“Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” (1986) – 2.5/5 Stars


Sure, the idea of the Star Trek crew going where several million men (and women) have gone before — 1980s San Francisco — is an amusing possibility. The futuristic technology and mindset of the Star Trek universe meeting current times is ripe with gag potential and in many cases, “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” lives up to that concept’s potential. At the same time, it might be one of the dumbest Star Trek, nay, movie plots, ever conceived.

In the 23rd Century, an alien probe wipes out every ship orbiting Earths’ main power and begins to tear the planet apart. Admiral James T. Kirk (Shatner) and his crew, having just risked it all to find Spock, are on their way back to Earth in a Klingon ship when it all goes down. They analyze the probes signal and realize that there’s only one creature in the universe that can communicate with it — the humpback whale. Yes, you’re reading that right. These creatures are of course extinct in the future and so the Enterprise crew must travel back in time to Earth to retrieve a humpback whale and bring it back to save humanity.

Seriously? Is this the best story Leonard Nimoy and Harve Bennett could come up with? Humpback whales? The concept was clearly “we need a reason to send the crew back in time.” How could it occur to anyone that “they have to retrieve whales” was the obvious answer? Clearly, someone had a “save the whales” agenda on board this project. I’m all for saving the whales, but that should not be a driving thematic force behind a Star Trek movie of all places.

The best part of “The Voyage Home” is it gives Shatner and Nimoy a chance to flex their comedic chops. They definitely had to have been itching to use that skill and it’s really amusing to see them work for laughs. Spock taking figures of speech literally is worth a few chuckles and watching Kirk make some moves on the whale lady (Catherine Hicks) — who gets the pleasure of all the lines that try and help suspend our disbelief such “seriously, who are you guys?” — it’s a treat to get the comedic side of Star Trek. Even Scotty (James Coogan) and Chekov (Walter Koenig) get to be funny. That said, that’s not really what Star Trek is about.

Too few are the moments of Spock coming to terms with being half human and having feelings (and they’re really irrelevant to the story). Too little is the sense of danger and adventure. Chekov getting injured and sent to the emergency room is not for suspense as much as the comedy of the Enterprise crew sneaking into the hospital and McCoy (DeForest Kelley) making snarky comments about how archaic ’80s medicine is.

McCoy, in fact, is the only character who gets what’s really going on, though it was doubtfully intended that way. He tells Kirk, “You’re proposing that we go backwards in time, find humpback whales, then bring them forward in time, drop ’em off, and hope to hell they tell this probe what to do with itself? … that’s crazy!”

Yes McCoy, it is crazy. Too bad none of the real people on the set of this whole movie are smart enough to make that very observation. “The Voyage Home” is worth it for the sense of humor, but otherwise it’s a complete joke in the other sense. As good of an idea as it might have been to bring the gang back to the present, it’s rather insulting to think fans didn’t need any kind of substance behind it. Sadly, considering the film’s success, people proved them right.

“Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home”
Directed by: Leonard Nimoy
Written by: Leonard Nimoy (story), Harve Bennett (story and screenplay), Steve Meerson, Peter Krikes, Nicholas Meyer (screenplay)
Starring: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Catherine Hicks


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