STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME (1986)
Star Trek IV was a big hit in 1986, grossed 105 milliond dollars, caused Star Trek to make cover of Newsweek, and was so popular that Paramount decided to go ahead with a new series. But at the time, I didn’t like it and, for quite awhile after that, preferred Shatner’s disatrous Final Frontier over this one.
I was a senior in high school when it came out and at that point, I had contact lenses and and was going to high school dances and trying to be cool. Meaning, I had to downplay my obsession with the subject. So when I saw it, it was with friends under the ‘Hey, let’s do something dorky and go see a Star Trek movie,’ guise. But deep down, of course, I had been counting the days; the idea seemed terrific, TIME TRAVEL! Back to The Future had ruled 1985 and brought the 50’s into vogue, not to mention science fiction films. Surely Star Trek, the Time Travel Champ with the episode The City On The Edge of Forever, would show them all how it’s done and vindicate nerds like me.
Again, I knew all about the film. Like a stack of pornos, I had a Starlog magazines salted under my bed, hidden from the outside world. I knew every publicity department-generated article like the back of my hand. I knew they were going for comedy; I knew Nicholas Meyer had been brought in to co-write the screenplay; Nimoy was directing again, ‘with training wheels off’, this is a Leonard Nimoy film,’ he kept saying over and over and over. I was confident that under his steadier hand, the film was going to be the best yet.
The advance buzz was palpable. Siskel and Ebert raved on their show, and when I saw a clip of Shatner talking to what’s-her-face, Catherine Hicks, at the pizza place, saying “I’m from Iowa, I only work in outer space” it felt big time, like Superman the Movie, or some other prestige picture. Everyone seemed to love the film. Big box office! Glowing reviews! Star Trek was HOT!!!
Expectations couldn’t be higher. Then I saw it and like a music snob who feels his favorite group has gotten too commercial once the band goes platinum, I came out feeling strange, almost above it all. Even though my friends, who did not want to see it, were laughing about it and saying, “That was good!” “I was thinking, “Really? I thought it was terrible…” Though I didn’t voice that opinion otherwise I wouldn’t be able to see it multiple times in the theaters. “It was okay,”…, I said.
But I came out that first time feeling like I’d seen a flaccid, unfunny movie of the week that wasn’t STAR TREK AT ALL. It was an old lady comedy about whales. And even though it looked good, with competent big-screen cinematography, it was disjointed, lazy– lazier than ever, and it had a TERRIBLE music score.
I had been nervous when I found out that James Horner wasn’t composing the soundtrack, but I never expected an opening title track to a Star Trek movie to have Christmas bells and schmalzty trumpets with no tangible theme. “WHAT THE HELL IS THIS?!”was my reaction. Leonard Rosenman’s music destroyed an otherwise polished opening credit sequence. (A bit of behind-the-scenes trivia for any film music buffs who don’t know this or care, the original script specifically mentioned that the opening title sequence would start to the tune of Alexander Courage’s original TV show theme and then the music would grow slower and more menacing as the Prope appeared in deep space. Apparently Leonard Rosenman did write that music but Leonard Nimoy didn’t like it and preferred the music Rosenman wrote for the end titles– the dopey Christmas bells theme.) The film started off on the wrong foot.
The feeling grew as the opening minutes mounted up. We go to Vulcan and the crew are in the same outfits they were in two years ago. (three months in the movie’s calender.) They’re preparing to leave for Earth in a couple of days and they’re wearing the same clothes? So, what? There are no stores on chilly, emotionally barren Vulcan? “Oh, Vulcan is too logical of a place for clothing stores. We all make our clothes out of whatever terry cloth and styrofoam phallic shapes that are lying around– which explains our Vulcan repair crew extra and their stupid hats…” Really, never give actors, not even extras, bad hats, that’s a rule. I found it funny that Walter Koenig’s Chekov had a ridiculous outfit with a large collar in III, so he got to change clothes simply for aesthetic reasons.
Anyway, before you think I’m some preening costumer, (I’m an all around filmmaker, dammit! A direcTOR!!) Kirk says to poor, poor, scuttled away Lt. Saavik, “This is goodbye.”To which Robin Curtis hammers out the lines, “I. Haven’t. Told. You. About. Your. Son. He. Died. Bravely. He. Saved. Spock. I. Thought. You. Should. Know.”
