"THERE BE WHALES HERE." --Scotty
When Paramount finally joined the DVD revolution, it did so in the manner of a shy girl at her coming-out party, tip-toeing cautiously down the stairs while being scrutinized by everyone else at the event. The analogy certainly describes the way that the "Star Trek" movies arrived on DVD--in reverse order, descending from "Star Trek: Insurrection" to "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan". The "Star Trek" movies arrived at their coming out party only to find the kind of greeting that a girl gets when she picks a bad dress for the occasion--blank stares of disbelief. Those single-disc "Star Trek" releases were bare to the bones, and collectors everywhere clamored for special edition re-releases almost as soon as the no-extras products appeared on store shelves.
When the time came for "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" to see the light of day, Paramount decided to send the film franchise from steerage to First Class. "The Motion Picture" arrived on DVD as a two-disc set, and Paramount has been working their way through the entire series again, this time in forward sequential order and giving every entry the double platter treatment. (Alas, it looks like "Star Trek: Nemesis" will be a single-disc affair the first time around, undoubtedly to make it an attractive investment for video chains. Companies like Blockbuster Video and Hollywood Video prefer one-disc releases so that they don't have to keep track of additional discs per rental, and Paramount is probably hoping to recoup some money after the unexpectedly poor box office showing of "Nemesis".) Now, it's time for "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home" to take center stage, following in the footsteps of the first three big screen adventures, the entire run of "Star Trek: The Next Generation", and the first season of "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine".
Eerily, the film's second release on DVD comes only a few weeks after the space shuttle Columbia disaster. I use the word eerily because the film's theatrical release came after the space shuttle Challenger disaster, and the movie begins with a title card honoring the Challenger astronauts. Cosmic karma continues to resonate through "Star Trek" in both life and art.
In "The Voyage Home", a space probe of unknown origin hurtles towards Earth and begins to change the planet's weather. Admiral James Tiberius Kirk (William Shatner) and his crew take the Klingon bird-of-prey (that they stole in "Star Trek III") and head for Earth to stand trial for violating various Federation regulations while retrieving Spock (Leonard Nimoy, who also directed the movie) from the Genesis planet (created at the end of "Star Trek II"). The probe's assault on Earth has made it dangerous for anyone to approach the heart of the Federation, and Kirk and Company realize that the probe won't leave the planet alone until a whale song responds to it. Therefore, our seven heroes--the rest being Dr. "Bones" McCoy (DeForest Kelley), Scotty (James Doohan), Sulu (George Takei), Chekhov (Walter Koenig), and Uhura (Nichelle Nichols)--journey back in time in order to take some whales (hunted to extinction) to the 23rd Century to answer the probe's call.
"The Magnificent Seven" find themselves in the San Francisco of 1986, and much hilarity ensues when the gang finds itself confronted with the primitive humans of the past. Military officials wonder why the Russian Chekhov is snooping around the nuclear reactor on the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise. "Bones" bemoans the medieval medical practices that he witnesses in the 20th Century. Meanwhile, Kirk and Spock team up with Dr. Gillian Taylor (Catherine Hicks), a whale specialist. Kirk and Spock amuse Gillian with their mis-use of words like "hell", "asshole", and "damn" and with Spock calling Kirk "Admiral" all the time.
"The Voyage Home" concludes the mini-trilogy that began with "The Wrath of Khan". We see the departure of the Saavik character (played by both Kirstie Alley and Robin Curtis), and we see the full resuscitation of Spock's psyche after his death in "The Wrath of Khan" and the unification of his katra and regenerated body in "The Search for Spock". We also get to see the cast having fun with their roles, roles that they had inhabited for so many decades with mostly straight faces.
Although only the fourth entry in the big screen "Star Trek" chronicles, "The Voyage Home" already began the tradition of retreating to covered ground. The menacing space probe recalls the V'ger of "The Motion Picture". By the time we get to "Nemesis" (the tenth effort and actually a very good one), we see a "Star Trek" movie that references at least two previous entries ("The Wrath of Khan" and "The Undiscovered Country") as well as countless TV episodes of genetic engineering, warming political relations between two groups, etc. While I enjoy "Star Trek" immensely, I also hope that the franchise's handlers will begin utilizing fresh ideas rather than relying on old standards. Repetition tends to kill a series faster than anything else (James Bond in "Die Another Day", anyone?).
