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STAR TREK IV:  THE VOYAGE HOME
Special Collector's Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelly, Catherine Hicks
Director:  Leonard Nimoy
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  Paramount
Features:  See Review
Length:  118 Minutes
Release Date:  March 4, 2003

"Don't tell me...you're from outer space."

"No, I'm from Iowa.  I only work in outer space."

Film ***1/2

Star Trek IV:  The Voyage Home remains by and large the most popular entry in this film series.  Why?  Well, it’s a lot of fun, for one.  There was something about those old time travel episodes of Star Trek that we fans enjoyed…having familiar characters from the 23rd century forced to fumble their way through our maddening and dangerous world.  It was just enjoyable.  And this film, despite a serious and not-too-subtle ecological message at its core, doesn’t take the time travel thing too seriously here.  Consider how lightly Scottie and McCoy treat the whole notion of altering the future at one point…did they not remember the tragic consequences of “City on the Edge of Forever”?

Number 4 is actually the final portion of the three most integrated Trek films, beginning with Wrath of Kahn and continuing through The Search for Spock, until completing here.  In other words, any other film in the lengthy series can be viewed pretty much independently of the others.  But it really helps to have seen 2 and 3 before watching 4.

Picking up where the third movie left off, Kirk (Shatner) and his crew decide to return to Earth and face the consequences of their actions from the previous movie (see what I mean?).  However, they cannot do that because Earth is in a dire state of turmoil.  A huge alien probe has arrived, emitting a powerful communication signal that has disrupted all systems and is ionizing the planet’s atmosphere, causing not only severe weather but a cut-off from the sun.  The humans cannot understand the message, so there seems to be no hope of responding satisfactorily to the probe, and thus surviving.

But leave it to Spock (Nimoy) to discover that the signal was meant for humpback whales…a species that is extinct in their time.  So, using the old trusty “slingshot” maneuver, Kirk and company travel back in time to 1986 in an effort to bring a couple of whales into the future and hopefully dispose of the alien probe.

Well, our primitive society causes no end of problems for the plucky crew, and the results are often hysterical.  Who could forget Chekhov asking passersby about the “nuclear wessels” (a scene that was largely improvised with actor Walter Koenig approaching actual San Francisco residents, who largely ignored him).  Or Spock’s use of “colorful metaphors” to fit in, whereby he throws in an awkward swear word every other sentence.

Once they discover the whales, the crew becomes involved in a race against time.  Can they create a suitable aquarium on board their ship, repower their fused energy crystals, and rescue a fallen teammate in time to take the whales before they’re let back out to sea?  Has the Enterprise crew ever not saved the day?  That is, if you ignore the fact that their aquarium was completely enclosed, which would have meant no air for the giant mammals to breathe on the trip back to the future, but dammit, man, they’re explorers, not marine biologists.

I also could have done without the ridiculous attempt at a suspense sequence where Kirk and company attempt to save the whales from a whaling ship.  Let’s see, a big wooden schooner versus a fully loaded Klingon Bird of Prey…I wonder who’ll win?  Plus, the point about humanity’s ecological irresponsibility had long since been well taken by that point.  Time to get off the soapbox and continue the story.

But in the end, The Voyage Home remains a fun, exciting thrill ride for the Enterprise crew.  So much so that even Spock seems to lose his character near the end when the crew has triumphed.  He can be seen smiling and laughing with his shipmates as they celebrate.  What the heck…even a Vulcan deserves to cut loose now and again.

Video ***

I didn't consider Paramount's original release of Star Trek IV to be one of the series' better offerings in the video department.  This re-release strikes me as much better.  The colors seem brighter, more vivid and more natural looking, and images enjoy better detail levels overall.  Some deliberately softer sequences, such as the interior of the Bird of Prey, come across more cleanly than before.  Fans should be pleased with this effort.

Audio ***

The 5.1 mix boasts many good moments, from the droning of the approaching probe to the space travel to the adventures on the sea.  The audio is quite lively and dynamic, and makes full use of both front and rear stages for an engrossing experience.  Crossovers are smooth and fluent, and the .1 channel gives the extra bottom end the action pieces require.  Occasionally, scenes with just dialogue sound a bit thin when compared to the effects sequences, but the spoken words are still clean and clear.  

Features ***

These Special Collector's Editions continue to impress!  Disc One features a now well-known and trivia loaded text commentary track by Star Trek Encyclopedia authors Michael and Denise Okuda.  You'll learn everything you wanted to know about this movie and then some!  There is also a special audio commentary by Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner together.  The two friends share warm memories, laughs, and some good inside information as they watch the film together.  A few gaps here and there doesn't keep this from being one that Trekkies are going to love!

Disc Two contains all the other extras, starting with four production featurettes:  "Future's Past" features brand new cast and crew interviews, while "On Location" takes you through some of the San Francisco settings.  You also get a chance to compare dailies side by side and take a close up look at sound design.

But there are other featurettes as well.  "Time Travel" speaks with some modern day physicists on the subject of whether or not such a thing is even possible.  "The Language of Whales" brings you closer to the mysterious songs of our ocean going mammal friends.  "A Vulcan Primer" looks at Spock and the Vulcan legacy through the years.  "Kirk's Women" features new interviews with Catherine Hicks and three other of the captain's leading ladies throughout the years as they open their hearts about working with Shatner!

Two visual effects featurettes go back to the making of the film and show that not all of the creative problems came from the futuristic side of the movie, but rather, the present-day scenarios!  There are tributes to Gene Roddenberry (featuring his son), and to actor Mark Lenard who portrayed Sarek throughout the long lineage of Star Trek, featuring his wife and daughters.  

Finally, there are archived interviews with Nimoy, Shatner and DeForest Kelley, collections of storyboards and production stills, and the original trailer.  All of this comes nicely packaged with three dimensional menu screens with sound.  A wonderful and fun package all around!

Summary:

Star Trek fans can rejoice that the series entry arguably most deserving of a special edition release has gotten the red carpet treatment from Paramount.  Star Trek IV has remained a fan favorite for many years, and this terrific and loaded double disc release should keep those fans happy for a long time to come.