STAR TREK III: THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK
DVD - Image A Sound A
SCE DVD - Image A Sound A Extras B+
starring William Shatner, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei
screenplay by Harve Bennett
directed by Leonard Nimoy
STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME
DVD - Image B- Sound B Extras C
SCE DVD - Image A Sound A Extras B+
starring William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan
screenplay by Steve Meerson, Peter Krikes, Harve Bennett and Nicholas Meyer
directed by Leonard Nimoy
by Vincent Suarez I've always had a love/hate relationship with the middle installments of the six Star Trek films featuring Captain James T. Kirk and his crew; I would have been content had the series ended with Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn, which is not only a great Trek movie but also an extremely fine piece of filmmaking in itself. (The seventh film in the series, Star Trek: Generations, passed the phasers to Captain Picard of "The Next Generation", and included only brief appearances by a select few under Kirk's command.) For me, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock seemed to betray the spirit, morality, and philosophy of its predecessor, while Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home represented the low point in cinematic "Trek," reducing the series to formulaic farce.
As I collected the films in their various home-video incarnations, my disdain for The Search for Spock grew while I began to be more forgiving of the lightweight The Voyage Home, since it thankfully hadn't dictated the tone of the subsequent Kirk films, both of which steadily restored my faith in "Trek" as intriguing science-fiction. It was with great surprise, then, that in viewing Paramount's recent DVD editions of III and IV that I came away with opposite estimations of the films; love/hate, indeed.
Among other things, The Wrath of Khan is a treatise on the notion that "the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one." In concluding with the death of Mr. Spock (Nimoy), the result of a sacrificial gesture that saved the Enterprise and its crew, the film seemed to signal a proper summation of all the best tendencies with which creator Gene Roddenberry had infused the television series. Yet all of that nobility goes out the window in The Search for Spock as Kirk (Shatner) brazenly defies Starfleet orders to rescue Spock's lost soul, putting the needs of the one well ahead of that of the many. While this affront to the sensibilities which propelled The Wrath of Khan has always offended me, I can't deny that when I finally set these objections aside, I was able to enjoy The Search for Spock for what it is: a highly entertaining adventure with great special effects, mostly fine performances, and a few emotional highlights of its own.
The Search for Spock begins where The Wrath of Khan left off, with Spock's body entombed on Genesis (a once-dead planet impregnated with a life-bringing device) and Kirk piloting a crippled Enterprise back to Earth. Through a cleverly set-up series of sequences, we learn that Dr. McCoy (Kelley) has been inhabited by Spock's 'essence,' and that his body and soul must undergo a Vulcan ritual lest his spirit remain tormented and his wisdom forever lost.
Genesis, however, has become a forbidden area whilst the Federation withstands the controversy of the project, and the Enterprise has been decommissioned in favour of the gleaming new Excelsior. Never one to let rules get in the way (reprising a theme from The Wrath of Khan), Kirk enlists his officers in a clandestine mission to break McCoy out of a Starfleet holding cell (his Spock persona had been speaking too openly of Genesis while trying to charter a ride there), steal the Enterprise, and deliver Spock's body and McCoy to Vulcan. To complicate things, there's the matter of Kruge (Lloyd), a renegade Klingon also headed towards Genesis with the intention of stealing the device.
In resolving its many plot threads, The Search for Spock is a rapidly-paced, genuinely humorous (mostly thanks to McCoy's 'possession' by Spock), often exciting, and surprisingly touching space opera that, negative comparisons to The Wrath of Khan aside, always remains true to its characters. Among the many highlights are Scotty's (Doohan) sabotage of the Excelsior, Kirk's confrontation with Kruge (infinitely better than a similar subplot in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier), and the eventual collapse of Genesis. Most notably, however, depth is brought to the material when Kirk is forced to make sacrifices of his own for Spock's sake, in an admittedly interesting variation on the aforementioned philosophy which informed the second picture (i.e., the needs of the one (Spock outweigh the needs of the one (Kirk)).
