Our reviews of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (published March 10th, 2000), Star Trek: The Original Motion Picture Collection (published October 19th, 2009), and Star Trek: The Original Motion Picture Collection (Blu-Ray) (published May 18th, 2009) are also available.
To boldly go where no humpback whale has gone before…
There are seemingly two constants in the world of cinema: James Bond will return, and the Star Trek movie franchise will never run out of gas. Actually, that second constant may be a bit untrue, since the latest entry, Star Trek: Nemesis, grossed well below its expected earnings. Could it be that this is the end for our world weary space explorers? Ah, but that's a topic for another review. This time around, I'm revisiting Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home in a new Collector's Edition two-disc set, now available from Paramount Home Entertainment.
Facts of the Case
It's the 23rd century and the events of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock have taken their toll on Admiral James T. Kirk (the incomparable William Shatner) and the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise. After getting a Klingon vessel (commandeered from the previous film) up and running from Spock's home planet of Vulcan, Kirk, a newly restored but still psychologically shaky Spock (Leonard Nimoy), Dr. McCoy (the late DeForest Kelly), Scotty (James Doohan), Sulu (George Takei), Chekov (Walter Koenig), and Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) head for Earth to face the Federation Council on multiple charges, including disobeying direct orders from their superiors. As they near Earth they find a giant rock-like probe sucking the oceans dry and creating mass destruction on our planet. Through a series of silly events, Spock learns that the probe is apparently trying to make contact with humpback whales, and without them our earth is up crap creek without a paddle. Unfortunately, these particular whales are long since extinct in the 23rd century, leaving our heroes with only one option…time travel (lesson #487: when in doubt, just hop into the past to fix the problems of tomorrow). Their mission: collect two humpback whales from a San Francisco aquarium and get back to the future! Of course, this is easier said than done—Kirk and his crew must first get used to the customs of us wacky 1986'ers, win the trust of a marine biologist (Catherine Hicks, TV's 7th Heaven) working with said whales, and build a tank on the ship that will house the mammoth creatures. It's a race against time to get the magnificent whales into the future to save the lives of everyone on Earth!
I wouldn't consider myself a "Trekkie." I've never dressed up as a Klingon. [Editor's Note: His ex-girlfriend tells stories to the contrary…] I've never insisted that everyone call me "Admiral." [Editor's Note: Ditto.] I've never anticipated naming my future son Jean-Luc. [Editor's Note: I did say this was an ex-girlfriend, right?] That being said, I do, on occasion, enjoy watching the Star Trek movies. So far, my favorite film is tie between the original cast send-off Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country and the Next Generation's creepy and fun Star Trek: First Contact. If there is any one Star Trek movie I remember vividly from my childhood, it's easily Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.
In a way, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home is a sort of oddity in the Star Trek universe. The bulk of the film doesn't take place in space, instead attempting to grasp laughs through a "fish out of water" storyline. Does it work? Sometimes. There are some very funny moments featuring Spock and Kirk attempting to ride a city bus, and Spock's inability to get a handle on swearing is pretty funny (over and over again, he uses the term "the hell," like "The hell I would like some pancakes"). Another funny scene involves Scotty attempting to use a 1986 Apple computer, first attempting to talk to it then making a second try at speaking into the mouse. All of these small touches add up to the warmest and maybe most endearing entry in the series.
The storyline is hokey even for a Star Trek movie: said cast must retrieve gigantic whales to save our planet. Ummm…right. And this pitch meeting actually went well? Apparently so, since Leonard Nimoy got a second directing gig out of it (Nimoy also helmed the previous film). Even though the whole idea is ludicrous, there's a certain charm in watching Kirk and his crew—they are, in effect, like family members to fans. William Shatner does his usual William Shatner-isms, which include conversing in jaded tones and wearing his hairpiece with ease. Nimoy has a lot of fun with his Spock character roaming around the 20th century, while "Bones" spews forth a barrage of funny one-liners (Kelly was always the best thing about this series). Like "The Next Generation," the rest of the cast is often relegated to a few small scenes or standing in the background, but hey, they do it memorably.
Since this is 1986 we're talking about, the special effects aren't quite as convincing as the later entries. Some outer space visuals (including the Klingon ship on a remote planet) are obvious matte paintings, while other effects are just downright laughable—there is a scene where the whales are floating in the ship's dark cargo bay and you can still see sunlight on their backs! Flub-a-riffic! Thankfully, these often cheesy effects don't sink the fun of the film.
I'm not exactly sure what the fans think of this entry, though by its over $100 million take it seems as though a few of them really liked it. And for good reason—Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home is a thoroughly fun movie. Now, a suggestion: wouldn't it have been even better and more thrilling had the humpback whales been replaced by the killer sharks from Deep Blue Sea? "Admiral, I'm picking up something on the radar. It appears to be a life form bearing protruding teeth and…AAAAAARRGGH!"
