***What happens when I, a 30-something-year-old fanboy, decide to look at the Star Trek franchise for the first time with an open heart? You get “Rob Watches Star Trek.”***
TITLE: Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
STARRING: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei
DIRECTOR: Leonard Nimoy
WRITERS: Harve Bennett (Story), Leonard Nimoy (Story), Steve Meerson, Peter Krikes, Nicholas Meyer
STUDIOS: Paramount Pictures
RUN-TIME: 122 min
RELEASED: November 26, 1986
By Rob Siebert
There’s a moment in Star Trek IV where Uhura looks to Kirk and says, “Admiral, I am receiving whale song!” Now that’s just wild and random enough to come from a classic Star Trek episode. And for yours truly, that’s where much of the appeal of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home is.
Months after the events of Star Trek III, an alien probe causes catastrophic effects on Earth. The global power grid fails, storms rage, and cloud formation threatens to block out the sun. But what is the probe’s purpose? A clue leads Kirk and the crew back to the year 1986 in pursuit of, believe it or not, humpback whales.
The Voyage Home made me feel like I was watching the original series again. In true original series fashion, they even found a silly way to disguise Spock’s ears. One can certainly argue it’s too derivative, as they did time-travel episodes numerous times on the old show. And of course, Kirk finds a love interest.
Star Trek IV is funnier than its three predecessors, which is frankly refreshing. Shatner is particularly strong when it comes to comedy. The other movies had their funny moments. But by and large they took themselves so seriously. Of course, Star Trek had that epic action and adventure feel when it needed to. But it also wasn’t afraid to have fun. Cast in point, The Trouble With Tribbles. It’s a perennial favorite, while being played almost entirely for laughs.
One major caveat: As someone just seeing these movies for the first time, I continue to be frustrated at the glossing over of the death of David, Kirk’s son. With the benefit of hindsight, it’s obvious they should have either kept him out of the third film, or scrapped the idea of giving Kirk a son altogether. My point from Star Trek III stands here in Star Trek IV: Kirk should be grief-stricken over the loss of David. Perhaps even a little resentful that Spock got to come back to life, but David won’t. Instead, the movie has the Saavik character pop in to mention him out of obligation if nothing else. Not developing or playing with the David character is the biggest missed opportunity I’ve seen in Star Trek thus far.
On the subject of casting, I love that they got Mark Lenard to come back as Spock’s father in both this film and the last one. The exchange he has with Spock toward the end is very satisfying, and feels like a pay-off from the show. As a bonus, we also get Jane Wyatt back this time as Spock’s mother.
In what wound up being an odd twist of fate, Kirk’s love interest Gilian is played by Catherine Hicks, who on 7th Heaven would play opposite Stephen Collins, who played Decker in the first film. Her scenes with William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy have a certain quaint charm to them. The fact that Hicks is 20 years younger than Shatner is a bit odd, but not unforgivable.
Not surprisingly, the one crew member who gets in trouble and slows them down is Chekov. I wish I could say I’ve come to like him. On the upside, Kirk, Gilian, and Bones have to rescue him from a hospital. That gives us a chance to see the Enterprise‘s resident doctor in a 20th century medical facility, which is kinda cool.
One thing I enjoyed about Star Trek IV is that almost every member of our crew has something to do, a role to play in the story. Everyone that is, except for Sulu. For whatever reason, after they go back in time, Sulu has a little exchange with a helicopter pilot, and then we don’t see him again until much later in the movie. What gives? Why couldn’t they have left friggin’ Chekov behind?
The story revolving around the acquisition of two Humpback in a time-travel science fiction film is unusual. But it’s that eccentricity that makes it work so well. After seeing the three previous films, you’d never be able to predict the third one being about, of all things, whales. It’s just weird enough to be a perfect fit for a Star Trek story.
Another cool pay-off the movie gives us from the show is that we actually get to see the “light-speed breakaway factor” alluded to in “Assignment: Earth.” That bit of expository dialogue definitely came back to beniefit them. The light-speed breakaway factor more or less becomes the Star Trek equivalent of the DeLorean from Back to the Future.
In my book, that’s this film’s biggest accomplishment. It took us four tries, but we finally got a movie that feels faithful to the Star Trek TV show. And after watching hours of doom, gloom, and lengthy shots of space vortexes in the previous movies, it’s damn good to have Trek back.
Email Rob at firstname.lastname@example.org, or check us out on Twitter.