I never understood why the powers-that-be didn’t pick up the storyline that was left hanging at the end of “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home”: the question of who sent the probe to Earth and why. I realize that tale was told in the novel “Probe,” but it should have been the basis for “Star Trek V,” rather than the embarrassment that was eventually released.
Now that I have that off my chest, let’s look at this tidy little trilogy, which in retrospect still hangs together as a nice story arc, even though the main plot of “Star Trek IV” doesn’t follow organically out of the events in “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.” However, the bridge between II and III is nicely handled, with the newly created Genesis planet serving as a nice payoff to McCoy’s “be careful what you wish for” admonition during “Wrath of Khan.”
Even though Nicholas Meyer had no interest in “Star Trek” before he was hired for the second installment, he proved to have the right eye and ear for the material. Robert Wise has a rich directorial career, including taking the helm of the sci-fi classic “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” but he didn’t really seem to understand the essence of the franchise when he made “Star Trek: The Motion Picture.”
Meyer clearly grasped not only the basics of the characters but also the fact that the Enterprise is obviously the military in space. To that end, he dressed the cast in military-like uniforms, brought in such military protocol as inspections and regulations, and cast the starcraft as battleships in space. Those ideas carried through the third and fourth films, as Kirk risked his career to save a friend and then had to answer for his refusal to follow orders. Of course, saving the planet from destruction has a way of mitigating previous offenses.
In the bonus features on Paramount’s previous two-disc Special Edition of “Wrath of Khan,” Meyer says he wasn’t thrilled with the last-minute addition made to the end of the film, which set up Spock’s resurrection in “Star Trek III.” Personally, I’ve never had a problem with that plot development, since the death and return of a major character has long been an element of genre stories; even Sherlock Holmes seemingly died at one point in his career. Unlike some fans, I also feel that “Search for Spock” is a solid entry in the series, one that breaks the “odd-numbered ‘Trek’ films stink” rule.
The characters didn’t get a lot of time to process the return of their friend, however, since “The Voyage Home” threw them straight into a new adventure, often referred to as “the one with the whales.” Until J.J. Abrams’ reinvention of “Trek” hit theaters this year, the fourth installment was the highest grossing in the series, even without adjusting for inflation. It succeeded in doing what “Trek” couldn’t do again until this year: bring the franchise to a wider audience. The “Next Generation” films in particular tended to be very “inside baseball” – that is, they appealed to a small fan base intimately familiar with all things “Trek.” That is why “Trek” struggled until now to reach the status level of its cousin, “Star Wars.”
If you have the previously released two-disc Special Editions of this trilogy and you’re a casual fan, you probably don’t need this new set. Paramount loves to dust off old movies, slap on a few new bonus features, and try to milk the fan base for some extra cash when a new film hits theaters. They did it with the “Indiana Jones” series last year, and they’re doing it again with a slew of new “Trek” discs this year. Some of them, such as Blu-ray releases of the original movies and TV series, are justified; others, not so much.
However, if you’re a die-hard Trekkie, you’ll probably want to snap up this trilogy set simply so you can have everything “Trek”-related on DVD. The bonus features on these three discs aren’t bad; there’s just nothing as intriguing as the previous batch of supplements, which in particular put William Shatner’s hilariously enormous, yet very delicate, ego on display.
(My favorite moment was when he complained that Harve Bennett and Leonard Nimoy secretly cooked up a setup for the third film while they were making the second one, since Nimoy had decided he wanted to keep making “Trek” films after all. Shatner moaned about how he acted his heart out during Spock’s death scene, only to see that performance go to waste since the character returned in the next movie. Dude, aren’t you supposed to give it your all every time you’re in front of the camera?)
Each of these discs features a new commentary, along with a handful of featurettes, including a piece that’s supposed to be a video clip from the Starfleet Academy’s science files on “Khan,” which covers the planet Ceti Alpha Six. Other features include one on “The Search for Spock,” which discusses the Vulcan katra transfer, and one on “The Voyage Home,” which digs into the mystery behind the whale probe. Unfortunately, none of them reveal anything very interesting.
The rest of the featurettes are more worthwhile and delve into a variety of topics, including fans’ “Star Trek” props collections; James Horner’s “Star Trek II” score; a tribute to the late Ricardo Montalban delivered by Meyer; the old-school special effects created by ILM; a discussion with the guy who played a 17-year-old Spock in “Star Trek III”; the environmental message behind “Voyage Home,” complete with thoughts from Greenpeace members; a look back at how the three films became a trilogy; an overview of Pavel Chekov’s more prominent role in the fourth film; and a tour of the “Star Trek” props at the Science-Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame in Seattle, along with an interview with producer Harve Bennett.
The commentary tracks take a fan perspective on the films, since the “Here’s how we made these movies” perspective was already covered on the previous Special Editions. Nicholas Meyer is the only previous commentary participant who returns. Manny Coto, who was one of the producers on the “Star Trek: Enterprise” TV series, discusses “Star Trek II” with him. On the third film, Ronald D. Moore and Michael Taylor, both of whom wrote many episodes of “The Next Generation,” “Deep Space Nine,” and “Voyager,” share their thoughts. Finally, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, the writers of the new “Star Trek” movie, chat about “Star Trek IV.”
The bonus features on these discs add up to a nice piece of nostalgia, but I can’t blame you if you’re suffering from “Star Trek” fatigue right about now, between the hoopla over the new film and the fact that this is the third time these older movies have appeared on DVD. If you already have the two-disc Special Editions, you’re really not missing much.