First, Kirk must endure Kruge's murder of his son, David (Merritt Butrick), who had designed Genesis and was surveying the planet when the Klingons arrived. (In his book Star Trek: Movie Memories, Shatner rightfully claims that the reaction to David's death is his finest moment as Kirk.) What's more, in a sequence that always brings a tear to my eye (I'm such a geek!), Kirk intentionally destroys the Enterprise while escaping Kruge's clutches. While the film is not without its problems (Robin Curtis, replacing Kirstie Alley as Lt. Saavik, turns in the second most annoying performance in "Trek" movie history, and the banter between Lt. Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) and a cadet during the theft of the Enterprise is ludicrous at best), these moments alone are enough to prompt my reconsideration of the film and award it a strong recommendation.
The same cannot be said of Star Trek IV. For many Trekkers, The Voyage Home is the most beloved "Trek" film, and it was undeniably the most successful: its box-office take soared as even non-Trekkers took the film under their wing. Unfortunately, I find that it obeys two of Hollywood's most stringent conventions. The first is that blockbusters must appeal to the lowest common denominator--which, in this case, means that much of what gives "Trek" its flavour is diluted, if not entirely absent. The second is that, as sequels tend to progress, they eventually reach the state of self-parody, an impulse that can sometimes be fun (take the Scream and Lethal Weapon franchises, for example) but is, more often than not, to the detriment of the integrity of the original, posing a threat to a proper continuation of the series.
Having resurrected Spock in the previous film (Genesis had regenerated the cells in his body and the Vulcan ritual made him whole), Kirk and company are returning home to face the consequences of their actions when a probe with which Starfleet cannot communicate begins to wreak aquatic havoc on Earth. Spock (thank goodness he'd been saved!) determines the probe's language is whalesong, and that the extinct humpback whale needed to satisfactorily answer the probe must be retrieved by going back in time to 1986, conveniently the year of the film's release.
The Voyage Home is a lot of things, none of which I find particularly appealing. First and foremost, it's a comedy. Almost all of the film's humour derives from the 'fish out of water' placement of the star-shipmates in our era. This may have lent considerably to the film's appeal, though most of the jokes are forced and now dated, and director Nimoy--whose novice direction was so sure-handed in The Search for Spock--lethargically lurches from one gag to the next.
The film is also an ecologically-minded tale, and while I don't necessarily mind such fables (Soylent Green is a similarly-themed masterpiece), the narrative wears its less-than-original "save the whales" mantra on its sleeve. Again, this seems calculated to increase the film's appeal at the expense of subtlety and daring. Lastly, and most disappointingly, there's very little genuine (or, at least, interesting) science-fiction in The Voyage Home. What better way to attract an audience of non-Trekkers than make the film light on the sci-fi and heavy on the laughs, while delivering a message upon which everyone can agree? Therein lies my continuing displeasure with the film, which only increases 14 years later.
To be sure, there are some things to like about The Voyage Home. The humour does, at least, derive from a knowledge of the characters, occasionally making the payoffs richer for followers of the series. And, although I grow misty-eyed at the loss of the Enterprise in The Search for Spock, it's intriguing to see the crew spend all but the last moments of the film in Kruge's Bird of Prey. However, these attributes are offset by the single worst "Trek" performance, given by Hicks as Dr. Gillian Taylor, keeper of the whales targeted by Kirk for time-travel to the 23rd Century. At every turn, her dialogue is badly stilted and delivered even more poorly. (For a good laugh, played seriously, check out her final line in the film.) Ultimately, thanks to our familiarity with the characters and their seeming delight in not having to spend too much time running around in space, The Voyage Home is entertaining, but it just rubs me the wrong way.
