Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Theatrical release: 11/26/1986
DVD special edition release: 3/4/2003
PG; 1 hr. 58 min.
Screenplay by Steve Meerson & Peter Krikes and Harve Bennett & Nicholas Meyer
Story by Leonard Nimoy & Harve Bennett
Produced by Harve Bennett
Directed by Leonard Nimoy
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
April 9, 2003
On Thanksgiving Day, 1986, at the impressionable but cognizant age of 10, I saw Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home at the Cinema I-II-III at Eastland Mall in Bloomington, Illinois (is there such thing as a cineplex with only three screens anymore?). It was my first Star Trek movie as a sentient human being (my parents had apparently dragged me along as a very young observer to either — and possibly both, but I'm not sure — Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, but I certainly hadn't by that point approached an intellectual stage of awareness that I can recall).
I still clearly remember standing in line for that movie. I remember thinking how odd it was standing in a mall where every store was closed and the lights were off, except for the movie theater. (Movie theaters are, of course, open every holiday of the year, since that's when people go to movies.) Funny thing how the memory works and images fade. I remember that image of a closed mall, which stands out more than anything else. I also remember a story about whales and time travel and an odd Mr. Spock, who was for whatever reason not quite himself and who also could not successfully use the word "hell" in a sentence — a word that, by the way, I was still too young to say, lest the parents give me looks of disapproval.
I guess you could call that the official day I became a follower of Star Trek, having the tradition of watching these movies and TV shows passed down to me from my Trek-watching parents, who had been teenagers back in the days of The Original Series on TV. Star Trek: The Next Generation would be on the air a little less than a year later, and I officially found myself on the Trek bandwagon. That was some 16 1/2 years ago. Eastland Cinemas is itself long gone; it was shuttered in 1993 while I was still in high school. I look back now while completely separate instances of "gee, that was a long time ago" cascade upon each other.
It's probably safe to conclude that I didn't completely "get" Star Trek at that time. I wasn't really familiar with the characters or the history, and I probably wasn't sure why these people were on the planet Vulcan in a Klingon ship that was apparently not even theirs (thank goodness for the Klingon ambassador's recap on the Federation Council floor). But I did understand the concepts and paradoxes of sci-fi and time travel. After all, Back to the Future had just been a big hit that was one of the more memorable movies from my youth.
Anyway, perhaps I can pull myself out of nostalgia long enough to actually review this movie.
I'm older and wiser now, and more cynical. I know Star Trek forward and backwards, and for some time I haven't seen Trek without also looking at it from the viewpoint of "Trek critic" (and sometimes even "jaded Trek critic"). Watching Star Trek IV is like turning back the clock to simpler times. It's the Star Trek movie that somehow brings Star Trek to its most understandable and down-to-Earth terms. It does this by bringing it to our own world, namely San Francisco, Earth, in 1986.
Of the 10 Star Trek movies, probably three count in my book as the "standouts" — all for different reasons. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is the best of the series and serves as the true emotional and philosophical core of the film franchise. Next comes Star Trek: First Contact, which is the best example of technical sci-fi action storytelling combined with a poignant self-reflection on Trek history and lore.
After that, ranked at No. 3, would be Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, which is not a particularly deep or significant film but delivers an unforced, breezy story that works well and is simply entertaining. If Wrath is the philosophical/emotional piece and First Contact is the technical/historical piece, then Voyage Home is the character/charisma piece. No Trek movie feels less forced and more natural than The Voyage Home. Everything about the movie feels like it was achieved effortlessly — an effect which requires great effort, care, and insight to achieve.
The Voyage Home might also be appropriately labeled The Mainstream Trek. It's the one movie in the series that achieved unexpected popular commercial success and existed more or less on its own terms. It did this, quite simply, by existing in a more recognizable world. It's a broader, lighter, and perhaps safer picture. There are no villains, there is no violence. But there is a threat in the form of Earth's own past. The concept is simple: Earth's future is to be destroyed by something that happened centuries earlier. The story is a parable for the unseen consequences any given action could have.
The massive probe at the story's outset comes looking to talk to humpback whales. There are none for it to talk to. Notable is how this mysterious probe is one of Trek's larger-than-life sci-fi elements, an object of seemingly infinite power and holding mysteries that are not to be solved by the story — permissible in the 1980s but not anymore, it would seem. Modern Star Trek deals more comfortably with at least vaguely tangible and limited objects rather than all-powerful forces hiding grand mysteries.
In order to save Earth from the probe, our crew must retrieve humpback whales from Earth's past. As the object in the movie, the whales work well. On the new DVD commentary track, Leonard Nimoy talks about the difficulty of coming up with an object that was adequate for our crew to retrieve through time. There was discussion during the script-development stages, for example, of making the object an extinct plant that would cure a disease in the 23rd century. But the problem with that idea was the lack of theatrical scale. What would seem grand enough to center the adventure on? The concept of whales, with their size and scope and mysterious songs, proved to be a good choice.
The movie should not be seen as a polemic. There are no politics in the film, and it does not excessively preach about the evils of the whaling industry but simply looks at it from a standpoint of humanity: Why kill intelligent and wonderful creatures merely because you can? It is an interesting human trait that we do many things because we can, rather than because it's good for us or anyone else.
The main guest character is a whale expert named Gillian Taylor, played by Catherine Hicks in a performance that at times has a little too much insistence and perk for my tastes but works in the context of the story. For Kirk and Spock's mission to find humpback whales, she represents their entry point to the 20th century, as well as an obstacle who must be convinced of what must be done to save the future.
Always evident here is an effortless flow to the characterization and dialog. Broad humor in the Trek universe has sometimes come across as an unnatural foray, but not here. When you consider how Star Trek: Insurrection tried with all its might to make detours to the lighter side, but could not get there — or look at Star Trek V's sorry attempts at humor — you can see just how well-oiled The Voyage Home manages to come off. The movie's best laugh comes not by its words but in its notes, after Gillian asks, "You guys like Italian?" — which sets off a priceless verbal collision between Kirk and Spock that is pointless to explain and must instead be witnessed.
Of course, Spock's incompetent attempts to fit in by swearing is good for some chuckles, as he inserts "hell" where it does not belong. Later, the use of "colorful metaphors" (a great term) has turned into a running gag, delivered deadpan style: "Spock, where the hell's the power you promised me?" "One damn minute, admiral." It is a measure of our affection for these characters that they can get so much mileage from such cheerful goofiness.
Plot details? I don't think I need to go much into it. There's the construction of the whale tank, the trespass into the nuclear "wessel," etc. The key here is to give everyone a small mission, which they carry out with relative ease and often with some sort of comic payoff. There's of course Scotty's encounter with a 1980s Macintosh, and the story's wink-wink attitude toward time travel when he gives away the formula to "transparent aluminum" (Kirk's earlier bit of selling his antique glasses from Star Trek II to an antique dealer is an even better gag because it's also an in-joke). And, of course, there's Chekov being captured by the U.S. Navy aboard the USS Enterprise — which is fish-out-of-water plotting at simultaneously its most obvious and most fun. It goes without saying that in the course of the plot there will be some light jeopardy, a successful rescue of the whales, and a triumphant return to the 23rd century where Earth will be saved by whale song.
