Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Director: Leonard Nimoy
Screenplay: Steve Meerson and Peter Krikes and Harve Bennett & Nicolas Meyer (story by Leonard Nimoy & Harve Bennett)
Stars: William Shatner (Capt. James T. Kirk), Leonard Nimoy (Capt. Spock), DeForest Kelley (Lt. Cmdr. Leonard H. “Bones” McCoy), James Doohan (Capt. Montgomery “Scotty” Scott), George Takei (Cmdr. Hikaru Sulu), Walter Koenig (Cmdr. Pavel Chekov), Nichelle Nichols (Cmdr. Uhura), Mark Lenard (Ambassador Sarek), Catherine Hicks (Dr. Gillian Taylor)
MPAA Rating: PG
Year of Release: 1986
Country: U.S.
Star Trek: Motion Picture Trilogy Blu-Ray
The Voyage HomeStar Trek IV: The Voyage Home established a completely new tone in the film franchise that began in 1979 with Robert Wise’s stately, cerebral Star Trek: The Motion Picture and was followed by 1982’s violently operatic Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and 1984’s solemn and somewhat dull Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. The Voyage Home made its mark with a light and comedic tone, and also by returning to Gene Roddenberry’s liberal-hearted conception of the original TV show, which was less about fighting individual villains than it was about enlightening us about homegrown social wrongs.

The Voyage Home picks up right where Part III left off. Having literally brought Spock (Leonard Nimoy) back to life and directly disobeying Federation orders in the process, the crew of the Starship Enterprise (which, as we remember, was destroyed at the end of the previous film) are on the planet Vulcan with a hijacked Klingon vessel. Meanwhile, a mysterious alien probe begins pounding the planet Earth with signals that no one can decipher and that are destroying the planet. Spock determines that the sounds the alien probe is making can only be answered by humpback whales, which have been extinct since the early 21st century.

So, the only way to save Earth is to go back in time to the latter part of the 20th century, beam aboard a couple of humpback whales, return to the 23rd century, and deposit them in Earth’s oceans where they will hopefully respond to the alien probe and cause it to stop destroying the planet with its attempts at communication. Having just written that brief synopsis, I realize just how patently ridiculous it looks on paper, so it may be one of the film’s primary triumphs that this labored set-up actually works on-screen.

Of course, all the business with the alien probe is just that: a set-up. It doesn’t really matter what it is or what it wants. It is, in Alfred Hitchcock’s terms, a “macguffin,” that plot device that sets the narrative in motion, but it is ultimately unimportant. The primary plot element here is sending the well-known Star Trek crew back in time to deal with, to use Capt. James T. Kirk’s (William Shatner) phrase, the “primitive and paranoid culture” of the United States circa 1986.

It is one of the film’s funniest and most understated jokes that, because they land in San Francisco, the Enterprise crew doesn’t really stand out, even in their 23rd-century Federation uniforms (Spock, on the other hand, is wearing what looks like a white terrycloth bathrobe and an aerobics headband to hide his Vulcan ears). Director Leonard Nimoy (who also helmed Part III) does a wonderful job of getting laughs out of this scenario without making the beloved and respected characters look foolish. He milks the fish-out-water jokes for all they’re worth (this includes a run-in on a bus with a punk-rocker who won’t turn down his boom box, an exchange of words with a foul-mouthed taxi driver, and Scotty’s silly attempt to use a computer mouse as a voice-activation device), but somewhat Kirk, Dr. Bones McCoy (DeForest Kelley), and the others maintain their dignity--if just barely. One of the funniest moments involves Chekhov (Walter Koenig) asking random people on the street where he can find the naval base at Alameda, the place where the military keeps their nuclear vessels (which, in his accent, sounds like “wessels”). The joke is not just in the absurdity of asking people on the street where to find nuclear warships, but the fact that Checkhov sounds decidedly Russian and 1986 was the height of the Cold War.

Unlike the previous films in the Star Trek series, The Voyage Home is a largely nonviolent affair. The main goal is not to destroy an enemy, but to save a pair of humpback whales and repopulate the species. To this end, Kirk and Spock become involved with a whale biologist, Dr. Gillian Taylor (Catherine Hicks), who is defined primarily by her love of two whales being held in captivity, amusingly referred to as George and Gracie. Kirk and Dr. Taylor have several good scenes together, including a brief dinner scene in which she jokingly says, “Let me guess, you’re from outer space,” to which he replies in his perfectly deadpan way, “No, I’m from Iowa. I just work in outer space.” Their generating a palpable sexual chemistry was a new element to the Star Trek film series, which up until this point had completely avoided any hint of romance.

Overall, The Voyage Home is one of the most purely enjoyable of the Star Trek films (which is probably why it’s the favorite among non-fans). It doesn’t have the over-the-top brilliance of Wrath of Khan, but it has a unique tone and appreciable sense of fun that never steps on any toes. Gene Roddenberry was probably proud that it returned to the TV series’ more didactic roots, giving us a clear thematic statement about the need to preserve life on Earth and not take anything for granted. That it does so without being overbearing or losing the film’s inherent sense of humor makes it that much better.

