STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME - Collector's Edition (1986)
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Street date: March 4, 2003
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Written by Steve Krutzler
Common wisdom tells us that of the ten STAR TREK motion pictures, the best are 2, 4, and 6; 2 is the best, 5 is the worst; 10 is the least successful. That same wisdom also tells us that while STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME is the most successful (earning $110 million in its domestic release, $20 million more than its closest competitor, 1996’s FIRST CONTACT), it’s also “the funny one,” “the one with the whales,” the one that hardcore fans often deride for its saccharine liberalism and irreverent humor. It’s not a “serious” STAR TREK movie. Re-examining Leonard Nimoy’s second directorial outing in Paramount’s new Collector’s Edition DVD, available March 4th, proves the common wisdom wrong.
The original STAR TREK was often about lofty ideals but after the overambitious MOTION PICTURE, both TREKs II and III quickly turned to the space opera mold, pitting hero against villain in what the common wisdom holds as the most predictable and certain way to make a movie worth telling and appealing to the broadest audience possible. STAR TREK IV shattered this notion entirely, without a villain and without, as Nimoy notes in the DVD extras, a single injury caused by hostility in the entire picture. It was comedy and humanism that brought the mainstream to STAR TREK, not classical good versus evil, and TVH remains the single most popular and widely enjoyed of all ten STAR TREK features. Gene Roddenberry, no doubt, was pleased.
Ironically, it was Nick Meyer, the man who brought a strong sense of classical drama to STAR TREK II (and later, STAR TREK VI), who crafted at least half of this humorous opus. Writing the middle two acts while producer Harve Bennett handled the rest, the 1986 sequences are replete with Meyer’s wit and if you watch the extras he’ll even point out the moment when his portion takes over. Thanks in large part to Meyer, ST IV has a type of intelligent humor that never cheapens the film’s dramatic underpinnings. With the future in danger, the whales to save, and even Spock to re-humanize, STAR TREK IV has plenty to say and accomplishes it all wonderfully without ever taking itself too seriously. Perhaps this is the reason that the film’s varied meanings are so powerful and satisfying, without having been thrust into the audience’s face with Shakespearean monologues and phaser fights.
If THE MOTION PICTURE is the film most reminiscent of hard science fiction, and STAR TREK II the most exciting space opera, then STAR TREK IV holds a unique place as probably the best embodiment of what STAR TREK really is. Amazingly, TVH never served as the mold from which to built future TREK movies, all of which returned to the KHAN formula, for better or worse. With mainstream audiences rejecting this formula in STAR TREK NEMESIS, perhaps the guide for how to rebuild the TREK movie franchise lies in STAR TREK IV: a movie with fun, adventure, drama, a bit of philosophy, and above all else, a giant heart. STAR TREK can do no better.
Disc One - The Menus and Feature
Put simply, this is the finest STAR TREK DVD release since 2001’s THE MOTION PICTURE – Director’s Edition. While KHAN had the novelty of some new footage, its director’s edition treatment rode more on the popularity of the film itself than the outright quality of the package. THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK deteriorated even more last October, with nauseatingly claustrophobic DVD extras and little dynamism—who can forget the delightful hotel conference room in which Marc Okrand explained the Klingon language with a whiteboard and marker? So from this standpoint, Paramount had nowhere to go but up. Appropriately, they got it mostly right with the one TREK film likely to have the broadest customer base.
We start with the original cut of the film in widescreen format on disc one. The first thing you notice is a superb computer rendering of the Golden Gate Bridge that zooms up to the Starfleet command center seen in the film. The computer graphics work is top notch and the menu teems with ambient noise reminiscent of those sequences in the movie. The disc two menus stay near the bridge and present the Klingon Bird of Prey floating in the water with ambient ocean sounds. Again, a very impressive display and one that exudes the kind of effort and expense you expect from a “special collector’s edition” product.
The feature looks better than I’ve ever seen it. I never saw the bare bone DVD version so fans who’ve already glimpsed the film on DVD may not be as impressed, but there is nary an artifact anywhere. Granted, the film is newer and had a larger budget than its predecessors so undoubtedly the source material for this transfer is one reason for the clarity and sharpness of the image. In fact, I don’t recall noticing but one or two celluloid artifacts in the entire film, a nice improvement on TREKS II and III. The movie is accompanied by two digital surround tracks and French stereo but those familiar with these reviews will know I don’t have a big budget sound system, so can offer little comment on this aspect of the release. If it sounds good, it probably is good, and I imagine most fans will feel likewise. But if you don’t agree, you can always turn on the English subtitles.
STAR TREK IV remedies one of the largest pitfalls in the previous releases, mainly lack of communal audio commentary tracks. While getting various personalities together for joint recording can be difficult, it is most certainly a bonus with this newest release. Director Nimoy is joined this time by Mr. Captain Kirk himself, William Shatner. The last film presented an audio commentary track constructed from separate recordings of Nimoy, Harve Bennett and some other characters, including Robin Curtis (‘Saavik’). One of the major problems with that presentation was that Nimoy and Bennett were recorded separately and entire segments of the film would progress without remarks from the other; it was difficult to determine who had precedence and in the end it would’ve been better to have given Nimoy top billing and left the others to the featurettes. On TVH disc, Nimoy carries on throughout the entire picture with “friend” Shatner chiming in semi-regularly to jab at Leonard or offer some philosophizing of his own.
