DIRECTOR: Leonard Nimoy
May Contain Spoilers!
I can remember the anticipation of seeing this back in 1987. I was 8 years old and was already a Trekkie thanks to my Mum. In Star Trek III: The Search For Spock, the Star Trek universe had already opened up, with Starfleet and the Federation finally being shown as more than just the U.S.S. Enterprise and a guest starring ship of the episode or film, such as the U.S.S. Reliant from Star Trek II, for example. But also in this previous outing, the Enterprise was destroyed, so as a child, all’s I wanted to see was Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and his crew get another Starship and blow some more stuff up.
Instead, he leads his crew on a journey back to ‘Present day’ (1986) Earth to rescue some whales. As a result, this was never my favourite Trek movie, as even though I enjoyed the comedy, and the plot did continue from the previous two films, I wanted to see more of the 23rd century and not a fish out of water comedy of the day.
Star Trek finally called it a day in 2005 with the conclusion of Star Trek: Enterprise and it was about that time when I last watched this film. Seven years later, I find that my view has changed considerably. I liked this film a hell of a lot more than I ever have! Maybe I’ve changed? Maybe it was nostalgic to see it again or maybe I appreciated how true this was to Trek as an adventure without my view being clouded by my obsessive need to see Star Trek of the future, as contained within the vast lore of the franchise. In other words, this time I went in stripped of all my preconceptions of Star Trek as a franchise and watched the film what it actually was, judging it as its own entity.
The plot is pretty simple. A massive probe comes to Earth in the 23rd century with devastating effect, as its signal, which it directed to Earth’s oceans, is disrupting all power sources which it comes into contact with, such a starships and the planet as whole. It transpires that the probe is trying to make contact with Hunchback Whales, which by this time are extinct and Kirk and co. travel back to the 20th century bring some back to answer the aliens.
And I liked it. It was great. It was fun and it was a well told action adventure, touching on a very real issue of the day, that be it the inhumane and barbaric whaling industry and it was shot and written with a very knowing eye for the time. It was scruffy, used and lived in. The 20th century characters worked well and our 23rd century heroes played their fish out of water roles brilliantly, convincing us that these advance humans where like children when faced with a culture that they don’t fully understand, yet wiser than them. A complex contrast to achieve when you think about it.
Having Chekov (Walter Koenig) stealing nuclear energy from the present day U.S.S. Enterprise aircraft carrier was inspired, opening the plot to some decent Cold War satire. Having (the late Deforest Kelly) handing out pills to grow new kidneys and watching him debate with modern-day surgeons over treatment was inspired. But nothing sums up this movie’s nature as much as the scene when the cloaked Klingon Bird Of Prey prevents one of the Hunchback Whales from being harpooned, then revealing themselves to the whaling ship! The image of the futurist and imposing vessels hovering over the small ship was and still is priceless. It’s just a pity that Kirk didn’t blast the ship out of the water for good measure but I suppose that wouldn’t have been very Star Trek of him, would it?
This was Leonard Nimoy’s (Spock) second and last gig at directing Star Trek, with III being his other work, but he did a great job on both, though this was his best. It was a little Spock-sentric at times, but William Shatner would get his turn in the Star Trek V as he directs himself with no shame what-so-ever, but here, even though Spock gets plenty of moments, so does everybody else. This is the first truly ensemble piece of the movie franchise so far.
Overall this in is one of the best Star Trek movies, offering a distinct change of setting and tone. Probably, besides the latest Star Trek film, the most accessible of the series.
N.B. This was also known as: The Voyage Home: Star Trek IV. I believe was the U.K. title to distance the film from the Star Trek franchise.