The tech aspects are limited and the film does not dwell upon them, all the better for playing to the mainstream audience. Beyond the plot itself involving time travel and warp speed, this movie steers as clear as possible of tech and stays the course for character interaction. Special effects are more restrained and earthy, particularly (and for obvious reasons) in the 20th century.
I've never been a big fan of the Leonard Rosenman score for the film. It's adequate but not memorable, apart from the main theme, which is memorable but doesn't quite feel like Star Trek ... which perhaps may be the point given the film's Earth-bound premise. Still, after the magnificence of James Horner for Treks II and III and Jerry Goldsmith for ST:TMP, Rosenman comes across as junior varsity.
What I especially like about the TOS feature franchise is how Treks II, III, and IV create a story arc for the crew of the Enterprise — a trilogy of chapters that coexist and belong together, despite their differences in tone and subject (most especially with Trek IV's lighter touch). Kirk and his crew face the music at the end of this film for their crimes in the previous installment. The charges are forgiven, of course, and the crew is reassigned to a new ship (Kirk's demotion to captain and the "A" tacked onto the new Enterprise are nice touches), but the way the opening and closing scenes deal with the consequences stemming from the previous film ensures that the audience knows this continues the story — even if half the movie's running time exists in its own storytelling universe.
There's a feeling of continuity to the TOS movies that's too often lacking in the TNG features. The Voyage Home accomplishes its goal of continuing story threads while at the same time being the Trek movie that most exists outside the Trek universe. It would stand as the oddest entry to the film franchise ... if it weren't the most accepted and mainstream of them all.
In taking the characters as far away from the Star Trek context as the series tends to get, it actually ends up revealing them as exactly who they are in their purest form — at their most human, most natural, most restrained, and most believable.
Previous: Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
Next: Star Trek V: The Final Frontier
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69 comments on this post
Wed, Dec 5, 2007, 1:36pm (UTC -5)
How I wish the TNG films could've followed this example.
Mon, Jan 12, 2009, 6:42pm (UTC -5)
Sun, Sep 6, 2009, 10:24am (UTC -5)
Tue, Oct 13, 2009, 8:50am (UTC -5)
Tue, Mar 9, 2010, 8:18am (UTC -5)
Fri, Apr 1, 2011, 5:20pm (UTC -5)
Sat, Sep 17, 2011, 9:02pm (UTC -5)
Thu, Dec 15, 2011, 10:05pm (UTC -5)
A ridiculous objection. Even if they were onboard the Enterprise-E, that plot point would have made sense.
All the radio transmitter for the whales was doing was emitting a locator ping, not a message saying "Hi, we're the whales you're looking for." You think there are no other transmitters broadcasting a ping from the ocean? There are tens of millions of radio frequencies in use. You'd *have* to know the right frequency for it be useful.
Wed, Nov 7, 2012, 6:45pm (UTC -5)
Sun, Nov 18, 2012, 10:41pm (UTC -5)
Why would you presume that? In 1986, the city of Alameda had only existed for 133 years; the time of our heroes is more than twice as far in the future.
Thu, Jul 18, 2013, 12:23am (UTC -5)
Phoenix is even younger, but if no one in the time setting of Star Trek II timeline had heard of the city, it would raise eyebrows.
Sat, Aug 24, 2013, 5:25pm (UTC -5)
Um...because somewhere some historic scientific journal would show who really did, and now they're screwed. So much for not altering history...
Mon, Aug 26, 2013, 11:04am (UTC -5)
Tue, Sep 10, 2013, 5:27pm (UTC -5)
Definitely a classic, the most relaxed, laid-back, real humour of the all the movies, good story, good characterisation, almost flawless. The greatest moment of the original crew IMO, although VI is up there too, but I think the difference is, as Jammer says, seeing them in the 20th century lets us appreciate them in a different way.
Oh, and re. the Alameda issue above, hello, it's Alameda, not New York, London or Paris... I'm sure that it's feasible for them not to have heard of it, especially Chekhov!
Thu, Sep 19, 2013, 3:32am (UTC -5)
I thought the humor was cringeworthy and Kirk looked like Tom Jones!! (*shudders*)
They all act like complete idiots in the "streets of San Francisco". I was embarrassed! Kirk does neither look, nor act like an "Admiral".
Then again, I've only seen the dubbed (into German) version so far (because I accidentally bought the VS instead of the DVD!!! Stupid me!) and I know how much the German dubbing dumbed down the humor in TOS and how cheesy many scenes came across and how much is lost in translation... so I'll certainly give it another chance in English. Maybe it'll be less awkward in the original language.
Sun, Sep 22, 2013, 4:51pm (UTC -5)
In contrast, the Horner scores from II and III are perfectly balanced between the military elements ("sea-faring" as he calls it) of Trek and the magic of sci-fi, outer space, and discovery. They also have very specific ideas of how to further the story and its human relationships. The score from IV misses that entirely. It's a great blah.
Doesn't kill the film though. It's still an incredibly charming and often touching film. I find the contemplation on the fate of the whales quite affecting, and the stakes feel appropriately high through. I just wish the music helped me get there more or had added that extra layer of meaning from the prior two films.
Mon, Nov 18, 2013, 6:49pm (UTC -5)
Wow...that's, if anything, even more absurd. And way too convenient.
Wed, Nov 20, 2013, 10:06am (UTC -5)
So what happens when they Cetacean Probe returns because of a lack of signal again because there are no whales.
All they've done is delay another meeting. What is needed is Crewman Daniels to sort out a little breeding program.
Fri, Feb 28, 2014, 7:29pm (UTC -5)
Sat, Apr 5, 2014, 7:02pm (UTC -5)
Fri, Aug 1, 2014, 9:06am (UTC -5)
Mon, Sep 1, 2014, 9:57pm (UTC -5)
Wed, Oct 15, 2014, 7:25am (UTC -5)
Thu, Oct 16, 2014, 11:04am (UTC -5)
Thu, Oct 16, 2014, 12:50pm (UTC -5)
... if I remember the reviews of the time period correctly ...
Tue, Oct 28, 2014, 5:35am (UTC -5)
But I love the whole trial scene at the end, when Kirk is busted back to Captain but then assigned the command of a starship, and then the dramatic reveal of the Enterprise-A...
Tue, Oct 28, 2014, 8:13am (UTC -5)
That's crying territory... :-)
Sat, Jan 10, 2015, 1:28am (UTC -5)
Um...because somewhere some historic scientific journal would show who really did, and now they're screwed. So much for not altering history... "
I didnt read the novel and I thought the movie made this fairly clear.
