Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

(1986)
I have a long-running argument with a fellow Star Trek fan about which movie is the best; he champions this one, and I favor Wrath of Khan, which, I believe saved Trek as a franchise. But if Khan did save it – and make no mistake, it did – then The Voyage Home was arguably the first Trek film – the first Trek anything – that was made for wider audience appeal, the first one where you didn’t have to be a Trekkie to know what was going on. The movie’s a quarter-century old, so I’m assuming you all know the drill: Kirk (William Shatner – do I really have to say who played them?), Spock (Nimoy), and the rest of the crew are outlaws after spending the banal third film resurrecting Spock. But rather than another war with the Klingons (“Again with the Klingons?”), this time the menace is a weird probe that disables everything that comes in its path and starts causing environmental havoc on Earth (where else?). When Spock discerns that the only way to answer the probe is to obtain humpback whales, which by the 23rd century are extinct, the solution is to do the time warp (they actually call it that) again, heading back to, conveniently, 1986 San Francisco. From there the movie plays as light comedy, which, to everyone’s great surprise, this cast of mostly B actors proves surprisingly adept. Never before, or likely since, has Star Trek been so much fun. From Chekov’s immortal line about “nuclear wessels” to McCoy’s constant whingeing about ancient medical technology to Spock’s inability to use profanity correctly to, well, Kirk’s overwhelming charm, the movie is just a joy to watch. The whole fish out of water setting plays remarkably well, and more than any other film every supporting character is given his moment to shine; most impressively, we get to see the suave side of Kirk, not an easy sell for a man pushing fifty at the time, but in many ways this is Shatner’s movie, and like the others, he proves surprisingly skilled with the comedy (“He did a little too much LDS back in the Sixties”). I’ve read that Paramount initially considered Eddie Murphy to play the marine biologist, a role that wisely went to Catherine Hicks, who spars with Shatner and Nimoy perfectly. In particular her dinner with Kirk is one of the highlights of the movie (“Don’t tell me, they don’t use money in the future?” she asks when the bill comes due. “Well, we don’t!” Kirk replies), and she fits right in with the rest of the cast comfortably, something that aside from Kirstie Alley Star Trek always had trouble with. This is probably the easiest and most accessible movie for a non-Trek fan to watch, the least lade down with backstory or sci-fi trappings; it’s just a bunch of clever, creative people out of their element trying to muddle their way through our time; and yet, Trek fans take note, the little bits of future stuff at the beginning and end are laden with aliens and starships galore, so much production design for so little

screen time. Even the civilian clothes the crew wear – oddly enough only Uhura stays in uniform, as if they couldn’t decide what a 23rd century woman should be wearing – are both familiar and just futuristic enough to be different. For those who have never seen it, you’re missing a fun treat that requires little previous Trek investment (it helps if you know Spock died and they brought him back, but they give you enough backstory here to fill you in); for those who are fans, it just might be time to pull this one down off the shelf and see how Trek really ought to be done, not with pretty boys and J.J. Abrams scripts that don’t make much sense, but rather, a crew of disparate friends coming together to overcome odds that few others could. This movie is Trek firing on all cylinders, and is as enjoyable today as it was a quarter-century ago. November 25, 2012 P.S. There has long been the theory with Trek movies that the odd numbered ones suck and the even numbered ones are good. While this is true, it misses the point; the ones about Kirk are good, and the ones about Spock suck. This makes no sense – Spock is a much more complicated and interesting character – but he is not a fitting main protagonist. That’s Kirk’s department, and he excels at it.