Star Trek The Marathon: There Be Whales Here!
Our Star Trek marathon warps on with our fourth film, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Katey remains a total Trek noob and Josh is, as always, a huge nerd. Follow along with our entire marathon by going right here.
JOSH: After the success of Wrath of Khan, I'd really hoped Search for Spock would seal the deal and make Katey a lifelong Trekker. But she didn't buy into my insistence that Star Trek III is better than it gets credit for, and seemed to get all hung up on seeing Doc Brown as a bony-headed Klingon. For once though, Katey's mood doesn't matter. No need to beg, plead or bribe to keep her involved in this one. She started out a Star Trek virgin but by now, thanks to me, she's knee-deep in Federation education. Tonight we're here for time travel and humpback whales. As I settle in on Katey's couch I'm prepared to take it easy. She'll love this one. Girls always love this one. I love this one. I guess that makes me a girl.
Star Trek IV is a special memory for me. It's the very first Trek movie I ever saw in a theater, on a snowy winter day in Colorado with my pop. I get all nostalgic whenever I watch it, so Katey, you'd better love it. If not, then double dumb-ass on you!
KATEY: Josh, did I let you into my fortress of solitude so you could jabber about your childhood and torment me about the fact that my most cherished childhood film was ruined by a single line of subtitled Klingon dialogue? No I did not! So either make yourself useful and find me some nuclear wessels, or hit play already!
JOSH: It's hard not to notice that they've basically recycled the story from Star Trek: The Motion Picture and combined it with a budget-saving, time travel device. Another alien probe threatens Earth, this time it's trying to contact humpback whales which unfortunately, in the Star Trek universe, have long since gone extinct. The Voyage Home, as did The Search for Spock, picks up right where the last movie left off with the former Enterprise crew stuck on Vulcan while Spock recovers his marbles. They're forced to go home in their captured Klingon Bird of Prey, which they've renamed the HMS Bounty, oh and along the way they travel back in time to the 80s to save the world.
Leonard Nimoy scripted the stuff in space and Wrath of Khan director Nicolas Meyer, who as always doesn't really care about outer space stuff anyway, wrote everything on the ground in the 80s. Trek's two greatest filmmakers combine forces and with Nimoy now experienced, and firmly entrenched behind the camera, it works. All the great things I said about Nimoy's directing ability on Star Trek III are justified here. Katey maybe you're right that he's not so great at action, but he gets characters and apparently, he also gets comedy. It's easy to believe that this director could go on to make 3 Men and a Baby. After all of the gut wrenching stuff in Khan and Search for Spock, and the almost laughably serious tone in The Motion Picture, Trek needed to lighten up. Nimoy pulls it off while staying true to the core of what made these characters and this world the so great in the first place.
KATEY: Whoah whoah whoah... Leonard Nimoy directed 3 Men and a Baby? Amazing what you learn in a movie marathon you thought was going to be all about translating Klingon. You may have noticed, Josh, that this movie has no action in it whatsoever, which I think is the key to Nimoy's direction working so well here. You're so right about how well he gets comedy, and I think that's a direct result of his familiarity with the characters. Just as in Search for Spock he knew exactly how to play off the audience's knowledge of the relationship between the three central characters, this time he knows all the character tics that will be funniest to see translated to the "modern" world.
KATEY: Like I said before, the character interactions are the best part for me here, both in the beginning when they're all figuring out how to operate the Klingon ship, and in the wonderful 80s sequence. Poor Uhura doesn't get much of a personality, but at least she and the endlessly entertaining Chekhov make a great time in the hilariously misguided mission of tracking down nuclear materials. (Isn't Kirk a historian? Shouldn't he have remembered something as major as the Cold War?) Enough can't be said about Spock using the Vulcan nerve pinch on the bus, or Scotty saying "Hello, computer!" or Kirk's on-the-fly excuse that Spock dropped too much "LDS" during the 60s. We're so used to seeing these guys in command and in their element, that throwing them for a loop is precisely what we all wanted.
JOSH: What I really love about Star Trek IV is that it has fun with these characters without making fun of them. That's something later Trek incarnations were unable to pull off, when they tried to duplicate the same tone. You'll see what I mean in Star Trek V for instance, where the whole cast is turned into one big, running joke. Star Trek IV has us laughing along with them. It's as if they're winking at the camera and they're all in on it with us. In the same way that Star Trek II took the effects work of The Motion Picture and started using it instead of being impressed with it, The Voyage Home takes all of the already established character work of the previous films and just has fun with it. We already know these people are and how they relate to each other, now let's see what we can do with that. Mainly, we're going to make Spock curse.
JOSH: There really isn't a bad guy, unless you count the alien probe which is more like a weather event than a corporeal villain. If there's a bad guy it's the whole human race, for being stupid enough to kill off harmless humpback whales which are, apparently, essential to defending the planet from massive, rocklike, rogue alien probes. That's alright, a villain wasn't needed. Since the likes of Darth Vader and Khan, Hollywood has become all but obsessed with bad guys but Star Trek: The Voyage Home is proof that you can have heroes without villains. Not every mission needs a battle to the death against an evil, all-powerful genius.
KATEY: I can't figure out why they never learned from Star Trek: The Motion Picture that a great movie needs a great villain, and they could have done all the time traveling they wanted and had a villain to boot (need I bring up Biff?) But as we've been saying, this movie operates as more of a comedy, and for that reason you don't miss the villain as much as if you were presented with thunderous music and lots of people solemnly gazing at their command screens. This movie didn't need a Khan, or hell, even a Klingon, but I'd like to know what they could have done with this same light tone and a genuine threat to the characters.