“Um. Yeah…. you said that already in the last film, only better.” How about a conversation between two people who have spent three months together? Or better yet, how about Saavik’s NOT ON VULCAN, but rather serving as a 1st Officer on the Starship Saratoga or the like since she’s not at all guilty of Stealing the Enterprise? For those who don’t know, in the script she stayed behind on Vulcan because she was pregnant with Spock’s baby, but Nimoy cut that out because he was uncomfortable with it. So I say, “Mr. Nimoy, if a plot point embarrassed you, then you should have it written differently. We of the members of the United Trek Federation of Dorks kind of pay attention to what happend before and don’t like being needlessly confused.”
Just as we paid attention to the fact that the bridge of the Klingon Bird of Prey is completely different in this film than in the last. I can respect wanting to make a set look better and more cinematic. The Star Trek III Klingon Bridge was underwhelming, but at least keep the round sliding doors for continuity.
Meanwhile, I know it seems like I’m picking on poor departed DeForest Kelley, but the fact is, I have nothing but respect for the man and his Dr. McCoy character. He was great on the show and an integral part of the series and why it worked. However, his movie performances were all over the map. Embarassingly wooden and stilted in the first one, off the mark in The Wrath of Khan, but still some good one-liners, very good and reliably funny in III, then suddenly in The Voyage Home he acts like an aging queen every time he’s around Spock. At one point he actually purses his lips and kinda winks at him! “Nobody’s perfect, ” he says. Huh? What’s that supposed to mean? Was that a reference to Some Like It Hot?
Okay, so then the Probe attacks earth and I’m still bugged about the TV-movie of the week style music, then I can’t help but notice that this plot is basically reheated leftovers from The Motion Picture. A probe that we know nothing about is going to destroy the planet Earth. ZZzzzzz… I guess Kirk and crew are the only ship in the quadrant….Zzzzzz. Both time somone says a line about not being able to answer the probe if you don’t understand the question. Zzzzzz….It’s too bad were so warlike and always jumping to warlike conclusions….Zzzzz….(conveniently forgetting how many ships are being destroyed around the galaxy.) And really, a sound wave does all that?
Then it’s addled, befuddled reborn SPOCK?!! who figures out that the alien probe is talking to whales? Huh?!!! That’s funny, if anyone should have a big breakthrough about extinct ocean life I would think it would be James T. Kirk since he’s, you know, from that very planet and supposed to be a seafaring Captain type, always quoting shanty songs and poetry about ‘tallships and stars to steer by’ and ‘the sea’s hottest blood’. You think maybe when he was a kid dreaming about exploring the final frontier he knew something about whales in the 21st Century? Nope. It’s Spock who knows all about extinct marine life on Earth. And he knows what they sound like right off the bat???!! He just hears the probe’s call, mixed at breakneck pace by Uhura to sound exactly like the call of Whale song and he has a theory. I guess Spock knows EVERYTHING (Okay, I’m being a grump. We are watching a movie after all. But it is funny how both Nimoy and Shatner alternately stroked their own egos through their characters in their directorial efforts, proving that neither really understood their characters as well as they understood how to make themselves look like the hero.)
Then they hatch out the the time travel scheme from Tomorrow is Yesterday, which was nice, (I liked when Harve Bennett would do his homework and reference the show’s paradigms, like the destruction of the Enterprise in III which was just like how Kirk tried to do it in Let That Be Your Last Battlefield) but I could’ve done without McCoy’s ‘Thanks for Telling Us’ recap of exactly how they would do it.
But when they travel in time, HOLY SMOKES! Who dreamed up that bizarre sequence? A burning clay man?!!! Cat tails??!! Me, I would’ve simply made a collage of images from the episodes and movies and called it good.
