At some point, someone, somewhere, had the idea for a Star Trek movie to be about wandering around modern day San Francisco looking for whales. Perhaps more surprising is that this film was greenlit and made, and turned out to be perhaps the best of the Star Trek movies.
Following on from Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, the crew of the Enterprise are returning home in a Klingon vessel when they come across a probe sending some unusual signals. When translated, the mysterious languages turns out to be in ‘whale’. If only Dory were on board. So, or at least as I understand it, the crew believe that if the probe doesn’t pick up any whale sounds in return, the planet might be destroyed. But alas, humpback whales are extinct in the 23rd century, so of course they have to travel back in time to find themselves some whales, bring the whales back to the future, and this will stop the Earth from being obliterated. I’m not making this up.
Even ignoring the film’s insane plot, Star Trek 4 is by far the funniest Trek movie to date. The movie benefits from not taking itself too seriously, and find the fun in the contrast between regular Star Trek and its unconventional situation. The jokes write themselves: Scotty, unaware of how primitve 1985 technology is, picks up a mouse and talks into it, saying ‘hello, computer’. Spock immobilises a rude passenger on the bus. Bones, appalled by the primitive state of medicine, hands out magic kidney pills to hospital patients. After landing and cloaking their ship in Golden Gate Park, Kirk says to the crew, ‘alright, everybody remember where we parked.’ This is not your typical Star Trek movie, but is all the better for it.
It’s not just the comic elements and the fact that they’re barely in the Enterprise at all throughout the movie that set it apart as an oddball in the Star Trek cannon. Whilst many Star Trek plots contain theatrical bad guys such as Khan, or Q in The Next Generation, The Voyage Home has no clear-cut villain. The film instead centres around a strong ecological message, where the villains are really the faceless hunters of whales who will end up bringing them to extinction. Despite the bizarre, almost anti-Star Trek plot, the light humour and morality play story is the closest in tone to the original series. What works best in the movie, as with the best of Star Trek, is the ideas-driven story and interaction of the characters.
The Voyage Home is directed by Leonard Nimoy with depth and playfulness. This film may not have a lot of the elements of a Star Trek movie, but its wit, vitality and intelligence make it one of the best cinematic examples of the franchise. And if you disagree, then double dumb-ass on you.
Dir: Leonard Nimoy
Scr: Steve Meerson, Peter Krikes, Nicholas Meyer, Harve Bennett
Cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelly, James Doohan, George Takei, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, Catherine Hicks
DP: Donald Peterman
Music: Leonard Rosenman
Country: United States
Run time: 122 minutes