Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986 Movies)
Director:- Leonard Nimoy
Producer:- Harve Bennett
Music by:- Leonard Rosenman
November 26, 1986
Country:- United States
Budget:- $21 Million
Box office:- $133 Million
In 2286, an enormous cylindrical probe moves through space, sending out an indecipherable signal and disabling the power of ships it passes. As it takes up orbit around Earth, its signal disables the global power grid and generates planetary storms, creating catastrophic, sun-blocking cloud cover. Starfleet Command sends out a planetary distress call and warns starships not to approach Earth.
On the planet Vulcan, the former officers of the USS Enterprise are living in exile (after the events of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock). Accompanied by the Vulcan Spock, still recovering from his resurrection, the crew — except for Saavik, who remains on Vulcan — take their captured Klingon Bird of Prey vessel (renamed the Bounty, after the Royal Navy ship) and return to Earth to face trial for their actions. Hearing Starfleet’s warning, Spock determines that the probe’s signal matches the song of extinct humpback whales, and that the object will continue to wreak havoc until its call is answered. The crew uses their ship to travel back in time via a slingshot maneuver around the Sun, planning to return with a whale to answer the alien signal.
Arriving in 1986, the crew finds their ship’s power drained. Hiding their ship in San Francisco‘s Golden Gate Park using its cloaking device, the crew split up to accomplish several tasks: Admiral James T. Kirk and Spock attempt to locate humpback whales, while Montgomery Scott, Leonard McCoy, and Hikaru Sulu construct a tank to hold the whales they need for a return to the 23rd century. Uhura and Pavel Chekov are tasked to find a nuclear reactor, whose energy leakage will enable their ship’s power to be restored.
Kirk and Spock discover a pair of whales in the care of Dr. Gillian Taylor at a Sausalito aquarium, and learn they will soon be released into the wild. Kirk tells her of his mission and asks for the tracking frequency for the whales, but she refuses to cooperate. Meanwhile, Scott, McCoy, and Sulu trade the formula of transparent aluminum for the materials needed for the whale tank. Uhura and Chekov locate a nuclear powered ship, the aircraft carrier Enterprise. They collect the power they need, but are discovered on board. Uhura is beamed back but Chekov is captured and severely injured in an escape attempt.
Taylor learns the whales have been released early, and goes to Kirk for assistance. Taylor, Kirk, and McCoy rescue Chekov and return to the now recharged Bird of Prey. After transporting the whales aboard the ship, the crew returns with Taylor to their own time. On approaching Earth, the ship loses power and comes down in San Francisco Bay. Once released, the whales respond to the probe’s signal, causing the object to reverse its effects on Earth and return to the depths of space. All charges against the Enterprise crew are dropped, save one for insubordination: for disobeying a superior officer, Kirk is demoted from Admiral back to the rank of Captain where he is returned to command of a starship. The crew departs on their ship, the newly christened USS Enterprise (NCC-1701-A), and leaves on a new mission.
- William Shatner portrays Admiral James T. Kirk, former captain of the Enterprise. Shatner was unwilling to reprise the role of Kirk until he received a salary of $2 million and the promise of directing the next film. Shatner described The Voyage Home‘s comic quality as one “that verges on tongue-in-cheek but isn’t; it’s as though the characters within the play have a great deal of joy about themselves, a joy of living [and] you play it with the reality you would in a kitchen-sink drama written for today’s life”.
- Leonard Nimoy plays Spock, who was resurrected by the effects of a powerful terraforming device and had his “living spirit” restored to his body in the previous film.
- DeForest Kelley portrays Doctor Leonard McCoy, who is given many of the film’s comedic lines; Kelley biographer Terry Lee Rioux wrote that in the film “he seemed to be playing straight man to himself.” On Earth McCoy was paired with engineer Montgomery Scott (James Doohan), as producer Harve Bennett felt that Kelley worked well with Doohan’s “old vaudeville comic”.
