Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)

Directed by Leonard Nimoy
Written by Steve Meerson & Peter Krikes and Harve Bennett & Nicholas Meyer

Admittedly, I had very little concept of what to expect when it came to the Star Trek movies, particularly the original series (go back, check the tape). But now 4 films into the series, I can honestly say that I still have very little concept of what the Star Trek movies are, but instead of making that statement with trepidation, I make it with joy thank by and large to what exactly The Voyage Home manages to be, which is something completely different from the rest of the films, something so oddball that I was worried I was going to hate it, something so goofy that it ends up being a brilliantly fun hell of a ride. And I really did think I was going to hate it. I have this weird attraction to movies like that where it has be going one way until it’s brilliance seems to shine through so strongly that I give over to its greatness. A Ghost Story was like that for me. The Voyage Home was also like that, but for oh so different reasons.

As has been the case with all the films to this point, The Voyage Home is the direct sequel to the previous film, picking up exactly where the last left off, on Vulcan, without the Enterprise (which I forgot to mention in my last review was a bold-ass move, just as killing off Spock the film prior was). As a result, the crew are forced to begin their travel home in a Klingon ship, but along the way they encounter a strange probe headed for earth, which appears to be sending out whale calls. They must time wrap back to the late 20th century to kidnap a pair of humpback whales (who are extinct in the 23rd century) in able to communicate with the probe and save the world. But spending time back in 1986 San Francisco proves more “fish out of water” for most of the crew than even they could have expected.

I mean this film starts off so rough in many ways. As the crew journeys back toward Earth we get this odd film score, which is so strange and upsetting. Then it’s revealed to be whale songs out of water (think the egg in Harry Potter before the bathtub). I was fully prepared for this horrible, grating score throughout until I realized what it was. Okay, so I’ll forgive it that, but then seriously, they’re gonna time travel? Time travel is often tough ground to cover. And they end up on the streets of San Francisco in the 1980s? This one could get rough and uncomfortable quick. At least with The Motion Picture there were some redeeming factors, but I was not sure about this one in the early going. And then, it switched! I don’t know, but I think as soon as I saw on the streets of San Francisco that they weren’t going to take this premise seriously at all, that it was basically just going to be a straight comedy, I embraced that take and sunk into the movie and all the joys it has to provide.

C’mon, the whole premise is to travel back to 1986 to steal some humpback whales? How zany is that!? I really can’t get over how this plot got approved, let alone how it ends up working as well as it does. THEY’RE GOING BACK IN TIME TO GET SOME FISH OUT OF WATER AND AS A RESULT ARE THEMSELVES FISH OUT OF WATER. Who approved this!? Bless you! In all seriousness, the comedy here manages to be brilliant, and the on-the-nose ecological parable seems somehow perfectly suited for the Star Trek universe, which I praised last review for being a “wholesome” outlook on the universe, technological progress and galactic relations.

And once again one of the greatest strengths of the film is in its ability to get the whole crew involved. We get to see Sulu (Takei) learn how to use a Huey. We get to see Scotty (Doohan) teach an engineer how to develop 23rd century technology. We get to see Bones (Kelley) easily solve vexing 20th century maladies. We get to see Chekov (Koenig) say “nuclear wessels”. A Russian, in the 1980s, asking where the nuclear wessels are. Brilliant. And yet, as out of place all these characters are, they don’t seem too odd in the landscape of San Francisco (re: the punk rocker on the bus is just as weird). And then of course there are the two main characters, Kirk and Spock, who turn this movie into a buddy comedy at least in the sequence where they go to the cetacean institute. Kirk is suave and manages to be the most normal in 1986, where as Spock is eccentric enough to be somehow believable as a former Berkeley drug addict who likes to swim with whales (and know their pregnant). Catherine Hicks is also fun in her role as the keeper of the whales, although between her and Stephen Collins being in this series, I have to assume Jessica Biel will show up at some point too. In the Next Generation films perhaps? #7thHeaven

Honestly though, this whole film succeeds in 1986. If I am being honest with myself, any action that takes place either before or after the time travel just falls a bit flat for me. It’s a comedy which is restrained by the construct of the series to have a connected beginning and end, a plot in the middle to push the characters and story forward, and I mean more than just within this film, but within the entire series as well. If you just take out that middle section of the film you have unabashed brilliance. Instead, it sits inside a Star Trek movie that has to cater to the franchise and set things up a little bit for the next film (as well as wrap the last one up).

But for the third film in a row, the producers have elected to make a brash choice at the end of the film. The one here, Kirk being demoted to captain and a new Enterprise being made available to the crew, is far less shocking that Spock’s death or the Enterprise’s destruction, but I like that they are pushing the boundaries of what expectations should be for the series. They aren’t content with just giving the fans what they want , even though they manage to do that as well. I have been very impressed with the series thus far and its ability to be original, different, and to keep things very fresh. We’re not treated to just another adventure with each sequel. I hope that trend continues, but I already have low expectation for The Final Frontier, knowing that William Shatner helmed the project.

★★★★ – LOVED IT

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