Saturday, June 8, 2019

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home - Review

Star Date: 1986

Though it was never meant to be a trilogy, here we are at the end of it, and to me personally this is by far the best of the three that starts with The Wrath of Khan and continues with The Search For Spock. Back when these movies were made they lived on a movie-by-movie basis, meaning they had to re-unite the cast and recreate most of the sets every time. That is how little faith the movie company had in the Star Trek formula that with each and every one they thought and said it was going to be the last.

Not sure who did the art for the poster, but no character looks like themselves.

With the first two it's pretty obvious, since TMP feels completely stand-alone from the rest and they kill off Spock in the second. But four movies down the line you'd be hard pressed to guess that this was the case. Movie 2-4 definitely come off as a fairly well-planned trilogy, and honestly The Search For Spock makes even less sense if the truth is that they didn't even plan to continue to make more movies after it.

With The Voyage Home the creators decided it was time for a more upbeat story after three movies of big threats and violent deaths. They decided to go with a time travel story, which interestingly enough has turned out to be some of the most popular ones within the Star Trek universe, with TOS: The City on the Edge of Forever, First Contact and VOY: Future's End as other notable examples off the top of my head. There is just something about a good time travel story, and maybe something especially appealing about having these people from the future interact with the world that we know of and are part of. In many ways it's like seeing a character from your favorite TV-show leave their sets and come out into the "real" world, and as far as I know Star Trek is the only series that manages to do this while still staying within its own fictional world (although I know Supernatural has dabbled with this concept in different ways as well), correct me if I am wrong!

The Voyage Home is also interesting to re-watch after you've seen the new Star Trek Discovery series and knowing all the flack that series got for getting involved and having a say in what's happening in our politics and society of today. The Voyage Home is literally a homage to Greenpeace's fight against the whaling business in the 70-80's, with scenes that are direct references to work and actions that Greenpeace took against whalers. Star Trek has always been used as a way to comment on current events, there is just no way you can miss that if you've actually followed the series for any length of time.

The commentary doesn't get much more obvious than in episodes like Let That Be Your Last Battlefield.

Even though the movie takes off right after the previous one, with Kirk and friends still on Vulcan waiting for Spock to get himself together after having been resurrected and re-assembled, I'd still say that it's not necessary to watch the previous two to get your full entertainment or understanding from this one. While it uses the previous movies as a starting point, they are otherwise not connected storywise and it would only be the first few minutes that could be a bit confusing. The story quickly takes a completely different turn and leaves the previous two movies in the dust, so if you're worried that you might have to get through those two first to fully enjoy this one - you don't.

While Kirk and friends are on their way back to Earth to be court marshalled, still on the Bird of Prey they took from Kruge, a big and mysterious object suddenly turns up moving towards Earth. It starts making weird noises and when no one knows how to answer it, it responds by boiling away all the water on the planet, which obviously makes everyone panic. Spock, who is on his game again, quickly realizes that the noise is some sort of humpback whale language and presumably the alien object is trying to communicate with the humpback whales on the planet. Too bad they went extinct in the 20th century and there are none left to respond. Since no one knows the humpback whale language, the only solution is of course to go back in time and get some humpback whales to do the talking.

Who's to say they never went into space?

The set up and premise of the story is probably some of the laziest writing you'll see in Star Trek. We never get to know who or what these aliens are or what they want. We never get to know how or when humpback whales made friends in outer space (or went there themselves??), although Spock mentions they had been around millions of years longer than humans so who knows what they got up to back in the day. And travelling back in time is apparently also something you just need to decide to do to make it happen, because not only do Kirk & Crew do it in a run-down Bird of Prey, but they do it with barely any effort. And of course they end up exactly where there just happens to be two humpback whales ready and as it turns out, in need to be rescued into the future.

This far into the movie it would be easy to think that they didn't put any effort into the writing, but you'd be wrong. The Voyage Home is an example of a movie that knows what the fanbase has been waiting for and decided to cut out all the unnecessary cr*p. This movie finally manages to fully capitalize on the relationships we have built up with the characters, and the characters have built up between themselves, after investing ourselves into watching the series for three seasons. You end up forgiving this movie all of the shortcuts it takes, because it takes it to get you into some truly funny and heartwarming stuff. At the end you'll love Kirk and friends even more than you did going in, it'll increase your respect and love for the franchise rather than wear on it.

On Earth Kirk and friends quickly decide to split up to get their business done. Finally Uhura, Chekov, Sulu and Scotty get something worthwhile to do! Flying through time has busted the Bird of Prey even more and Scotty requires nuclear power to get it to work again. Cue some hilarious scenes where they send out Uhura and Chekov, with his Russian accent, starts asking random people in the streets for the location of nuclear naval "wessels". By making the characters question and wonder over how society works, the movie gets a great way to highlight and comment on contemporary issues through the narrative.

