“Oh, him? He’s harmless. Back in the sixties, he was part of the free speech movement at Berkeley. I think he did a little too much LDS,” explains Admiral James T. Kirk about Spock’s behavior to Dr. Gillian Taylor. She responds, “LDS?”
Leonard Nimoy’s directorial debut, Star Trek III: The Search For Spock, was a critical and box office success in 1984. Paramount was impressed enough to green light another sequel. Several concepts were explored (including casting Eddie Murphy as a present-day alien-believing college professor who sings whale songs!), but producer Harve Bennett would have to recruit Star Trek II director Nicholas Meyer to assist with the screenplay (Meyer had turned down the chance to direct Star Trek III due to a last minute change to the ending of Star Trek II that was done without his approval). I’ve been fortunate to see this film on the big screen twice. I first saw this film at the Two Boots Pioneer Theater in February 2003, then later that summer at Symphony Space as part of a double feature with Star Trek II. Admittedly, if I had known about the double feature at Symphony Space a lot sooner than I did, I wouldn’t have seen Star Trek IV at the Pioneer Theater and would’ve saved about $7 (the double feature at Symphony Space only cost $5; I had a student membership at the time).
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home picks up three months after the events of the previous film. Admiral Kirk and his crew are still on Vulcan. Spock is still re-adjusting to his mind, the commandeered Klingon Bird of Prey is being retro-fitted, and Kirk is preparing to return to Earth with his crew to face a very likely court martial. Meanwhile, a probe of unknown origin arrives at Earth and emits a signal to Earth’s oceans, causing storms and chaos all over the planet. As Kirk and his crew head back to Earth, they receive a message from Starfleet warning all ships to avoid Earth. They hear the probe’s signal and Spock is able to determine that the probe’s signal is the song of a humpback whale (when heard underwater). Kirk and his crew decide to attempt time warp and travel back to a point in Earth’s history where humpback whales still existed: the late 20th century. Arriving at the year 1986, Kirk and his crew are faced with finding a pair of humpback whales to bring back to the 23rd century (one of many challenges that lay ahead for them).
The returning cast (William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelly, James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, and Walter Koenig) shine as usual. The “guest stars” include an excellent supporting turn from Catherine Hicks (as Dr. Gillian Taylor), Mark Lenard (as Sarek), Jane Wyatt (as Amanda, Spock’s mother) Robin Curtis (as Saavik), Brock Peters (as Admiral Cartwright), John Schuck (as the Klingon Ambassador), Robert Ellenstein (as the President of the United Federation of Planets), and cameos from Grace Lee Whitney (as Janice Rand) and Majel Barrett (as Christine Chapel). Nimoy’s direction is more confident (not that it was lacking in the previous film). Shooting on location in present day San Francisco must’ve been a welcome change of pace for the cast. Although four screenwriters are credited with the screenplay (Steve Meerson, Peter Krikes, Harve Bennett, and Nicholas Meyer) based on the story developed by Nimoy and Bennett, it was Bennett and Meyer who wrote the final draft of the script (Bennett wrote the 23rd century scenes and Meyer wrote the 20th century scenes). A lot of the film’s humor was derived from the situations Meyer conceived for the crew but never at the expense of the drama (of which there was still plenty). It was Nimoy’s intent to tell a story with an environmental message and have no clear-cut villain, and Bennett and Meyer’s script succeeds in that regard; it calls for more personal responsibility on our part to help the environment (which is perhaps more timely now than it was over 25 years ago).
The special effects by Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) were superb, particularly the whale footage they created (95% of which was done using full-scale animatronics and smaller models). My favorite special effects sequence was Kirk’s dream during the time travel (Nimoy actually found a way to add a touch of the avant-garde to Star Trek). Robert Fletcher’s costume designs didn’t change much from the previous film, but he was able to provide new ones for the 23rd century scenes. Jack T. Collis’ production design was superb, redressing sets from previously-built sets as well as creating new ones and utilizing real locations in San Francisco. Peter E. Berger’s editing keeps the film moving at a good pace. Donald Peterman’s Oscar-nominated cinematography was first-rate, giving the lighting an artistic yet realistic feel. The sound design by Mark Mangini was impressive (the sounds for the probe and the whales were the main highlights), rightfully earning an Oscar nod for Best Sound Effects Editing (the film’s excellent sound mixing would also earn an Oscar nod). The makeup design by Wes Dawn, Jeff Dawn, and James Lee McCoy was terrific (although the prosthetic use was mainly limited to the 23rd century scenes). Finally, Leonard Rosenman contributed a wonderful, Oscar-nominated score that featured a new brass-laden theme, as well as some contemporary jazz fusion (for the crew’s first appearance on the streets of San Fransisco) and a Russian-style motif for Chekov. Rosenman even brought in the Yellowjackets to perform a couple of tracks (I’m particularly a fan of “Ballad of the Whale”). Overall, this is a fun Star Trek outing that manages to entertain and inform.