Surprisingly, Paramount seems to have lavished more care on the DVD of The Search for Spock than on the more popular The Voyage Home. Both films sport anamorphic transfers and remixed 5.1 soundtracks, yet in every department The Search for Spock comes out the clear winner. Both discs have moments of remarkable clarity and breathtaking colour rendition (in particular, the mint green Bird of Prey in The Voyage Home looks gorgeous), but the more recent film oddly suffers from frequently faded images and an overall softness not at all present in The Search for Spock. In fact, The Search for Spock has the distinction of being the best-looking DVD of all the "Trek" films through Generations. (Since it was the most recently mastered, I'm hoping that Paramount has hit their stride in working with the elements of the older "Trek" films in time to do justice to The Wrath of Khan, which is next on their DVD slate.)
The same comparison can be drawn between these new soundtracks. While neither is particularly bad, The Search for Spock employs a more consistently rich and full soundfield. The LFE channel really kicks in at times while remaining virtually silent on its counterpart. To further underscore the sonic differences, Leonard Rosenman's often lampoonish score for The Voyage Home is occasionally shrill, while James Horner's grand compositions for The Search for Spock are perfectly balanced. Heck, Paramount has even gone the extra mile in providing an anamorphic trailer for The Search for Spock while the trailer on The Voyage Home is letterboxed but flat. Both, however, are rather worn and feature thin 2.0 stereo tracks.
The only edge The Voyage Home's disc has is its inclusion of the 25-minute 'featurette' that previously appeared on Paramount's 'Director's Series' videocassette and LaserDisc releases of the film. The supplement is a mildly interesting walk with Nimoy through Paramount's backlot as he discusses the making of the film and how he essentially blackmailed Paramount into letting him direct The Search for Spock after they asked him to return as Spock following the character's demise in The Wrath of Khan. How logical! Originally published: April 19, 2000.
THE DVD - STAR TREK III: THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK (SPECIAL COLLECTOR'S EDITION)
by Bill Chambers Paramount's "Special Collector's Edition" DVD of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock does not, unlike the previous two SEs in this ongoing series, contain a restored cut of the film at hand. That's because, according to this 2-disc set, at no point in the process of making this second lucrative sequel was first-time director Leonard Nimoy's vision compromised. Extras here run the gamut from good to gratuitous, and sometimes they're one and the same. The feature itself is supplemented by the usual tangential text commentary from Trekkers Michael and Denise Okuda as well as a crisply paced, semi-screen-specific yak-track with Nimoy, DP Charles Correll, writer-producer Harve Bennett, and actress Robin Curtis, all recorded individually. The Okudas are the only ones to acknowledge a horrid recycling of Star Trek II's climax that is passed off as security-camera footage (the Enterprise's flight data recorder pans artfully and cuts to reaction shots, does it?), though they let it off easy while snarkily noting the absence of a Commodore64 in Kirk's quarters. Over on the second platter are the now-standard bevy of featurettes, starting with Mark Rance's 26-minute "Captain's Log," a summary of Star Trek III's silky-smooth production (save for a fire that almost destroyed a soundstage) that ends too soon, before any discussion of the film's reception. Shatner's pretty funny in this segment, it should be said--he appears to have accepted and embraced his role as Trek's resident narcissist.
Under the heading The Star Trek Universe you'll find the overlong conversation with modelmakers Bill George, Steve Gawley, and others "Space Docks and Birds of Prey" (28 mins.); "Speaking Klingon," a 21-minute introduction to Klingonese conducted by linguist Marc Okrand in which he reveals that James "Scotty" Doohan scripted the first Klingon sentences, spoken in Star Trek: The Motion Picture; and a 12-minute piece on "Klingon and Vulcan Costumes" hosted by designers Maggie Schpak and Robert Fletcher, the latter responsible for updating the Klingon look from the original television show, where they were just humans with goatees. A speculative documentary on colonizing Mars called "Terraforming and the Prime Directive," which spins off from the notion of the Genesis experiment in Treks II and III, enthrals for its twenty-eight minutes; ten storyboard sequences (wherein the artist refers to the picture as "Star Trek III: Exciting Title Here!"), galleries of behind-the-scenes and frame grabs, and the trailers for Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and the upcoming Star Trek: Nemesis round out the DVD. A worthy successor to the other volumes in this collection, it's also a redundant purchase if you own the single-disc release and seek nothing more than improved audio and video. Originally published: October 23, 2002.