Mon, Feb 23, 2015, 4:03pm (UTC -5)
And even if you know where Alameda is, that doesn't mean you necessarily know where the naval base is or how to get there without a car. Which is why they were asking for directions on where it is and how to get there.
The bigger moron in that scene was the clueless lady who "helped" them. Chekov asked where the Naval Base in Alameda was, and her response was to say, "I think it's across the Bay, in Alameda." That's like someone asking me where Golden Gate Park in San Francisco is, and me telling them "I think it's in San Francisco."
Wed, Apr 1, 2015, 11:45pm (UTC -5)
The crew of the Enterprise make their way home in their captured Klingon ship to face the consequences of their actions in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. But when an alien probe sends destructive signals to Earth, causing critical damage to the planet, Admiral Kirk, Spock and crew discover that the only way to save Earth is to travel back in time to acquire a pair of humpback whales to bring them back to the 23rd century to communicate with the probe.
Before the release of Star Trek III, Paramount approached Leonard Nimoy to direct a sequel with Harvey Bennett continuing to serve as producer. Having been held under certain constraints for his directorial debut, Nimoy would be allowed greater creative freedom for Star Trek IV. According to Nimoy, Paramount wanted "his vision". After three heavy-drama, space opera-esque films, Nimoy and Bennett wanted to go in a different direction, choosing a story that was much more lighthearted. With lead William Shatner at first unwilling to return, they began to explore a prequel concept pitched by executive producer Ralph Winter that would feature the cast at Starfleet Academy. But with Shatner signing on, that concept was discarded. Shatner's growing salary would lead Paramount to turn to Gene Roddenberry to develop a new TV series to feature a young, cheaper and lesser-known cast; Star Trek: The Next Generation.
The first draft of The Voyage Home by writers Steve Meerson and Peter Krikes was intended to include a big role for Eddie Murphy as a professor who liked whale songs. Murphy disliked the part, wanting instead to play a Starfleet office, and thus turned down the opportunity to be in the movie -- he later recalled it was a big mistake on his part. The part was combined with that of a female reporter in the role of Gillian Taylor, played by Catherine Hicks whom Nimoy cast because of her chemistry with Shatner. The script, however, was poorly received by Paramount so Star Trek II director Nicholas Meyer was approached to salvage the script. Meyer was tasked with writing the 20th century portions of the script while Bennett would handle the 23rd century parts. The humor introduced by Meyer not only had the humor Nimoy and Bennett desired but also the environmental message for which they searching. The result was an unconventional and comedic affair that would not only distinguish The Voyage Home from the rest of the franchise but would also go on to be the most financially successful entry for 23 years.
Just as The Search for Spock continued from the events of The Wrath of Khan, so does The Voyage Home continue from TSFS, thus creating an unofficial trilogy within the Star Trek film series. Connecting the three stories into a trilogy brings a sense of scope to the three films and The Voyage Home serves nicely as a finale to the trilogy. Though its tone is substantially different from each of its predecessors, it's that change of tone that makes it so successful. Though its environmental message may be a little too obvious and its story is a little flimsy, Nimoy keeps the focus on the cast and their experience in the 20th century. Despite the unusual story (just reading the summary makes one question how this could be such a good film) the script's cleverness comes in it's snappy and witty dialogue which takes off even more once the crew is in the last. Watching the normally poised crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise stumbling about in 1986 San Francisco without a clue in the world of what's going on or what to do to fit in is what makes The Voyage Home work so well and accessible to general audiences. It works wonderfully as a (no pun intended) fish-out-of-water story.
The acting of each cast member is fantastic as each actor relishes in the opportunity to venture into comedic territory. Each of the supporting cast is given wonderful moments to shine, especially James Doohan as he tries to work a 20th century computer and Walter Koenig who's search for "nuc-le-ar wessels" is quite amusing. It's nice to see everyone not only get an enlarged part of the plot but to enjoy themselves as well. Unfortunately, it's George Takei who gets a bit of the short end of the stick here as he receives the least material out of anyone.
Character development takes a backseat, however, as they're not given as much depth here as they were in the previous two entries. The only significant attempt is with Spock, who's mind is still being retrained following his death and reintegration of his katra with his body. At the film's outset, a strong scene with his mother, Amanda (Jane Wyatt reprising her role from the 60's series), successfully establishes Spock choosing the logical Vulcan way over his emotional Human side. Throughout the film, Kirk and McCoy frequently try to get Spock to embrace his Human half and to not always choose the logical course of action. By film's end, Spock stands with his shipmates because they're his friends. It's a simple yet effective journey for Spock as he rejoins the cast.
Newcomer Catherine Hicks is great as Dr. Gillian Taylor who works the whales Kirk and Spock seek. Her chemistry with Shatner is really good and you get the sense that this is a relationship that could go somewhere if given the opportunity.
Of course, ultimately the best parts go to Shatner and Nimoy. After being separated until the end of The Search for Spock, this iconic duo is given as much time together as possible and they both make the most of it. Their witty banter is great and never have the two seemed so comfortable in the roles, especially Nimoy. Shatner's performance is a step back from The Search for Spock, mostly because the material is much more lightweight. He seems to be playing William Shatner more than James T. Kirk but that's okay because, within the context of The Voyage Home, it works. The most entertaining element of their banter is as Kirk tries to teach Spock to use "colorful metaphors," with a running gag that features Spock struggling on more than one occasion to appropriately use profanity. It's great to see the Kirk/Spock dynamic return after being absent during The Search for Spock.
Don Peterman's cinematography is beautiful, especially when diving underwater to film the whales. ILM's visual effects also work extremely well, a step up from their work in the previous films. Most notable are the shots of the Klingon ship over the whaling ship and the Klingon ship flying under the Golden Gate Bridge. These shots are well conceptualized and well executed. The design of the alien probe is unique and original, it's mysteriousness upped further by the strong sound mix found in the film.
Though lively and entertaining at points, Leonard Rosenman's score is a step back from the previous entries in the series. There are some definite highlights, especially with the main theme and the cue accompanying the hospital chase is brilliant, but the music that accompanies the scenes surrounding the probe isn't very interesting. While it works within the context of the film, it's a definite departure from the scores in the rest of the series. There's nothing wrong with taking the music in a different direction, but Rosenman's score, though effective at points, doesn't always work.
The Voyage Home's closing scenes not only provide an appropriate closing to the film itself but serve as a coda to the entire trilogy that began with The Wrath of Khan. Though the ultimate resolution involving the consequences Kirk must face for his actions is a little too easy, it's still satisfying. The closing moments as the crew sees and departs aboard their new U.S.S. Enterprise (NCC-1701-A) is very appropriate and promises further adventures to come.
