Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
There is a big debate in the Star Trek fandom as to which film is better, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home or Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn. It is a fun argument since both are great films. I love both films. Both films rank as two of my favorite films of all time. I believe that most Star Trek fans will slightly give the edge to Star Trek II. However, I have never doubted which my personal favorite is. It is this one: Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.
I was 17 when this movie came out, and again I saw it on opening night with my buddies. I specifically remember having to take the SAT’s the next morning. I enjoyed the film, went to bed in a good mood. Woke up in a good mood. I did well on that test, got into UCLA, and began a journey that has led me to my current life. I jokingly attribute Star Trek IV to putting me in a good state of mind to ace the SATs.
The movie was pure magic, and I was lost in the film’s narrative dream. When the film came out on VHS, I bought it immediately and watched it over and over again. I became obsessed with film. And during my college years at UCLA, I wanted this movie about a 100 times. I memorized portions of this movie. I was able to quote almost the entire film and I could recite EXACTLY the entire test that Spock is given by the Vulcan computer. “Computer: Who said logic is the cement of our civilization in which we ascend from chaos using reason as our guide? Spock: T’Plana Hath, matron of Vulcan Philosophy. Computer: Correct!” Yes. I was able to recite that EXACTLY! I am not kidding when I say that I was obsessed with this movie.
There was actually a point in my life for a whole year where I had to play a tape of Star Trek IV on my VHS on low volume in order to fall asleep. Some people have comfort food, I had a comfort movie. In retrospect, it was quite weird. Perhaps it WAS an unhealthy obsession, but it was an important part of my life. I don’t think there is another film, aside from perhaps the first 1977 Star Wars, that I had such an intense and intimate relationship with a movie.
This film has so many scenes that I loved:
-The initial Vulcan computer test.
-The banter about death between Spock and McCoy. McCoy says, "You really have gone where no man has gone before."
- The Enterprise crew walking around modern San Francisco like fishes out of water. Not only was this fun, but I think the open-world of San Francisco gave this move the feeling of larger scope. The movie no longer feels constricted to the sets, it gave it a very real-world sense.
-When Spock Vulcan nerve-pinches the punk rocker.
-The “Do you like Italian?” banter between Kirk and Spock.
- The scene where Scotty grabs the Macintosh mouse like a microphone and says, "Hello computer..."
- The interrogation of Chekov. "You play games with me and you're through." "I am, can I go now?"
This movie was non-stop fun!
And the ending was perfect. Kirk and his crew save the day. Admiral Kirk has his rank stripped to the rank of Captain. And the movie ends with him on his new Enterprise taking off to new adventures. "Let's see what she's got."
Awesome. Pure Awesome!
And here is the awesome part. I watched this movie again today, in preparation for this podcast, and my wife watched it with me. Now, she is a fan of Star Trek the Next Generation AND of the 2009 Star Trek and 2013 Star Trek Into Darkness. But she is NOT a fan of the original series. She has not watched the original TV show, and had never seen any of the movies until now.
In review, she utterly HATED Star Trek the Motion Picture. Found it painfully slow, boring, and completely unwatchable.
She had difficulty engaging in Star Trek II: Wrath of Kahn because of the bad special effects. She found it distracting to the story.
She was able to tolerate Star Trek III: the Search for Spock, and found the breezy story fairly watchable.
I didn't know how she would react to this. Well, SHE LOVED IT! When the probe came on screen, she asked, 'Why is it screeching like that." And I said, "They're a race of alien whales trying to contact the whales on Earth." She said, 'What?!?!?" and was intrigued and got hooked right away.
To my surprised, she was glued to the TV, laughed at all the right jokes, enjoyed all the right moments, and afterwards, said she really enjoyed it.
So, his film, which has a history of hooking non-Star Trek fans, and introducing them to Trek, did its job one more time. That's one more reason why I love this movie.
Now, let’s talk about how this film got made.
Even before the release of Star Trek 3, Paramount gave Leonard Nimoy the green light for a sequel. They were so pleased with Star Trek 3, that they basically lifted all constraints they put on him for Search for Spock, and basically let him do anything he wanted.
The first story-concept Nimoy and Bennett toyed with was a story titled 'Star Trek IV: The Trial of Kirk". This was to be a continuation of Star Trek III where the Klingon's put Admiral Kirk on trial for the death of Kruge's crew. While the whole concept was thrown away, we see small glimpses of it at the beginning of this movie, and a similar idea in Star Trek 6: The Undiscovered Country.
The next thing Nimoy and Harve Bennet agreed on was to do a much lighter-toned film without a clear cut villain, since the last two films were very villain-heavy.
William Shatner demanded too much money, and it looked like he would NOT be in the film. Keep in mind, William Shatner had a very successful TV series called TJ Hooker so had a little leverage to negotiate. Therefore, Nimoy and Bennet considered doing a prequel about the adventures of young Kirk, Spock, and McCoy as cadets in Starfleet Academy using lesser known actors. Sound familiar?
William Shatner and Paramount settled the salary dispute, and Shatner and Nimoy were each offered $2.5 million to return. In addition to the $2.5 million, Shatner was also given a clause in his contract which would allow him to direct the next film.
