Commentary Commentary

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

Plot synopsis: In the 23rd century, a mysterious (and strangely phallic) probe is headed towards Earth, destorying everything in its path. Kirk, Spock and the rest of the Enterprise crew time travel back to 1986 to rescue two humpback whales, which are the only living beings capable of communicating with the probe. Wackiness and adventure ensue.

Voices behind the commentary curtain: Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner

Summary: Hands down, one of my favorite commentary tracks of all time. The voices of Kirk and Spock treat us to a delightful mix of Trek trivia, behind the scenes tidbits and general wackiness. Among the highlights on this track is a segment where Shatner quotes D.H. Lawrence while croning whale songs. Yeah… if that’s not awesome, I don’t know what is.

Commentary: Full disclosure here – I’m a Star Trek fan. Not the insane Trekkie type per se (I don’t own my own uniform, I don’t live in my parents’ basement, etc), but I’ve seen all 6 of the original series movies and I’ve watched episodes from all of the various series. And Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home is my favorite movie in the Trek movie series. So I was certainly inclined to give this movie a good rating if the commentary was halfway decent.

Anyhoo, the commentary track on this DVD (the special Collector’s Edition, woo!) is provided by William Shatner (a.k.a. Captain Kirk) and Leonard Nimoy (a.k.a. Spock). Nimoy not only served as an actor in this movie, but also as the director and story co-creator.

Rumors have abounded over the years about the alleged conflict between the Trek stars, especially between Shatner and Nimoy. However, the tone of this commentary is that of two old buddies (or, if that is too strong a word, at least former comrades-in-arms). Both men have a really nice chemistry and they contribute equally to the talking.

I like how they discuss things that fans would – continuity, Trek trivia, etc. Trek fans out there will particularly enjoy the moments where Nimoy and Shatner seem to be commenting not as actors or as a director, but as regular viewers/fans – chuckling at classic character moments such as Bones delivering one of this trademark sarcastic quips. Their knowledge of the history of their show/movie series is solid and they provide a lot of insight into the crafting of the series as a whole, not just this movie. I particularly enjoyed the moments where they reminisce about working with the late DeForest Kelley, affectionately referring to him as “D” and laughing over good old times.

Overall, the commentary is well paced and there is little dead air. The topics run the gamut from highly technical matters such as special effects to more artistic matters such as story telling techniques and acting methods. Nimoy’s age does show now and then with his comments about special effects. He raves about how nifty some of the effects are and how far along they’ve come in the past few decades. It’s sort of like listening to your grandpa talk about technology. Still, he and Shatner do provide a lot of good comments about the history of film making, the process of film making, and the process of acting. You’ll even learn a little something about history and science, as both men discuss the real world plight of whales, the efforts of Greenpeace to protect them and so forth.

As a director, Nimoy is refeshingly frank about what he thinks does and does not work about the movie. For example, he comments that he drops the ball a little on the time travel sequence, admitting that it doesn’t have the impact that he would have liked. There is some discussion about the various special effects and little tricks they used to create different illusions. Mostly Nimoy talks about that – Shatner just raves about how cool it all is. They talk about how budget limited some of the shots they were trying to accomplish, and some of the work-arounds they came up with.

Shatner contributes his own special brand of rambling insanity as well, and it’s his commentary that really makes this track the delicious morsal that it is. He’s a nice mix of pompous, humble and totally delusional. I do appreciate his sense of humor about himself (he admits he hated the idea of time travel, and said so, and was glad that no one listened to him). His moments of self-deprecation are both hilarious and touching. Shockingly enough, every now and then he says something fairly perceptive and/or intelligent. There are some real nuggests of goodness amongst the rambling. His comments about how being on film grants a certain level of immortality to the actors are actually fairly deep and interesting. But such serious moments are balanced out by Shatner’s rambling descriptions of his one man poetry shows (which he re-enacts for listeners, quoting D.H. Lawrence and croning whale songs) and other artistic endeavours.

The Verdict: An almost-perfect commentary track, with something for everyone, from casual fans to the most hardcore Trekkies. If only all commentary tracks were this amusing. Final grade: A


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