Despite a wacky plot, good humor mixed with great cast chemistry, strong acting and wonderful visuals make Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home the funniest and most lighthearted entry into the Star Trek movie series. It's one of the film series's strongest outings.
Writing: 1.5 / 2.0
Characters: 1.75 / 2.0
Acting: 2.0 / 2.0
Entertainment: 2.0 / 2.0
Music: .75 / 1.0
Visuals: 1.0 / 1.0
TOTAL: 9.0 / 10
Thu, Apr 21, 2016, 6:57pm (UTC -5)
What happened to Chekov's phaser? Y'know, the one he tried to stun the Alameda naval officers with? The weapon was on the fritz cos of the nearby nuclear radiation, but he just threw it at 'em and ran off. Don't tell me that artifact wasn't studied after Chekov's mysterious disappearance :-) So much for not contaminating the timeline.
Tue, Aug 2, 2016, 12:43am (UTC -5)
YES ! I thought the same hahahahaha
anw, this movie is great, its light but not dumb
no politics, no almighty superman, no angsty stories
just the crew, and their antics, ITS BEAUTIFULLY HEARTWARMING
i can see some of this movie's influence on Star Trek Beyond
Thu, Sep 29, 2016, 3:06am (UTC -5)
Watching the TOS movies in succession leads to some mood whiplash. First one tries to be mysterious/thoughtful, second deep/emotional, third was ??? (it had some humor, some sad parts, but overall was kind of scattered, no overarching feeling that I remember), and now fourth humorous.
Sat, Jan 28, 2017, 4:33am (UTC -5)
Sat, Jan 28, 2017, 5:39pm (UTC -5)
I was watching this in the dentist waiting room about a month ago. Just as funny as I remembered!
Sun, Jun 11, 2017, 6:54am (UTC -5)
- Why did the alien iron rod want to talk to the whales? Are whales an alien species? How did it communicate with them? How did it even know they were there? Why did it just go away after the whales said hello?
- Why did they land rather than beaming down? And why did nobody discover them? Seriously, nobody tried to walk across the grass the whole time they were there?
- The transporters were clearly working as they were beaming all over the place. Why then, did Sulu need to fly the aquarium parts by helicopter rather than just beaming them?
- Why would a ship, that clearly has the ability to beam in cargo and is designed to fly in space, have a hatch that opens up a hatch large enough for whales to get out?
- Why isn't time travel used more often in Star Trek if it's so easy? Think about all the things that could be prevented and storylines that would be moot... Go back and stop Kirk from unfreezing Khan in TOS, for example.
I enjoyed this film overall but the premise was silly and there were too many things added for effect rather than make sense from a practical perspective for the story. I like that this film relies on characters and and showing a team working towards a common goal rather than relying on space battles and gunfights.
Sun, Jun 11, 2017, 8:52am (UTC -5)
Tue, Jun 13, 2017, 1:22am (UTC -5)
I dare to say that ST IV is a prototype for nuTrek moves and - in many ways - for First Contact too.
Tue, Jun 13, 2017, 1:33pm (UTC -5)
You're right, in a way. A lot of what made this one popular was that it was opened the Star Trek tent to a non-fan audience by having a universally understandable caper (hi-jack the whales from captivity for a better tomorrow!).
TVH also incorporates a lot of contemporary language and settings and spices them up with Trek dialog, which isn't necessarily sci-fi dialog. Then "First Contact" repeats the process with yet another set of relatable contemporary people.
By the time we get to Star Trek 2009, the concept of contemporary people basically merged with the Trek characters themselves. Kirk listens to the Beastie Boys, gets into bar fights in a dive that might as well exist in our time. Starfleet is no longer some hallowed institution but rather something the everyman can just enlist in, like the U.S. Navy.
Tue, Jun 13, 2017, 2:21pm (UTC -5)
Your comparison of the three films got me thinking. There is a very discernible shift as you progress from one to the other, and that shift more or less correlates directly to my enjoyment of Trek. In TVH we're shown the stark contrast between the 'present day' and people of the enlightened future. Hearing Kirk swear is funny because of how absurd it is, not because we want him to be humbled and brought down to our level. In TVH the Starfleet officers are *better* than present day people, and they're here to save our butts from our own uncivilized ways. Preachy? Maybe. But totally Trek in showing us what we ought to be.
First Contact takes the same basic formula - contrasting 24th century man with 21st century man - but this time changes the ingredients. In FC we get Picard who is damaged goods and bent on vengeance, where a decent chunk of the story is about how he's just as primitive as the humans who nearly destroyed themselves with violence. We even get a 21st century woman educating him on the finer points of obsession and objectivity. The story hear isn't any longer one of the superiority of 24th century man, but about the arrogance of 24th century man in judging man of the past (as Picard did in "Encounter at Farpoint") as being lesser in some way. Even 21st century people have something to teach the Federation, apparently.
Finally we get Trek2009, where at last the people of the future basically *are* modern people, and there's no longer any discernible difference in manner and culture between us and them. The transition is complete, and the idea of the advancement of man beyond what we are now is gone for good. This marks the beginning of Trek joining the ranks of media designed to flatter the audience rather than elevate and even educate them, and therefore the end of me caring about it.
Wed, Jun 14, 2017, 7:56am (UTC -5)
I don't think that reading gives enough credit to the writing nor to the nuances of Patrick Stewart's performance. The climax of the story is of course the "The line must be drawn here!" speech where Picard loses control and exposes his thirst for revenge. But the best moment of that scene isn't that line and Picard smashing his display case but what comes immediately after when Lily again taunts Picard as Captain Ahab. You see this change wash over him as he recites the lines from Moby Dick and suddenly he's Jean Luc Picard again. His violence was not a reflection of his true self bubbling up but an *aberration*, which the real Picard conquers. Yes Lily helps him restore himself but what's great about it is that we learn he read the book and she didn't. That to me is significant - Picard understands the past better than a person from the past. He is the evolved man - she is the work in progress, glimpsing the truth but not quite there.
I don't think it's ever been suggested that man would be beyond experiencing feelings like revenge in the 24th century, certainly not in TOS or even TNG. Rather it is how we respond to these feelings that defines our evolution. In Arena Kirk initially seeks revenge on the Gorn but eventually chooses mercy. He is then called "half savage" which might be praise from the point of view of the Melkorans, given their earlier assessment. That is what we are seeing with Picard.
Wed, Jun 14, 2017, 8:25am (UTC -5)
In FC we get a mixed picture. There are points in TNG when we're told than mankind has evolved beyond the expression of negative emotions like hate and jealousy. Of course we repeatedly see negative emotions expressed throughout the series anyhow, but in principle man has achieved some kind of state of self-recognition where these things don't take control. But right from the start of FC Picard is set up as thirsting for a way to get back at the Borg, and taking the Enterprise into battle is exactly his way to do that. Yes, he knew the 'trick' of how to defeat the cube, but that deus ex aside Starfleet was entirely justified in feeling that he was compromised where the Borg are concerned.
