Messing with a Masterpiece: Updating ‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan’

The 1982 theatrical cut (above) and Nick Acosta’s edit (below).

Nick Acosta The 1982 theatrical cut (above) and Nick Acosta’s edit (below).

George Lucas, the creator of “Star Wars,” always wanted to do a little better with his classic films. Throughout the late 1990s, he re-released his classic films — starting in 1997 with “A New Hope,” which older fans refer to as just plain old “Star Wars.” These Special Edition films raked in hundreds of millions of new dollars for Lucasfilm.

As the creator and owner of this great franchise, Lucas could do what he wanted. In 1999, he said that he used the Special Edition releases as an experiment.

“I wanted to see how much they would cost and what the processes would be, because to do the new films, I had to take those and times them by a hundred,” Lucas told Cinefex magazine in an interview. “So yes, the Special Editions were a means of researching and testing what I was going to try to do on [The Phantom Menace].”

Because of his unique position as creator and owner, Lucas could do pretty much what he wanted, so long as he could pay for it. This has been the subject for many who think about why films are successful, and some even call it “The Lucas Effect.”

He could go back into those films to fix or update scenes with modern technology, which was not available back in 1977. Lucas added the deleted scene with Han Solo and Jabba the Hutt without problem and gave the fans something new. 20th Century Fox was more than happy to ride the wave of popularity of the Wars franchise.

Gene Was Not Like George

In contrast, Gene Roddenberry never had this sort of control or ability to do as he pleased with his creation, “Star Trek.” Even from the start, Roddenberry struggled with NBC, Desilu, Paramount, and others for creative control. He even disassociated himself with Season 3 of “The Original Series” after so much turmoil.

Roddenberry lost creative control of his franchise after “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” did not make “Star Wars” money, when Paramount turned to Harve Bennett to see what he could do. Many consider Bennett as the “man who saved Star Trek” due to his involvement with the films.

Even when the original Trek reboot came up in 1986, Roddenberry was not involved initially. According to Screen Rant, he “demanded to be a part of it,” and Paramount allowed him to return.

So, unlike Lucas, Roddenberry never had the chance to rethink anything or consider what he might want to update or change. If given the opportunity, perhaps Roddenberry would have gone back into the TOS archives and made alternate edits of shows or added new effects like Lucas did with his creations. But fans will never know what Roddenberry would have done, as he passed away just as “Deep Space Nine” was in development. 

Paramount has taken steps to upgrade the effects, sound, and overall quality for both TOS and TNG, which are now available in HD. But they have not given the same care to the Trek films. This might be underway now — see the Heavy article on how a 4K release of the first ten Trek films may be happening soon. But changing or updating the effects and visuals for these films is unlikely. 

Updating ‘Star Trek II’

So it is up to fans to step in and make updates. Meet Nick Acosta, an art director for a tech firm in the Silicon Valley area. Acosta has been active in the Trek fan community for some time, and he’s released several interesting projects. These include creating TOS images in the movie-style “Cinerama Widescreen” format, a mashup of TOS and the Kelvin crews, and even his “DIY Tricorder” project. 

Now Acosta has raised the bar on his involvement in Trek lore, as he’s edited an iconic scene from “The Wrath of Khan” to include scenes that had not yet been created. Acosta seamlessly added the Spacedock from “The Search for Spock” into the previous film.

“‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan’ is an amazing film,” says Acosta. “Not only is it still (by far) the best ‘Star Trek’ film, it was the most efficient. After the huge cost overruns of the first motion picture, it had to be made on almost a TV movie-of-the-week budget.” 

Recycled Footage

Acosta said that effects shots of the Enterprise were reused from “The Motion Picture.” He points out that the sequence where Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and crew board the Enterprise from their travel pod. That scene, with the recycled footage, shows the ship in the same drydock that fans saw in the first film. Acosta decided that wouldn’t do.

“The glorious Spacedock Model wouldn’t be built by [Industrial Light and Magic] until the next film, ‘Star Trek III: The Search for Spock,’” said Acosta. “To that end, I decided to recomposite the Enterprise into Earth’s Spacedock using rotoscoping and new matte paintings I created for this sequence.”

Through Acosta’s edits and new effects, fans can finally see the Enterprise as it really should have been — in Spacedock with its trainee crew, not in the crab-like drydock, emerging from refit.

“While I’m not one to mess with a masterpiece like this film, I will say the one area it may improve the film is the character Saavik (Kirstie Alley),” said Acosta. “When Spock lets her command the ship out of Spacedock it is played for tension. Kirk seems very uneasy at her piloting the ship.”

“In the original cut, all the ship has to do is thrust straight forward,” said Acosta. “Now, in this new version, there’s a bit more jeopardy [on whether] she can successfully navigate out of the huge hanger bay they are docked in.”

Acosta said that he’s received numerous positive feedback and comments on YouTube and Twitter from Trek fans on his work.

“It’s really gratifying to work on something and have it watched a bunch of times and have a 95% thumbs up ratio,” said Acosta. “Aside from all the positive comments people have made, it’s also the great nitpicking in-universe critics fans have made.” 

Acosta said that fans have charged him with moving the Enterprise too quickly out of Spacedock, and they’ve asked why the U.S.S. Excelsior appears in his version. 

“My logic is the ship was nearing completion,” said Acosta. “For in-universe time, only a few months separated ‘Wrath of Khan’ from ‘Search for Spock.’ And plus, I needed that shot!”

Acosta said he’s busy on a project that will take him back to 1989’s “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.” 

“[That] will be a multi-part project, and I’m starting with the infamous Turboshaft scene,” said Acosta.

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