Star Trek IV: Review
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With the success of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, writer-producer Harve Bennett and director Leonard Nimoy were given the green light by Paramount to wrap up the storyline that began with Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. There were several plot strands left to tie up, after all, what with Spock having to be re-educated and Kirk and his crew facing a court-martial for the actions they took in the rescue of their half-Vulcan comrade.
Set barely three months after the events of the third film, Star Trek IV opens with a mysterious alien probe cruising toward the Terran system. Its passage immobilizes any starship it passes as it inexorably makes its way to Earth.
Meanwhile, on Vulcan, Spock (Leonard Nimoy) hurriedly undergoes retraining of his mind. In a wonderfully written scene, the former Enterprise science officer breezes through the quizzes a computer tosses at him until he is stumped by the question "How do you feel?"
Spock's human mother, Amanda (Jane Wyatt, reprising her role from The Original Series' "Journey to Babel") hears the computer repeating the question over and over and sidles over to her son. "What's wrong?"
"I do not understand the question, Mother," says a puzzled Spock.
Amanda explains that the retraining of Spock's mind has been in the Vulcan way, but that the computer knows that Spock is half-human, and that his feelings will surface. Spock is skeptical about the concept of having human emotions (since in the series he strived to be more Vulcan-than-thou), but his mother explains that he is alive at that moment because his friends acted out of their emotional nature, disregarding the "logic" of simply obeying Starfleet orders and refraining from fetching Spock from the Genesis planet.
On Earth, the Klingon ambassador (John Schuck) warns the Federation that there will be no peace while Kirk remains alive and unpunished for stealing the Klingon Bird-of-Prey and defeating its crew (preventing Cmdr. Kruge from obtaining the secrets of Genesis). The Federation president promises there will be a court martial, but the Klingons scoff at this.
Even as the Enterprise crew - aboard their stolen Klingon vessel - races home to face the consequences of their actions, the alien probe arrives. Sending a signal to Earth's ocean, it disrupts the planet's climate, causing chaos and world-wide disasters.
Of course, Kirk and his crew investigate the probe and its signal, and after cross-referencing the sounds the signal emits to ones stored in the recently-installed Federation databanks, Spock deduces that the alien probe is emulating a whale song...of a species extinct in the 23rd Century. If the probe -- which can't simply be blown out of the stars -- can't communicate with the whales of the "present," then the logical alternative is to attempt "time warp" travel and retrieve two whales from the past.......
The Voyage Home had a tortuous development. At first, the original screenplay by Peter Krikes and Steve Meerson focused on a time travel story tailor-made for guest star Eddie Murphy. Fans heard about this and - as with the death of Spock and the destruction of the Enterprise - protested. Paramount also resisted the idea of mixing two of the studio's franchises, so Murphy and Star Trek never did mix. There was also some nasty behind-the-scenes wrangling about the screenplay, because the Krikes-Meerson version was heavily rewritten by Nicholas Meyer and Harve Bennett - an incident overlooked in the documentaries and commentaries. Eventually the original writers won shared credit for the screenplay, and The Voyage Home was released in the summer of 1986. Notably, this more light-hearted film had major crossover appeal, charming not only Star Trek fans, but also wider audiences.
With its clever script and wonderful mix of sci-fi adventure, social commentary, comedy, romance, and drama, Star Trek IV became the most popular entry of the 10 movies made between 1979 and 2002.
This Collector's Edition offers one disc with the theatrical cut of the movie, enhanced with a new menu, Dolby surround sound, a commentary track by director Leonard Nimoy and actor William Shatner, plus a text commentary by Star Trek Encyclopedia authors Mike and Denise Okuda. The second disc comes with the usual documentaries, interviews, and the theatrical trailer.
Some More Cosmic Thoughts:
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home is one of my favorite films in the series, partly because I think that Harve Bennett and Nicholas Meyer make a fine writing team, and partly because I'm a sucker for happy conclusions to trilogies or three-story arcs. I especially appreciate how Nick Meyer (who wrote the middle act of the screenplay) refused to give viewers a definitive answer to the mystery of the Probe...leaving the viewer to wonder what, exactly, did the alien Probe intend to communicate to the whales?
The chemistry between the cast members (at least on-screen) is just as wonderful as it was in the heyday of the Original Series (which had premiered 20 years before the film was produced and released). Shatner, Nimoy, and Kelley still form Trek's essential trinity of Kirk, Spock, and Bones, and when supplemented by the supporting cast of James Doohan (who, sadly, is in declining health), Walter Koenig, George Takei, and Nichelle Nichols, there is no frontier too final, no space too wide to conquer as they trek across the stars.
Catherine Hicks, presently starring in the WB's Seventh Heaven (along with another Trek film alum, Stephen Collins), is a gem to watch in The Voyage Home. Her portrayal of Dr. Gillian Taylor, a 20th Century marine biologist who fatefully crosses paths with Kirk and Co., is infused with so many aspects that make her character appealing. Bright, funny, intense, and even wholesomely sexy, Gillian is one of the rare women that is charmed by James T. Kirk, yet doesn't sleep with the good Captain.
The one thing that seems somewhat odd is that the producers and director chose a different composer, Leonard Rosenman instead of James Horner, to write the music for Star Trek IV. True, the mood of the film is far lighter and less in need of a "Horatio Hornblower in Space" score, but The Voyage Home also wraps up a three-film storyline. Rosenman's themes are bright, brassy, and warm, and they are very enjoyable. Still, they seem, at least to this reviewer, not very memorable.
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