Thursday, June 24, 2010

"Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home" (1986)

"Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home" (1986)
Starring William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley
Written by Harve Bennett and Nicholas Meyer
Directed by Leonard Nimoy

"I love Italian.  And so do you."
The third part of the loose trilogy of original crew "Star Trek" movies, "The Voyage Home" is an interesting diversion from the usual adventures of Kirk and company.  This is the closest any of the "Trek" flicks have come to broad comedy, and ditches the idea of the crew facing a villain from the previous two flicks.

A mysterious probe makes its way through Federation space toward Earth, leaving ships and space stations neutralized in its wake, overwhelmed by the power of its transmissions.  When it arrives in orbit of Earth, those same transmissions begin wreaking havoc on the planet's environment, vaporizing the oceans and blotting out the sun with thick cloud cover.  The President of the Federation sends out a distress signal, warning off any who would approach the planet.

Meanwhile, Admiral Kirk and his crew are returning from Vulcan with the resurrected Spock aboard their captured Klingon ship when they receive the distress call.  Spock analyzes the call of the probe and determines that the probe is actually attempting to communicate with humpback whales, a species that has been extinct on Earth for hundreds of years.  Kirk makes the dangerous decision to take the ship back through time to retrieve humpback whales and bring them to the 23rd century to save Earth.

They arrive in San Francisco in the mid-1980s.  With their ship damaged and low on power, the crew splits into teams to achieve their objectives: to repair the ship and to find and steal two humpback whales for transport to the future.  Kirk and Spock find the perfect specimens at a local marine center, and develop a relationship with Dr. Gillian Taylor (Catherine Hicks, who would later co-star in the WB series "7th Heaven" with Stephen Collins, who played Decker in "Star Trek: The Motion Picture").  At the same time, Scotty and McCoy must construct a tank aboard their rickety Klingon ship to hold the whales using 20th century materials, Sulu must find transportation, and Chekov and Uhura are tasked with collecting dangerous radiation particles from a nuclear reactor to repair the ship's warp drive.

Of course all of these situations lead to lots of "fish out of water" style comedy.  Kirk and Spock deal with not understanding the complexities of human language.  Listening to Spock awkwardly attempt to insert swears into his normal speaking patterns is a damn riot, as is Kirk's attempts at making historical references to fit in.  Each of the crew gets a chance to make fools of themselves in ridiculous scene after ridiculous scene.

The highlight, of course, is Chekov, the Russian crewmember, standing in an American city during the Cold War and asking passersby where he might find the "nuclear wessels".  Beyond just how silly Chekov's accent is, realize that the ship's communications and navigations officers are having trouble asking for directions.  Genius.

The movie moves along at a peppy pace, with silliness and witty dialogue whipping by pretty quickly.  Still, the movie has some faults.  Leonard Nimoy's direction is more assured, and the fact that a majority of the movie is shot on location helps keep the film from looking cheap, like the Genesis planet did in the previous movie.  He throws in a bizarre, abstract special effects sequence for the time travel.  It's cool, but sort of wild and doesn't fit with anything else in the movie, so it stands out.  Leonard Rosenman's score is a failure, lacking any gravitas and mostly coming off as obnoxious carnival music.  Sure, the movie is pretty lightweight and isn't the kind of project, say, Jerry Goldsmith would probably go for, but Rosenman's work here is just lame.  Consequently, Rosenman would rip it off wholesale for his work on "Robocop 2".  Ugh.

The movie's environmental message can also be delivered a bit heavy-handedly.  The movie doesn't beat you over the head with it, but a couple of scenes come across as slightly preachy.  But it's a solid message, the kind of "Please, be reasonable..." thing that "Star Trek" so often excels at.

After losing Spock in "Wrath of Khan" and killing Kirk's son in "Search for Spock," it was probably a smart move to end this story with a bit of a lighter tone.  The comedy here is well done, performed by a cast that's extremely comfortable with each other.  It's a lightweight, entertaining comedy/adventure.  Sure, some of the jokes are pretty dated, but it all still works. 

The blu-ray disc suffers from the same problems as "Search for Spock" before it, and a few others.  All the hazy outdoor photography leads to a lot of softness overall in the picture, which helps keep all the actors from looking like bizarre wax robots.  Sadly, it also mutes the colors somewhat.  Scenes taking place on Earth in the future, such as the Federation Council chamber have deeply saturated colors.  But the streets of San Francisco look pretty bland.