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review added: 2/25/02



Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Special Collector's Edition - 1986 (2003) - Paramount

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home - Special Collector's Edition Film Rating: B

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B/A-

Specs and Features

Disc One: The Film
118 mins, PG, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 77:47 in chapter 13), dual keep case packaging, audio commentary (with director Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner), subtitle text commentary by Michael and Denise Okuda (coauthors of The Star Trek Encyclopedia), booklet, animated film-themed menus with sound and music, scene access (18 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 & 2.0 Surround) and French (DD 2.0), subtitles: English (for the hearing impaired), Closed Captioned

Disc Two: Supplemental Material
4 Star Trek Universe featurettes: Time Travel: The Art of the Possible (11 mins - 16x9, DD 2.0), The Language of Whales (6 mins - 16x9, DD 2.0), A Vulcan Primer (8 mins - 16x9, DD 2.0) and Kirk's Women (8 mins - 16x9, DD 2.0), 4 Production featurettes: Future's Past: A Look Back (28 mins - 16x9, DD 2.0), On Location (8 mins - 16x9, DD 2.0), Dailies Deconstruction (4 mins - 16x9, DD 2.0) and Below-the-Line: Sound Design (12 mins - 16x9, DD 2.0), 2 Visual Effects featurettes: From Outer Space to the Ocean (15 mins - 16x9, DD 2.0) and The Bird of Prey (3 mins - 16x9, DD 2.0), 2 Tribute featurettes: Roddenberry Scrapbook (8 mins - 16x9, DD 2.0) and Featured Artist: Mark Lenard (13 mins - 16x9, DD 2.0), storyboard archive (for 8 scenes - 16x9), Production Gallery featurette (4 mins - 16x9, DD 2.0), original interview featurettes (with Leonard Nimoy, William Shatner and DeForest Kelly - 42 mins total, all 16x9), theatrical trailer (16x9, DD 2.0), animated film-themes menus with sound and music, subtitles: English and French


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

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. But if the plot's a bit recycled, darned if these guys don't make it fun.

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. How can any self-respecting Star Trek fan not love that?

As near as I can tell, this is exactly the same anamorphic widescreen film transfer and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio mix used on the previous DVD edition. And that's okay, because the previous disc looked and sounded fine. 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. And there's very little digital artifacting, even in scenes which might give MPEG-2 compression trouble - the murky, smoke-filled interiors of the Klingon ship for example. The audio isn't quite as dynamic as it is on some of the later Trek DVDs, but it's still plenty solid and does the job. While there aren't nearly as many nifty surround sound tricks as you'd expect, 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.

Now, on to the extras. I'm gonna say it right now: this is the first one of these Trek film special editions that I've really, thoroughly enjoyed since The Motion Picture. Paramount has a formula for these things, which is to do lots of featurettes. And that's fine... provided you do them right. Finally, they've done them right!

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Disc One features another feature-length audio commentary track, this one with Nimoy and Shatner. Why someone didn't get these two together for a commentary before, I don't know. These guys are old friends, with a lot of shared history between them, and they have a very easy camaraderie. There are plenty of funny moments, a few nice words about the late DeForest Kelly, interesting comments on alternate story ideas, even ruminations on Trek films that could have been had Paramount not moved on from the Original Crew. There are a few long pauses here and there, but this track is a fun listen, that long-time fans will really appreciate. Also on Disc One is another great text commentary from the Okuda duo, featuring many fascinating little bits of trivia for you diehards.

Now, back to those featurettes. Disc Two includes a whole mess of them, and darned if they aren't well done in terms of both content AND production quality! Someone was obviously listening to those many of us who reviewed the previous collector's editions, and bemoaned the amateurish production values while praising the material contained therein. These featurettes look light-years better than what we've seen before. They're nicely polished, feature actual professional lighting and camerawork and are well paced and edited! And they're substantive to boot!

Time Travel: The Art of the Possible features interviews with scientists who talk about the various interesting possibilities and quirks of physics (you even get some spiffy retro graphics to illustrate what they're talking about). Real experts on whales discuss the creatures at the heart of the film in The Language of Whales. One of the many Trek novel writers talks about the Vulcan people in A Vulcan Primer. Kirk's Women (a big favorite of mine) features interviews with several of the actresses who played the Captain's various flames over the years dishing on both Kirk the character and Shatner the man (this musta been a huge ego boost for old Bill to watch!). Future's Past: A Look Back runs almost a half hour and is packed with on-set footage, interviews with cast and crew, production anecdotes... you name it. We get a look at the audio work done for the film in Below-the-Line: Sound Design (did you know Nimoy himself made the sound of the alien probe?). There are discussions about the decidedly down-to-Earth special effects needs of the film (like creating remote controlled whale miniatures) and the design of the Klingon Bird of Prey. There are touching tributes to Gene Roddenberry (by his son) and actor Mark Lenard (by his wife and daughters). There's a great little video montage of on-set photos set to music. There's more than a half-hour of original interview footage with the three lead actors. You get storyboard art for the film's major sequences. You get the original theatrical trailer. And all of it is wrapped up with the best animated menus yet for these feature film DVDs. Did I mention that EVERYTHING is anamorphic? Well it is.

Our hats off to Paramount for finally nailing this stuff.

Running through this special edition of The Voyage Home, you're reminded of just how much fun Star Trek at its best can be. It makes me yearn for the good old days... and hopeful for the future. Who knows? Once you got past all the lame-duck character "introduction" moments early in the film, Nemesis turned into a damned good action flick, with the best space battle footage ever seen in Trek. And I'm even finally starting to enjoy the new series, Enterprise, this season. Except when the Captain makes touchy-feely speeches about gazelles. Or brings his dog on important away missions. Or makes ga-ga eyes at his Vulcan First Officer (could there BE any less chemistry between those two?). Or when the Chief Engineer comes off looking like a pan-fried huckleberry. Or when when the token ethnic supporting cast members have almost nothing to do in yet another episode. Or when... well okay, so maybe the show still needs some work.

But future or not, at least we've always got the good old days of Star Trek to enjoy, back when Captain Kirk and the Funky Bunch still had the best kung fu in the galaxy. Gimmie that on DVD any day.

Bill Hunt
billhunt@thedigitalbits.com




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