By Marc S. Sanders
We owe a lot to H.G. Wells, author of The Time Machine. Without Wells, Marty McFly would not become familiarized with a souped-up DeLorean, and Earth as we know it would be decimated by the year 2286 because a probe, in the shape of a Ring Ding pastry, from the far reaches of space could not find its humpback whale friends to say hello to. If Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home is not the best of the film series, it is certainly the most fun and delightful. (For the record, my personal favorite is Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan but sometimes I switch to Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.)
Kirk, McCoy (William Shatner, DeForest Kelley) and company have managed to resurrect their comrade Spock (Leonard Nimoy, also returning to the directing chair). Now, they are enroute from the planet Vulcan to Earth awaiting trial for the crimes and violations they committed in the prior film. However, they must follow a detour back in time to the year 1986 and pick up a pair of humpback whales. The sea mammals are the only creatures that can speak with an alien probe and salvage the Earth from becoming destroyed. The probe isn’t an enemy. Its arrival is simply unsettling the planet’s oceans and core because it can’t communicate with whale life, that is now extinct by the time 2286 has arrived.
So, in a Klingon Bird of Prey that they took command of and dubbed the HMS Bounty, our favorite Federation crew, arrive in late 20th century San Francisco. Problems lay ahead though. Their dilithium crystals (fuel) are depleted, they are unfamiliar with the daily activities of life during this period, and just how are they to find a pair of mammoth whales by walking around the city? As well, Spock is not exactly himself since his rebirth. His knowledge is there, but his common sense that stems from his human half is lacking. This leads to some funny engagements with the city folk as he develops a habit for some colorful language not commonly used in the 23rd century. A scene on a city bus with a punk rocker is a terrific highlight.
Well, within the film’s two-hour time frame a pair of whales is located at The Cetacean Institute and they are overseen by a spunky and emotionally caring guide named Gillian portrayed by Catherine Hicks. Now the gang has just gotta get home to their time before it’s too late.
The script for The Voyage Home is really quite brilliant and such a pleasant surprise. All of the characters have their own moments for humor to occur. The best being that Chekhov and Uhura (Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols) have to find a nuclear power source to make up for the lack of dilithium crystals. Imagine, during the time of Reagan/Gorbachev Cold War politics, a man with a heavy Russian accent politely asking a motorcycle cop where he may find the “nuclear wessels…NUCLEAR… WESSELS.” It’s also inspiring to place a cynically cranky Dr. McCoy in a city hospital only to question how medical practices were ever tolerated at this time. “Is this the dark ages?”
William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy make such a sincere pair of friends as Kirk and Spock. Shatner is especially good in the Star Trek films because he performs with a way of sarcasm and whimsy. He works like Errol Flynn, unreserved while he swings into the danger. Yet, he’s also so sincere. There’s a flirtatiousness to him that’s impossible not to like. He’s just so personable. You also feel for his Kirk when he wishes his old friend, Spock, would just return to the way he once was and simply address him as “Jim,” not Admiral. I couldn’t help but relate to it as someone who may wish that with a relative suffering from dementia. The loved one is still there, and yet he/she is not there. That’s how Shatner touchingly approaches this relationship. The chemistry between Shatner and Nimoy is unparallel. The recasting of the roles in later years has not matched up. The original actors just read each other’s timing perfectly like Laurel & Hardy or Felix & Oscar. There’s Newman & Redford. There’s Lemmon & Mathau. There’s Shatner & Nimoy.
I always had my facts mixed up. I was always under the impression that this film was nominated for a Best Screenplay Oscar. It in fact wasn’t. Yet, it really should have been. The Voyage Home has a message on the importance of preservation of life and an urge to hold on to the integrity of our environment. Thankfully, it’s not preachy. There’s a combination of science fiction, adventure and humor at play here that I don’t think has ever worked better in what I’ve seen of the Star Trek universe of films and TV series. This is just a very, very smart film with good, insightful direction from Leonard Nimoy.
Nearly forty years later and this picture still holds up. So many of our planet’s species remain endangered. Many are suspected to be extinct by the hands of man. The Voyage Home touches upon these facts. It still feels so up to date that you even get a lump in your throat at the top of the film when a dedication is made to the memory of the Space Shuttle Challenger crew. The makers of this Star Trek installment really presented a timeless film with the help of time travel, and you don’t have to be a Trek fan to appreciate its merits.