Nimoy and Bennet decided to do a time travel story that had a message about the present. Something we took for granted now, would be instrumental in saving the future.
In the original treatment, a disease or plague would be wiping out humanity, and it could only be cured with a small fish that only existed in the rainforest of the past, the rainforest having been completely destroyed at the latter end of the twenty first century. Nimoy had become interested in extinct animals since reading a book on the subject. A small animal called the "snail darter" had just been put on the endangered animals list. However, Nimoy and Bennet worried that the image of thousands of people dying by disease would be depressing and undermine this new humorous movie.
Also, Nimoy worried that the Enterprise traveling 600 years in the past to bring back a tiny fish would be anticlimactic. Nimoy came up with the perfect solution. Not a tiny fish, but a huge whale. Nimoy got the idea after talking to his friend about the mystery of the song of humpback whales, and thought the idea of whales and their whale songs would add another layer of intrigue.
You are not going to believe who was almost in this movie. Eddie Murphy. Eddie Murphy was a huge Star Trek fan, remember all those Star Trek references in his original stand-up act? He had just become an international phenomenon after 48 hours and Trading Places, and in 1984 had just risen to superstar status with Beverly Hill Cop. Eddie Murphy approached them and asked if he could be in the next Star Trek movie.
Executive Producer Jeff Katzenberg described it as "either the best or worst idea in the world". Nimoy and Bennet were intrigued, and thought his presence could widen Star Trek's audience base.
In the original screenplay by Steve Meerson and Peter Krikes, which is VERY CLOSE to the version that ended up on screen. In the script, Eddie Murphy was to play a college biology professor who believes in aliens (sort of a UFO nut" who also studies Whale Songs. He would help the Enterprise crew find their whales and navigate the world of 1986 San Francisco. His meeting up with the crew would have propelled the plot, but also provided comic relief.
Unfortunately, Eddie Murphy hated the part, and really wanted to play a Starfleet officer, or an alien. He turned the role down, and chose to make The Golden Child instead. The Eddie Murphy part was changed to the role of FEMALE Marine Biologist Gillian Taylor. Who I thought was great, and years later, Eddie Murphy regretted turning the role down.
Incidentally, in that original screenplay, the reason Lt Saavik stays on Vulcan is that she is pregnant with Spock's baby. I guess Pon Far really does involve more than rubbing their fingers together.
However, Nimoy and Bennett were not 100% satisfied with the script, so he called Nick Meyer (who wrote and directed Star Trek II) and the two of them cleaned up the script in 12 days. Nick Meyer rewrote the 1986 San Francisco scenes, and Bennet rewrote the Future Federation scenes.
One of my favorite scenes, the scene where Spock Vulcan nerve pinches a punk rocker actually came from an incident in real life. Leonard Nimoy was waiting at a bus stop and encountered a man with a loud stereo blasting it loudly annoying everyone. Leonard Nimoy remembered thinking to himself "If I were Spock, I'd just nerve pinch the hell out of him." Hence Nimoy actually DID in this movie. His assistant Kirk Thatcher asked to play the part of the punk rocker, shaved his head, bought his own punk clothes, and even came up with the idea to have his head turn off the stereo as he fell unconscious.
Kirk Thatcher was so dedicated and worked so hard on this film that he was promoted to Associate Producer by the end of the film, and to this day is currently a working TV director in Hollywood. He directed a couple of Muppets TV movies, and directed a TV show called Sid the Science Kid on PBS.
Most of the scenes of Whales were actually animatronic models, and these were so realistic that the US fishing authority initially criticized the movie for getting too close to the whales in the filming. They were surprised that they were not real, and were surprised to find out that they were models filmed in a Paramount lot pool. I have to admit, I was watching it today, knowing they were robots, and they still looked really good.
And here is a bit of Star Trek trivia. Everyone knows that one of the most famous and iconic Star Trek lines, was never uttered on the show. "Beam me up Scotty” Kirk NEVER said this. Well, he says it here. And this is the first time, in the history of Star Trek franchise, where Kirk actually says these lines.
The film came in significantly under budget at $21 million. (This was actually $1 million UNDER budget) It was a huge critical and box-office success, making $39.6 million in its first week, and grossing over $133 million. (Roughly $286 million in 2013 dollars)
The film was a huge critical success and was generally well-received by all critics. It still holds a solid 85% on Rotten Tomatoes. Furthermore, this film also appealed to people that had previously NOT been Star Trek fans.
The interest this film generated interest for the Star Trek franchise. All of the Major US television studios, NBC, ABC, CBS, and the new TV station Fox, went to Gene Roddenberry and Paramount and offered to help produce a new Star Trek TV series starring the original cast.
This would help Gene Roddenberry launch his Star Trek: The Next Generation, not on a major US network, but in something known as "first run Syndication" where the show was sold directly to independent TV stations and network affiliates.
Ironically, the high salaries that the principle actors, especially William Shatner, were paid during Star Trek IV convinced Paramount that they needed to use unknown actors in new roles for the new Star Trek TV series. Hence Captain Jean Luc Picard, Data, and Riker were born.