The key benefit here is that the two project a bit of camaraderie, making the track much more interesting. You’ll also notice a far more serious Shatner, a welcome respite from his hammy remarks in the previous packages and which are kept to a minimum this time in the production featurette. Although a pleasant change, the iconic actor goes into some detailed description of his acting method during the Italian restaurant scene and I’ll be damned if I had any idea what he was talking about. Maybe I just don’t get actor-speak. More interesting are his recollections of improvisation, egocentric musings on seeing himself on screen, and jokes with Nimoy, who for his part, does a wonderful job relaying stories of the film’s production and pointing out particular scenes with interesting tales behind them.
Although this picture doesn’t include any unseen footage, Nimoy talks about things like Sulu running into his great grandfather as a child that never made it into the picture. He also reveals that originally the story had involved bringing not whales, but an extinct plant, back from the past to cure a devastating disease ravaging the Federation. Other tidbits include the reasoning behind Saavik’s brief moment at the beginning of the film, Nimoy’s thoughts behind the time travel “dream sequence,” and the revelation that the studio (in its profound wisdom) had initially demanded that the whale song be subtitled in English! You may also discover things that after watching the film for fifteen years, you may never have noticed, like the fact that the Probe and the whales both turn vertical while in communication at the film’s climax—one thematic point that I’ve never consciously recognized until now. After all, the true mark of a good film is its ability to reveal new layers of meaning to the viewer over time. The two STAR TREK stalwarts end their track lamenting the studio’s desire not to make any more films with their cast.
Mike and Denise Okuda again provide their text commentary full of trivial facts about production, notes on STAR TREK continuity, and tongue-in-cheek humor at the film’s expense. Turn it on and watch the film; that’s probably the best way to enjoy this commentary for fans that’ve seen the movie a million times. Trying to juggle both commentaries and the film probably won’t be as satisfying (hey, you try reviewing a two-disc set in one weekend!). You may also notice a couple inconsistencies between this commentary and Nimoy’s recollection of events, such as whether the restaurant sequence was filmed on location or on a set.
Disc Two – The Extras
Loaded with more special features than any of the three previous TREK special edition DVD sets, STAR TREK IV boasts sixteen separate segments, plus a photo gallery and the theatrical trailer. The newly-produced documentary-style programs are much better than on the last two sets but have their ups and downs just as well. The first group of four featurettes is bundled under The Star Trek Universe and is probably the least interesting of the set. These pertain indirectly to the film. Production Featurettes houses four programs, mostly superior to the STU and pertaining directly to the production of STAR TREK IV. Visual Effects holds two segments, easily the most polished on the entire set. Tributes holds two solid shows, and Original Interviews contains three meaty segments that needed some dressing but nonetheless satisfy.
The Star Trek Universe Featurettes
Starting off the STU is Time Travel: Art of the Possible, which has three astrophysicists--Nick Herbert, Fred Alan Wolf, and Jack Sarfatti--talking about the science behind time travel. With humorous cartoon graphics in between the interviews, this 11 minute segment focuses mainly on the theory of relativity and how the fact that time slows down for objects traveling near the speed of light could be looked upon as a time travel of sorts, considering the outside world would have aged rapidly during one’s journey. Nice lighting, production and keeping this short and sweet make it interesting and informative even if not mind-blowing. Similarly average is The Language of Whales with Monterey Bay Aquarium marine biologist Ree Brennin talking about whale research at the Kelp Forest exhibit used for the whale viewing tank in the movie. At 6 minutes we get the basics on whale song research in a standard if not exemplary package. Next is Vulcan Primer, the least memorable of the group. TREK author of STRANGERS FROM THE SKY Margaret Wander Bonanno has 8 minutes to talk about the basics of Vulcan culture with clips from the movies and television series to illustrate her points. Since this is one TREK DVD that non-Trek fans are likely to purchase, it’s hard to argue with the inclusion of this segment, but for people who already know the basis of Vulcan characterization, the make-up test footage of Nimoy and different aliens from ST4 will have to keep you interested. Finally, Kirk’s Women is the gem of the bunch, with new interviews of Catherine Hicks (‘Gillian Taylor’), Katherine Brown (‘Deela’, “Wink of an Eye”), Louise Sorel (‘Reena’, “Requiem for Methusela”) and Celeste Yarnell (‘Yeoman Martha Landon’, “The Apple”). Littered with TOS footage, these four woman talk about Captain Kirk the character, and Captain Shatner the sexual-energy-emitting actor par excellence in an ego-pumping exercise that would make Shatner teary-eyed.