Scotty and McCoy meanwhile go to find a suitable tank for some humpback whales. Yet again we get some hilarious scenes when our friends anachronistically are trying to interact with the computers of the 80's and Scotty is trying to get it to work by talking into the mouse. It hits home even more in 2019 I think when we actually see kids doing precisely that today. Star Trek predicted it, yet again. There is also a great scene where McCoy questions the morality of them changing the time continuum, when Scotty teaches some future tech to the technicians in the factory they're at, and Scotty answers by saying "for all we know he's the one who invented it". In a way it is both the best and the worst way to deal with the whole timeline problem that most Star Trek time travel episodes/movies have struggled with - what if whatever they're doing was what was supposed to happen? Let's not get into discussions about time paradoxes, because they will give anyone a headache, but suffice to say that this movie deals with it with the same light hearted style of the rest of the movie.

Sulu gets the mission to find a helicopter with which they can haul the tank once it is finished, and we get to see him show off the fact that he is a very proficient pilot, even with old style flying vehicles. It's easy to forget because it's very rarely show cased in the actual TV-series, with Sulu often acting as a glorified steering wheel to Kirks commands, so it's fun to get to see this kind of character enrichment.

Kirk and Spock set out to actually locate some humpback whales, which as mentioned they are lucky enough to find right where they need them in a water park. The humpback whales are looked after by a Dr Gillian Taylor who immediately recognizes Kirk and Spock for the "weirdos" they are, especially since the first thing Spock does is dive into the pool with the humpback whales (to have a mindmeld with it), only to then tell her what they are thinking and that one of them is pregnant. Rather than getting furious with them and phoning the police, Gillian takes a liking to them and gets more and more involved with them. She eventually requires their help when it turns out that the whale pair are going to be set free, making them possible targets for whalers. She invites them for dinner which results in a classic, entirely improvised, scene.

It doesn't take long before Kirk, being the no-nonsense kind of guy that he is, explains to her exactly what is going on. While Gillian is understandably sceptical at first, she seems to decide that the truth doesn't really matter as long as Kirk actually can help her humpback whales. When the whales get set free ahead of schedule, she's invited onto their Bird of Prey to help locate them. At this point Chekov and Uhura have managed, after some kerfuffle, to gather the nuclear particles they required; Scotty and McCoy have acquired a tank and Sulu has flown it into the spaceship. The crew beam up the whales into the ship in their presumably massive tank and they fly back into the future to save Earth.

It's difficult to describe this movie, because of all the shortcuts, convenient and straight up lazy writing that is tucked in there. But in the end you notice yourself just not caring because it's simply so entertaining. After all, the purpose of a movie is nothing but to provide the viewers with some sort of entertainment, and that is where The Voyage Home hits the nail on the head. Once the movie gets started, which is pretty much as soon as they land on "our time Earth", it's just one great scene after the other where most of the cast end up in situations where their characters get to shine .

It's not perfect though, but you can probably guess what my complaint is going to be - at two hours run time the movie still feels too short. Just like Seven Samurai, this movie just manages to fly past and when the story starts to wrap up you're just sitting there wishing there had been so much more. Though I realize it would've been an even harder sell, I almost wish they would've done off with the setup even faster, giving Kirk and friends more time to "play around" with the well-written dialogue and genuinely funny scenes. Also, I guess a question I can't answer is how funny and interesting this movie is for someone who hasn't spent three seasons with the Enterprise crew before watching it. To me it seems like it's the love for the characters that make the movie truly come to life, thus maybe making it less watchable for someone who has little or no interest in Star Trek (unlike TMP, which I think is enjoyable for any sci-fi fan).

If you, for whatever reason, are having a bad day and need cheering up, or maybe need to remind yourself of why you like Star Trek after having watched Discovery*, The Voyage Home has your back. The Voyage Home is your comfort food, it's the warm bath after a long day, it's the friend who makes you laugh. There are so many reasons why it shouldn't work, but it does, because it hits all the right Star-Trek-Fan-buttons. It knows what you're there for, and by golly does it deliver.

Some thoughts on this movie;
  • The full body shots of the whales in the water are apparently four feet models, they look really good!
  • In the commentary in my version Kirk has a bit of an existential crisis in the middle of the movie. He also comments on the fact that he thought a time travel movie was a really bad idea but that he was happy no one listened to him.
  • According to Nimoy in his commentary in the film, he didn't know Mark Lenard (who plays Spock's father Sarek).

Images from,,
*Personally I think Discovery is alright, but I can understand some of the negative comments it's gotten.

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