Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

There has always been much loose talk amongst friends and in pop culture throughout the years over landmark moments in the original Star Wars films. Not so much for the original ten Star Trek films. Every now and again I have some faint memories of two that come to mind right away. One is how awesome The Wrath of Kahn is, and two, how they managed on making whales the primary focus of today's Trek movie I will be blogging about - Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (trailer).

For those non hardcore Trek fans like myself, you could not help but be taken aback a little bit if you were told Paramount made one of the Star Trek films with no real antagonist, and focused the movie around time traveling to then modern day 1986 in order to bring two hump back whales with them in order to save Earth in the 23rd century. This sounds absolutely absurd on paper, but watching it unfold is far better than it sounds.

Leonard Nimoy returns to helm the director's chair again in this final three part movie arc that ties Star Trek II-IV together. This takes place three months after The Search for Spock where the Enterprise crew is still on the planet Vulcan, finishing repairs to the Klingon ship they procured in the last film. They were originally going to head back so Kirk (William Shatner) could have the crew stand trial for all those darn orders they disobeyed in the previous movie, but the craziest things transpire that prevent them to do so.

A mysterious alien probe is making its way to Earth and is neutralizing all ships that cross its path and it is gradually vaporizing Earth's oceans and resources as it sends out a mysterious distress signal. Spock (Nimoy) naturally decrypts the signal as a call for the humpback whale, and the fact that the whale is not responding is causing the probe to sap the life out of Earth. No humpback whale is responding because the species is extinct in the 23rd century. Spock deduces they must time travel back to when whales were last on Earth, which was conveniently when this movie came out in 1986, in order to bring a pair of whales back to the 23rd century to answer this strange distress call and get this crazy powerful and diabolical, whale crafted alien probe off Earth's atmosphere!

How the hell does time travel work in Star Trek, and how the hell are they going to fit two whales and countless tons of water on this Klingon vessel? I am not going to give it all away, and the random lines of dialogue and scenes that transpire and lead to the resolution of this dilemma are a hoot the way they play out! Best of all, it actually works! I was able to somehow stay invested with this ridiculous sounding plot, and be able to suspend my disbelief the way the movie played out and gave justifications for all the questions that plot devices like time travel, and, um, alien whale probes, usually bring to the table.

While the first three Star Trek pictures have their moments of comedic relief they are all rather serious sci-fi flicks at their core. The Voyage Home is easily the most light hearted Trek film I have seen so far, yet it manages to retain its sense of urgency at rising above the conflict throughout. Part of the reason for this movie being such a simply fun experience is watching the 23rd century Enterprise crew mix in with 1986 San Francisco. Sulu (George Takei) had a delivery of a line that unintentionally had me in stitches as they approached their landing! Watching Kirk try to explain to the crew to swear more and use more "colorful" metaphors because that was what the people did of the time cracked me up. To cover up for people going gaga over Spock's ears, he just ripped off a part of his robe and used it as a makeshift headband to cover them up, and the natives of San Francisco were none the wiser.

I do not have too many gripes with The Voyage Home, other than a few quibbles. It was disappointing to see Saavik (Robin Curtis) have only a small role in one scene at the beginning of the movie and just disappear afterwards. This was explained however in one of the behind the scenes interviews in the extra features to my relief that this is intentional since she has a bigger role in the next film. I was a little confused why no one in San Francisco questioned their futuristic wardrobe, but I am on board with Nimoy after hearing him in the commentary mention there were so many "outlandish" fashion styles in the world at that time in their location tests that they thought the 23rd century fashion would blend right in. There are also a few too convenient scene transitions, for example there is one point the crew discovers they need to go to a hospital, and in the very next shot a second or two later, they are walking in the hospital hallways in full on scrubs stealth mode. Finally, the uniforms at this point are starting to get cluttered and distracting with too much insignia and ribbons. The first Trek film had none of it, and my memories of the various television shows are of the uniforms on them having a lot less clutter. Again, these are all small qualms in the grand scheme of things and I enjoyed The Voyage Home from very much so from start to finish.

Like the prior Star Trek BluRays, this one is loaded with previously released extra features in standard definition, and a few new ones in high def too. There are two commentary tracks, with the original DVD release from Nimoy and Shatner and a new one with two writers from the modern, reboot Star Trek films, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman. I listened to about 15 minutes from each track and found Nimoy and Shatner's track more insightful with them reflecting back from tales on location and Nimoy having more to say from directing this. Orci and Kurtzman are a little too relaxed and have long bouts of silence from the segment I watched as they seem to be more into watching this than providing commentary.

There are eight original SD behind the scenes features combining for nearly an hour and a half. Not all of them are must see viewing, but I do highly recommend checking out Future's Past, a 27 minute feature on the making of the film. It highlights behind the scenes struggles on how Shatner fought against doing a movie on time travel, and how they brought Wrath of Kahn director Nick Meyer back to assist on the screenplay and many more interesting tidbits on what it took to get The Voyage Home made. Two other much shorter watches worth checking out are Vulcan Premiere that goes pretty in depth on the Vulcan history of the movies and television shows, and Kirk's Women, which interviews many of Kirk's romantic interests from past movies and television episodes. There are four new high def features totaling for just under a half hour. I only recommend watching Pavel Chekov's Screen Moments and Three Picture Saga, with the former interviewing Walter Koenig who is embracing the fact that Chekov is the klutz comic relief of the franchise, and the latter explaining how important Star Trek II-IV played out as a trilogy and how they all are perfectly linked together.

Leonard Nimoy did a much better job with his second stint at directing. He somehow managed to make this zany plot work and had me glued in throughout, all while being the most care free and lighthearted plots of the Star Trek movies I have seen thus far. If you ever wonder how the Enterprise crew would come to grips in our current times, than this is definitely worth going out of your way since they absolutely nail that vibe here. Without giving them away, I have a good feeling this film will be the most quotable for me of the entire franchise. As you can see from my ratings below, this managed to redeem itself a bit from The Search for Spock, but I still rank it just under The Wrath of Kahn since that one was damn near perfect. I feel a little guilty I stretched this three movie arc to last two months, since I highly recommend watching all three back to back instead.

Star Trek Film Ratings

Star Trek: The Motion Picture - 6/10
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn - 10/10
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock - 8/10
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home - 9/10

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