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home: Collector's Edition is presented in a very attractive 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. This is pretty much the same transfer as the previous DVD edition. The colors and black levels are all very solid without any major imperfections marring the image. A few scenes appear a little too dark, and there is a lack of sharpness and a small amount of grain in the image. Otherwise, Paramount has done a good of making this transfer clean and crisp.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in English. This is a decent mix that features multiple surround sounds and directional effects throughout the length of the film. Diving Klingon vessels, echoing whale calls, and cheesy punk rock are all featured in this audio track. Though this isn't the most overly aggressive soundtrack, overall the audio mix is free and clear of any excessive hiss or distortion. Also included on this disc are English subtitles, a Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround track in English, and a Dolby Stereo track in French.
Quite a while ago, Paramount released all of the Star Trek films on DVD in bare bones editions. In other words, you didn't get "Tribbley" squat (har-har-har). Since then, Paramount has gone back and created two-disc special editions of the first four films. Most of these extra features are presented in anamorphic widescreen, so kudos to Paramount for picking up the slack! Packed with lots of info, here's a rundown of what's been included on this set, starting with disc one:
Commentary Track by Director/Actor Leonard Nimoy and Actor William Shatner: Finally, Spock and Kirk speak! And on DVD! Fans will no doubt be excited by this commentary track featuring the two most popular characters of the series discussing their relationship, the films and what it was like working with and eventually slaughtering and cooking Shamu (just kidding). I enjoyed listening to this track almost as much as watching the movie—for those looking to learn about all things Star Trek, this is a good place to start.
Text Commentary Track by Michael and Denise Okuda: For those that want to watch the movie AND learn more about Star Trek and the sea, this is a great text based track. Written by authors Michael and Denise Okuda, this track is packed to the brim with facts about the characters, the story, and even stuff about the whales! Lots of fun for those with extra time on their hands.
Moving on to disc two:
The Star Trek Universe: Under this section you'll find four featurettes: "Kirk's Women," "Time Travel: The Art of the Possible," "A Vulcan Primer," and "The Language of Whales." Most of these titles are a good indication of what each featurette is about. "Kirk's Women" includes interviews with Catherine Hicks and other ladies who have shared Kirk's lips, and "Time Travel: The Art of the Possible" explores what some scientists think is the very real possibility of traveling back into the past or forward to the future. "The Vulcan Primer" includes interviews with author Margaret Bonanno and deals with—surprise!—Spock, his life, and his fictional Vulcan heritage. This short piece includes snippets from the original series as well as clips from the film. Finally there's "The Languages of Whales," a short glimpse at how those wacky whales talk and what significance they have in the Star Trek universe.
Production: Included under this section are four featurettes: "Future's Past: A Look Back," "On Location," "Dailies Deconstruction," and "Below the Line: Sound Design." "Future's Past" is a great look back at this fourth film in the series and how it eventually got to the big screen. This feature includes interviews with Leonard Nimoy, William Shatner, writer/producer Harve Bennett, writer Nicholas Meyer (who also directed previous and future installments), and others. Many stories about the production and inception are shared, my personal favorite being about where Bennett's writing in the script ends and Meyers' begins. "On Location" features Ralph Winter and Kirk Thatcher talking about their roles in bringing the film to the screen, and discussing funny aspects about the shoot included a great scene where Chekov is asking people on the street where the nuclear "wessels" are. "Below the Line: Sound Design" is your basic look at how many of the sound effects were achieved for various scenes, featuring interviews with sound master Nick Mangini. Finally there is a weird "Dailies Deconstruction" that features two separate screens with the same thing happening from different angles. No narrative or explanation is given…
Visual Effects: Two features are included in this section. "From Outer Space to the Ocean" is a 1986 promotional featurette that takes a look at the behind-the-scenes workings of how the effects crew produced some of the effects, including the whales and the storm around the Golden Gate Bridge. "The Bird of Prey" is a general overview of the Klingon ship used in this fourth film, including an interview with director/star Leonard Nimoy.
Original Interviews: Three original interviews are included on this disc: Leonard Nimoy, William Shatner, and DeForest Kelly. These are very entertaining—if superficial—discussions with each participant talking about their characters, the films, and particularly Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. All of these are in a rough form and are very informal—it even takes a few moments for Kelly's interview to start due to the interviewer not being ready.
Tributes: Two tributes are included here: one for Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry (featuring his son Eugene speaking about his father) and a second for featured artist Mark Lenard with interviews with his wife Ann and his two daughter Roberta and Catherine. Both of these are warm, fine tributes to two folks who've had an amazing influence on this legendary universe.
Archives: The "Production Gallery" is s short look at the folks who made this movie (filmed on what appears to be video back in 1986). Also included are well over 150 hand-drawn storyboards from the film.
Theatrical Trailer: A fine, nostalgic theatrical trailer for the film presented in anamorphic widescreen.
It's not the best movie in the series, but Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home: Collector's Edition does entertain with its ecologically sound message and the crew of the Enterprise touring our time. Fans will no doubt be excited about this supplementally packed two-disc Collector's Edition.
This new two-disc set of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home is absolutely free to go! I had a "whale" of a good time!
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary Track by Director/Actor Leonard Nimoy and Actor William Shatner
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