Star Trek: Motion Picture Trilogy 3-Disc Blu-Ray Set
This three-disc set includes Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.
Aspect Ratio2.35:1
  • English Dolby Digital 7.1 TrueHD surround
  • French Dolby Digital 2.0 surround
  • Spanish Dolby Digital 1.0 monaural
  • Subtitles English, French, Spanish, Portuguese
    SupplementsIncluded on the Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home disc:
  • Audio commentary by William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy
  • Audio commentary by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman
  • “Pavel Chekov’s Screen Moments” featurette (HD)
  • “The Three-Picture Saga” featurette (HD)
  • “Star Trek for a Cause” featurette (HD)
  • “Starfleet Academy: The Whale Probe” featurette (HD)
  • “Future’s Past: A Look Back” featurette
  • “On Location” featurette
  • “Dailies Deconstruction” featurette
  • “Below-the-Line: Sound Design” featurette
  • “Time Travel: The Art of the Possible” featurette
  • “The Language of Whales” featurette
  • “A Vulcan Primer” featurette
  • “Kirk’s Women” featurette
  • “From Outer Space to the Ocean” featurette
  • “The Bird of Prey” featurette
  • Original interviews with Leonard Nimoy, William Shatner and DeForestKelley
  • “Roddenberry Scrapbook” featurette
  • “Featured Artist: Mark Lenard” featurette
  • Production Gallery
  • Storyboards
  • Theatrical trailer (HD)
  • “Library Computer” interactive experience
  • BD Live: Star Trek I.Q.
  • Distributor Paramount Home Entertainment
    Release DateMay 12, 2009

    All three of the Star Trek films included in this box are presented in high-definition 1080p transfers (apparently Wrath of Khan is the only film in the set that has been completely remastered, as the other two had previous high-def transfers that were simply downgraded for DVD release). The Collector’s Edition DVDs, which were themselves upgrades from the initial single-disc DVD offerings, were by no means terrible, but seeing these films in true high definition is quite amazing. The Wrath of Khan looks the best (perhaps because it has been improved so substantially from the DVD), and if there is any complaint about The Search for Spock and The Voyage Home it is that they look like they’ve been digitally smoothed a bit, which removes some of the image density and results in a less film-like appearance. Colors on all three movies are excellent throughout, with strong blacks and great detail. All three films also boast upgraded Dolby Digital 7.1 TrueHD surround soundtracks, which immerse you in both the orchestral scores and the various space battles. Surround effects are consistently impressive, especially during the shoot-outs in Wrath of Khan and The Search for Spock.
    With one exception, all of the supplements that were included on the two-disc Collector’s Edition DVD set from 2003 are included here, along with half a dozen new supplements. So, we’ll start with what’s new:

    Library Computer
    Easily the coolest new feature on this Blu-Ray set, the “Library Computer” effectively replaces the text commentary by Michael and Denise Okuda, coauthors of The Star Trek Encyclopedia, with a more thorough, graphically intensive, and user-controlled interface. Essentially, this is an interactive experience that allows you to access information about the Star Trek universe while watching the film. The Blu-Ray creates a frame around the film with constantly shifting icons that represent different categories of information related to whatever is on screen at that moment: Culture, Science & Medicine, Starfleet Ops, Life Forms, Planets & Locations, People, Technology, Ships, and Miscellaneous. At any given point there can be six or seven of these icons available for clicking, and you also have access at all times to an Index that includes every term in the computer. A real geek fan’s delight.

    Audio commentary by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman
    This new screen-specific audio commentary by the scribes of the recently released Star Trek reboot is a self-proclaimed “fan commentary,” which makes it that much more enjoyable. Orci and Kurtzman certainly know their Trek, and they discuss and reminisce about The Voyage Home like two old friends … who just happen to be two of the most powerful screenwriters working in Hollywood today.

    “Pavel Chekov’s Screen Moments” featurette (HD)
    In this new 6-minute interview, Walter Koenig talks with infectious delight about his character’s greatly increased presence in The Voyage Home and also defends his exaggerated Russian accent.

    “The Three-Picture Saga” featurette (HD)
    This 10-minute featurette focuses on the “accidental trilogy” of Star Trek II, III, and IV. It features new interviews with writer/producer Harve Bennett, executive producer Ralph Winter, Wrath of Khan director Nicholas Meyer, Voyage Home screenwriters Steve Meerson and Peter Krikes, Star Trek novelists Garfield and Judith Reeves-Steven, and actor Walter Koenig, who offers a wonderfully ridiculous explanation for why Khan recognizes him in Star Trek II even though Chekov hadn’t yet been added to the Trek series when the original episode aired

    “Star Trek for a Cause” featurette (HD)
    Brief but informative, this six-minute featurette includes interviews with Greenpeace members Karen Sack and John Frizell, who discuss both the work that Greenpeace started in the 1980s to bring attention to depleting whale populations and the important role Star Trek IV played in popularizing their movement (Sack refers to it as one of Hollywood’s first environmentally conscious films).

