Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home is a lighthearted Trek movie and as a result, may be one of the very best. Another tubular Doomsday Machine is on a direct course to earth. This is taking ideas from the classic Doomsday Machine and merging it with that of The Motion Picture. Clearly, Earth is the only target in the universe. The strange probe is coming to have a chat with the whales. “Admiral, there be whales here!” But it does ask a lot of the logic center of the brain. Kirk asks Spock if humpback whales exist anywhere else in the universe. Spock says no; they are indigenous to Earth. But one has to ask: then who sent a probe to have a chat with them? Think about it. It’s like writing a message on a helium balloon in a language no known species speaks, and hope it gets to its desired destination… for no readily apparent reason. (Well, just to tell someone they made a mistake in taking care of the planet!) My guess is this: the dolphins, having left earth with that message thanking us for the fish, realize they want their friends back, build the probe and off it goes. Uh-oh, all the whales are dead. So long. But that’s where Jim and crew come in to save the day. Ok, I’m hitchhiking on the (hump)back of another series, you might say. But that’s not the only illogical thing we have to deal with. During the conference that is going on while Kirk and company are still on Vulcan, the Klingon chancellor shows footage of Kirk destroying the Enterprise, complete with internal and external camera footage. Where do these people get their camera work. (I mean, I’m starting to feel uncomfortable using the bathroom since watching these movies… who can see me?? Am I on camera somewhere??)
Ok, seriously, this movie is outstanding, the fastest of the four movies and it comes in at almost exactly two hours. Part of that is the wonderful music. Good lord, this movie has a lot of fun pieces. The hospital run (“One little mistake”) and Chekov’s flight from the nuclear “wessels” are punctuated by amazing music. The final scene sends chills down my spine even as I type this! Outside of the music, there are so many subtle touches, like the little old lady on kidney dialysis who, shortly after taking McCoy’s pill, is gleefully being wheeled around the hospital shouting that she’s better! The whole sequence in the hospital finally paints McCoy in a great light, showing what I hope is in our future: surgery without the barbaric need to cut into the body. The time travel sequence is magnificent for two reasons: the series didn’t forget the Season One episode Tomorrow is Yesterday; they use the same “slingshot effect” to go back in time. And if you’re paying attention, the lines spoken are yet to happen. As Kirk says when selling his glasses, they will be his again in the future, not unlike the lines we are hearing ahead of time. (Re: the glasses: not strictly true, but the humor is too good to ignore!) And there are so many great moments throughout this film, like Chekov asking where to find the nuclear “wessels” considering the time period. It was indeed a nice touch that the ship is the Enterprise. (Remember Star Trek: The Motion Picture shows all the ships that were named Enterprise and it’s on that board!) I also like that when he comes out of his coma, he says his rank is admiral. Also wonderful is finding the (slightly outdated) Yellow Pages ad, when wondering how the crew could find things. The Klingon ship landing in Golden Gate Park crushing the trash can is fantastic too. “Everybody remember where we parked!” Speaking of the Klingon vessel, the scene of them stopping the whalers was a jump-out-of-the-seat joy for me. The biggest issue I had was Scotty’s reason for breaking time: “how do we know he didn’t invent the thing?” Hey, let’s not let logic stand in the way of a fun story!! (Watching Scotty talk to the computer was hilarious too!) “Nobody pays any attention to you unless you swear every other word.” The colorful metaphors also added to the humor. Listening to Spock try to use the lingo was outstanding. And like the passengers on the bus, I applauded when Spock knocks out the jerk! McCoy engages Spock in small talk and tells him how much he’s valued; including that Jim would trust a guess from Spock more than other people’s facts. A lovely moment because it seems McCoy really did learn the value of his “green-blooded” friend.
More than anything else, the movie is about teamwork. The crew each break into groups to work together to save their home. The result is an epilogue that stands out as one of the best moments of the three-movie series. The crew stand accused of the events of the last movie and Spock steps out to stand trial with them. He’s told he is not on trial but he replies, “I stand with my shipmates.” In an instant it becomes clear: it’s not whether the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or vice versa. It’s far simpler than that: stand by your friends. If that means one person makes a sacrifice, so be it. If they all need to sacrifice for one, that’s what will happen. That may not be logical, but it doesn’t need to be! Friendship, like family, doesn’t follow a rule book. There are no instructions and sometimes you do what feels right to stand by those we care about. Even Sarek comes to the realization that he was wrong in opposing Spock’s entry into Starfleet and he accepts his son for the man he has become. The result, with a musical accompaniment to delight fans of all ages, Kirk and crew are given a new ship: NCC-1701-A, the Enterprise. Man, I love that moment!