- The other members of the Enterprise crew include George Takei as helmsman Hikaru Sulu, Walter Koenig as Commander Pavel Chekov, and Nichelle Nichols as Uhura. Koenig commented that Chekov was a “delight” to play in this film because he worked best in comedic situations.
- Catherine Hicks plays Doctor Gillian Taylor, a biologist on 20th century Earth. During production a rumor circulated that the part had been created after Shatner demanded a love interest, a regular aspect of the television series that was absent from the first three films. Writer Nicholas Meyer denied this, saying that the inspiration for Taylor came from a woman biologist featured in a National Geographic documentary about whales. Nimoy chose Hicks after inviting her to lunch with Shatner and witnessing a chemistry between the two. The role was originally written for Eddie Murphy as an astrophysicist at Berkeley.
- Majel Barrett reprises her role as Christine Chapel, the director of Starfleet Command’s medical services. Many of her scenes—some reportedly very large—were omitted in the final cut, angering the actress. Her final role in the film consists of one line of dialogue and a reaction shot. Mark Lenard and Jane Wyatt play Ambassador Sarek and Amanda Grayson, respectively, Spock’s parents, with Wyatt reprising the role she had previously played in the 1967 episode “Journey to Babel“. Wyatt commented that although she generally disliked working with actors who were directing, she found Nimoy an exception because he could concentrate on being part of the cast as well as setting up the crew. Robin Curtis reprises the role of Saavik, a Starfleet lieutenant. Saavik’s role is minimal in the film—originally, she was intended to remain behind on Vulcan because she was pregnant after she had mated with the younger Spock in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. In the final cut of the film, all references to her condition were dropped.
Nimoy chose Donald Peterman, ASC, as director of photography. Nimoy said he regarded the cinematographer as a fellow artist, and that it was important for them to agree on “a certain look” that Peterman was committed to delivering. Nimoy had seen Peterman’s work and felt it was more nuanced than simply lighting a scene and capturing an image.
The film’s opening scenes aboard the starship Saratoga were the first to be shot; principal photography commenced on February 24, 1986. The set was a redress of the science vessel Grissom‘s bridge from The Search for Spock, in turn a redress of the Enterprise bridge created for The Motion Picture. The scenes were filmed first to allow time for the set to be revamped as the bridge of the new Enterprise-A at the end of filming.
As with previous Star Trek films, existing props and footage were reused where possible to save money, though The Voyage Home required less of this than previous films. The Earth Spacedock interiors and control booth sets were reused from The Search for Spock, although the computer monitors in these scenes featured new graphics—the old reels had deteriorated in storage. Stock footage of the destruction of the Enterprise and the Bird-of-Prey’s movement through space were reused. While the Bird-of-Prey bridge was a completely new design, other parts of the craft’s interior were also redresses; the computer room was a modification of the reactor room where Spock died in The Wrath of Khan. After all other Bird-of-Prey bridge scenes were completed, the entire set was painted white for one shot that transitioned into a dream sequence during the time travel.
The Voyage Home was the first Star Trek film to extensively film on location—only one day was spent doing so in The Search for Spock. Much of the production was filmed in and around San Francisco during ten days of shooting. The production wanted to film scenes that were readily identifiable as the city. The use of extensive location shooting caused logistical problems; a scene in which Kirk is nearly run over by an irate cab driver required 12–15 cars to be repositioned if the shot was incorrect, taking a half-hour to reshoot. Other scenes were filmed in the city but used sets rather than real locations, such as an Italian restaurant where Gillian and Kirk eat. In the film, the Bird-of-Prey lands cloaked in Golden Gate Park, surprising garbage collectors who flee the scene in their truck. The production had planned to film in the actual park, where they had filmed scenes for The Wrath of Khan, but heavy rains before the day of shooting prevented it—the garbage truck would have become bogged down in the mud. Will Rogers Park in western Los Angeles was used instead.
