Should I Watch..? 'Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home' (1986)
What's the big deal?
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home is a sci-fi film released in 1986 and is the fourth film based on the TV series Star Trek by Gene Roddenberry. The film is the third part of a story-arc that began in the second film The Wrath Of Khan and sees the fugitive crew of the Enterprise return to Earth to face justice, only to find themselves embarking on their wildest adventure yet. In addition to the cast of the TV series reprising their roles, the film also stars Catherine Hicks and Mark Lenard with star Leonard Nimoy once again returning to the director's chair. Released to a warm reception from critics, the film went on to earn $133 million worldwide as well as four Academy Award nominations. The film is generally regarded as one of the highlights of the series by fans of Star Trek who praise the film for its light-hearted comedy and environmentalist storyline.
What's it about?
Months after the events of the previous film, Admiral James T. Kirk and his loyal crew of the starship Enterprise make the decision to leave their self-imposed exile on Vulcan and return to Earth to face the charges Starfleet has accused them of - namely disobeying orders, theft of the Genesis device and the destruction of the Enterprise. Renaming their Klingon Bird-Of-Prey ship the Bounty, they set off to Earth but quickly encounter a desperate message from Starfleet Command, warning them not to approach the planet due to a vast power-draining alien probe communicating in an unknown language.
Deducing that the message matches that of the long-extinct humpback whale, Kirk decides that the best way of trying to save the Earth is to travel back in time and bring humpback whales forward into the 23rd century where they can hopefully communicate with the alien probe. But the journey is fraught with peril - Spock is still recovering from his resurrection, their ship is tested beyond its limits and they only have enough power in the warp core to journey back in time, meaning that they need to acquire some energy from a nearby nuclear naval vessel...
What's to like?
After all the dramatic action of the past two movies, Star Trek rediscovers its funny bone as this is so much more enjoyable than before. The material, which is straight-up bonkers if we're honest, is played for laughs throughout and nearly all the cast have their moments to shine. The film is a more stripped-back affair - there are no space battles, villainous baddies or alien worlds to speak of this time. Instead, we get your classic fish-out-of-water routine as the Enterprise crew fumble their way around mid-Eighties San Francisco and engage in various culture-clash hi-jinks.
Playing the script this way was absolutely the right thing to do because there is no way this could have been played straight. Credit to the cast who all contribute to the film (for once), often playing against type. Take Nimoy's attempts at concealing his Vulcan identity or Chekov confusing the locals by asking where the "nuclear wessels" are. The film is well-made (the Bird-Of-Prey looks amazing, by the way) and the animatronic whales used in the film are surprisingly convincing. It may be Star Trek poking fun at itself but so long as audiences are entertained, who really cares?
- The woman who answers Uhuru and Chekov wasn't supposed to speak. Hired because her car was towed away to allow filming, Layla Sarakalo was told to "act natural" and gave an unscripted reply to Uhuru's question. To her surprise, it was kept in the film.
- The film is the only time in Star Trek history where Kirk says "Scotty, beam me up." It's also the first Trek film to have swearing.
- The film was originally to have Eddie Murphy in the role filled by Hicks. However, Paramount did not want to combine their two more profitable franchises (Star Trek and Beverly Hills Cop) and Murphy had just signed on to appear in The Golden Child.
What's not to like?
Having fleetingly mentioned it above, I'll say it again with greater emphasis - the story is completely bonkers! An alien probe approaches Earth wanting an update from humpback whales about life on Earth? So does this mean that whales are an alien species? How were the creatures supposed to communicate with the alien probe without any possible method of communicating with them? The film doesn't even bother to explain how the Bird-Of-Prey is capable of time-travel - the ship simply disappears behind the Sun and magically reappears at the precise moments in time it needs to be at. Even in the world of Star Trek, this film has gaps in its own logic that the whales themselves could easily swim through.
Another factor I didn't like was Hicks' portrayal of Dr Taylor who is happy to speak to whales knowing full well they can't understand her and is overjoyed at the prospect of having dinner with a man who claims to be from the future and is only interested in her whales. Very little on show in The Voyage Home makes a lot of sense, so much so that you almost wonder whether they were attempting a parody. Yes, it's all very silly and light-hearted but given the events of the last two films, I can't honestly say that it felt any better. Little seemed to matter very much and the film sorely lacked the drama and tension of The Wrath Of Khan and The Search For Spock. Kirk had, let's not forget, just lost his only son in the last movie and yet barely a mention is made. Instead, he seems remarkably chipper. It's this disconnect that truly scuppers the film and stops it from being better than it is.
Should I watch it?
I accept that The Voyage Home is not the worst movie in the Star Trek series but it offers viewers something very different from before. Instead of gripping drama in deep space, it provides a light-hearted look at then-modern society through the eyes of everybody's favourite intergalactic explorers. The environmental message is hammered home with all the subtlety of a photon torpedo but the movie offers plenty of laughs and remains one of the more fun films in the franchise.
Great For: die-hard Trek fans, Greenpeace activists
Not So Great For: critics, plot-hole spotters, fans of Star Wars because nothing here will convince them to jump ship
What else should I watch?
It's a shame that the conclusion to this epic three-movie story arc is such a mess because The Wrath Of Khan is arguably the best of the original Star Trek pictures. The second Trek film sees Ricardo Montalban's scene-stealing super-villain clash with Kirk in a gripping and tense duel amid the stars. My personal favourite, however, is the sixth and final film The Undiscovered Country which has a great story, terrific action and special effects coupled with Christopher Plummer's memorable Klingon baddie and shows more imagination than the wretched fifth film The Final Frontier could ever hope for.
The problem with this light-hearted approach is that sci-fi fans aren't known for being able to laugh at themselves - generally, they take things very seriously! However, if you find yourself desperate for a space-faring comedy then there are options. The under-rated Galaxy Quest sees Tim Allen lead the cast of a successful sci-fi TV show on a real adventure when aliens arrive asking for their help while Marvel's Guardians Of The Galaxy and its sequel both offer some serious laughs amid the effects, off-kilter storylines and curious characters.
Admiral James T. Kirk
Leonard "Bones" McCoy
Dr Gillian Taylor
Fleet Admiral Cartwright
Steve Meerson, Peter Krikes, Harve Bennett & Nicholas Meyer *
Release Date (UK)
10th April, 1987
Adventure, Comedy, Sci-Fi
Academy Award Nominations
Best Cinematography, Best Sound, Best Sound Effects Editing, Best Original Score
© 2017 Benjamin Cox