Maybe I'm just a complete contrarian, but I continue to find myself in the
minority opinion about the Star Trek films. Oh, I agree with the
general consensus for the two best - II and VI can't be beat -
but my support of the much-derided pictures V and Generations
keeps me from the mainstream.
I'm going to go in an opposite but also potentially unpopular decision about
1986's Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. This film usually appears in
the top rankings of Trek pictures, and it seems to be easily the most
popular with casual fans of the series; it's received such a large audience
due to the fact it's much more light-hearted and comical than most of the
other pictures. IV generally is called the "accessible" Trek.
Unfortunately, that easy spirit that lets so many non-fans enjoy the film
makes it less and less palatable to me as time passes. ST IV is one
of those movies that I initially liked but that seems to age poorly; with
each additional viewing, I find myself less and less enchanted with the
There's just something about the forced humor of the story that wears on me.
Trek humor tends to be broad and unsophisticated and most of its
appeal comes from the fact it's the Enterprise crew reading it; it's the
incongruous nature of the lines that make them (ostensibly) funny.
That kind of humor doesn't hold up well over time, especially since many of
the jokes in IV seem dated; unlike the show itself, the movie appears
welded to the middle Eighties and hasn't made a strong transition into
One other hallmark of its era is the rather preachy environmental message of
the movie. I'm all for saving the whales and other initiatives, but
IV really seems heavy-handed in its treatment of the cause.
Everything's spelled out so explicitly that it quickly becomes exceedingly
tiresome. Trek works best when it's subtle, but the producers of
this film have no faith that viewers will get their message unless they beat
us over the head with it.
I could forgive those problems, however, were it not for the movie's most
fatal flaw: the presence of Catherine Hicks as marine biologist Gillian
Taylor. Hicks offers one of the all-time annoying performances. She emotes
her lines horribly and stands as a thoroughly unlikeable character. There's
nothing in the role that makes it so; it's all from Hicks as she seems in a
permanent snit. Hicks performance is so miserable that she almost
single-handedly ruins this movie; she makes Gillian one of the
least-appealing characters I've seen.
Star Trek IV is not a bad film, but I really feel the high esteem
with which it's regarded is misplaced. It's a fun experience the first time
around, but it's an artificial high that decreases significantly with every
rescreening. Only the existence of the absolutely miserable Star Trek:
The Motion Picture keeps Star Trek IV from residing firmly at the
bottom of my Trek rankings.
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home appears in its original theatrical
aspect ratio of 2.35:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has
been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Although this is undoubtedly the best
the film has ever looked in a home video release - it's greatly improved
over the 1991 laserdisc - the picture presents quite a few problems that
ultimately result in quality that's just about average.
Sharpness is one concern. While the picture often seems pretty crisp, it
also frequently tends toward softness for no apparent reason; the vagueness
isn't extreme, but the image simply looks "off" too much of the time, even
during daylight shots, which should come across the most clearly. Moiré
effects appear only rarely - generally when we see usual culprits like
grates or blinds - and the few jagged edges occurred due to the anamorphic
downconversion on my 4X3 TV; these happened but not with any high level of
Print defects mar the image mainly during effects shots, especially if
there's a composite. At those times, we see fairly high levels of speckles
and grit, whereas these issues are not a substantial concern during other
parts of the film. Some grain intrudes at other times, but not to a
significant degree; it's really only the effects shots that have problems.
Colors generally appear accurate and natural, but a fair amount of
oversaturation intrudes at times. The biggest culprit stems from intense
red lighting on some starship bridges; the picture does not handle this
well, and the tones are runny and smeared. Some intense yellow tones also
cause problems during shots on Vulcan; essentially, the film appears able to
handle more pedestrian colors, but when the intensity increases, the image
runs into problems.
The general smoky murkiness of starship bridges also creates picture flaws.
These images often look rather fuzzy and ill-defined. Black levels tend to
be adequate, but shadow detail - especially in these starship shots - can be
pretty thick and overly dark. While this DVD undoubtedly does a better job
with the picture than any previous effort and still seems at least average,
I nonetheless must admit I was a bit disappointed with it; the image
sometimes looks quite good, but the overall flaws make it not as strong as I
think it should have been.
More satisfying is the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of ST IV. The
forward soundstage is very broad but nicely spatial, with convincing imagery
that places audio in specific spots but blends it together nicely. The
surrounds aren't tremendously active, but they add to the experience with
some effective backing, and we even hear some decent split surrounds on
Sound quality seems pretty good. Dialogue appears largely natural and
clear, although some edginess and slight distortion occasionally occurs.
Effects also are realistic and clear, with some nice punch at times; the
audio that accompanies the probe seems especially rich and strong. The
score appears quite bright and vivid, with depth as well. The only
exception happens when the crew enter San Francisco and the track switches
briefly to "modern" music; those parts lack bass and seem flat in comparison
with the rest. Despite the age of the mix, ST IV manages to offer a
very satisfying audio experience.
ST IV's light on supplements, but it's more packed than any of the
other Trek films to date. The main attraction is a nine and a half
minute featurette with director Leonard Nimoy. This piece is mildly
interesting as Nimoy discusses his thoughts about directing the film. Most
entertaining, though, is the simple sight of seeing Nimoy direct while in
full Spock garb. I also enjoyed the "behind the scenes" shots, especially
from the interaction between Nimoy and Shatner. Most ironic moment: when
Nimoy addresses the importance of watching films in their original aspect
ratios, all while the featurette shows the clips in pan and scan segments.
It's not a great program, but it's mildly interesting and hey - at least
Finally, the DVD offers the movie's original theatrical trailer. Again,
this is a good haul for a Trek film, but I still wish that Paramount
would eventually release some nice special editions of these movies.
Recommendation time, and this is a tough one. I'm a Trek fan and
also a completist, so it's a no-brainer for me - and for others like me - to
own this DVD. However, the fact remains that I don't honestly much like
Star Trek IV, and since it seems to offer more and more flaws with
each rescreening, that doesn't bode well for a purchase. The DVD provides
very good sound but the picture is a real disappointment, and the
supplements don't add much to the package. Leave this one for Trek