It’s Earth Day once again. And to celebrate, StarTrek.com takes a loving look back at the most pro-environmental Star Trek film of them all: Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. The plot came down to this: save the whales, save the world. Man, in the future, had long ago driven humpback whales to extinction and now, ironically, it would take the lyrical whale calls of George and Grace in 1986 to save the future. So, with some sci-fi magic—the slingshot effect (a/k/a light-speed breakaway factor) — Kirk, Spock and the Enterprise crew landed in San Francisco and engaged in an entertaining, often funny, thought-provoking trek into our (then-) contemporary world.
Director-star Leonard Nimoy revealed in his commentary on the Star Trek IV DVD that, early on, the idea was floated of the Enterprise crew seeking… an extinct plant. Fascinating, sure, but not particularly dramatic. However, whales provided genuine heft (literally and figuratively), not to mention beauty and mystery. Now, almost 30 years later, the film holds up well—and so too does its message. Really, the film had it all: a great Trek premise, drama, humor and plenty of action (whaling vessel harpoons bouncing off… sky!), not to mention George and Gracie and a story broad enough and contemporary enough to appeal to the non-Trek fans of the day. 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, how sweet was it to see Majel Barrett and Grace Lee Whitney in the Trek fold once again? Those old enough to remember the actual production of the film still speaks of the experience with awe in their voices. Nimoy lensed much of The Voyage Home on location, and that open-air feeling benefits the film. Cast and crew shot on a real Navy 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 chuckle out of it, including Doohan, who was unscathed. 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—slipped it in there. “By the time we got to IV we were confident,” the late writer-producer Harve Bennett told StarTrek.com in 2010. “Going back to the present (1986) created something that nothing else could have done, which is it presented Star Trek to a non-Trek audience. All you have to do is remember those scenes in the San Francisco streets. People didn’t relate to the characters as Star Trek stars, but kind of as another San Francisco crazy. I adore the lady reacting to Chekov when he asks her “Where can I find the nuclear wessels?” That whole scene presented Star Trek contemporaneously to people who’d never heard of it. That’s why it was the biggest hit and in many ways the most popular of the ones I did.”
And so, from everyone at StarTrek.com to you, happy Earth Day!
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