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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 12/6/99

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
1986 (1999) - Paramount

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home Film Rating: B

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B/C

Specs and Features

118 mins, PG, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:17:46, in chapter 13), Amaray keep case packaging, featurette with director Leonard Nimoy, theatrical trailer, film-themed menus, scene access (18 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 & 2.0) and French (DD 2.0), subtitles: English, Closed Captioned

"My God, what is this - the Dark Ages?"

I just couldn't resist starting this review with a good Dr. McCoy line. Think of it as my own little tribute to the late DeForest Kelly. Trek just ain't the same without him.

Arguably the most popular Star Trek film among non-fans, The Voyage Home is certainly the most accessible film in the series, and is also one of the more entertaining. Directed by long-time series regular Leonard Nimoy (that's Spock to you and me), the film falls back on a tried and true plot device of the franchise - time travel.

The story takes place immediately after the events in Star Trek III. Captain Kirk and his crew have broken almost every regulation in the book to rescue their friend Spock. Acting against orders, they've stolen the starship Enterprise to retrieve Spock's body from the Genesis planet, destroyed the Enterprise to escape Klingon treachery, and then commandeered the Klingon's ship to return Spock to his home planet Vulcan, where his mind and body were restored. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home begins with our heroes preparing to return to Earth from Vulcan, to face the music from Starfleet for their actions. Meanwhile, an alien probe has arrived from deep space and is wreaking havoc back on Earth, its strange signals causing serious damage to the planet's atmosphere. En-route in their captured Bird of Prey, Kirk and company hear the news and make a discovery - the probe's signals match the songs of humpback whales, which have been extinct for centuries due to human negligence. So our heroes formulate a desperate plan to save the day, by time traveling back to the Earth of 1987 to find a pair of humpback whales, and then returning with them to the future so they can answer the probe's call. Still with me? As goofy as the plot sounds, it works surprisingly well. And along the way, the film manages to deliver a number of decent laughs. Think of it as the ultimate fish out of water story (no pun intended). After all, just imagine what someone from the idyllic 23rd century depicted in Star Trek would think of life in the good old 20th century?

Leonard Nimoy surprised more than a few filmgoers here, proving that he's a darned capable director. The Voyage Home rarely bogs down, and taking our heroes out of their familiar futuristic setting manages to make them seem that much more human and engaging. Just watching Kirk and Spock attempting to fit in with the crowd in 1987 San Francisco is worth a few good laughs ("Oh yeah? Well a double dumb-ass on you!"). You've gotta love Scotty's reaction to 80's computer technology: "A keyboard? How quaint." And because of damage done during the timewarp, one of the film's subplots has Chekov and Uhura attempting to collect energy particles that will help fix their ship's engines - particles that can only be collected from a "primitive" nuclear reactor. So they decide to sneak aboard a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier to get them… and naturally, it's the U.S.S. Enterprise. Gotta love it.

One of the most welcome things about this DVD, is its surprisingly crisp and clear video. This film looks better on disc than I ever remember it looking before. The print used to make this DVD is of excellent quality, and the transfer has been very well done. The colors are accurate and the contrast is excellent, with good detail even in the darker picture areas and only a minimum of edge enhancement visible. I was also pleased to notice little digital artifacting, even in scenes which might give MPEG-2 compression trouble - the murky, smoke-filled interiors of the Klingon ship for example. This isn't reference quality, but it's damn good. I hope the first three films in this series look as nice when they're released on DVD next year. On the other hand, the audio isn't quite up to the level of what we've gotten used to in more recent Trek DVDs, but it's plenty solid and does the job here. While there aren't nearly as many nifty surround sound tricks as you'd expect, there are just enough to keep the Romulans at bay. And the dialogue is clear and well centered in the front of the soundstage, with good bass and nice ambient fill on occasion from the rear channels.

The extras here are nothing new - a theatrical trailer and the same "director's series" featurette that appeared previously on the VHS and laserdisc versions of this film. Still, that's more than we've gotten on other Trek DVDs, so I suppose I shouldn't complain. The trailer is of so-so quality, but the featurette is actually not too bad. It runs for some 15 minutes, and has Nimoy talking about the film's ecological theme and the amazing creation of remote-controlled whales for the film. Nimoy even gives a pitch for the widescreen presentation of films on home video. I always knew Spock was a widescreen kind of guy.

As a longtime fan, I must confess that I've given up on Star Trek in recent years, and I know there are lots of other fans out there like me. Paramount has sadly run this franchise into the ground, creating a seemingly endless stream of TV series that fail entirely to capture the imagination (a 5th Trek series is even now on the drawing board - gasp!). But when Star Trek was still good, it was darned hard to resist. Such is the case with The Voyage Home. And on DVD, it's better than ever. This disc is a welcome addition to the collection of any Trekkie (or Trekker, if you prefer), and it's one even non-fans should enjoy.

Bill Hunt
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