One of the finer adventures in the "Star Trek" series, the fourth film in the series offers the same grand entertainment and great characters, but it falls a bit short in delivering the same kind of gravity and drama of the second film. There's a bit more comedy here and really, no distinct villian character like the ones that the other pictures have offered. Surprisingly, it was one of the most popular of the "Trek" pictures at the box office.
This feature opens with a giant alien probe heading towards Earth. The strange sounds of the probe and its energy are disrupting Earth, causing chaos and destruction. The crew eventually decipher what the noises are - the vocal noises of the humpback whale. The only problem: the humpback whales are extinct in the 23rd century. The crew's only choice to save Earth is to head back into the 20th century and bring back a pair of the whales to respond.
The crew of the Enterprise lands in the middle of San Francisco and start to look for a couple of whales to transport back with them. Kirk (William Shatner) and Spock (director Leonard Nimoy) stumble upon a marine park, chatting up one of the workers (Catherine Hicks), who drops the fact that both of the humpback whales in captivity at the park will soon be released into the wild. At the same time, McCoy and Mr. Scott are building tanks and Uhura and Chekov are looking for reliable sources of power to get back.
This fourth edition in the series was certainly a departure from the prior two "Trek" films, which were more dramatic. The comedy, which may have been perfectly entertaining in the 80's when the film was released, does occasionally feel rather dated. However, the cast certainly seems at home in their characters once again, and their interaction does go a long way towards making this lighter outing work. The Hicks character is really the weakest link: she seems strangely unconcerned when Kirk tells her that he's from the 23rd century. The thin romantic angle between the two is also unnecessary.
This isn't the finest tale that the "Trek" universe has ever offered, but it still remains charming in its own way. The cast works together well once again and the eco-friendly message is well-handled.
VIDEO: Paramount presents "Star Trek IV" in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. This is the same acceptable transfer that was included on the prior release. Don Peterman's cinematography for the film earned an Oscar nomination and, although the film's budget was not particularly high, Peterman's cinematography, the film's effects and production design make for one of the better-looking early-to-mid "Trek" films. Sharpness and detail are standard here, with fine clarity and only light softness.
Some noticable problems with the presentation do occur on occasion throughout. Light amounts of edge enhancement are present in a handful of scenes, while a trace or two of compression artifacts were spotted. The print seemed to be in largely fine shape, but there were a few scenes here and there where some instances of dirt and a few marks were seen.
The film's natural color palette looked nice here, with crisp tones and only a little bit of smearing in a scene or two. Black level remained solid, while flesh tones appeared accurate, for the most part. This is a nice transfer, although it would be nice if the film would have been cleaned up a little bit more for this second release.
SOUND: Paramount offers "Star Trek IV" in Dolby Digital 5.1. As with the anamorphic widescreen presentation, the soundtrack here is the same as the prior release. Being probably the least action-oriented of the "Trek" films, there's simply not a lot of reason for surround use, outside of the opening scenes and a couple of fly-overs later in the picture. For the majority, the film's audio is certainly front-heavy, but audio quality is clear, with natural dialogue and warm, crisp music.
EXTRAS: This DVD Special Edition of the fourth film in the series not only offers great menus, but more supplements than the prior three "Trek" SEs. The video-based supplements offer English & French subtitles.
Commentaries: This is a commentary from actor/director Leonard Nimoy and actor William Shatner. Having these two together for one commentary does certainly seem like a promising idea and, for at least the first half of the film, this is quite an enjoyable time. Nimoy, who also offered a commentary on the last "Trek" special edition, provides quite an informative discussion of the challenges in getting another film in the series off the ground, once again with not a particularly high budget. Shatner is much like he was on some of the supplements for the prior "Trek" DVDs - he's funny, somewhat smirky and occsionally makes some unexpected comments. The two were recorded together, but don't have a great deal of back-and-forth discussion, mostly just adding their own perspective when the other is finished. The commentary does go forward quite nicely during the opening half, but there seemed to be more gaps of silence as the film entered the second half. Additionally, there is a text commentary by Michael and Denise Okuda, the authors of "The Star Trek Encyclopedia".
Time Travel: The Art of the Possible: This 11-minute documentary is the first piece that leads off the second disc of this two-disc set. This piece visits with three quantum physics experts, who discuss the possibilities of time travel and the effects that it could have on our world. Interesting stuff, even if it only touches on the surface of the subject.
The Language of Whales: This short featurette offers an interview with marine biologist Ree Brennin, who discusses the theories about what the language of whales really is and she also offers an update on the health of the population.
Kirk's Women: This overlong featurette has some of Shatner's female costars going on and on about how much they like working with him.
A Vulcan Primer: A little too "Trekkie" for my taste, this featurette has an author discussing some of the evolution and history of the Vulcan race.
Futures Past: This nearly 30-minute piece offers a very good overview of the picture's production. Interviews are offered with Nimoy, Shatner, producer Harve Bennett, the film's executive producer and many others. All discuss the changes that were made for this fourth film in the series, some of the obstacles that came up during the production and how the story came together. Alternately silly and informative, this documentary does give a fine idea of how the film was made and how the creators were able to bring in a lighter tone for this outing.
On Location: This 7-minute piece offers comments from executive producer Ralph Winter, Nimoy and others. All offer an informal chat about deciding the classic San Francisco locations where the film would be shot. There's also some fun stories about what happened on-set and how some of the sets were created.
Dailies Deconstruction: This is a four-minute look at multiple-camera dailies for some scenes in the film. It would have been nice if the multi-angle feature would have been used here, but the straight-foward presentation worked fine.
Sound Design: This 11-minute piece offers an interview with sound effects editor Mark Mangini ("Raiders of the Lost Ark", "Green Mile"). Mangini discusses the conversations that took place between himself and director Nimoy on some of the most crucial sound decisions in the picture, as well as how some of the sounds were created. This is a fun, informative featurette, but I would have liked to have heard some information about how the film's soundtrack was remixed to 5.1.
From Outer Space to the Ocean: In this 14-minute piece, the film's effects artists discuss their contributions to the picture, most notably the film's animatronic whales. The viewer also learns more about the film's early computer graphics effects. There's some test footage of the "time travel" sequence here, as well as some good looks at the construction of the Bird of Prey.
Bird of Prey: In this short 2 1/2 minute featurette, Nimoy discusses the concepts that he discussed during production about how the Bird of Prey ship featured should appear. The view is also given a brief look at some of the blueprints for the ship.
Original Interviews: The original interview featurettes with Leonard Nimoy, Deforest Kelly and William Shatner are offered.
Tributes: This section offers two featurettes: one is an 8-minute piece that has son Eugene Roddenberry offering interesting facts about his father's life and career, while the other is a tribute to actor Mark Lenard by his wife Ann and his daughters. Both are very enjoyable and personal tributes that give a lot of insight into their subjects. Both are great, if rather brief, tributes.
Archives: This section offers a moving production photo gallery, along with storyboards for "Encounter with the Saratoga", "The Probe Approaches Earth", "Time Warp", "Mind Meld", "The Whaling Ship", "Return to the 23rd Century", "Communicator" and "NCC 1701-A".
Also: Last, but not least, the film's theatrical trailer.
Final Thoughts: Even though its attempts at humor don't always work and the movie doesn't entertain now quite the way I remember it did, this fourth entry in the "Trek" series still offers light, enjoyable entertainment and fine performances from its cast. Paramount's new Special Edition DVD offers the same audio/video as the prior release, but there's a very substancial amount of supplements here that should definitely entertain fans of the film. Recommended.