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Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (PG)
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Caution: spoilers!

This is the fourth film based on the TV series Star Trek, and the third in a three-movie story arc (though all three films are self-contained stories). It came out in 1986, and the film is dedicated to the crew of the space shuttle Challenger, because of the disaster that occurred earlier that year. I'm not sure how often I watched the movie in the 80s and/or 90s. We had it on VHS, so I must have seen it more than once, but probably not too many times, since there were plenty of parts in it that I didn't remember when I re-watched it in 2023, as part of my Summer of Star Trek. I don't think my estimation of the movie is quite as high as I remembered loving it, but it came pretty close, and it's still one of my favorite Star Trek movies. It was very successful financially, and popular with both critics and fans. In fact, without its success there would probably be no Star Trek: The Next Generation, which premiered the next year. Like the previous movie, this was directed by Leonard Nimoy. Um... I've always thought of this movie as being at least as much a comedy as a serious sci-fi movie (and, of course, an ecological "message movie"). It probably has the most (and best) humor of any of the Star Trek movies, but I was a bit surprised at how long it took to get to the comedy portion of the movie, which mostly occurs during the scenes set in the 20th century.

So... at the start of the movie, our heroes have been on the planet Vulcan for like three months since the end of the last movie. That includes Uhura, who hadn't been on the Enterprise with Kirk, McCoy, Sulu, Scotty, and Chekov, but who met them on Vulcan at the end of the third movie after they flew there on their captured Klingon ship, which they renamed the Bounty. Spock has spent these months relearning most of what he had known before he died, though he seems to be having some trouble getting in touch with his human half. Anyway, everyone finally decides it's time to return to Earth, where they will have to face numerous charges for all the things they had done in the previous movie, including the destruction of the Enterprise. (Spock is, of course, not held accountable for any of that, but he chooses to go with his friends.) There was also a scene at the start of the movie with a Klingon ambassador basically demanding Kirk die for his actions, but Sarek argued on Kirk's behalf.

But before our heroes can return home, an alien probe of unknown origin approaches Earth, and sends out a signal that causes tremendous havoc with the weather and leaves all ships and technology in the area powerless. The President of the Federation sends out a warning to other ships not to approach Earth, but the crew of the Bounty are determined to help. They analyze the alien probe's signal, and determine that it is in fact the songs of humpback whales, which had been extinct since the 21st century. (Remember, the movie was released in the late 20th century and takes place in the late 23rd century.) So they make the incredibly risky decision to attempt time warp (which they had done before once in the original series) to travel to the late 20th century and bring back humpback whales to their own time, in the hope that the whales could respond to the probe. I must say, the things we see and hear during the brief trip through time seemed weird to me. But anyway, when they arrive safely in 1986, they cloak the ship and land it in a park in San Francisco. (I find it impossible to believe no one ever noticed an invisible but very tangible ship there for the couple of days or so they were in the past, but whatevs.)

Our heroes break up into teams to accomplish a few different tasks. Kirk and Spock attempt to locate humpback whales that had been detected in Sausalito, at a cetaceous museum. There they meet a marine biologist named Dr. Gillian Taylor. (She's played by Catherine Hicks, which I've long found interesting because she later starred in a TV show I didn't see much of, "7th Heaven", which also starred Stephen Collins, who had been in Star Trek: The Motion Picture.) The humpbacks are named George and Gracie, and Spock actually mind melds with Gracie to explain the situation to her. This naturally upsets Gillian, who kicks Spock and Kirk out of the museum. But she later reunites with them and inexplicably begins to trust them. (Her character vaguely seems like a potential "romance of the week" for Kirk, but I'd say it's never too overtly so.) Meanwhile, Uhura and Chekov attempt to drain power from a nuclear vessel, to recharge the Bounty's dilithium crystals, which had been depleted by the time travel. In the process, Chekov gets captured and interrogated, and is seriously injured when he tries to escape. So Kirk, McCoy, and Gillian go to the hospital to retrieve him. At one point, McCoy cures an old woman who was on kidney dialysis, something I've always found memorable, and which is even more meaningful to me now that my dad is on dialysis, himself. Just one of the many reasons it would be better to live in the future of Star Trek. Sigh. Anyway, Scotty and McCoy have to obtain material to construct a tank in the Bounty for George and Gracie, and Scotty ends up giving an engineer the formula for transparent aluminum. (I always figured that was the material they got the engineer to make for them to use in the tank, which never made sense to me because the guy said it would take years to figure out even with the formula. But now I'm thinking they just used an existing material, and the formula was just used as payment for it.) Sulu borrows a helicopter to transport the material to the Bounty. Which kind of felt unnecessary to me. I suppose they couldn't just use the ship's transporters to move the material, because they wouldn't be able to explain how they did that, but using the helicopter just felt to me like the writers had to make up something for Sulu to do. I dunno. But there are various other times I felt like the transporters could have been used more effectively, and at least once I don't know why it was used at all when Kirk could have just gone up the ramp. But whatevs.

So, what else should I say? I feel like I've already revealed quite a lot of the plot, but I think it was kind of necessary to do so, just to give you an idea of what everyone was doing. There are countless details I've left out, mostly examples of the movie's humor. I really don't want to spoil too much of that, though I will say that one of the things I always found memorable was something that happened before the time travel, when McCoy was trying to talk with Spock, and asked about the experience of having died. The way Spock responds, and how McCoy reacts to his response, was one of the few gags in the movie that take place in the 23rd century, IIRC. Most of the humor comes from our heroes being "fish out of water" in the 20th century. (See what I did there?) Anyway, Kirk eventually has to tell Gillian the truth, which is of course hard for her to believe at first, but she later learns that what he said was true, and has to help them find George and Gracie when the whales get moved out to sea sooner than she expected. There's a scene of the Bounty stopping a whaling ship from killing them, which was cool I guess, though this is one of the examples of my not understanding why they had to get so close to the whales before transporting them aboard. I mean, if you can transport people from a planet to a ship in orbit, you shouldn't have to be directly over a pair of whales to transport them. And then... they make an even riskier return trip to the 23rd century, save the Earth, and stand trial. Most of the charges against the crew are dismissed, but Kirk is "punished" by being demoted to captain. They're all given a new ship, the second Enterprise (NCC 1701-A). That feels like a major spoiler, but... without knowing that, I don't suppose the next couple of movies would make much sense, and I didn't feel like waiting to mention how this movie ends in my review of the next movie. So there. (I do think it's kind of weird that the new Enterprise will have so many crew members at the rank of commander- or in Spock's case, captain- holding positions normally held by lieutenant commanders, lieutenants, or even ensigns.) I also want to say I find it unlikely the new Enterprise could have been constructed in just three months since the first one was destroyed, but maybe it was already being built and just hadn't been named yet.

What else can I say? I'd like to know more about the aliens who sent the probe. (I think something more might have been done with them in a book or something, but I'm not sure. I'd be more interested in seeing them in canonical material anyway, meaning a movie or TV series.) And um, there are numerous background characters of alien races in the Federation Council or Starfleet that we've never seen in other shows or movies. I'd like to learn more about those races, as well. Anyway... while there are various things about the movie that didn't make much sense to me, they were mostly minor quibbles, quickly forgotten. On the whole, I love the movie for its humor, its drama, its character interactions, its anti-whaling message, and, you know... everything. I do hope I've managed to leave out enough details that my review doesn't spoil the movie too much, though I also hope I'm not forgetting anything I wanted to comment upon.

Followed by Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

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