After that point, I was knocked clean out of the movie. I had hoped that life on present day Earth would get me back in. I’d seen the “Double Dumb Ass on You!” clip and was waiting for non-stop hilarity once the crew interracted with the 20th century. But it never really happened. “NUCLEAR WESSELS!” Ha! Ha! Ha! Let me guess, they’re improvving? I LOVE IT!! (Clap, clap clap!) Actors are always patting themselves on the back for improvising a scene. Well guess what? IT ALWAYS SHOWS!! Uhura says, “It’s in Alameda, but where is Alameda?” Well, you know, you’re from the future and you have this ship that can darn near detect anything. How about going back to your ship and FINDING OUT rather than bugging people on the street who might think you’re from the future, you out of character hams?!!! And let’s all clap like old biddies when Spock does physical harm to that irritating PUNKER and his loud music!! I thought the point of all this was to not draw attention to yourselves so you know, you don’t alter history.
Then for the sake of some cheap laughs, if anyone bothered laughing– I know I didn’t– McCoy and Scotty sell away the future for some plastic, Ha! Ha! Ha! But hey, wait, this gang of thieves stole 2 starships and then nuclear power from the nuclear powered aircraft carrier, so why not save a scene and just beam the plexiglass aboard the Bird of Prey, since clearly they have no problem with stealing or using their transporter. And for a ship that’s low on power, what’s with flagrant, wasteful use of the transporter beam especially since your average passerby, or a certain whiny Ocean biologist, would see it? Why destroy the future in the bargain? LAZY!!! LAZY!! LAZY!!! Now, I understand that the film was supposed to be a lark, and I know I sound very grumpy over everyone having a good time. But if one looks at the time travel episodes of the show or say, Back to The Future, the very seriousness in which they treat altering the future makes the plot more interesting and, when those comic moments arise, very funny. (“Who’s president in 1985?” Whatta gag!) You don’t have to be so lazy to get a laugh. Smart humor works too.
Lazier still, when they return to earth of the future, all the problems are solved, replete with no one batting an eyelash over letting Gillian stay to ruin history and a crew that stole a jillion dollar starship and destroyed it is rewarded with a new Enterprise. Again, I know I’m a grump and you have to end your movie somehow, but as tying loose ends go, I thought it they were too loose and implausible.
But worse than the lazy writing within the context of the Star Trek universe, at one point I’m sitting there watching a scene with Catherine Hicks and some guy named Bob, who’s got a bigger part than, say, Sulu, and he’s saying, “Don’t tell me fish stories, kiddo!” And I’m just sitting there, cringing at the complete lack of that Star Trek feeling.
I went to see it two more times in the theater, telling myself, “Expectations were too high, take the movie for what it is, a comedy meant to appeal to non-fans.” But each time, the film got progressively worse where the music and continuity errors irritated me even more– especially that amateurish whaling vessel sequence. No one thought to put something over the actors playing Swedish Whalers so it looks like there’s a ship hovering above them.? Or what about Catherine Hicks flailing her way through a mime routine in the park? She walked into a metal landing strut. Wouldn’t she get a big gash on her head instead of bouncing back as if she walked into an invisible beach ball?
At any rate, for awhile I really hated Star Trek IV, but once I bought the special edition DVD, (after buying two different vhs versions) I realized I’d always been too hard on it. It’s fine. The music still sticks out like a bad Vulcan hat, and if I was billionare Bill Gates, I’d pay James Horner to see what he’d do with the film, you know, just for kicks, but beyond that, it’s the kind of film that’s okay for nostalgia’s sake.
And there are some things to enjoy about it: Shatner’s comic performance for one. He’s loose, in command, and brimming with charm and charisma. (except when he says, “As we say in your century, I don’t even have your phone number. Ha! Ha! Ha!” –there he seems back on a TJ Hooker episode or The Love Boat. Or when Catherin Hicks first beams aboard the Klingon ship, he acts like an old pervert, holding her and pawing her and seeming like he’s in a single’s bar, but still around his crew and everyone else, he’s tops!) The interplay between him and Leonard Nimoy is what stands out in the film. “Do you like Italian?” “No, yes, no. ” Not exactly original, but Shatner and Leonard Nimoy pull it off like old pros. Plus, the for the first time in a Star Trek feature, the rest of the cast felt like an integral part of the team. I wasn’t overjoyed with some of their gags, but I did appreciate that the lesser crew members seeming as if they actually had a purpose on the ship and in the film. And as I said, The Voyage Home had decent cinematography. Even back in ’86, I kept going back to see it in the theaters because it looked like a big-budget movie, confident of its stature.
That would only happen one more time in a Star Trek film. Now you want to talk about a crappy looking movie…?