Star Trek IV The Voyage Home

The fourth entry in our Star Trek movie marathon, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, which debuted 36 years ago yesterday, has left me in something of an odd position.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

The previous two films we watched in the series were actually both much better than I remembered.  They were not without fault, but not as awkward as expected.  And even the first film in the series was at least no worse than memory told me.  But now we’re at what many consider “the good one” in the series and… I’m not feeling it all the way.

The film picks up immediately after the events of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.  The crew of the recently destroyed Enterprise are on Vulcan with recreated/reborn Spock and their stolen Klingon bird of prey.  Meanwhile, back on Earth charges are being leveled against Kirk and his crew for a variety of crimes, including stealing the Enterprise and then blowing it up.

The crew gets aboard their pilfered Klingon prize, now with HMS Bounty painted on the side, a reference that will be forgotten almost immediately, to head back to Earth in order to face the music.

Meanwhile, in the footsteps of Nomad and V’Ger, yet another space probe is headed towards Earth disabling ships and stations that cross its path, and broadcasting an indecipherable message.  For a small unregarded yellow sun far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the galaxy, Earth sure seems to be the center of attention to random undiscovered alien civilizations and their various space probes.

Anyway, as usual, the crew of the Enterprise has to save Earth once more.  Unlike anybody else, they figure out that the message is being beamed at Earth’s oceans and are able to modify it to what it would sound like under water, recognizing it as the song of a humpback whale.  But whales are extinct on Earth, so the logical option is to go back in time to get some.

So, in a bit of dramatic hand wavery, they accelerate past warp 9 to zip around the sun in order to go back in time because… well, doesn’t Superman do it that way?  Now, leaving aside that warp 9 in supposed to be 729 times the speed of light, at which speed navigating around something as small as our star seems ludicrously unlikely, they do manage to get flung back in time, to 1986… because the plot demands it…  which also just happens to be when the film was made.  For once everything will be authentic when somebody goes back in time.

It just makes me wonder if it was possible the for crew of the Enterprise to see the film crew… or something.  There has to be a paradox in there somewhere.

Of course, there are problems.  The cheap WorfMart dilithium crystals the Klingons had been fueling the ship with ran out of juice traveling back in time, so they only have enough power for a day cloaked, unless they can find a way to recharge them.

In the mean time they land in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco and then spend to wandering around and getting into absurd situation… like taking a bus to Sausalito only to end up at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

The crew seems to magically teleport around various SF Bay Area locations, including a scene below the Golden Gate Bridge that appears to be a reverse of a shot in Vertigo.

Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak stood in front of a green screen just like this

This is, again, my own baggage, having lived all of my life in the SF Bay Area and having been to the Monterey Bay Aquarium at least a half a dozen times.  I could mark out on a map where their short jaunts took them in reality based on their filming locations.

Anyway, there are ever so many comic misunderstandings and at one point Spock jumps in a tank at the aquariums to mind meld with a whale as McCoy and Scotty go off in search of a travel carrier big enough for two humpback whales while Uhura and Checkov seek out the nuclear reactor of the 1986 version of the USS Enterprise, the aircraft carrier CVN-65 in order to recharge the Klingon ship… something that requires Checkov to say “nuclear wessels” about five times beyond the point when it was funny.

At that point the whole thing is just one goofy situation after the next, not the least of which is Uhura and Checkov not knowing where Alameda is when we had already established the fact that Star Fleet Headquarters is in 23rd century San Francisco, a place they have no doubt spent some time at, from which you could probably see Alameda across the bay.

Anyway, everything works out, they grab some whales and get back to the 23rd century, drop them in 23rd century San Francisco bay, which must be much warmer that the current bay, because nobody jumps into that water happily in our time and the whole crew seems glad to wade on into it.  The whales sing, the space probe gets the message, packs its bags and heads off, repairing the things it broke on the way out.  Earth is saved and the status quo is restored… though no explanation is ever given as to how the space probe knew about whales or what it wanted or anything like that.  I mean, at least we got some sort of motivation from Nomad and V’Ger when it was there turn.  Oh well.

After everybody calmed down from Earth being saved yet again, court is finally back in session and the crew is on trial, but all charges but one are dismissed, the remainder being disobeying orders, leveled solely at Kirk.  As punishment he is reduced in rank to captain once more and given command of the new USS Enterprise, NCC-1701-A.  That will teach him to obey orders!

So my problem is, after trashing Star Trek: The Motion Picture for being ridiculous, how can I possibly give this film a pass?  It is objectively a less plausible, with more hand-waving “space magic” than the first picture.  It is practically the script of the first film, with time travel, whales, and no Enterprise.  And don’t get me started on glib dismissals of time travel paradoxes.  Is the 23rd century they return to even the same one they left after they stomped around Earth for a few days, handing out advanced technology like candy at Halloween?  How can I possibly rank it as anything but last in my running tally?

Well, the prime defense I have of it is that being boring isn’t on its list of sins.  It is silly and nonsensical and just plain dumb at points, and the script just yadda yadda yaddas past a host of issues, but is always a bit of a laugh… and it helps that it was filmed at locations I recognized.

If I had to rank this based on damage to Star Trek canon it might be at the bottom of the list.  But as an entertainment vehicle, it does hold its own.  You keep watching even if the whole venture is difficult to take seriously.

So, with that in mind, my ranking of the films so far is:

  1. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
  2. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
  3. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
  4. Star Trek: The Motion Picture

I had to wrestle over whether The Voyage Home got second or third place, but it edged out The Search for Spock based on entertainment value and the fact that the other film did not lack for its own set of extremely goofy moments and was itself based on the premise of bringing Spock back to life to carry on as before.

Now we’re on to the fifth film in the series, where we will attempt to answer the question, “Why does God need a starship?”

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