Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home Review
One criticism often levelled at the various incarnations of Star Trek is that it appears far too serious and po-faced for its own good. Yes there have been many attempts to 'lighten the mood' of the series, but the number of times it has worked can probably be counted on one hand. The original series was never excessively serious, but as time has gone on the franchise has become increasingly self-important...
Given the above, it seems odd that 'the powers that be' felt they could successfully pull off a very lighthearded, almost comedic film. After the excessive seriousness of the first three movies, The Voyage Home succeeds in being the first movie which would appeal not only to the regular Star Trek audience, but also to the cinema going masses. The idea is simple - how would 23rd century man get by on 20th century earth? The result is both an interesting story and a successful parody of the Star Trek series as a whole.
A huge probe approaches Earth disabling everything that comes near. Transmitting a strange signal, none of Earth's scientists can work out what it wants or how to stop it and environmental catastrophe seems certain. Aboard a captured Klingon ship (the Enterprise was destroyed in the previous film), Mr Spock identifies the probes transmission to match the songs of Humpback Whales - a species which has been extinct (in the Star Trek universe) since the 21st century. The only way to stop the probe from destroying all life on Earth is to find a Humpback Whale - and the only place they can do that is in the past.
After travelling back in time (using the Sun as a slingshot to build up the speed to do a time-warp), Kirk and co need to integrate with human life on Earth in the year 1986. Cue plenty of funny (and some not so funny) moments where future man tries to understand present day (in 1986 at least!) customs. While it's a thin tight-rope to walk, the script is competent enough to generate a few laughs.
Highlights include the Russian crew member, Chekov being captured aboard a nuclear 'Wessel' - which just so happens to be the Enterprise (although it wasn't the real Enterprise as it was out on a mission at the time of filming) - in the middle of the cold war. A hospital scene where McCoy complains about the primitive medicine and methods such as drilling into someone's head and also, Mr Spock's communication with the Whales through a Vulcan mind meld. Scotty trying to use a present day computer also generates a few laughs - especially when he uses the mouse as a microphone to give the computer orders!
Yes, there are plenty of bits that don't quite work but they're certainly in the minority which makes a refreshing change! OK, so it's not the strongest story of the series but the movie does capture some of the Star Trek 'magic' which was absent in the previous couple of installments. It's a highly enjoyable film and as an introduction to non-fans it works very well indeed.
After a period where Paramount decided that carrying out anamorphic transfers was a waste of time, it's good to see that they changed their mind in time for this disc. We get a nice anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer and although the colours can be a little dull, and the picture a little soft, in general its a very good attempt.
The print appears to be in fairly good condition with only a few minor blemishes. There's no denying that this is probably the best this particular film has ever looked.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is also pretty good with plenty of rear action and a well defined front soundstage. The centre speaker gets the majority of the work but the dialogue is generally clear. As with most Paramount releases, this one defaults to the pro-logic soundtrack so make sure you change it to get the best out of your set-up...
For a change, we've got more than just a trailer on this disc. There is a short 'Director's Series' featurette which looks into the making of the film - there is an interesting demonstration of the difference between pan & scan and widescreen which really does show just how much difference panning & scanning makes.
All in all a fairly good transfer to DVD, and I thoroughly recommend it to anyone with the slightest interest in the Star Trek franchise...