The real fun begins for fans with Future’s Past: A Look Back, the 27:00 main STAR TREK 4 documentary. New interviews with Bennett, Nimoy, Meyer, Shatner, producer Ralph Winter and associate producer/punk Kirk Thatcher fill the segment with wonderful talk of the film’s inception, development and production. Here you’ll get screen test footage, the story behind the punk on the bus, production footage of the film’s climax sequence in the Paramount tank, and all sorts of anecdotes from key personnel. Most notable is the plethora of alternate takes of memorable moments from the film, like the Kirk/Spock bus conversation and the early San Francisco downtown sequence. Since you probably know not only the words but the inflections by heart, it’s wonderful to glimpse some of the takes that didn’t make it. This is followed up well with On Location, a 7 minute look at the film’s production on the streets of San Francisco. Along with some wonderful photography of the crew on location, this piece includes more alternate takes and really pays off with a detailed explanation of how the Cetacean Institute sequence was constructed using three different locations: the Monterey Bay Aquarium, a partial replica built at Paramount, and an underwater tank in El Segundo, CA.
The alternate take idea is carried a bit too far in Dailies Deconstruction, which divides the screen into two monitors, each playing different versions of the initial “watch where you’re going, you dumb ass” scene. The problem is that there is no explanation and no narration, making the 4:00 ordeal more of a chore than anything else. Perhaps the DVD producers thought that since we’re all self-professed movie buffs, we’d understand what the heck was going on without any translation for people without production experience. The production programs are rounded out nicely with Below-the-Line: Sound Design, a 12 minute interview with sound effects engineer Mark Mangini. The segment really pays off due to Mangini’s charisma in retelling how he developed certain sounds for the film, using real whale song to reverse engineer the probe’s call and create the climactic communication between the whales and the probe entirely with sound effects. The explanation of where the alien probe’s pulsating drone originated is also not to be missed.
Visual Effects Featurettes
Buried in the middle of the disc two menus are two wonderful documentaries, totaling just about 17 minutes. From Outer Space to the Ocean makes up the bulk of that time, at 14 minutes, and is the most well-produced feature on any STAR TREK DVD yet. Complete with narration, this program goes into detail on the creation of the remote-control humpback whale miniatures created for the film, the CGI dream sequence, and the alien probe. The first is obviously the most interesting, as ILM magician Walt Conti talks about building the whale models and shows footage of testing them in a swimming pool. Whale mold supervisor Sean Casey also chimes in and apparently they did their job so that well animal rights activists thought the filmmakers had harassed real humpbacks after seeing the film on opening weekend in 1986. Other personalities interviewed include model shop supervisor Jeff Man, effects cameraman Pat Sweeny and Douglas Kay and Selwyn Eddy. We get footage of the actors’ heads being examined to make the Styrofoam busts used in the dream sequence and test footage and storyboards of the cylindrical probe model.
Nestled second is The Bird of Prey, a slick, fast, engaging montage combining a computer rendering of the Klingon ship with model blueprints, storyboards, finished footage and interviews with those who made it happen. Pretty cool is how the CGI rendering will zoom in on a particular compartment and then fade into footage from the film of the interior of that compartment, as well as the superimposition of blueprints over many of the energetically edited images. It’s only 2:40 but it packs an entertaining punch!
Roddenberry Scrapbook is Eugene Roddenberry, Jr. recalling the memory of his father, the man who created STAR TREK. While touching, the 8 minute featurette never shows one photograph of the man, either at work or at home. An egregious oversight for a documentary entitled “scrapbook.” Far more engaging is the tribute to the late Mark Lenard, who played the Romulan Commander in “Balance of Terror” and eventually Spock’s father, Sarek in the series and films, including STAR TREK IV. This 12 minute segment is driven by remarks of his two daughters and wife, who sit in their home and recall their father’s early career and eventual entanglement with the STAR TREK phenomenon. This is particularly more interesting than the Roddenberry entry because we are treated to numerous photographs of the young Mark Lenard, footage of his roles in TOS and the TNG episode “Sarek,” and plenty of family photos that really make bring a touch of emotion to the tribute.
Completing the set’s thick line-up of bonus featurettes are three original interviews from during the film’s production with Nimoy, Shatner, and the charming southern drawl of DeForest Kelley. All three are quite rough and needed further editing, and don’t appear to have been filmed with broadcast in mind. Nimoy is as insightful as he is elsewhere in the set, but Shatner appears mostly bothered and the interviewers certainly don’t seem very skilled. Coming in at about 45 minutes all together, they are a welcome addition to what is supposed to serve as a living document on this film’s production. Kelley’s segment is particularly delightful considering he gave so few interviews and is sorely missed by fans.
After such an exhaustive slate of extras, the Archives section presents a dynamic Production Gallery. Rather than a mere slide show of photographs, this 4 minute segment explores the stills with a moving camera set against the film’s beautiful score by Leonard Rosenman. A standard Storyboard collection includes all sorts of scenes, and the Theatrical Trailer is in there for the good measure.
It’s not the quantity of bonus materials that makes the STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME Collector’s Edition DVD a solid product and a strong recommendation. No matter how many hours of extra features are included, you probably won’t watch them very often. But it’s the goal of the DVD experience to provide fans with something far beyond another viewing of their favorite film and with extras that mostly stand above the usual treatment, there’s no doubt that this is a fine addition to anyone’s collection and an excellent model for both future DVD releases and future STAR TREK movies.
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