    “Starfleet Academy: The Whale Probe” featurette (HD)
    A relatively worthless bit of filler that takes the form of a faux training film.

    And, of course, all of the original DVD supplements are also here:

    Commentary by William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy
    It’s something of a surprise that it took the fourth DVD in the series to get Star Trek’s two iconic actors to sit down and record a commentary together. For Trek fans, it was certainly worth the wait, though, as Shatner and Nimoy have a fun, easy-going banter that is entertaining and informative. Obviously old friends with many memories together, they have a good time reminiscing about the making of the film and working with their costars.

    The Star Trek Universe featurettes
    This section of the disc is comprised of four featurettes of varying lengths. First up is Time Travel: The Art of Possible (11 min.), which consists of interviews with Nick Herbert, Fred Alan Wolf, and Jack Sarfatti, three quantum physicists who discuss the theoretical possibilities of time travel in language that most anyone can understand. The only problem with this genuinely intriguing featurette is the use of goofy animation and silly music to illustrate the physicists’ various points. Next is The Language of Whales (5:30 min.), in which Ree Brennin, a marine biologist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium (where parts of Star Trek IV were shot) gives a brief primer on whale behavior and communication. After that is A Vulcan Primer (7:30 min.), in which Star Trek novelist Margaret Wander Bonanno (see—all Trekkies aren’t men) discusses Vulcan lifestyles and behavior. This featurette includes numerous clips from the original TV show. Finally, we have the humorously titled Kirk’s Women (8 min.), which brings together four actresses—Catherine Hicks, Katherine Browne, Louise Sorel, and Celeste Yarnell—who all played Captain Kirk’s love interest (Hicks appeared in The Voyage Home, while the other three women all appeared in episodes of the TV series). There are plenty more clips from the TV show, and virtually all of them agree that William Shatner is sexy—or at least funny.

    Production featurettes
    This section of the disc gives us four more featurettes, all organized around various aspects of the film’s production. It begins with a general retrospective production history in Future’s Past: A Look Back (27 min.), which features interviews with Nimoy, Shatner, cowriters Harve Bennett and Nicholas Meyer, executive producer Ralph Winter, actress Catherine Hicks, and associate producer Kirk Thatcher (who also played the punk on the bus). One of the funniest revelations in this featurette is that the studio suits tried to pressure Nimoy to add subtitles to the film so we would know what the alien probe was trying to say to the whales, which would have added a whole new level of absurdity to the film. On Location (7 min.) gives us more interviews with Nimoy, Winter, and Thatcher, along with location photos and footage of the film’s production on the streets of San Francisco. Dailies Deconstruction (4 min.) is a somewhat odd bit that gives us dailies footage of the scene where the Star Trek crew crosses a street in downtown San Francisco. Using split-screen, it shows us two different takes of the same camera angle simultaneously. So, by the end of it all, you’ve heard William Shatner say, “Well, a double-dumb-ass on you” about 20 times. Below-the-Line: Sound Design (11:30 min.) is an extended interview with sound effects editor Mark Mangini who discusses the film’s sound work (including how Leonard Nimoy himself made the sounds for the alien probe).

    Visual Effects featurettes
    There are only two featurettes included here. The first, From Outer Space to the Ocean (14 min.), is the much more substantial of the two. It features interviews with various special effects technicians and supervisors who discuss how most of the film’s major effects sequences were done, from the robotic miniature whales (I really thought some of that was made up of stock footage of real whales), to the creation of the probe. It also features a bit of FX text footage, including the creation of the computer-animated time travel sequence. The second featurette, The Bird of Prey (2:40 min), is pretty much useless, as it only features an interview with Nimoy about the Klingon ship that had already been designed for Part III.

    The first featurette here, Rodenberry Scrapbook (8 min.), is an interview with son Eugene Roddenberry, who discusses his relationship with his father. The second featurette, Featured Artist: Mark Leonard (12:30 min.), is an interview with Leonard’s wife Ann and two daughters, Robert and Catherine, who have nothing but great things to say about the man who played Sarek.

    The Production Gallery is actually a four-minute featurette that edits together behind-the-scenes photos to the film’s score. Most of it goes by too fast to really appreciate, and one wonders why they didn’t set this up as a slideshow gallery. That is how the Storyboards section is arranged, with complete storyboards for eight major sequences at the viewer’s control.

    Original Interviews
    There are three 1986 interviews included here with the Star Trek wonder triplets, William Shatner (14:30 min.), Leonard Nimoy (16 min.), and DeForest Kelly (13 min.). All three interviews were shot on-set (or, in Nimoy’s case, in the editing room) as part of the film’s marketing. Shatner’s is by far the most entertaining as he doesn’t seem to want to be there and therefore proves to be a difficult subject to interview.

    Theatrical Trailer

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    Overall Rating: (3)

    James Kendrick

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