Mar 16, 2012

[Movies] Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)

We finally get to one of my favorite Star Trek movies in the entire movie franchise. Sure, I gave high marks for The Wrath of Khan, and it's hard to argue against the quality of that movie. However this movie stands out since it's the one that just felt like it had the most fun despite tackling a pretty serious (and still somewhat controversial) issue at its core. A rather tall order for any production, what more for a movie franchise that often gets dismissed as something for geeks who live in their parents' basements or something.

Boo negative stereotypes!

I felt this movie had a great balance of the kind of drama and humor that pretty much defined the original TV series. And these are rather diverse elements to juggle especially when the director not only has to direct his peers of many years but also himself, what more with the kind of pressure studio executives bring in the equation as they push how far the movie can go to meet their financial objectives.

The general internet consensus tends to agree with me though in terms of how popular and successful this particular Star Trek movie remains to be. It's most probably because of the lighter tone and how it appeals to more than just the core Star Trek fan base. Managing to achieve that particular objective certainly helped things along. I'm sure.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home is the fourth installment in the Star Trek movie franchise (as based on the original TV series). It was directed by Leonard Nimoy, who had also directed the previous movie, with a screenplay by ultimately by Nicholas Meyer together with Harve Bennett with the original screenplay by Steve Meerson and Peter Krikes.

Very similar to the plot of the first movie, a large alien probe is on a direct course for Earth and any ships that try to slow it down immediately lose power in the wake of the vessel. Finally, it makes orbit around Earth thus disabling Starfleet command and the rest of the planet. Starfleet manages to send out a warning to all other vessels not to approach the planet while the probe remains.

Meanwhile the crew of the Enterprise, now in command of a Klingon Bird of Prey that they've renamed the Bounty, debate their future on Vulcan. Given the crimes they had committed in their efforts to find Spock, the crew agree to surrender themselves to Starfleet Command and accept sentence. But once they make their way to Earth, they receive the distress call about the probe and determine that its unusual signal turns out to be the song of a humpback whale. With all whales already extinct in this time period, they determine the only way to save Earth is by going back in time and bringing back a humpback whale to talk to the probe.

Now in some fan circles, we joke that this movie is what the first movie should have been like. The plots of the two movies are inevitably similar but different in terms of the overall tone. Whereas the first movie was rather daunting, intimidating and slow-paced, this movie was a lot lighter, funnier and quick on its feet. And strangely enough, the perceived faster pace of the movie didn't rely on action sequences or pitched space battles to create this feeling.

Sausalito's fictional "Cetacean Institute...
Image via Wikipedia
It also probably helped that a lot of the movie was set in 1986 San Francisco instead of some far-flung future period. Thus the story became a lot more relatable for more people at the time and even now given the residents of San Francisco haven't exactly changed all that much when you get down to it. And what makes a lot of the humor work is how each of these characters from the future have to figure out how to blend in with their past counterparts, which only makes them stick out even more.

To be fair, the lack of space combat did not meant the movie was lacking for special effects. Apart from the Klingon Bird of Prey and its cloaking device, a lot of time and effort went into creating the humpback whales, who were completely animatronic (or at least very large puppets for some scenes). And we're not talking about CGI here - these were actual models that were designed to move about in water just was whales do, thus lending a lot of credit to the ILM team that worked on the special effects.

I really enjoyed the story given it had a serious conservation message at its core but it was not heavy-handed in its delivery. And to be able to balance the elements of space adventure with light-hearted fun and humor is quite a feat, especially within the context of science fiction movie that involves time travel, cloaking devices and "magical" medical devices.

Plus the camaraderie between the stars - in other words the crew of the Enterprise, felt very genuine that probably helped a lot of audience members enjoy the movie even more. The writing really supported the banter between them and I can imagine a that a lot of the lines were probably ad-libbed or changed with input from the actors themselves. Or I could be imagining things - I really ought to check out more of the behind-the-scenes features for good measure.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home is a fun movie that works for both fans and newcomers to the franchise alike. In the same way that people use "Blink" to introduce folks to Doctor Who, I recommend using this movie to introduce people to Star Trek. But that's just me. The movie rates a full 5 scenes of stock footage of whales being hunted out of a possible 5.

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