It's true that Picard is still Picard and that he isn't suddenly some devolved person. But we're given a more nuanced picture here where he was stuck in a bad place, mentally, and no one around him was savvy to it. It took a 21st century person to show him what he was becoming for him to snap out of it. I guess you can call Picard superior still in the sense that he actually read Moby Dick when she hadn't, but then again I doubt anyone else on the Enterprise had read it either. He just happens to be a literature buff. But if was Lily, not Riker or anyone else, who invokes the literary reference that reaches through to Picard.
I didn't get into the gritty details in my OP, but there are other signs in FC that man of the past is being glorified. Cochrane with his rock music is a good example, where the Enterprise crew are made on a few occasions to look like dweebs who can't even appreciate good music. Troi is reduces to silliness as she has to get drunk to speak to Cochrane, which ends up looking like a message such as 'Starfleet may be advanced but they're not even as tough as us primitives when it comes to putting down booze.' Overall they come off as a little soft in the 21 century environs. Even the fact of them being so ignorant about Cochrane's real personality strikes me as being some sort of statement about their knowledge being completely theoretical and lacking all the gritty reality of life. They have an idealized version of him in their heads, which in turn means they are learning cushy truths rather than uncomfortable ones in their schools. Yes, we could just argue that first contact changes him and that the history books really are accurate - from that time forward. But my point is that the film seems to take some pains to show that the 21st century people were more in touch with reality in some ways than the 24th century crew and that they were frankly missing out on something in their education. It's a mixed message, like Starfleet is awesome, but so are 21st century people, and both could learn a lot from each other. It feels to me like a stepping stone towards stripping the 24th century of being unequivocally superior.
Wed, Jun 14, 2017, 9:31am (UTC -5)
I like to look at the fact that Picard read Moby Dick (and Lily didn't) as more a metaphor than merely a comment on Picard happening to be a literature buff or an amusing quip. Lily talked the talk in that she could pay lip service to certain ideas (the futility of revenge, for instance) but Picard was the real deal - when faced with that ugliness, he mastered it. Everyone in the 21st century can spout platitudes about peace and forgiveness and the futility of hate, the same way Lily could cite a book she never read, but only the evolved (Picard as a standin for them) could surpass this savagery.
Regarding the rest of what you said, I honestly don't see the movie glorifying the 21st century humans. Indeed, one if its weaknesses is we don't see much of those humans beyond Cochrane and Lily, and there just isn't much meat on those characters. The story gives us one side (Picard) but we get very little of the other, which is a shame.
Wed, Jun 14, 2017, 10:47am (UTC -5)
That said, I sort of think that the philosophy still tilts toward 24th-century humans being better. Picard and Cochrane are (sort of) the two protagonists, with Lily and Riker as the time-shifted companions. Cochrane's triumph comes from an abandoned missile silo, and in general we find that he and the others have been (ha) "warped" by the trauma of...human civilization's collapse from WW3, which is by humans. He would have done the flight, we presume, but Riker needs to help him get over what is basically a technical setback (from the Borg shooting the Phoenix etc.), combined with his own reticence to be selfless. Picard is basically a selfless man who usually has his darker impulses under control, but it takes the extraordinary event of the Borg trauma to bring out his darker impulses. Even there, the 24th century society has a general way of dealing with that type of extreme trauma -- they have Picard be counselled and they keep him away from the battle which will trigger an emotional relapse -- but Picard ignored it; and so it takes someone closer to large-scale horror (21st century) to trigger Picard's self-healing.
To further the comparison with Star Trek IV, the subtext of ST4 is maybe actually that we *do* have to save our own asses in the 20th century (now 21st); however, we are not doing that. The fantasy of 23rd century types coming to save us from ourselves is maybe (in the subtext) more of a metaphor for how the *idea* of an enlightened future can be the thing that gives people like Gillian the courage to make changes in the present. There's some of that in STFC, with Riker giving Cochrane the hope etc. I think the Picard thing suggests how history and myth can inspire a person when they fall; occasions in which humanity as a whole raised itself up from its darkest impulses can help an individual do something like the same thing.
I am not sure how this all fits together, but I'll add that I think that the film seems to suggest that Picard was also right to defy Starfleet orders, because he understands the Borg to do the deus ex thing in the battle, but also because he eventually goes and confronts the Borg Queen, which, uh, I forget if that actually matters (I think it's mostly for dramatic effect), but he does destroy the Queen. I don't think it's Picard's *barbarism* which saves the day, and it is shown to be wrong, but I think it's suggested that somewhere in his psyche, Picard has a connection to the Borg which allows him to understand and defeat them, and that the rage is actually even *covering up* some of this insight. It's implied that he has repressed memories of the Queen wanting a counterpart which he only gets when he returns to her--and so the rage was partly some sort of defense mechanism against this. This is all weird psychodrama stuff, which maybe doesn't even make sense in Trek terms, which I still like anyway (partly because FC blew my mind when I saw it when I was 10). It's as if Picard needed to make peace with his barbaric instincts in order to access the real truth of what the Borg wanted, which runs in parallel to Data gaining the upper hand over the Queen by leveraging her temptation of him, and that the 24th century non-barbaric humanity doesn't fully prepare him for acknowledging and then putting aside his worse emotions. The problem, I think, is that I think within the series generally Picard was not meant to be someone who didn't understand that he could feel anger and hatred, etc., but someone who could recognize and get over them, and so we have to maybe jump to saying that the Borg experience (and the implied repressed, even psychosexual memories) messes with his usual ability to keep himself in perspective. I don't even mind that so much, though I think it's also true that the crew should have recognized that something was off with his judgment.
Wed, Jun 14, 2017, 11:46am (UTC -5)
And I guess that's my beef with the Picard subplot too. He should have known what was happening to him, but, being unused to losing control (as we saw in "Family") maybe he hasn't got perspective on his darker half. Ok, but then doesn't that admit that living in a less civilized age means the 21st century people have better insight into those parts of themselves they have to deal with all the time? In other words, the argument seems to be that failing repeatedly tells you more about yourself than having always succeeded. That's a valid argument, but in the Trek context it would suggest that 24th century Starfleet lives in a kind of crystal tower and is blissfully unaware of the muck below (which in turn reminds me of "The Cloud Minders"). TOS was smart, because it had people like Kirk be superior to both the cloud-dwellers and the troglodytes in that episode, since he neither occupied a sheltered existence nor was he victim to his own passions. He knew them, and as Jason put it, mastered them. But he was never unfamiliar with them!
