Since there’s going to be an epic showdown between Star Trek and Star Wars in the coming week, I figured it might be a good time to review a Star Trek movie. But not Wrath of Khan, nor Undiscovered Country, and none of the next generation stuff. No, today, we’re going to talk about the one Star Trek movie that should have been a catastrophe and wound up somehow being one of the greatest Star Trek films AND grabbed a lot of non-Trekkie and causal fans as well. Doesn’t get much more successful than that.
This week on Manic Movie Magic we’re going to look at the environmentally-conscious Leonard-Nimoy-directed Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Released in 1986, the film follows the crew of the Enterprise as they return to Earth after getting Spock back. But as they do, a giant probe comes to Earth and is looking for whales. I’m not one to poke holes in the logics of off-screen aliens but I never understood WHY they were looking for whales. Are whales from space? Cause that’s what it seems like they are insinuating – why would alien whales stay on Earth? And not signal for help when they were in danger? I mean, they were smart enough to get there, and then they have to have thought of a way to get back. And if not, can whales sing to aliens? What makes whales more important than pandas, or bald eagles, or even tigers? Why do whales need to exist? The future seems to be pretty well off without them… And why does the probe have to basically destroy the Earth to find them? MOTIVES DAMMIT, MOTIVES!!!
Moving on from that, the crew of Star Trek goes back in time to 1986 to steal themselves some whales and save Earth from being destroyed by the probe. Sounds easy enough, except for all the zany wacky adventures that come from cultural misunderstandings. Do you see what I meant when I said that this sounded like the worst premise for a Star Trek film ever? Star Trek is about exploring space, fighting threats to the galaxy, not saving the freaking whales!
But then, something happens – and I don’t whom to thank for it, but I am beyond grateful. The movie turns out to be hilarious, probably the funniest of the whole movie series. This could have very easily slipped into the clichéd old jokes about time travel and the usual misunderstandings, but it narrowly avoids them like a figure-skater swerving around piranhas. It exploits the fact that they know very little about the world they’ve travelled to, but they’re not completely ignorant. One example is when Scotty tries to get the computer to do stuff by talking into the mouse, which is hilarious. But then the movie does the smart thing and doesn’t continue the joke for another minute – Scotty figured out he needed to manually input the equation to get it to run. The movie made the joke, got the laugh, and quit while it was ahead.
Also the cast is spot on in this film. We know they can do drama pretty well but to see Spock mindmeld with a pregnant whale and be completely deadpan, that’s amazing. I like that it also gives the spotlight to Chekov, who is probably one of, if not the, least explored character of the original series cast. He has some good jokes, action scenes, and even the best improvised line ever.
Now, many of you may not remember, but saving the whales used to be a big thing. I mean, now no one cares but before it was the hot-topic of environmentalism. Sci-fi has tackled environmental issues, but usually in a parodied or indirect way – that’s a founding principle of the Sci-fi genre. So actually dealing with earth whales in the film is a neat little twist, especially because it was hard to get people to care about the issue. I mean, do you care about whales? You might have seen one, thought it was cool but I doubt you’ve ever sat down and thought, “If the whales are gone, our whole ecosystem falls apart!” That fact is true of the bees, and the trees, and even spiders but whales? Not the most essential to our survival. So what did the movie do? It made an issue by basically punishing future Earth for not trying harder to save the whales.
The cinematography is okay – nothing to write home about, and the special effects are meh at best. Honestly, it’s a little disappointing considering how amazing Star Trek II and III looked. I’m willing to chalk it up to a smaller budget and a not-so-lovely locale, rather than go right ahead and blame Nimoy.
My one big issue with the movie is the shoed-in love interest. WHY DO WE NEED A LOVE INTEREST? We literally never see her again, she not charming, and her only real function takes place after the damn movie is over! She’s uninteresting, as flat as paper, and seemed like a corporate decision. And guess who she falls in love with? Kirk, of course. I mean, I know he’s the center of the group, but doesn’t anyone else on the Enterprise ever get some lovin’?
So, overall, if you’ve heard good things about Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home but thought it just sounded too stupid or too clichéd to be as good as claimed, then go find it now. This movie takes a potentially awful premise and makes it shine with witty, charming comedy, handled a boring issue in an interesting way, and ultimately was able to shine as an example of Star Trek’s versatility, and creativity.
Next week, I’m due to review…Mirror Mirror….why me….