johnlink ranks STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME (1986)

I watched the first three STAR TREK films from April through May of this year, and then took a long hiatus. Not my fault, you see. My DVR print of STAR TREK IV was actually STAR TREK VI, so I had to wait until the movies cycled around again to pick it back up on the DVR. What’s that meme going around? First world problems? This qualifies, I think. Anyway, I had heard the fourth one was actually a decent entry in the series, which would be welcome since the third was pretty rough.

I watched STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME (1986) on 11.1.12. It was my first viewing of the film.

Once again, the story of the STAR TREK movies is surprisingly serial. From what I remember of seeing of the NEXT GENERATION films, with Patrick Stewart at the helm, those films stood alone for the most part as isolated stories. These original films serve almost more like an extended season. Once again, the fourth film picks up right where the third left off. Spock is rescued and working to regain his faculties, Kirk and his team are on Vulcan with a Klingon ship and the charge to go home and face the consequences for disobeying orders in the third film (and, perhaps, to be chastised for making a weak movie).

Along the way something goes wrong. A probe in space is screwing with electronics. So, naturally, Kirk and his team have to go back in time and save humpback whales from extinction.

Wait, what?

How did that get pitched in the concept room? What set of circumstances led to that particular plot line? Was it a page of Mad Libs? Was it a drunken improv game gone bad? Did someone lose a bet?

Whatever the reason, they went ahead and made a STAR TREK movie about the crew going back to 1986 to bring back a couple of humpback whales.

And, guess what? It turns out to be the most entertaining STAR TREK movie up to that point. Gone are the photon torpedo battles and the alien planets. In, is 1986 San Francisco. For Kirk and company this is as alien a landscape as any alien landscape. This effect is heightened by the sheer fact that the movie is now over 25 years old. In a way, for someone like myself who was a little kid in 1986, this feels akin to watching a BACK TO THE FUTURE MOVIE. The STAR TREK crew are my contemporaries in their level of familiarity, and its the 1986 present which feels like a bygone era.

Regardless of perspective, there are some absolutely hilarious scenes in this movie as the fish-out-of-water story develops. Kirk and Spock get some great bits, and Catherine Hicks plays well the straight(wo)man who is befuddled by these two odd people. I rolled my eyes fairly dramatically when the crew went back in time, and twenty minutes later I was truly enjoying the freshness the characters were able to feel by putting them in a truly wacky scenario. Where the third movie felt stale and lifeless, THE VOYAGE HOME served as an invigoration.

STAR TREK IV doesn’t want to go too far into social issues, despite the save-the-whales stuff. I mean they are in the center of San Francisco during a very liberal time, but the movie is content to deal with its one social theme. Sure, Chekov gets himself in a little Cold-War trouble by trying to steal some nuclear material, but this movie isn’t really about its social themes. That is what makes this such an oddity. They decided to utilize the humpback whales idea as a springboard into a time-travel scenario, yet they never really explore any issues other than to say ‘hunting whales is bad’ and ‘what you kill now may come back to haunt you later’. In that sense, this isn’t a really sophisticated film.

In that vein, there are an extraordinary number of moments which defy any kind of science or logic. I’m used to that in a STAR TREK film, but there are some real stretched here. Just the physical problems in getting the whales on and off the ships (the size of the ship, the weight of the whale, the lack of any seemingly large enough door…), is enough to boggle the mind.

But, like I said above, this sure is fun despite some gaps in logic. This movie would absolutely never get made today (or it would be heavy-handed like THE HAPPENING). This is a true relic of the 1980s, and it is a great little slice of what 1986 looked like, even if done so in a sometimes stereotypical way.

Put simply, this is the other original STAR TREK movie other than Khan (so far) which I would absolutely be happy to watch again.





~ by johnlink00 on November 1, 2012.

One Response to “johnlink ranks STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME (1986)”

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