THE DVD - STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME (SPECIAL COLLECTOR'S EDITION)
by Bill Chambers I'm more forgiving of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home's pre-existing DVD transfer, recycled for this Collector's Edition, than Vincent was, but for brevity's sake, his sound and image assessments still apply. Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner join forces for a commentary track that's long on camaraderie and a little short on factoids, though the standard Okuda trivia track more than compensates. While skirting the film's original premise (Paramount wanted the crew of the Enterprise to encounter Eddie Murphy, and many early drafts of the script were commissioned with this idea in place), Nimoy does discuss ecological emblems that predated the incorporation of humpback whales. Under The Star Trek Universe on the second platter of this two-disc set, you'll find: the riveting "Time Travel: The Art of the Possible" ((too bloody short at) 11 mins.), in which three physicists risk embarrassment discussing potential concepts for a time machine; "The Language of Whales" (6 mins.), a tour-guidey, Earth-biased lecture on whale tongue from the Monterey Bay Aquarium; "A Vulcan Primer" (8 mins.), a snoozer featuring another semi-delusional Trek novelist (Margaret Wander Bonnano) offering such penetrating insights as "[Vulcans] eat a lot of veggies;" and "Kirk's Women" (8 mins.), with past love interests Louise Sorel, Katherine Browne, Celeste Yarnell, and The Voyage Home's Catherine Hicks yammering on about their fleeting moments in the thrall of James Tiberius.
Production begins with the first-rate "Futures Past: A Look Back" (27 mins.), with no mention made, once again, of the Murphy fiasco (making Shatner's Movie Memories a vital reference), although Nimoy is not too shy to criticize the studio's lamebrained 'note' that he should subtitle the shrieking probe/whale interactions; continues with "On Location" (7 mins.), which specifically covers the 10-day San Francisco shoot; moves on to a boring "Dailies Deconstruction" of the A/B roll from the 'Double Dumbass' scene; and concludes with audio engineer Mark Mangini's illuminating reminiscence "Below the Line: Sound Design" (12 mins.). Visual Effects encompasses two featurettes--1986's "From Outer Space to the Ocean" (14 mins.) and "Bird of Prey" (3 mins.)--that feel overfamilar, particularly the latter. Nimoy, Shatner (in full "Get a life, people!" mode), and DeForest Kelly appear in 15-minute Original Interviews conducted before the release of the third sequel, all, by fanboys almost exclusively interested in the plot of Star Trek IV, annoying each of the participants to varying degrees. Gene Roddenberry's son and members of Mark Lenard's family supply moving if uncomfortably private Tributes to the departed men (8 mins. and 13 mins., respectively), and finally, Archives includes a 4-minute montage of behind-the-scenes material ("Production Gallery") and storyboard galleries for eight individual sequences. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home's theatrical trailer caps off the nice set.
- Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
103 minutes; PG; 2.35:1 (16x9-enhanced); English DD 5.1, English Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround; CC; English subtitles; DVD-9; Region One; Paramount
SCE - 103 minutes; PG; 2.35:1 (16x9-enhanced); English DD 5.1, English Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround; CC; English subtitles; 2 DVD-9s; Region One; Paramount
- Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
118 minutes; PG; 2.35:1 (16x9-enhanced); English DD 5.1, English Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround; CC; English subtitles; DVD-9; Region One; Paramount
SCE - 118 minutes; PG; 2.35:1 (16x9-enhanced); English DD 5.1, English Dolby Surround, French DD 2.0 (Stereo); CC; English subtitles; 2 DVD-9s; Region One; Paramount