When Kirk and Spock are traveling on a public bus, they encounter a punk rocker blaring his music on a boom box, to the annoyance of everyone around him. Spock takes matters into his own hands and performs a Vulcan nerve pinch. Part of the inspiration for the scene came from Nimoy’s personal experiences with a similar character on the streets of New York; “[I was struck] by the arrogance of it, the aggressiveness of it, and I thought if I was Spock I’d pinch his brains out!” On learning about the scene, Kirk Thatcher, an associate producer on the film, convinced Nimoy to let him play the role; Thatcher shaved his hair into a mohawk and bought clothes to complete the part. Credited as “punk on bus”, Thatcher (along with sound designer Mark Mangini) also wrote and recorded “I Hate You”, the song in the scene, and it was his idea to have the punk—rendered unconscious by the pinch—hit the stereo and turn it off with his face.
Much of the Cetacean Institute, Taylor’s workplace, was created by using the real-life Monterey Bay Aquarium. A holding tank for the whales was added via special effects to the Aquarium’s exterior. For close-ups of the characters as they watched the whales in the tank, the Aquarium’s walls and railings were measured and replicated for a set on the Paramount parking lot. One scene takes place by a large glass through which observers view the whales—and Spock’s initiation of a mind meld—underwater. Footage of the actors shot in front of them as they reacted to a brick wall in the Aquarium was combined with shots taken from their rear as they stood in front of a large blue screen at ILM to produce this scene. The footage of Spock’s melding with the whales was shot weeks later in a large water tank used to train astronauts for weightlessness.
In the film, Uhura and Chekov visit the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise. The real Enterprise, out at sea at the time, was unavailable for filming, so the non-nuclear-powered carrier USS Ranger (CV-61) was used. Oakland International Airport was used for the foreground element of Starfleet Headquarters. Scenes in the San Francisco Bay were shot at a tank on Paramount’s backlot.
The scene in which Uhura and Chekov question passersby about the location of nuclear vessels was filmed with a hidden camera. However, the people with whom Koenig and Nichols speak were extras hired off the street for that day’s shooting and, despite legends to the contrary, knew they were being filmed. In an interview with StarTrek.com, Layla Sarakalo, the extra who said, “I don’t know if I know the answer to that… I think it’s across the bay, in Alameda,” stated that after her car was impounded because she refused to move it for the filming, she approached the assistant director about appearing with the other extras, hoping to be paid enough to get her car out of impoundment. She had been told to act naturally, and so she answered them and the filmmakers kept her response in the film, though she had to be inducted into the Screen Actors Guild in order for her lines to be kept.
Vulcan and the Bird-of-Prey exterior was created with a combination of matte paintings and a soundstage. Nimoy had searched for a suitable location for the scene of the Enterprise crew’s preparations to return to Earth, but various locations did not work, so the scene was instead filmed on a Paramount backlot. The production had to mask the fact that production buildings were 30 feet (9.1 m) away. A wide-angle shot of Spock on the edge of a cliff overlooking the scene was filmed at Vasquez Rocks, a park north of Los Angeles. The Federation council chamber was a large set filled with representatives from many alien races. Production manager Jack T. Collis economized by building the set with only one end; reverse angle shots used the same piece of wall. The positions of the Federation President’s podium and the actors on the seats were switched for each shot. Since The Voyage Home was the first Star Trek film to show the operations at Starfleet Command, Bennett and Nimoy visited NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to learn how a real deep space command center might look and operate. Among the resulting set’s features was a large central desk with video monitors that the production team nicknamed “the pool table”; the prop later became a fixture in USS Enterprise-D’s engine room on the television series Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Nimoy approached ILM early in development and helped create storyboards for the optical effects sequences. Many shots used matte paintings to extend backgrounds and create establishing shots without the cost of building a set. Matte supervisor Chris Evans attempted to create paintings that felt less contrived and more real—while the natural instinct of filmmaking is to place important elements in an orderly fashion, Evans said that photographers would “shoot things that […] are odd in some way” and end up with results that look natural instead. The task of establishing the location and atmosphere at Starfleet Headquarters fell to the matte department, who had to make it feel like a bustling futuristic version of San Francisco. The matte personnel and Ralph McQuarrie provided design input. The designers decided to make actors in the foreground more prominent, and filmed them on a large area of smooth concrete runway at the Oakland Airport. Elements like a shuttlecraft that thirty extras appeared to interact with were also mattes blended to appear as if they were sitting by the actors. Ultimately the artists were not satisfied with how the shot turned out; matte photography supervisor Craig Barron believed that there were too many elements in the scene.
