Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Movie – Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)

A majority of people list Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) as the best of the Trek movies.  While I am of two minds on that, I can definitely say that Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home is the most entertaining.  Audiences agreed with me since this was the highest grossing Trek film until the reboot almost 25 years later.  While the prior three Trek films had been quite serious, including losses of characters, writer/director Leonard Nimoy decided to lighten things up this time around and actually have a little bit of fun with the characters.  And what better way to do this than to have them be fish out of water stuck in our present?

In addition to the entertainment factor, I am picking this particular Trek film because it is also the most important in some other areas.  The success of this film directly led to Paramount starting the new television series Star Trek: The Next Generation, which then led to three more TV series.  In addition, Star Trek IV was the first time that a female Captain had ever been shown in the Star Trek universe.  She was played by Madge Sinclair.  There is also a cameo by Jane Wiedlin of the Go-Gos reporting the status of her ship, but I can’t remember if she was a Captain, or a lower officer.  (Tennis player Vijay Armitraj also cameos as a Captain.)

And since this is the Misquoted Movies category, I picked this film because while Captain Kirk never said “Beam me up Scotty”, he does come close in this movie.  At one point he says, “Scotty, beam me up.”

Star Trek IV picks up not too long after the third movie ended.  All the characters are on Vulcan and Spock is recovering.  Suddenly the crew becomes aware of a threat to Earth.  An alien ship is heading for it, and it has destroyed any ship in its path.  The crew cobbles together what they can, takes the Klingon warbird they had captured in the last film, and heads for Earth.  They figure out that the probe is trying to contact humpback whales, but since they died out in the 21st century (in the Trek universe) there is no answer.  The ship’s attempts to communicate are causing widespread devastation on Earth.  The crew decides to travel back in time to try to bring back some humpback whales to answer the probe.

Even though the stakes are high, there are a number of humorous scenes with these people trying to interact in a place and time that they know almost nothing about.  Whether it’s encounters with a punk blasting music, old computer technology, or the correct way to express yourself via swear words, there are numerous funny moments.

The entire original cast once again returns for this film.  In addition, watch for cameos by Grace Lee Whitney (Janice Rand) and Majel Barrett (Christine Chapel) from the original TV show.  Another set of consistent casting is the appearance of Mark Lenard and Jane Wyatt as Spock’s parents.  They reprised their roles from the TV show.  Robin Curtis reprises her role of Lt. Saavik from the third Trek movie.  And keep an eye out for veteran actor Brock Peters (To Kill a Mockingbird) as Admiral Cartwright.  Finally, Catherine Hicks plays a new character that is in charge of a research institute that happens to have two humpback whales.

Although it sadly may be largely forgotten nowadays, back when this film came out the Challenger disaster was very fresh in people’s minds.  This film opens with a dedication to the crew of the Space Shuttle Challenger.

On a much lighter note, another thing that is largely forgotten now is that this film caused a major hissy fit from animal rights activists for its “abuse” of the two humpback whales that appeared in the film.  As it turns out, almost every shot of whales in this film were not real animals, but four foot animatronics built for the movie.

I won’t spoil the end of the film by describing what happens, but I will say that it was extremely satisfying.  In fact, I really wish that they had ended the entire original franchise with this movie because it was the perfect capper for the entire run.  This is the first film I ever saw where the audience in the theater with me spontaneously broke out into applause when the movie ended.

If you have never seen a Star Trek movie with the original cast then this is definitely the one to watch.  It is a fun, entertaining movie.  I highly recommend it.

Chip’s Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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  1. Good review! I didn't know about the animal rights activists, or that was a box office hit that convinced them to start up Next Generation.
    I haven't seen these movies in years, no 4 is my favorite star trek, and the one I've returned to the most. I have it on my nostalgic list over at my blog. I love the whales and the overall humour, not taking themselves too seriously. (Too serious kind of turns me off in other entries in the long running franchise)

    1. Thanks. I remember the first couple of times I laughed I wasn't sure if they were being light before getting serious, or if they were going to continue it througout the movie.

  2. I remember seeing this movie when I was in college. I am relieved to hear that the whale-abuse allegations were unfounded. Excellent review!

    1. Thanks! Even if they had been real whales, there wouldn't have been any abuse. The definition of "abuse" the activists were using was "filming too close to the whales", which the activists felt would have upset the whales. Apparently they had never heard of telephoto lenses.

  3. I really liked this film. It's among my three favorite films of the original Star Trek film series. It's a film that is entertaining and light-hearted. Notably some of the exchanges between Spock and Dr. McCoy.

    1. My favorites are Star Treks 2, 3, and 4 with the original cast. I also liked 8 with the Next Generation cast (another time travel story, this time with the Borg).

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