Star Trek III: The Search for Spock had met expectations at the box office, so a sequel was greenlit. More importantly, Harve Bennett and Leonard Nimoy completed the film early and under budget, so were the natural choices to produce the fourth film.
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home needed to differentiate itself from the previous film, most notably it needed more story substance. For that reason, Bennett brought Nicholas Meyer back to prn the story elements set in 1986 while Bennett wrote the ending in which the crew faced the consequences of their actions from TSfS. The second difference was a desire to shift away from having a strong villain in favor of a lesss adversarial conflict.
The idea worked, but they worked in spite of themselves. The story of TVH is even thinner than that of the previous film. In fact, it is downright silly. But the comedic elements of TVH are done so well, fans can overlook just how dumb the plot is. That fans can do this is an indication of how well It is more of a time travel comedy than a Trek piece and could have easily proven a farce of Trek instead. Yet it works. It wound up the first trek movie to earn $ 100 million at the box office.
Before watching TVH again for this review, I had not seen it in probably twenty years. I was young then and it was not so far from the release date for the film to seem dated. I remember liking it originally, but wondered if my opinion would change because of all my experiences and cultural changes in the interim. I like watching old movies that are representative of times before I was born. But for some reason, period pieces set during my lifetime do not age well for me. These days, I hear meaningful songs from my younger days being used to sell detergent and credit cards while actors from shows I used to love are filming their diet regimens for aVH1 reality show. I get this inexplicable feeling of embarrassment out of the fond past memories. I did not want that to happen with TVH, too.
For the most part, it did not. The plot of bringing humpback whales into the future in which they are extinct reminds me of a more innocent version of global warming hysteria now. I say innocent because the inherent love for whales is so touchy feely, it is difficult to compare it to some of the more sinister population control ideas of global warming alarmists. It did not feel so much dated as gave me a nostalgic longing for those types of tree hugging environmentalists as opposed to the genocide to save the planet brand we have now.
Not to say certain aspects of the plot are not silly. Pretty much every character bends over backwards to imply whales may be more intelligent than humans, a mantra of the time to make people more sympathetic to them. While I am glad humpback whales are not longer exist, they have been hunted by less than stellar examples of human intelligentsia traveling in rowboats for centuries without learning to avoid such people. Geniuses these critters ain’t.
Furthermore, how does an alien species communicate with these whales across the galaxy to the point they come looking for them after not receiving any word from them for three centuries? I suppose whales not only have some sort of special way of communicated across the far reaches of space, but it makes them so much more awesome than humans, the aliens only want to talk to them.
I have pretty much set up the plot already, but a probe is flying through space, constantly blaring out a whale song message while disabling ay ship it comes across. When it reaches Earth and gets no answer from whales, it blots out the sun and begins boiling the oceans. I hate it when call and no one’s home, too, but geez, I do not burn their house down in anger. The probe’s actions are necessary to have a conflict in the movie, but think about the message it sends; it does not matter if we preserve endangered species, because at some point, an alien probe is going to come destroy the environment anyway.
Starfleet sends out a warning to stay away from Earth just as our heroes are returning with the newly revived Spock to face the consequences of their actions in TSfS. Spock is not himself yet and it serves as comedic foil, but he is the one who identifies the whale song coming from the probe. Kirk suggests they travel ack in time to bring a whale into the 23rd century to answer the message. Everyone agrees that is a good idea., so they travel around the sun and arrive in 1986.
For almost the remainder of the movie, it becomes a fish out of water comedy. At least it is genuinely funny. the secondary cast members have good moments to shine, too, instead of serving as background characters for Kirk, Spock, and McCoy as they often did in the series. Much of their scenes overshadow the Abbott and Cstello interaction of kirk and Spock. One assumes their overshadowing may have prompted William Shatner to take his revenge by unmercifully smacking them around in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.
The stolen Klingon ship needs nuclear material to return to the future. Naturally, the Russian is assigned the task of gathering some in the midst of the Cold War. McCoy and Scotty need to find a tank to hold the whales. Kirk and Spock go looking for the whales themselves. Each have their own misadventures which would suck the humor out of to recap here.
Bottom line; it all comes together inspite of troubles from the barbaric 20th century. Kirk falls for a marine biologist who forces her way back to the23rd century with them. We they get to the future, whales have a conversation with the probe which last nearly four minutes. What do they talk about? I have not the foggiest notion. Paramount wanted to use subtitles, but Bennett and Nimoy refused, saying it should best be left to the audience’s imagination. In that case, I suspect the whales told the aliens off since we have never heard from them again.
Because of their heroic actions, all charges are dropped against thecrew except one. For that, Kirk is demoted to captain and is returned to a new Enterprise which will prove to bea piece of junk in the next film and decommissioned in the one after. But we will get to that later.
Star Trek IV; The Voyage Home is entertaining, but fluffy. There is not any more plot here than in the last. What plot there is does not stand up to much scrutiny. Since the film does not take itself very seriously--David Marcus’ death is glossed over, for heaven’s sake--so I cannot analyze it too harshly, either. It is good to see a Trek story that does not resort to phasors and photon torpedoes to resolve a conflict as most of them do. For that, TVH gets kudos simply for being unique. It is a good time, but it is barely Trek. It was a big hit, but still not as good as a couple other entries in the franchise.
Rating: *** (out of 5)