9. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)
Directed by Leonard Nimoy.
Starring William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Walter Koenig, and Nichelle Nichols.
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home concludes a three-film arc which began with The Wrath of Khan and, inexplicably, it’s a somehow even weirder outing than its barmy predecessor, The Search for Spock.
After opening with a poignant tribute to the ill-fated crew of the Space Shuttle Challenger and offering up another lengthy “The Story So Far” exposition dump, the fourth Trek film settles into an appealingly fresh mode by having the Enterprise’s former crew on the back foot without their toys, exiled on the commandeered Klingon Bird-of-Prey dubbed the HMS Bounty.
For one thing, it’s certainly neat to have Spock back with the messiness of his revival hastily brushed under the carpet. The push and pull of his shared human and Vulcan parentage is well conveyed throughout, and there’s some especially fun interplay between him and Bones – because of course there is.
The script’s ambition is matched only by its general throw-everything-at-the-wall sloppiness; Saavik (Robin Curtis) is bafflingly written out in the first 15 minutes – reportedly a result of a dropped pregnancy subplot – before the film tackles a deeply eccentric time travel plot which sees the fate of the world resting on the song of some extinct humpback whales (seriously). This leads to an insanely goofy second act as the crew travels back in time to 1986 San Francisco, where every amusing moment is matched by a totally misjudged one.
Viewed through a modern lens, it’s tough not to see The Voyage Home as a precursor-of-sorts to Avengers: Endgame, what with its compartmentalised series of time-hopping fetch quests, often encompassing disguises as they do. This might even be backed up by Marvel’s Kevin Feige himself, a self-confessed fan of the movie who included producer and “Punk on Bus” actor Kirk R. Thatcher in a belated, Easter Egg-y reprise of said role in 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming.
Ultimately the aforementioned segmented subplots aren’t terribly interesting, especially Bones and Scotty’s stuffy sojourn to a…plastics factory of all places. That said, it’s certainly hilarious seeing Scotty hasten human engineering progress in the “past” by going full ham on a Macintosh Plus, not to mention Bones freely doling out his advanced medical knowledge. The subsequent goofy hospital chase is a bit much, though.
This is all followed up by a distended third reel where the damn whales are finally rescued, though there’s sadly neither enough conflict nor enough action for it to be much interesting – beyond the entrancingly trippy chit-chat between the probe and the whales, of course.
Leonard Nimoy, who returned to direct the fourth film, is certainly a more visually assured stylist this time around, employing less-daft effects despite the film’s overall enhanced sense of silliness. Following the modest production model of the previous film, there actually aren’t many complex visual effects to speak of at all, and many of the creakier moments in fact keep their feet planted firmly on the ground; the aforementioned hospital chase (set to Leonard Rosenman’s overdone musical score), and of course the corny end credits freeze-frame slideshow.
It would be remiss not to also mention the film’s semi-comical social commentary re: animal welfare and nuclear power here, as well as those overarching nods to Cold War panic. Though social consciousness has always been firmly within Trek‘s wheelhouse, these moments often end up feeling like ideological detours rather than thoughtful enhancements of the story.
Ironically for such a mindful piece of mainstream art, the film nevertheless takes every errant opportunity during its Earth-set portion to shove product placements for Coke, Macintosh, Michelob et al. down the audience’s throat.
As much a passionate, heavy-handed environmental screed as it is a flighty space opera, The Voyage Home can’t ever quite reconcile its disparate moods and ideas into a holistic experience.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
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