The scenes of the Bird-of-Prey on Vulcan were combinations of live-action footage—actors on a set in the Paramount parking lot that was covered with clay and used backdrops—and matte paintings for the ship itself and harsh background terrain. The scene of the ship’s departure from Vulcan for Earth was more difficult to accomplish; the camera pans behind live-action characters to follow the ship as it leaves the atmosphere, and other items like flaming pillars and a flaring sun had to be integrated into the shot. Rather than try to match and combine camera pans of each element, each component was shot with a static camera and the pan was added to the resulting composite by a motion control camera. The sun (a light bulb focused by a convex lens) was shot in different passes to create realistic light effects on the Bird-of-Prey without having the light bleed around other elements in the shot.
The script called for the probe to vaporize the Earth’s oceans, generating heavy cloud cover. While effects cinematographer Don Dow wanted to go to sea and record plumes of water created by exploding detonating cords in the water, the team decided to create the probe’s climatic effect in another way after a government fishing agency voiced concerns for the welfare of marine life in the area. The team used a combination of baking soda and cloud tank effects; the swirling mist created by the water-filled tank was shot on black velvet, and color and dynamic swirls were added by injecting paint into the tank. These shots were composited onto a painting of the Earth along with overlaid lightning effects, created by double-exposing lights as they moved across the screen.
The Bird-of-Prey’s travel through time was one of the most difficult effects sequences of the film. While ILM was experienced in creating the streaking warp effect they used for previous films, the sequence required the camera to trail a sustained warp effect as the Bird-of-Prey rounded the sun. Matching the effect to the model was accomplished through trial-and-error guesswork. The team did not have the time to wait for the animation department to create the sun for this shot. Assistant cameraman Pete Kozachic devised a way of creating the sun on-stage. He placed two sheets of textured plexiglass next to each other and backlit them with a powerful yellow light. The rig was rotated on a circular track and the sheet in front created a moire pattern as its position shifted. Animator John Knoll added solar flare effects to complete the look; Dow recalled that the effect came close to matching footage of the sun taken by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Traveling through time, Kirk and crew experience what author Jody Duncan Shay termed a “dreamlike state”. The script’s only direction for the effect was “now [they] go through time”; Nimoy and McQuarrie envisioned Kirk’s dream as a montage of bizarre images. The filmmakers decided early on that part of the dream sequence would use computer-generated animation to give it an unreal quality divorced from the rest of the film. ILM worked from McQuarrie’s storyboards and created a rough mock-up or animatic to show Nimoy and hone the direction of the sequence. For the very beginning of the dream, the inside of the Bird-of-Prey bridge was painted stark white. Part of the final sequence involved morphing the heads of the Enterprise crew into one another; ILM digitized the cast members’ heads using a 3-D scanning technology developed by Cyberware and used the resulting data for the computer models. Because each head model had the same number of key points of reference, transforming one character into another was simple; more difficult, the animators recalled, was ensuring that the transformation looked “pleasing” and not “grotesque”. The resulting thirty seconds of footage took weeks to render; the department used every spare computer they could find to help in the processing chores. ILM’s stage, optical, and matte departments collaborated to complete other shots for the dream sequence. The shot of a man’s fall to Earth was created by filming a small puppet on bluescreen. Shots of liquid nitrogen composited behind the puppet gave the impression of smoke. The background plate of the planet was a large matte that allowed the camera to zoom in very close. The final shot of marshy terrain was practical and required no effects.