William, you may be right that Picard was right in a way to want to face the Borg, because he had insight into them. We might even argue that his being compromised was a kind of strength because it gave him a connection to the enemy, maybe even giving him an aspect of them in the process. There's an "Ender's Game" sort of element in play here, where empathy may require getting into the mind of those who would destroy you and even thinking like them. Data too skirts around the dark edge and briefly considers joining the Queen. It's his walking that knife's edge that enables him to get close enough to her to betray her and help Picard stop her. Both Picard and Data find something in that time-travel experience to the past which puts them in touch with their darker half, allows them to come dangerously close to crossing it, and then finally back off. A bit analogous to WWIII itself, no, where humanity came to the brink but then backed off and learned? It seems to me the lesson here is that Picard and Data both needed an injection of 21st century dangerous living to show them where the line really was so they could go right up to it but not cross it. That's a neat story, but it does suggest to me that things were too cushy for them previously to face their demons (well, in Picard's case anyhow). Some momentary experience of being a little uncivilized seemed to help them straighten things out, which I think is the intention of portraying Cochrane's love of 'crazy music' like loud rock and roll. It's meant to show that a little chaos and uncivilized frolicking is just as important as fancy 24th century ethics, and that an important part of humanity perhaps got lost in order to make room for all that nice civilization. In the future everything is orderly and there's no room for the chaos. This movie seems (to me, at least) to be arguing that that's too bad. It's a fine argument, an interesting perspective I suppose, but is sort of an anti-TNG perspective.
I believe that TNG is meant to show a truly superior future, not one where some critical part of ourselves was sacrificed for the greater good of peace and order. Maybe TNG failed in that regard and that failure is coming out in FC? I don't know. I just know that somehow I feel like FC makes us question our heroes more than episodes like "Chain of Command", where there was no question that Picard was the paragon for us to root for. Does he still come off as more enlightened than us in FC? Yes he does, as both of you point out. But did he need a little help from good old fashioned 21st century street smarts? I think the films says he did. His own crew weren't going to be able to help him because they truly didn't understand, and that can't be a fantastic commendation for the 24th century understanding of the human condition.
Wed, Jun 14, 2017, 1:48pm (UTC -5)
I think that with Data, in particular, it's only very indirectly the 21st century material that affects his story -- he doesn't actually interact with any 21st century people. Not only that, but he doesn't even interact with any 24th century people besides the Borg after he gets kidnapped. And maybe there's a metaphor in there somewhere, generally, especially since Picard tells Data to turn off his emotion chip early in the movie, as if underlining that Picard views emotions as a liability (and thus is unable to see clearly what they are doing to him). Within TNG proper, Data *wants* to have emotions, which is something of a counterbalance to the general state where Data appears to be an ideal to strive to in every other way. It may even be that Data partly represents some of what you mention here, which was sneaked into TNG subtly -- that Data is close to what the Federation seems to be striving for, and yet he longs for the emotions they've lost. And yet what Data generally seems to want is not anger and other "negative emotions" (as he calls them in Descent) but the ability to feel love and joy -- which I think is not something that they are attempting to remove. Within the context of Data's story, it is maybe necessary to eventually indicate that selfish emotional desires are inseparable from the larger spectrum of human feelings and that it's important to be able to resist temptation, rather than to simply eliminate the feeling of temptation entirely, to be a complete person, and that maybe has some impact for the Federation generally. But I dunno.
It's also worth adding that it's a weird enemy to have Picard need to access his deeper rage etc. in order to understand. I mean, the Borg are...not angry, or at least weren't before the introduction of the Queen. The Queen seems to be motivated by narcissism and petty revenge, which means that it does take Picard and Data getting emotional for them to understand and defeat her. If there is a point, it may be that the thirst for dominance usually does, in the end, from comprehensible baser instincts, and is hidden behind nobler pursuits. And there's something to that. But it seems a little un-TNG not just for the Federation but for the enemy, too. Part of the appeal of the Borg as an antagonist was that it is *not* motivated by petty concerns. That the Queen, and thus the Borg indirectly, is motivated by base instincts makes Cochrane less of an anomaly, as if that is really how the world works. And it sort of works within the movie, because I think that Cochrane really does genuinely grow a bit in going to meet the Vulcans at the end, and that Picard and Data affirm their enlightened selves after having dabbled in their more barbaric ones, but it's still odd in comparison to TNG as you say.
You bring up Family, and I'll add that in Family, Picard's difficulty forgiving himself for his finitude was a personal problem. He was not really endangering anybody else, and wasn't even really endangering himself, except in terms of hurting his career (and thus hurting his overall well-being, because he would stop doing something that fulfills him). Family, by Ron Moore no less, did still have Picard have to be saved by a Luddite traditionalist who was skeptical of the whole project Picard was involved in, while also affirming the future via Rene and via Picard's returning to the stars. It's a minor variation on the material in FC -- minor enough as to be plausible within the show's world, without threatening to undermine it.
Wed, Jun 14, 2017, 1:55pm (UTC -5)
Wed, Jun 14, 2017, 2:22pm (UTC -5)
Regarding the decision to keep the Enterprise out of the fight it was ludicrous. Sure in other circumstances I could see Starfleet wanting to keep Picard out of a situation where he could be unhinged, but seriously, sidelining the most powerful ship in the fleet while a Borg cube hangs over earth? Seriously?
Wed, Jun 14, 2017, 3:18pm (UTC -5)
Wed, Jun 14, 2017, 4:02pm (UTC -5)
Wed, Jul 19, 2017, 2:27am (UTC -5)
Tue, Oct 31, 2017, 8:11am (UTC -5)
Time warps round the sun. Recharging Dilithium Crystal's in the 20th century despite the fact it's, supposedly, impossible in the future.
I love this movie but when I see people ripping into Discovery for bad science it does annoy. It's Sci Fi FFS!
Wed, May 9, 2018, 12:57pm (UTC -5)
After their reconnaissance to locate the whales in Sausalito, who are swimming in a large aquarium, why did they have to even speak to the fish doctor? They could had just beamed the whales aboard the ship. Everyone would had just wondered what happened to them. And why not try to play back whale song to see if the probe would be satisfied with it?
In First Contact, Picard showed Lily that the windows on the new Enterprise had no glass, but a force field. A force field could had been used to contain the water and whales, although this was a Klingon ship. Someone earlier asked why the plexiglass couldn't had been beamed up to the ship instead of using a chopper. That would had required the technology of the site-to-site transporting. You wouldn't want to beam a 60' x 10' piece of plexiglass onto the transporter pad.
And if Scotty could beam Chekhov off the nuclear ship Enterprise, why couldn't they just beamed him out of the hospital? Or just beam everyone out of the operating room rather than being chased down hospital corridors?
I was disappointed that Kirk didn't get to bed the fish lady. The look on his face when she shot him down in the end was priceless. "Don't call me, I'll call you". She drove a ratty truck that needed new belts, had no boyfriend, and the way she just ran off with Kirk and the gang, not even a cat. I was wondering if she even liked men.
