|Star Trek IV - The Voyage Home (Collector's Edition)|
|Written by Bill Warren|
|Tuesday, 04 March 2003|
The best "Star Trek" movie, "The Voyage Home" is also the most atypical. There are no onscreen villains, and really none offscreen either; there are no space battles, no dazzling displays of special effects, and everyone in the cast from the series has something worthwhile to do. It's also the only "Trek" that is largely a (deliberate) comedy; it carries a worthwhile environmental message, and is thoroughly entertaining from start to finish. It's a "Trek" for people who don't like "Trek," and also one for those who do.
There's no way the very special, even unique, feeling of this film could have been carried on in the subsequent entries in the movie series; this is a truly stand-alone work in the middle of one of the richest TV-movie franchises ever created. It's an authentic "Star Trek" movie -- and it is more besides.
Of the "Trek" actors, Leonard Nimoy was the hardest to win back for "Star Trek III;" Paramount had to allow him to also direct the film. That worked out well, so for "IV," not only did he direct but co-wrote the story with producer Harve Bennett. The script was by (in the SAG-dictated notation) Steve Meerson & Peter Krikes and Harve Bennett & Nicholas Meyer, who was considered to be responsible for the resurrection of the "Star Trek" franchise with his work on "Star Trek II."
Nimoy's direction is very fresh and smooth here; it's not exactly lively, but lively is not what the movie requires. It does need warmth, even heart, and the script, actors and director gracefully provide both in full, but not overdone, measure.
As the story open, all the loose ends of "Star Trek III" -- the Enterprise has been destroyed, the crew is far from home, and Spock is only recently revived from the dead (and more Vulcan than ever) -- gathers them into a bundle, and sets out in search of adventure. Well, actually, they're using a Klingon "Bird of Prey" starship to get back to Earth, where legal problems await, but they find adventure anyway.
As they near Earth, the Trek crew learns that a gigantic, patterned black tube -- it looks like a colossal lipstick -- has arrived at Earth, ignoring all attempts at contact, and is transmitting strange sounds toward the planet. Toward the planet's seas, in fact; evidently not getting the response it's looking for, the probe begins to suck up all of Earth's oceans, which creates stormy havoc, as well it might.
But the trusty Trek crew knows what to do. After some fiddling around by Kirk (William Shatner), they realize the probe's sounds are similar to those made by humpback whales -- a species long extinct on Earth. (Wisely, the movie refrains from suggesting that all whale species have been wiped out.) The probe is clearly trying to contact humpbacks, and will lay waste to the entire planet if they don't get a response.
Only one thing to do: go back in time (conveniently to 1986) and catch a couple of humpbacks, then bringing them back to Trek's present, and let them tell the probe to lay the heck off. Simple, yes, but obviously not without certain possible drawbacks.
The ship does emerge safely in the 20th century; fortunately, the Klingon cloaking device is still working, so the invisible ship lands stealthily in Golden Gate Park. Kirk and Spock set out to search for the whales, while the rest of the crew is assigned their own tasks. Cranky Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley) and avuncular Scotty (James Doohan) are to find something to build chambers for the whales aboard the Bird of Prey, while Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) and Chekov (Walter Koenig) need to locate some nuclear power they can steal to fix the dilithium crystals, or something like this. Yes, this is the entry in which Chekov stops bystanders to ask about "nuclear wessels."
Not without some misgivings and occasional errors, Kirk and Spock track the whales to a seaquarium in Sausalito (played by the Monterey Bay Aquarium with some effects help by ILM). They encounter cetacean biologist Gillian Taylor (Catherine Hicks), who is responsible for the facilities' two hand-reared by now adult whales, George and Gracie. Kirk finally admits to Gillian that while yes, he was born in Iowa, but he works in outer space.
Eventually, there are some problems with a Russian whaling trawler, and there's the return to the time from which they came, but the film never feels tricked up with unnecessary material to create suspense. It's smoothly organic, and extremely well structured.
In the commentary track he shares with Shatner, Nimoy explains the genesis of the story. They did want to do a time travel story, and realized that a key could be something, maybe a plant, extinct in Trek time but which still existed on Earth back in the 20th century. Although Nimoy doesn't go into details, the "Songs of the Humpback Whale" album had been a hit the world over, and was helping to slowly shift the way that humankind regarded whales. A few countries had issued bans on whale hunting, but others were still unnecessarily slaughtering cetaceans. Choosing humpback whales as their Holy Grail was timely, even trendy enough to make cynics sneer at the film as the Star Trek "Save the Whales Movie." But evidence suggests that this movie DID help the save-the-whales movement; its heart is unquestionably in the right place.
The movie is the first extended attempt at bringing the Trek crew into our time (well, 18 years ago now), and the script plays on this very wisely, but not to the point of being tiresome. Spock is the only problem, so he wears a headband to hide his pointy ears. Nothing much can be done with his ongoing puzzlement over human ways, nor can Scotty be initially prevented from assuming the way to start a computer is to address it: "Computer...?"
"Star Trek IV" was warmly received by audiences and even by many critics when it was first released, and remains popular to this day. Paramount has begun issuing all the Trek movies in "widescreen collection" DVD sets, each of which includes the best-possible transfer of the movie, commentary tracks, and a whole raft of extras. There's a worthwhile look back at the future (and "present") in discussing how the film was made, a discussion of shooting on location in San Francisco, a "dailies deconstruction," and a piece about the careful but extravagant sound design for the film, fully captured on this top-of-the-line DVD. There are yet more featurettes and features: a short piece on "Kirk's Women," a primer for those who are learning Vulcan -- or whale-speak, an illustrated discussion of time travel, two pieces on special effects, tributes to Gene Roddenberry and Mark Lenard, storyboards, a "production gallery," and separate interview with Shatner, Nimoy and Kelley. Plus the trailer. Unusually for DVDs in general, but standard in this Trek series, there's also a text commentary option, written by Michael and Denise Okuda, who wrote The Star Trek Encyclopedia.
This is a jam-packed DVD, everything and more that you could want to know about "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home," and yet even more. Plus it features a near-perfect transfer of the film. What more could even a semi-Trekkie want?