I think Star Trek is one of the most important shows of our lives. I think the messages it shared were of hope and friendship and maybe, upon occasion, a reminder of where we go wrong. This movie is clearly an environmentally conscious one but told in such an enjoyable way, it never feels like a looming cloud. (Modern Doctor Who could learn a thing or two from this!) And maybe we will learn from it too, even if it takes us another 200 years. The President says it best: “You and your crew have saved this planet from its own shortsightedness.” Yeah, maybe they have, at that. Maybe we should all be paying attention to these movies a little bit more. And to think, we have two more movies to go… ML
The view from across the pond:
In The Mark of Gideon Spock violates an order from Starfleet with no consequences at all, so when the crew of the Enterprise went rogue at the end of the previous movie I was half expecting this one to start with Kirk in command of a new ship. Luckily storytelling techniques have moved on since the 60s, and there has been a very strong continuity between the films in this series, with Kirk and his crew outlaws due to their actions in the last one, facing a court martial on their return. Before they can do that, however, there’s just the small matter of saving everyone’s lives.
It’s interesting the extent to which these movies keep choosing a well-worn sci-fi storyline and then translating them to the big screen, most of which had already been done in the original series. So far we have had a super computer gone wrong, an old enemy returning to fight Kirk, and a battle with Klingons. OK, so there’s more to what we’ve seen than all that, but once again we are retreading old ground with a trip into the past for Kirk and co. The reason for them doing that has to be one of the most bizarre ideas Star Trek has ever come up with: they need to get some whales from the past and bring them to the future, to communicate with a space probe that speaks Whale. So this is all incredibly silly, but somehow manages to be a lot of fun.
Mainly that’s due to the regular cast, who have really come into their own for the film series. There’s also a lot more comedy than we ever got from the original television series. Kirk and Spock are a great double act, with Kirk teaching Spock to communicate using 20th Century lingo, while Spock understands so little about the culture around him. The whole lot of them stand out hilariously on the streets of San Francisco, and then get split off to have their own adventures, all of which are entertaining. I think my favourite moment was Scotty trying to talk to a computer, and then speaking into the mouse. Mind you, I don’t think many people from 2022 would have a clue how to use that 1986 computer, let alone somebody from 300 years into the future, but it’s a familiar and absurd sci-fi trope that almost guarantees that anyone with technical skills from the future will be able to master tech from the past in seconds. Just look how Sulu becomes a helicopter pilot in an instant.
The prize for goofiest crewmember goes to Chekov, who doesn’t think anything will seem amiss about somebody asking where a nuclear base is located, and when he gets captured obviously thinks it’s fine to throw a weapon from the future into the hands of his captor as a diversion. Kirk and McCoy coming to his rescue in the hospital is hugely entertaining, although they only get away because of the stupidity of the police on duty, who think it is more important to try to unlock a door and get the medical staff out rather than immediately chasing after the people who locked them in there and are now escaping with their prisoner.
This is a film that relies on incongruous sights, and not just the crew of the Enterprise in contemporary San Francisco. The invisible spaceship in a field is almost identical to something Doctor Who attempted in Shada, but a bit more impressive. Later we get the very odd sight of a Klingon ship hovering over a whaling vessel out at sea. But the prize for the strangest moment has to be the trippy dream sequence with everyone’s heads coming out of the clouds.
The ending of the film seems to bring the story arc that has run through these films to a close, with the Enterprise crew sort-of pardoned, Kirk demoted so he can be a captain again, and a new ship for him to go off on adventures again. Just one loose thread comes to mind, that pesky Klingon who said “there shall be no peace, as long as Kirk lives”. Had this been an episode of the original series, I would be expecting that to be completely ignored, but knowing how the writers of these movies prioritise continuity my guess is that the Klingons will feature strongly in the next one. I just hope they don’t turn up in a whaling ship. RP