We know it doesn't take much to get Star Trek fans engaged in debate. So we put it to you: was Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home – which opened on November 26, 1986, or 29 years ago today, and was unquestionably the most financially successful and probably the most popular of the original-cast features -- also the best of the six big-screen adventures starring Willian Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, Nichelle Nichols, James Doohan, George Takei and Walter Koenig? The StarTrek.com staff says… yes, trailed oh-so-closely by Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
Star Trek IV had everything: a great Trek premise, drama, humor, a pro-environment message and plenty of action, not to mention whales and a story broad enough and contemporary enough to appeal to the non-Trek fans of the day. The late, great Nimoy directed with a light touch, with the notable exception of that quirky/cool sci-fi/time travel montage during the slingshot sequence, and, best of all, everyone in the supporting cast got his or her moment to shine. We also loved Leonard Roseman’s spot-on score, the superb, Oscar-nominated work of cinematographer Don Peterman, and the lovely performances by Mark Lenard and Jane Wyatt as Spock’s father and mother, respectively. Catherine Hicks added warmth, charm and fun to the proceedings as Dr. Gillian Taylor, though she and Shatner did not quite click on the romantic chemistry end of the equation. And, it was also nice to see Majel Barrett and Grace Lee Whitney (who, sadly, passed away in May at the age of 85) in the Trek fold once again.
Anyone old enough to remember the making of the film still speaks of the production with awe in their voices. Nimoy shot much of The Voyage Home on location, and that open-air feeling benefits the film. They shot on a real Naval ship, and there’s no mistaking that, either. There are near-legendary stories about securing the whale footage, and that footage was craftily edited into additional scenes realized with large animatronics and scale models. And then there were the San Francisco Bay scenes, with the Klingon Bird of Prey. Those were shot in the famous water tank – called B Tank, capable of holding 914,023 gallons of water – at Paramount Pictures. Nimoy, sporting Spock’s white robe, oversaw the proceedings as the cast stood astride the downed Bird of Prey, wind machines whipped water all around, lightning machines crackled and cameras rolled. At one point, James Doohan slipped and flopped into the water. Everyone on set got a laugh out of it, including Doohan, who was unhurt. That particular take is not in the resulting scene in the movie, but check out the end-credits sequence that recaps the film. Nimoy – or maybe his film editor – snuck it in there.
Anyway, 29 years later, the film holds up beautifully. It looks and sounds fantastic. Wrath of Khan is far more dramatic, of course, and it’s inarguably purer Star Trek, but, for our money, The Voyage Home wins the honor of being the best original-cast Star Trek film.
Now it's your turn? The Voyage Home, Wrath of Khan... or was another film the best of the bunch?