Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986, Leonard Nimoy)


Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

The crew head to Earth in a stolen Klingon Bird-of-Prey after the events of the previous film – but the planet is under siege from an alien probe, which demands to speak to a species of whale that is now extinct. So Kirk decides to time-travel in order to find one…

Regulars: Kirk and his crew are in exile on Vulcan as the film begins, but vote unanimously to return home to face trial for mutiny. When they later get to 1986, Kirk and Spock track down some whales – a mission that allows them time to bond again. Spock, meanwhile, has lost his uniform (understandable, given what he’s been through) so spends the film in a white robe. He’s still trying to find his way after his resurrection, and declines to call Kirk ‘Jim’. Dr McCoy has doubts about the Vulcan and voices them privately to Kirk, saying Spock is “not exactly working on all thrusters!” Once in the 80s, McCoy, Scotty and Sulu’s mission is to source and build a tank capable of holding the whales for the trip back to 2286. In a hospital scene later on, Bones dishes out pills to a woman on a gurney and is generally appalled by 20th-century medicine. During the time-travel journey, Sulu gets to dramatically announce the increasing speed (“Warp two! Warp three!”), then in 1986 has fun finding and stealing a helicopter. Chekov and Uhura, meanwhile, are sent off to find a nuclear reactor in order to refuel the Bird-of-Prey. Chekov is arrested by the military after being caught on an aircraft carrier (playfully said to be the real-life USS Enterprise, although another ship was used for the filming). Saavik is again played by Robin Curtis. Before being left behind on Vulcan, she has one short scene with Kirk and Spock: there’s clearly something going on between the three that’s left unsaid (she’s pregnant with Spock’s child, according to the film’s writers). Majel Barrett gets a laughably prominent credit in the opening titles for a tiny role as Christine Chapel, while Janice Rand appears very briefly too.

Guest stars: Mark Lenard returns as Sarek. Jane Wyatt plays Amanda, Sarek’s wife and Spock’s mother; she has a scene with her son where she tries to help him with his post-death confusion. The main guest star is Catherine Hicks, who plays Dr Gillian Taylor, the assistant director of San Francisco’s Cetacean Institute. She’s a bit wet, but there’s chemistry between her and Kirk – even if it’s not romance of the century or anything.

Best bits:

* The ominous, musical sound the probe makes.

* The white-haired dude with the Fu Manchu beard on board the Saratoga.

* For the second film running, characters refresh their memories of the last movie by watching clips from it.

* McCoy has renamed the stolen Klingon ship HMS Bounty. The wag.

* The stuff on Vulcan is a lovely mix of location and studio, matte paintings and sepia lighting.

* Spock’s test, answering quick-fire questions on a range of topics, is brought to a halt by “How did you feel?”

* Oh! I’ve never twigged before that the Federation officer on the screen is Vijay Amritraj off of Octopussy.

* McCoy trying to chit-chat with Spock, who takes his banter literally then is distracted by his earpiece. “Forgive me, Doctor, I’m receiving a number of distress calls.” McCoy, wearily: “I don’t doubt it.”

* There are some great model shots throughout, but the Golden Gate Bridge during the storm is especially brilliant.

* The crew going to maximum warp in order to slingshot around the sun.

* The *bonkers* dreamlike sequence as they time-travel – we get surreal imagery and unsettling snatches of dialogue – which oddly doesn’t happen when they return to their own time later.

* To hide his Vulcan ears, Spock ties his cotton belt round his head, karate-style.

* The cloaked Bird-of-Prey landing in a San Francisco park. First a bin is invisibly squashed, then a section of grass is pushed down by the ship’s leg. Two nearby dustmen run off in fear.

* “Everybody remember where we parked,” quips Kirk as he and the crew leave the ship.

* The scene of the crew on a bustling 1986 San Francisco street. A driver nearly knocks Kirk over and calls him a dumbass. “Double dumbass on you!” replies Kirk.

* Kirk pawns the spectacles McCoy gave him in The Wrath of Khan so the crew can have some cash. When Spock asks, “Weren’t they a present?”, Kirk smiles: “They will be again, that’s the beauty of it.”

* While Spock methodically uses logic, coordinates and a nearby map to track down the whales, Kirk sees them advertised on the side of a passing bus.

* Spock dealing with a rude punk on a bus by using the Vulcan nerve-pinch. The other passengers applaud.

* Spock sneaking into the whales’ tank at the institute and swimming around while an oblivious Gillian talks to a tour group. Kirk’s expression when he spots Spock – shame, embarrassment, worry – is very funny.

* Spock’s attempt at swearing. “The hell they did.”

* Scotty and McCoy bullshitting their way into the Plexiglas plant.

* “Hello, computer!”

* Kirk’s nod of approval after taking his first sip of 1986 beer.

* “No, I’m from Iowa. I only work in outer space.”

* Chekov being chased though the huge hanger of the aircraft carrier.

* Sulu flying the helicopter… and accidentally switching on the windscreen wipers.

* The woman who, thanks to Dr McCoy’s futuristic pills, has grown a new kidney in about five minutes.

* Though not accused of any crime, Spock insists on standing alongside his crewmates at their trial.

* The phenomenally predictable reveal of the name of the new ship to which the crew are assigned at the end.

TV tie-in: The crew first time-travelled in a TV episode called Tomorrow is Yesterday. It’s a fun and pacey story about a 1960s US Air Force pilot who’s beamed aboard the Enterprise when our characters are accidentally sent into the past. The slingshot-round-the-sun technique used to get the home was reprised in The Voyage Home.

Review: A probe heading for Earth and demanding a response is the same basic storyline as Star Trek: The Motion Picture – and like that film, The Voyage Home doesn’t have an actual villain – but there’s a galaxy of difference between the two films. Directed by Leonard Nimoy, this is Star Trek as comedy-drama. It’s lighthearted without being flippant, charming without being twee, and is thoroughly, thoroughly entertaining. Once the lead characters have time-travelled to what was then modern-day America, the film is quite leisurely for a while. But then the complications and ticking clocks pile up. Meanwhile, the movie is incredibly light on its feet and is not afraid to poke fun at itself. The fish-out-of-water stuff is generally a hoot – and it’s easy to imagine the cast, now feeling like a real gang, having a blast with the script. The movie is the third part of a continuous trilogy that began with The Wrath of Khan – and is *enormous* fun.

Nine nuclear wessels out of 10.

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