Sci-Fi Movie Month: "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home" Review

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Spock, Kirk and the Enterprise crew come to San Francisco to save humpback whales for the 23rd century. William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley & Catherine Hicks star, with Nimoy also directing.
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Sci-Fi Movie Month: "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home" Review

-- Rating: PG (adult situations/language, violence)
Length: 119 minutes
Release date: November 26, 1986
Directed by: Leonard Nimoy
Genre: Science-Fiction/Adventure

Considered one of the best movies to come out of the television series, "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home" garnered acclaim from critics and fans alike. Nominated for four Academy Awards and lauded for its comedic feel, it helped the franchise come back from the overwhelming seriousness of earlier Star Trek movies. It was also one of the most difficult to make-the cast was up in the air for nearly a year, and a substantial rewrite of the script was required in order to deal with last-minute changes.

"Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home" moved away from the plot created in "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan." Spock (Leonard Nimoy, "Fringe") had been killed and then resurrected. The crew of the USS Enterprise had not only stolen and destroyed their own ship, they'd been exiled to planet Vulcan. Audiences were tired of bad news. Enter Nimoy's decision to write a story around something '80s moviegoers could rally behind.

Enter the humpback whale. In 1986, environmentalism and conservation were hot topics, and with their size and mysterious vocalizations, humpback whales seemed a perfect species to focus on. Leonard Nimoy had also directed "Star Trek III: The Search for Spock," but the film performed poorly, largely due to the studio restrictions. Given a second chance, Nimoy took the reins and aimed to create an upbeat movie that would reintroduce a feeling of fun and adventure to the series.

Largely, his idea worked; however, the story Nimoy crafted with Harve Bennett had some limitations. The assumption that William Shatner wouldn't reprise his role as Captain Kirk, pushed the duo to look at prequel storylines that took place before the creation of Starfleet. Modern-day America was a perfect location for planting their story, but at the last minute, Shatner agreed to return in exchange for directorial control over the next Star Trek film.

With the old team assembled and ready to reassume their roles as the original crew of the USS Enterprise, the writers had to rework the story line considerably. The end result was a feel-good mission any member of Starfleet could feel proud of, infused with mesmerizing audio and an altruistic message on saving the Earth, one species at a time.

In "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home," the crew of the Enterprise use a Klingon Bird-of-Prey to return to Earth to face crimes they'd committed in earlier films. Along the way, they receive a distress call from the planet, warning visitors to stay away. A dangerous beacon hovering near the planet's surface has disabled electrical pulses, leaving starships stranded in space and the inhabitants without power.

Spock is able to decipher the beacon's message and determine that it is speaking the same language as the extinct humpback whale. The crew attempts to go back in time, capture a specimen, and bring it back to the present in order to stop the destruction. Unfortunately, after using their Klingon ship to return to 1986, they realize they've depleted most of their energy source, and they aren't sure where to find a humpback whale.

Addressing these problems takes the team on a hilarious journey through a world quite unlike their own. The situational comedy has almost a slapstick appeal at times, while the characters struggle to interact with the technology and people of 1986. Keeping closer to the television show's formula, the move also introduces a love interest for the Captain in whale researcher Dr. Gillian Taylor (Catherine Hicks, "7th Heaven").

It was rumored that Shatner had held out on the film to force the creators to write Hicks into the script. Nimoy denied this, and screenwriter Nicholas Meyer claimed he'd written the part based on a real researcher who appeared in a whale documentary he'd watched while working on the script. Either way, the chemistry between Hicks and Shatner is palpable and really brings the elements of the movie together.

Nimoy has credited Meyer with the underlying comedy that made "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home" so refreshing for the series, though the humor actually involved a collaboration between Nimoy, Meyer, Harve Bennett, Steve Meerson, and Peter Krikes. The movie's top actors include the starship crew made famous in the television show: along with Nimoy and Shatner, DeForest Kelley, Nichelle Nichols, James Doohan, George Takei, and Walter Koenig all reprised their former roles. In addition, several actors known from their work in recent Star Trek television shows can be seen in cameo appearances.

"Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home" will renew your interest in the franchise if you've been bogged down by the depressing Kahn-inspired story line of the earlier films. It's fun and vivacious, it makes an important message about conservation, and it reminds audiences just why Star Trek is so much fun.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars