Star Trekking IV: The Voyage Home

Posted: May 31, 2014 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews, Retrospectives

*Review contains spoilers

Star-Trek-IV-The-Voyage-Home-poster-star-trek-movies-8475632-500-762Written by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

It’s interesting how the Star Trek film series can be broken up into smaller sub-categories. The most obvious way to do this is to isolate the movies featuring the original cast, the Next Generation crew, and the Abrams reboot. Another way to do it would be to look at the films by the decades they were released in or the filmmakers who helmed each instalment. But perhaps the most interesting grouping is the mini-trilogy within the original cast films. Though The Motion Picture was the first entry of the series, it was Wrath of Khan which introduced plot and thematic elements which would carry through the next two films. The Search for Spock carried many of these elements over while setting up for the trilogy’s climax and pay-off; Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

The film begins shortly after the events of The Search for Spock, with the Enterprise crew still on Vulcan and Spock now revived. Though his knowledge and skills have returned to him, Spock is struggling with emotions and human interaction. However, he returns to his post, and the crew man the Klingon Bird of Prey to return to Earth, where they face nine charges of breaking Star Fleet regulation. Their journey however, is cut short by an alien probe which has come to Earth sending a mysterious signal which no one understands. Spock deduces that the signal is not meant for man, but for Humpback Whales. Unfortunately, in the 23rd century, Whales are extinct and without an answer for the probe, the Earth could be destroyed. So, there is only one solution, Kirk and his crew must travel back in time to the late 20th century and take some whales to the future. There, they clash with the time they do not fully understand.

Though the stakes of the film are just as high as ever, The Voyage Home takes a much lighter approach to the material than previous series entries. Most of the film revolves around the “fish out of water” antics of the crew in 1980s San Francisco. This could have been very grating, but the clever writing and great interactions from the cast keep things fun. The crew split off into three groups each with distinct goals; Kirk and Spock go seeking the whales, Bones and Scotty to acquire the materials to contain them on the ship, and Chekov and Uhura to retrieve nuclear energy to fuel the ship. Each mini-adventure is highly enjoyable and they come together strongly. A few scenes in particularly stand out, such as Kirk and Spock’s visit to the Cetacean Institute, Chekov asking a cop and random pedestrians where the nuclear vessels are, and Bones’ impromptu trip to the hospital.

Not only is The Voyage Home fun, but it’s straight-up funny. I was shocked in fact by the amount of laughs I was getting out of the film. The key to the film’s humour is that no one involved ever turns the characters or the story into a big joke. Instad, the laughs come from genuine character reactions and clever writing. These elements where there in the previous films, but the story and situation here allow for them to come to the forefront. The jokes always feel organic to the story and characters, and perhaps more importantly, they’re almost always funny.Sometimes the humour comes from brief one-liners like, “Double-dumbass on you,” or Nimoy’s awesome delivery of, “One damn minute, Admiral.” Other times from entire exchanges, perhaps most notably Kirk and Spock’s argument over Italian food. Another great element to the humour here is all of the jokes are set up in some form in advance.

Another strong element to The Voyage Home is the direction. Leonard Nimoy is once again at the helm after The Search for Spock, and while he did a solid job on that film, his work feels much more assured here. The pacing is much better, and the production values are very good. Despite there being a lot less action and sci-fi visuals (due to the nature of the story) these elements still shine, perhaps because with less of them, more detailed work could be done. The haywire weather on Earth is pretty cool and the effects of the ships is handled well. None of it is jaw-droppingly good, but it serves it’s function well and is never a distraction. The cinematography is very professional and while I do miss Jerry Goldsmith and James Horner’s scores, Leonard Rosenman does a respectable job all the same.

I do have some issues with the film though. For starters, I’m not entirely sure why many fans consider this to be a very deep or thought-provoking movie. The theme of animal extinction and the dangers of it seem largely basic and surface value. On top of that, they don’t actually seem all that important in the grand scheme of the film. Yes, the whole reason the probe is about to destroy Earth is because of the short sightedness of man, but this largely feels like a macguffin designed purely for the heroes to travel back to the 1980s. It’s a more well-developed interesting macguffin than what is usually given, but at the end of the day that’s all it is. I also felt like certain scenes felt more like the filmmakers speaking down to the audience about how bad it is to over-hunt a species. The fact that the Earth may be destroyed from this is more than sufficient, we don’t need the characters to explicitly give their judgements.

In addition to stories and themes, another recurring element between Wrath, Search, and Voyage is all three have great endings. While the ending to this film may not be as strong as the other two, it’s pretty damn good. Kirk and his crew are put on trial for their insubordination in The Search for Spock (with Spock choosing to join despite not playing a part in their crimes), the charges being dropped, Kirk being demoted to Captain of a starship (what he’s always wanted), and the crew being given a brand new Enterprise. It’s a very satisfying conclusion to this little trilogy while pointing toward an optimistic future. As Kirk says, “we’ve come home.”

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home is an extremely fun and entertaining entry to the Star Trek cannon, one which pleases hardcore fans in addition to the average moviegoer. The decision to set the film in the 1980s alone helps the film stand out, but the true trump card here is the strong comedic moments and the pitch perfect character interactions. It lacks the emotional and thematic depth of The Wrath of Khan, but it also ends the story started in that film very well while still functioning well as a stand-alone film. In fact, if I were to recommend one Star Trek film to the average joe, it would probably be this one. It isn’t the best, but it has the widest appeal, and it accomplishes this without being dumbed down.


Thanks for reading, and hopefully you’ll join me next time when I look at the notorious fifth film; The Final Frontier.

  1. Ahh, fond memories with this one. The reason it was so “serious” is that it was the very beginning of considering the resources of the planet and the treatment of animals. Seems hard to believe to anyone under the age of 40, global warming wasn’t even a catch phrase until the late nineties and and the idea of recycling was a radical notion. That whales or dolphins were a valuable part of the great chain of life unconsidered by 90 percent of the population. I must say the whole Star Trek history means the most to me (over Star Wars) and I’ve been attached to it all since I was a kid sitting in front of the T.V. watching William Shatner wrestle with a mutant whatever. Nice review! :)

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