As with all of the other Special Edition re-releases of the "Star Trek" films, Disc One features the movie itself while Disc Two offers bonus materials.
The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen image looks a bit tired. Colors have faded, most noticeably the pink that dominates Catherine Hicks's wardrobe. Also, the print looks a little dirty, what with the dust and scratches on the print. "E.T." was made in 1982, four years before "Star Trek IV". If "E.T." on DVD looks like it was a movie made within the last five years, then the more recent "The Voyage Home" should look better than it does. Still, it's nice to see that the opening Paramount logos look much better than they do with other older movies on DVD.
The audio fares better than the video. The Dolby Digital 5.1 English track features aggressive rear channels, throbbing bass, and a very wide soundstage. Ambience effects, environmental noises, and numerous little sounds pop into the room courtesy of the very lively sound design (re-mixed from the original Pro-Logic stems). Though some of the dialogue gets slightly muffled, most verbal exchanges between the actors are clearly presented.
There are also DD 2.0 surround English and DD 2.0 surround French tracks on Disc One. Optional English subtitles as well as English closed captions support the audio.
Disc One features two commentaries that accompany the main feature. There's an audio commentary by William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy that is a delightful listen. The two old friends share a couple of good cracks at each other's expense, and they provide viewers with great stories about the production. There's also a text commentary by Michael and Denise Okuda, co-authors of "The Star Trek Encyclopedia". Encoded as a subtitle stream, the text commentary provides trivia notes of all sorts related to "Star Trek", real science, historical events, and literary allusions.
Paramount crammed Disc Two full of featurettes that have been divided into subsections. I'm happy to report that they're all substantive and have very little fluff, though how much entertainment you get out of them depends on how much of a fanatic you are. Most of these have self-explanatory titles, so I'm just going to list them unless they need a little illumination.
The Star Trek Universe Featurettes
"Time Travel: The Art of the Possible"; "The Language of Whales"; "A Vulcan Primer"; "Kirk's Women"
"Future's Past: A Look Back" (a retrospective "making-of"); "On Location"; "Dailies Deconstruction"; "Below-the-Line: Sound Design"
Visual Effects Featurettes
"From Outer Space to the Ocean"; "The Bird of Prey"
"Roddenberry Scrapbook" (Eugene Roddenbery talks about his father Gene); "Featured Artist: Mark Lenard" (Lenard's two daughters and wife reminisce about him)
Storyboards; Production Gallery
Leonard Nimoy; William Shatner; DeForest Kelley
Finally, there's the film's theatrical trailer.
A glossy booklet provides chapter listings as well as a re-print of the list of special features that appears on the back cover of the keepcase.
"Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home" has a case of the giggles, so it is easily the most accessible "Star Trek" film in the series. That strength--the humor--is also its weakness. "The Voyage Home" has a serious message about respecting the environment that would've been better served had the script not been so light-hearted. "Star Trek IV" didn't have to be (and shouldn't have been) militant about its environmentalism, of course, but the touchy-feeliness of the final product makes it seem as if saving the world were as easy as saying, "One, Two, Three, GO!" Yes, I know, it's "only" "Star Trek", but before "Star Trek: Voyager", the franchise was about something. When you have something to say, I hope that you say it with a seriousness of purpose rather than with a nudge and a wink. As for whether or not it's worth buying the Special Collector's Edition of the movie, I give the two-disc set a hearty recommendation.
Trivia note: Catherine Hicks, who plays Dr. Gillian Taylor, was the second performer to have appeared in a "Star Trek" movie who ended up playing a lead in TV's "7th Heaven". Stephen Collins, who played Decker in "The Motion Picture", wound up playing the reverend in "7th Heaven", and Hicks plays his wife on the show.