Next to First Contact, this is my 2nd favorite Trek movie.
Thu, Jun 14, 2018, 8:23pm (UTC -5)
Indeed. Bizarre the lack of selfawareness above, as if just because the place looms large in one person's mind it's something everyone on the planet knows and will still know in 200+ years. I worked in the US for a year and have visited about 20 states and I've never heard of Alameda either, so why would Uhura or Chekov?
Sun, Oct 7, 2018, 12:55am (UTC -5)
My only thought is that, if they went to the academy in San Francisco, they might have a passing knowledge of Alameda, just from being in the area for however many years they were in California. Of course, it might not exist after their Third World War.
Oh, and I've loved your comments I have read over time, thank you for being here. :) I almost said "unless you are not Peter G, but I did a search, and it's you. :)
Tue, May 7, 2019, 3:22pm (UTC -5)
In the 23rd century, San Francisco is still there.
The Golden Gate bridge is still there.
Something is where Alameda is now, and there isn't much reason it wouldn't be called Alameda anymore.
Uhura and Chekov spent four years attending school in San Francisco.
I 'd find it strange if someone attended four years of college in Chicago and never heard of, say, Cicero or Rosemont.
Fri, Jul 5, 2019, 6:53pm (UTC -5)
We loved it, even though the set-up had to be explained to family.
We all agreed: the opening music sounds like it was written for a Christmas movie. The end music also, to a lesser degree.
Why can whale song be heard through space? What’s the medium the sound waves are traveling on?
Someone earlier said Jillian was too ditzy to be credible. I was on the lookout for ditz, but didn’t see it. I just saw passion for the whales.
Fri, Aug 9, 2019, 10:24pm (UTC -5)
If the ship was built and ready to go, it must have had a captain assigned to it.
Looks like another command officer got Captain Decker'd by Kirk.
Also, Scotty gives away transparent aluminum, and Chekov gives away a phaser, so whoever invented those in the prime timeline got royally screwed by this time heist.
Fri, Aug 9, 2019, 10:27pm (UTC -5)
Tue, Jan 26, 2021, 5:54am (UTC -5)
Star Trek IV
“Excuse me, sir, can you direct me to the Navy base in Alameda? It's where they keep the nuclear vessels.”
3 1/2 stars (out of 4)
Great review @Jammer! This really is pure unadulterated fun! Probably the most purely joyful of all the Star Trek movies (TNG movies included). The Voyage Home tells that most unusual of stories - how you really can go home again :)
There are several great San Francisco movies, and by and large, they are also lots of fun. My personal favorite is Sneakers, with its all-star Academy Award winning cast (including Mary McDonnell, President Roslin from nBSG, and James Earl Jones, aka Darth Vader).
Then there’s the Sean Connery classic San Francisco movie, The Rock. And of course the Will Smith classic Pursuit of Happyness. But The Voyage Home has that extra special place in my heart for being both a great San Francisco movie and a great Star Trek movie. What more can we ask for?
The decision to give the crew the Klingon ship is fantastic. Right away it gives Chekov the chance to show he’s going to have some killer lines in the film,
CHEKOV: I didn't wish to be shot down on the way to our own funeral.
The crew is on the way back to Earth, to face the music for stealing the Enterprise and going to the Genesis planet against orders. The movie does a fantastic job of getting the background out of the way right at the top, in a “previously on” that cleverly comes before the Paramount mountain, and so does not interfere with the flow of the movie itself. In fact, the only awkward scene is the Saavik farewell (again, unfortunately played by Robin instead of Kirstie), where, for some odd reason, Saavik hasn’t had a single chance in the last 3 months to tell Kirk about his son and his death? Oh well, minor quibbles.
Turns out, some old pen pals of the Whales have started to wonder why the Whales have ghosted them, and they’ve sent a probe to Earth to find out what happened. The probe, by the way, has a nasty side effect - it’s gonna lead to the destruction of all human life through a powerful new weapon known as Poetic Irony ;)
I love how Uhura, Kirk and Spock are able to figure out that the probe is emitting whale song in like 45 seconds, while all of Star Fleet command can’t for the life of them figure out what the hell is going on. That said, it’s a nice treat to see Brock Peters as Admiral Cartwright in his prime, a sprightly young 59 years old.
So our crew decides to head back in time to 1986, which is not un-coincidently, the year the movie came out.
The Voyage Home, like the season 2 finale "Assignment: Earth”, reminds us that time travel is for Star Trek, what air travel is for us, something that was normal in TOS times, and damn near illegal today.
In the TOS era, folks used to head back to the 20th century, if not for a long weekend, then at least for a regular assignment, just as air travel was a genuine pleasure back in the 60’s, and was still very much a pleasure in 1986 when The Voyage Home was in theaters.
But as Star Trek went on and on, through TNG, DS9, VOY, ENT (especially ENT), and nu-Trek, time travel has gotten more and more convoluted, to the point where Discovery has simply declared it illegal. Air travel isn’t quite illegal for us yet, but compared to how enjoyable and hassle free it used to be when I took my first international flight the summer before The Voyage Home hit theaters, well, let’s just say that today, air travel is something best avoided.
Once our crew hits 1986, the movie really comes alive! Every single gag is hilarious. I was actually laughing out loud watching it again. And the shots of San Francisco are vibrant and alive in a way that, again, if you went to San Francisco these days, the city sadly looks like something out of a dystopian novel.
The future, as they say, ain’t what it used to be…
The Voyage Home is a classic “message movie,” and the message here is not exactly subtle - save the fucking whales you idiots. But everything is of such good humor, and the comedy is so spot on, that one forgives these hollywood types their incessant need to be “relevant.” Plus, I mean, we really should, like, totally not hunt the whales to extinction, because,
SPOCK: To hunt a species to extinction is not logical.
One piece of the movie that works well is breaking the crew up and sending them each on discrete tasks. It allows them all to really shine, without getting out-shined by the captain or first officer. The various digs at then-contemporary San Francisco (of the 80’s) are not political, just cultural. Spock and Kirk have the most famous exchange,
SPOCK: Your use of language has altered since our arrival. It is currently laced with, shall I say, more colourful metaphors. 'Double dumb ass on you' and so forth.
KIRK: You mean profanity. That's simply the way they talk here. Nobody pays any attention to you if you don't swear every other word. You'll find it in all the literature of the period.
SPOCK: For example?
KIRK: Oh, the collective works of Jacqueline Susann. The novels of Harold Robbins.
SPOCK: Ah, the giants.
Which reminds me, The Voyage Home is also distinctly not literary! There is even a swipe at Moby Dick, which of course was the backbone of “Wrath” and will be again for “First Contact.” To wit,
MAN: Do whales attack people, like in "Moby Dick"?
GILLIAN: No, no. Most whales don't even have teeth.
I’m not going to insult all of our intelligences by pointing out how far nuTrek has strayed from this ethos.