KATEY: Oh, the 80s, how fun you are to watch onscreen. Unlike most Trek movies, in which you laugh at the dated hairstyles even though you know they're supposed to be in the future, here you get to openly guffaw at the punks, the poofy hair, the tight jeans. Except, that is, for Spock's crazy pseudo-karate outfit, because Spock cannot be touched. Otherwise the film looks fine, the whale photography is great, and it was actually nice to get off the Enterprise and let the characters interact with each other when not standing behind a console.
JOSH: The Voyage Home did something no other Trek movie has since done, by setting Star Trek elements down in the real world and saying, “see this is what it looked like if you were standing next to it”. There are a couple of really incredible effects shots towards the end using the Bird of Prey; that scene where it hangs over the whaling vessel is really pretty incredible when you consider they did it without computerization and used only models. It looks real and you get this incredible sense of scale which you just can't get when these ships are floating around out in space. Some of the whale footage fares less well. The shot of Spock doing a whale mind-meld is pretty great, I'd love to know how they got that, but the rest of it looks like stock footage projected on a wall to make it look like they have whales in their tanks. As for that weird, plaster-cast heads effect when they engage time travel? It's hard to believe they could actually come up with something worse than the wormhole sequence in Star Trek 1. What the fuck was Leonard Nimoy on? Maybe they weren't kidding about the LSD. Sorry, LDS.
JOSH: Star Trek IV has the least Trek-like score, and also maybe the best. It suits the tone of the movie, light and full of life it dances through the film giving the whole thing a whimsical and celebratory feel. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home is the end of a long, and difficult journey and this is our reward for surviving it. Like the film itself, the music never takes itself seriously but instead focuses on staying upbeat and energetic. It's a truly great score from Leonard Rosenman who later went on to do, well, nothing. How is that possible? This guy's a genius. Someone also deserves a gold star for the probe's signal. Freaky stuff. I still remember the first time I heard it in a movie theater, the way it reverberated around the room was kind of special.
KATEY: Agreed on the probe signal, which is actually warped enough that you wouldn't immediately get that it's whale song. But I did miss the big score from the last two movies, at least in the beginning and during the time-travel sequences, which are dramatic enough that they could have earned it. The light score served its purpose, but also seemed pretty generic, which was the problem with the bombastic score from The Motion Picture. No offense, Leonard Rosenman, but I wouldn't dub you a genius based on this one.
KATEY: What is up with the council that's all worked up about Kirk? Who are they, what do they do, and are there Klingons on that council?
JOSH: That's the Federation Council, they're kind of like congress only occasionally they actually get stuff done. I hear the Federation has great healthcare. In the future, they're people charge, the people Kirk is supposed to work for. They're pissed because well, he's spent the past 3 movies disobeying orders and starting wars with Klingons. He did steal a starship and then blow it up. Imagine if Colin Powell stole an aircraft carrier, sailed it to Pakistan, lured the Taliban on board, and then sank it! Actually that would be pretty cool and might solve a lot of our current Pakistan problems but you have to think he might also sort of be in trouble.
KATEY: So Kirk must be a history scholar, right? Based on the glasses and his knowledge of the 60s?
JOSH: That's a callback to what you've already seen. Remember in Star Trek II, when McCoy gives Kirk his glasses he says “More antiques for your collection.” Kirk isn't a historian, but he has a fondness for antiques. He also grew up in America and you have to think he'd have at least a rudimentary knowledge of the history of his own region, in the same way that if you went back in time to the Civil War you wouldn't be entirely clueless as to what went on. But it's not like he's an expert, which also explains why so much of the time they end up baffled by things like Punk Rock and colorful metaphors.
KATEY: What did Chekhov mean when he told Kirk he was getting the nuclear power from the Enterprise? Were they building spaceships in the 80s I didn't know about?
JOSH: The real United States navy actually has a nuclear powered aircraft carrier named Enterprise. She was the first nuclear powered aircraft carrier in history, and the eigth in a long line of ships named Enterprise. That's the aircraft carrier Chekov sneaks on board to steal nuclear power from. The name Enterprise has a long naval history, both in reality and in fantasy. For instance, the first ever space shuttle was also named Enterprise, in honor of a certain Captain Kirk commanded spaceship. Those NASA guys sure are a bunch of geeks.
KATEY: And how are they back on the Enterprise at the end? Did they just paint a new title on the other ship?
JOSH: They built another one. In the same way that all aircraft carriers in the United States navy are pretty much the same, most of the ships in Starfleet are built from the same templates. The Enterprise is a Constitution Class Vessel, so they took another Constitution Class they'd just completed and painted Enterprise NCC-1701-A on it. The original Enterprise, the one you saw blow up, was NCC-1701. No bloody A, B, C, or D.
KATEY: You can take your dramatic battles to the death and space warfare; I loved this movie unabashedly, and might even be more likely to rewatch this one than Khan. Yes, Khan is surely a better movie, but this one is so enjoyable, leaving out all the portentous speeches and musical overtures (and the obligatory sequence of returning to the Enterprise, hooray!) in favor of more jokes and time spent with Kirk and Spock's endearing Odd Couple relationship. From what I hear the next two Trek movies are just going to disappoint me, but if that's the case, what a good way this is to go out.
JOSH: Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home is a good time, no doubt. Too much of a good thing though, is never good. One movie like this, after the super serious, life-threatening danger of the first three films is a relief, the perfect way to cap off an epic adventure. I guess I'm saying I wouldn't want more than one Trek movie like this. It wouldn't work if the three previous films had been as similarly jokey. Oh if only they'd realized that before making Star Trek V…
What do you think of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home?
Follow along with our complete marathon, every step of the way, by clicking here.
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