The filmmakers knew from the beginning of production that the whales were their biggest effects concern; Dow recalled that they were prepared to change to another animal in case creating the whales proved too difficult. When Humphrey the Whale wandered into the San Francisco Bay, Dow and his camera crew attempted to gather usable footage of the humpback but failed to do so. Other footage of real humpbacks either did not exist on 35 mm film or would have been difficult to match to specific actions required by the script. Compositing miniatures shot against bluescreen on top of water backgrounds would not have provided realistic play of light. Creating full-size mechanical whales on tracks would severely limit the types of angles and shots. To solve the whale problem, Rodis hired robotics expert Walt Conti. While Conti was not experienced in film, Rodis believed his background in engineering and design made him well-equipped for Rodis’ planned solution: the creation of independent and self-contained miniature whale models.
After watching footage of whale movement, Conti determined that the models could be simplified by making the front of the whale entirely rigid, relying on the tail and fins for movement. Conti showed footage of the operation of a 30-inch (76 cm) prototype to Paramount executives, who according to Conti, “loved it… It really knocked them out.” With Paramount’s approval, ILM hired marine author, conservationist and illustrator Pieter Folkens to sculpt a realistic whale exterior. ILM decided on a finished model size of 4 feet (1.2 m)—the size prevented delicate components like the tail from buckling under stress—and fitted it with mechanics and radio equipment required for control and operation. To prevent water from ruining the whale’s electronics, the modelmakers sealed every individual mechanical component rather than attempting to waterproof the entire whale. Balloons and lead weights were added to achieve the proper balance and buoyancy. The finished models were put in the swimming pool of Serra High School in San Mateo, California, for two weeks of shooting; the operation of the whales required four handlers and divers with video cameras to help set up the shots. Accurately controlling the whales was difficult because of the murky water—ILM added diatomaceous earth to the water to match realistic ocean visibility. For a few shots, such as the whales’ breaching the water towards the end of the film, the creatures were represented by life-size animatronics shot at Paramount.
Models of the starship USS Enterprise were destroyed in the previous film partly because visual effects supervisor Ken Ralston wanted to build a “more state-of-the-art ship for the next film”, but the filmmakers made the less costly decision to have the crew return to serve on the duplicate USS Enterprise A, and six weeks were spent repairing and repainting the old model. A travel pod from Star Trek: The Motion Picture was also reused for the ending, although the 20-foot-long (6.1 m) interior set had to be rebuilt. Graphic designer Michael Okuda designed smooth controls with backlit displays for the Federation. Dubbed “Okudagrams“, the system was also used for displays on the Klingon ship, though the buttons were larger.
James Horner, composer for The Wrath of Khan and The Search for Spock, declined to return for The Voyage Home. Nimoy turned to his friend Leonard Rosenman, who had written the music to Fantastic Voyage, Ralph Bakshi‘s The Lord of the Rings, and two Planet of the Apes sequels. Rosenman wrote an arrangement of Alexander Courage‘s Star Trektelevision theme as the title music for The Voyage Home, but Nimoy requested an original composition. Music critic Jeff Bond writes, “The final result was one of the most unusual Star Trek movie themes,” consisting of a six-note theme and variations set against a repetitious four-note brass motif; the theme’s bridge borrows content from Rosenman’s “Frodo March” for The Lord of the Rings. The melody is played in the beginning of the film on Vulcan and the scenes of Taylor’s search for Kirk to help find her whales.
The Earth-based setting of the filming gave Rosenman leeway to write a variety of music in different styles. Nimoy intended the crew’s introduction to the streets of San Francisco to be accompanied by something reminiscent of George Gershwin, but Rosenman changed the director’s mind, and the scene was scored with a contemporary jazz fusion piece by Yellowjackets. When Chekov flees detention aboard the aircraft carrier, Rosenman wrote a bright cue that incorporates classical Russian compositions. The music for the escape from the hospital was done in a baroque style. More familiar Rosenman compositions include the action music for the face off between the Bird-of-Prey and a whaling ship in open water, and the atmospheric music (reminiscent of the composer’s work in Fantastic Voyage) during the probe’s communication. After the probe leaves, a Vivaldiesque “whale fugue” begins. The first sighting of the Enterprise-A uses the Alexander Courage theme before the end titles.
Mark Mangini served as The Voyage Home‘s sound designer. He described it as different from working on many other films because Nimoy appreciated the role of sound effects and made sure that they were prominent in the film. Since many sounds familiar to Star Trek had been established—the Bird-of-Prey’s cloaking device, the transporter beam, et al.—Mangini focused on making only small changes to them. The most important sounds were those of the whales and the probe. Mangini’s brother lived near biologist Roger Payne, who had recordings of whale song. Mangini went through the tapes and chose sounds that could be mixed to suggest conversation and language. The probe’s screeching calls were the whale song in distorted form. The humpback’s communication with the probe at the climax of the film contained no dramatic music, meaning that Mangini’s sounds had to stand alone. He recalled that he had difficulty with envisioning how the scene would unfold, leading Bennett to perform a puppet show to explain. Nimoy and the other producers were unhappy with Mangini’s attempts to create the probe’s droning operating noise; after more than a dozen attempts, the sound designer finally asked Nimoy what he thought the probe should sound like. Mangini recorded Nimoy’s guttural “wub-wub-wub” response, distorted it with “just the tiniest bit of dressing”, and used it as the final sound.
The punk music during the bus scene was written by Thatcher after he learned that the audio for the scene would be by “Duran Duran, or whoever” and not “raw” and authentic punk. Thatcher collaborated with Mangini and two sound editors who were in punk bands to create their own music. They decided that punk distilled down to the sentiment of “I hate you”, and wrote a song centered on the theme. Recording in the sound studio as originally planned produced too clean a sound, so they moved to the outside hallway and recorded the song in one take using cheap microphones to create a distorted sound. The song was also used in Paramount’s Back to the Beach.
The Voyage Home opened theatrically in North America on Thanksgiving weekend, November 26, 1986. Since Star Trek had traditionally performed poorly internationally, the producers created a special trailer for foreign markets that de-emphasized the Star Trek part of the title, as well as retelling the events of The Wrath of Khan and The Search for Spock. Winter recalled that the marketing did not seem to make a difference. The Voyage Home was the first Star Trek film shown in the Soviet Union, screened by the World Wildlife Fund on June 26, 1987, in Moscow to celebrate a ban on whaling. Attending the screening with Nimoy, Bennett was amazed the film proved as entertaining to the Russians as it did with American audiences; he said “the single most rewarding moment of my Star Trek life” was when the Moscow audience applauded at McCoy’s line, “The bureaucratic mentality is the only constant in the universe. We’ll get a freighter.” Bennett believed it was a clear “messenger of what was to come”.
Vonda N. McIntyre wrote a novelization that was released at the same time as the film. It was the biggest tie-in novel published by Pocket Books, and spent eight weeks on The New York Times bestseller list, peaking at #3. MCA Records released the film’s soundtrack November 26, 1986.
In its first week, The Voyage Home ended “Crocodile” Dundee‘s 8-week reign of the American box office. The Star Trek film made $39.6 million in its first five days of release, exceeding The Search for Spock‘s opening by $14 million. Ultimately, the film grossed a global total of $133,000,000 against its $21 million cost ($1 million under budget). In six weeks, The Voyage Home sold $81.3 million in tickets, more than the franchise’s second or third film, and almost as much as Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The film was a major commercial success for Paramount, which released five of the top ten films of the year, and garnered 22 percent of all money taken in at American theaters. Much of the credit for Paramount’s success was given to chairman Frank Mancuso, Sr., who moved The Voyage Home‘s release from Christmas to Thanksgiving after research showed that the film might draw filmgoers away from The Golden Child.
Despite grossing $6,000,000 less than Star Trek: The Motion Picture, The Voyage Home was the most profitable of the series, grossing $133,000,000 against a $21,000,000 budget.