Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986) Review

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986) Director: Leonard Nimoy

“It’s a miracle these people ever got out of the twentieth century”

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once again directed by Leonard Nimoy, the fourth Star Trek film was dedicated to the exploded Challenger space shuttle. The film was almost entirely scrapped thanks to William Shatner declining to reprise his role as Captain Kirk. However, his qualms were eventually settled with a pay raise that was explicitly designed not to be subordinate to Leonard Nimoy’s compensation. These types of petty squabbles were in part the inspiration behind launching a new Star Trek television series which aired the following year: Star Trek The Next Generation –an effort to revitalize the series with the introduction of new characters and situations. The fourth Star Trek movie concludes a narrative trilogy that began with Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982), and it was the second Trek film to be directed by Leonard Nimoy (naturally, Shatner expressed interest in directing a subsequent fifth Star Trek movie). There are quite a few quotable lines in this film and it uniquely relies on situational humor far more than the other films. In this way, The Voyage Home demonstrates the narrative versatility of Star Trek the “save the whales” message is delightfully silly for a Star Trek movie.

Despite having a somewhat goofy premise, Star Trek IV is a surprisingly fun and campy entry in the Star Trek film-verse, though I think viewers may need to be a Star Trek fan to fully appreciate it. The Voyage Home picks up where Star Trek III left off. The crew of the Enterprise, currently on Vulcan for the third month of Vulcan exile while Spock recovers his faculties and their stolen Klingon Bird of Prey is repaired, are set to be reprimanded on Earth, presumably by court-martial (or maybe a lifetime of mining borite) for their disobedience in the previous film. The Klingon Empire has accused Kirk of being a “terrorist” for weaponizing the Genesis Device, but Spock’s father Sarek (reprised by Mark Lenard) comes to the defense of Kirk and his crew. The hearing abruptly ends with the Klingons threaten Kirk’s life –though Kirk’s exact whereabouts remain unknown. Meanwhile, a large cylindrical probe has been traveling through space while emitting odd noises, destabilizing ships as it passes. One such case is the U.S.S. Saratoga, which is patrolling Sector V of the Neutral Zone when it encounters the unknown and unresponsive probe which is apparently headed toward the Terran solar system. The Saratoga is quickly neutralized along with several other ships.

When it arrives at Earth, the probe causes pure chaos as ion electrical storms threaten planetary survival, and the power grids are shut off across the world. Spock discovers that the probe is emitting a message which is actually a humpback whale song –despite the fact that humpback whales have long since been extinct– so the former crew of the Enterprise powers up their stolen Klingon Bird of Prey (nicknamed the “Bounty” in allusion to the H.M.S. Bounty) and they return to Earth to face trial. However, after uncovering the whalesong, and in the hopes of locating a whale to answer the call, they decide to travel back in time using the slingshot maneuver/method first introduced in the season one classic episode “Tomorrow Is Yesterday” and then again in the season one finale “Assignment: Earth.” They travel back to the twentieth century to the year 1986 in San Francisco, CA –there are many chucklingly fun comments about how backwards and primitive the 20th century seems to our heroes.

The crew proceed in disguise –riding on a public bus, and interacting with ordinary people on the streets (apparently, one key moment involves Chekov and Uhura randomly asking people on the street if they know the location of the nuclear vessel, or “wessel,” in Alameda and they actually spoke with a real San Francisco bystander who had no idea a major motion picture was being filmed). Kirk and Spock hunt down two domesticated humpback whales kept in captivity –George and Gracie– who are located at the Monterey Bay Aquarium (or the fictitious “Cetacean Institute”). Here, they meet a biologist named Dr. Gillian Taylor (Catherine Hicks) who eventually decides to help the crew in an effort to save and protect her whales. She and Admiral Kirk entertain a somewhat nebulous romantic affinity for one another that is never quite fully explicated. After a few twists and turns –including a side quest to rescue Chekov from a “dangerous” 20th century hospital– they return to the 23rd century and the whales are released into the San Francisco Bay where they respond to the alien ship’s probe. Their song is apparently a mysterious cosmic message. The destructive probe then promptly departs from Earth. Kirk and crew then return to the Federation where charges are dropped against them (only Kirk is “punished” by being given his long-desired role as captain of the Enterprise back again), and a newly reconstructed U.S.S. Enterprise is revealed: “My friends, we’re home” –thus ending the plot arc that initially began with Wrath of Khan.

Other memorable characters from the original series, including Grace Lee Whitney as Janice Rand and Majel Barrett as Dr. Chapel M.D., formerly Nurse Chapel. Generally speaking, the tone of this movie is a total departure from the previous three Star Trek films, and somehow it just seems to grow better with time. It is light-hearted and family-friendly with an optimistic conservationist message. Still, this is an eminently rewatchable Star Trek movie which brilliantly showcases the true versatility of Star Trek, a franchise which manages to be both silly as well as weighty, and is not afraid to pleasantly surprise its audience with new directions, ‘boldly going where no movies have gone before.’

1 thought on “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986) Review

  1. As a most significant departure from what previous Star Trek movies gave us, The Voyage Home is a gem for Trekkers and with a very powerful message about how all life on Earth is sacred.

    Liked by 2 people

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