Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)

18 Feb


Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Star Trek” has been known as ideal science fiction—it’s an intriguing, fun presentation of ideas and creativity when it’s not filled with action and visuals like the “Star Wars” movies. The “Star Trek” TV show, created by Gene Roddenberry, may have been silly in execution, but you can’t deny that there was effort to try and make it work. There were interesting concepts and fun characters to follow, even if the effects were pretty cheesy.

Then, the movies based on the series came about. The first movie—“Star Trek: The Motion Picture”—had some creativity put into it, but was mostly a dull attempt to become the next visual treat (complete with long effects shots of the ship moving into space…slowly). The second movie—“The Wrath of Khan”—was an improvement, bringing back the imagination, the terror and excitement of the subjected “trek,” and the same chemistry among the characters seen in the series. The Vulcan Spock sacrificed his life to save his friends on the U.S.S. Enterprise at the end of that movie, leaving an open door for the third movie—“The Search for Spock”—that brought Spock back to life, but after the others deal with those menacing alien species known as Klingons.

That brings us to the fourth movie “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home,” which in my opinion is the most imaginative and most enjoyable in the series.

“The Voyage Home” takes place where “The Search of Spock” left off. Spock is brought back to life on the Vulcan planet and the rest of the crew have to repair a stolen Klingon ship (after the Enterprise was destroyed in the previous movie) to get back. But there isn’t going to be a welcome back, as they’re approaching a court martial for blowing up their ship and disrupting the “peace treaty.” Yeah, ‘cause Klingons are known for peace after blowing up whatever they don’t understand, but I digress.

Now, see if you can follow this. A space probe threatens to destroy the Earth by draining all of its oceans, unless its call is responded to. The Enterprise crew, on their way back home, receives a distress call from Earth and discovers what the call means. Unfortunately, the call comes from the sound of humpback whales, a species extinct in the 23rd century. They have a new mission—to travel back in time to the late 20th century and pick up some humpback whales to bring back to the future with them so they can answer the probe, thus saving Earth.

It’s fitting that “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” would be released the same year as “Crocodile Dundee”—both movies have a plot element known as the “fish-out-of-water” tale. In “Crocodile Dundee,” an Australian jungle guide was brought to venture New York City. In “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home,” the Enterprise crew—Admiral James T. Kirk (William Shatner), Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy), Dr. Bones McCoy (Deforest Kelley), Uhura (Nichelle Nichols), Sulu (George Takei), Scotty (James Doohan), and Chekov (Walter Koenig)—are in the year 1986 to explore San Francisco, California. When you know who these characters are and become accustomed to them, it’s a lot of fun to see them in strange places. What stranger place for them to explore than…ours?

All of this is good fun. I imagine the writers of “The Voyage Home” must have decided to forget the stuff with the Klingons and the family history involving Kirk (his son died in the previous movie), and decided to have some fun with this series. There are some very funny bits using the fish-out-of-water formula—Sulu, the pilot of the Enterprise, is now flying a simple helicopter; Scotty, the computer expert on the Enterprise, is working simple systems and baffling a curious computer operator in the process; and Chekov…well, let’s just say a Russian in the Cold War era asking where he can find nuclear vessels (to power the ship they came in) is not in good taste.

The funniest bits involve Mr. Spock as an alien come down to Earth. He uses a headband to cover his pointed ears, so people just think he’s some weirdo. He uses his sleeper hold on a punk who has his boombox turned up too loud on a public bus. And he can’t pass off as human—he learns from Kirk that adding profanity in every other sentence is effective; Spock can’t pull it off. He also can’t tell lies, so there’s constant banter between him and Kirk, particularly when they’re asked if they like Italian food—“Yes.” “No.” “No.” “Yes.”

The crew finds a pair of humpback whales held in captivity. A marine biologist (played with great spunk by Catherine Hicks) plans to release the whales into the ocean. It’s Kirk and Spock’s job to find out when that will happen so they can set out to find them and beam them aboard their ship (there’s a special tank for them, in case you’re wondering). This means that Kirk must ask her out to dinner.

This entire portion of the Enterprise crew in 1986 San Francisco is the best part of the movie. The setup is typical and the final climax is the least interesting part of the movie. But when they’re in San Francisco, the movie is a good deal of fun. It’s not just entertaining because of the situations the characters get into, but also because since it’s the fourth movie, there was time to develop the relationship between the crew, after a whole TV series and three feature-length adventures. There’s a sense of easy interaction among these characters; they talk with each other, gently joke with each other, and seem comfortable with each other.

“Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” is fun and imaginative without having to resort to a real villain or a lot of action (the sequence at the end is a pushover). Instead, it tells an intriguing story that allows the characters to breathe (with an interesting romance between Kirk and the marine biologist) and enlivens comic situations that could have been silly in the wrong hands. “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” is a fun voyage indeed.

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