’ve ever seen them during any viewing at home.

Hearing Star Trek II in a movie theater also brought out subtleties in the sound mix I’d never heard before. For example, I would have sworn Spock’s casket was lowered into the photon tube chute in complete silence, but this time I could hear the mechanical arm “hum” as it lowered the tube and retracted. Most impressive was hearing all the antique clocks in Admiral Kirk’s apartment ticking in the film’s first act—an aural representation of the movie’s thematic interest in the passing of time and in making the most of it as it does.

Star Trek II is not the most ambitious of the Star Trek movies; that honor clearly belongs to The Motion Picture. And it may not be truest to the “essence” of Star Trek, as its detractors, not without merit, frequently claim—Star Trek Beyond actually most feels like a TOS episode writ large to me.

But Star Trek II is and always shall be my favorite Star Trek movie. It’s a solid, tightly crafted, expertly paced, and thoroughly entertaining movie. And if, this week or any other, you have the chance to see it on a movie screen, where it belongs—do so!

Next. Star Trek The Motion Picture Director’s Edition is an immersive delight. dark