But I will say that if the good folks making Picard and Discovery could take some time to watch The Voyage Home, it would probably do a world of good for them, and greatly improve their final product.
Speaking of products, Kirk enjoys a Michelob with his pizza at dinner, and yet, I have never ever met a Trekkie who drinks Michelob. So much for product placement. At least Nokia got their money’s worth in Star Trek (2009), and now all of us no doubt use their smart phones ;)
The movie ends with Kirk getting a very Michael Burhnam-esque punishment for disobeying orders - he’s made Captain and given a ship to command. The more things change, the more they stay the same. No wonder Chekov woke up in the hospital thinking he’s an Admiral.
I could watch The Voyage Home again and again and again, and never tire of it.
Isn’t it awesome that we love a franchise that can have so much fun! What happened??
Fri, May 7, 2021, 3:10pm (UTC -5)
This is honestly a wonderful film. I love this film and First Contact. These are Star Trek films. The dialogue you quoted was also just brilliant. I like seeing when our future Star Trek characters interact with our present (their past). Spock trying to grasp human vocabulary and the rest trying to understand money (and the Doctor appalled by the barbarism of our present day medicine!) was wonderful.
I do concur. What happened to Star Trek? I used to love watching TNG, Voyager and Enterprise.
Wed, Oct 6, 2021, 2:07am (UTC -5)
I've never been especially fond of Trek time travel stories, but I'll grant that Voyage Home is one of the best. It's handled in a suitably lighthearted and breezy manner, and I will give it this: it's just good fun.
I hadn't seen 4 in many years before today, and I must say, I liked it a lot more than I remembered. Still prefer 3 though.
Wed, Nov 24, 2021, 10:00pm (UTC -5)
Sat, Aug 20, 2022, 9:02am (UTC -5)
It's complete ass bonkers in a way few if any other properties could get away with at all, let alone support a very successful feature film.
Obviously there are plot holes out the wazoo, but the film knows exactly what it is and plays itself pitch perfect.
As for Star Trek 2009 and beyond, as discussed by Peter G and others--
JJ is literally the only "creator" I simply will no longer watch. PERIOD.
But he's really just the epitome of modern media strip mining a strip mined version of itself.
Fri, Dec 16, 2022, 6:57pm (UTC -5)
I heard the yell from the beginning but could never make it out. I thought *maybe* "you'll fall for this!"
After finding out what it is, it's plain as day.
Mon, Mar 6, 2023, 10:58pm (UTC -5)
The comedy in the script isn't just gratuitous in the same way some of the laughs in Search for Spock are. Sure, it's funny when Kruge orders his flunky to feed the targ. Yes, I laugh when Sulu says "Don't call me Tiny." Those are good situational gags. But the humor here is almost always borne organically out of the characters. They are almost inevitable. *Of course* the obviously Russian crew member is tasked with asking a police officer where the nuclear vessels are, during the Cold War (a joke I didn't understand when I was 8). Of course McCoy will go ballistic at having to observe primitive 20th century medicine. And of course McCoy, in his attempt to rekindle his old combative relationship with Spock, will hit wall after wall as Spock is himself trying to recollect how to be human. And, yes, the mere presence of Spock in any situation involving 20th century humans is absurd. But all of these are the correct 'physics' of these characters being injected into these situations; most of the one-liners are much more than just gag lines. Spock's repeated use of colorful metaphor-words is funny but is also directly relevant to his attempts to explore being human again, which goes along with learning to make a guess and to finally express a feeling. I don't even know how one writes comedy like this, but it's perfect. All of the parts are necessary, and not just for laughs.
The fact that the story has an environmental message could have been polarizing, but instead its message becomes entwines with Spock's learning process. The environmental imagery goes hand-in-hand with his development, as we see repeated water/fire motifs at key points, such as during the slingshots around the Sun, during their dream scene, and of course the torrential watery mayhem in which they land, are all (I expect) meant to have resonance with Spock's inner emotional life. That Nimoy directed leads me to believe this can't possibly be an accident. The fact that these also double as environmental images - water, the source of life, chaos in the flow of life - is brilliant. Having to save whales certainly functions on the eco-messaging, but it also forces us to hear communication *through song*, which would be illogical if its only purpose was to transmit information. Somehow the whales also transmit feelings, a life experience, sorry, and the regret that life isn't more respected. The probe seemingly recognizes the superiority of a being whose communication comprises both information and a lived experience through its language. For all their technical sophistication, humans are still irrelevant to the probe. To give credibility to the probe's judgement, it is immense, powerful, and yet peaceful in a way: it doesn't destroy or shoot flames. Its design is sleek, foreign, beautiful in a way, but also terrifying. Its size is massive, and the glistening smooth surface as unnatural to us as a constructed vessel could be. Even that surface is too much like a liquid for our liking. And indeed the threat of drowning by water is very present near the end, despite water being most of our physical essence. But its fluidity is a threat to us, to our thinking, and of course to our desire from control. Spock highlights this threat, in wanting the logical analysis to always be concrete and firm. A guess is like trying to stand on water, no support there. But the probe's immense grace does suggest that its creators know something we don't; they are so far beyond us that they even make the Borg look primitive. And on reflection I think that as weird as the Borg cube was supposed to be in Q Who, it's actually not as weird as this probe in terms of how odd and out of place it is.
That the film opens with a scene between Spock and Amanda, who were always on speaking terms, and ends with a scene of respect between father and son, closing up old wounds and ending a lifelong argument between them, could not have been more understated nor more dear to us. Sarek saying he may have been mistaken should properly be understood as practically breaking down and groveling for forgiveness, and in fact it's so significant that it begs the question of why (SPOILER) in Unification it still seems as though Sarek and Spock are estranged. It's almost as though that story continued directly on from Journey to Babel and forgot about The Voyage Home (a title referring to Spock's humanity as much as to a return to Earth for the crew). That only goes to show how much ST: IV packs into even short scenes, so much that you could almost miss it and think they are merely heartwarming and nice.
Also a welcome highlight is McCoy's radiant smile, so at ease and yet energetic in the cinematic setting he puts wind into any scene he's in. Whether it's his playful banter, his acerbic complaints, or his general tendency to point out the obvious that no one else will say, bring brought back into a central role in this story corrects what I think is a bit of a shame in ST: TMP and WoK.
I really don't know how you write a script this rich and good and make it come across as lighthearted fun. There's a technical side of excellent writing where it doesn't sound technical, it just sounds great. I personally think the same is true of brilliant music. In John Williams' Star Wars score there is all kinds of technically interesting and exciting stuff going on, which can be traced back to various musical traditions, and yet it's so good that it just sounds iconic and simple, even though it's anything but. ST: IV is like that, so kudos to Nimoy and the others for making such a full picture so easy to watch.
Sat, Apr 1, 2023, 7:27am (UTC -5)
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