Thursday, March 12, 2009

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

Having a whale of a good time!

... or Star Trek IV: The Whale Movie. Come on, you know that's how you remember this one. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home [1986] is a classic in its own right. Leonard Nimoy directs what turns out to be one of Star Trek's funniest films coupled with a sweet environmental love letter without being preachy. It's an entertaining adventure yarn with the aging crew of the Original Series. I believe the old folks here might have been competing with Roger Moore [pushing it in A View To A Kill] in his final days as James Bond in the 007 pictures. Nevertheless, all are charming and I love both franchises. The original crew of the Starship Enterprise are simply the best!

With several bowls of popcorn in hand, I needed a fun film and one fairly age appropriate quickly the other night. I decided to unleash Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home on the neighborhood kids. They loved it. I have to say looking back on it, it was missing significant action for me. I also prefer the more serious tone of the series over the cutesy antics found here. I suppose when you get older you tend to compensate for your lack of action ability with comedy. Still, this is good and when I saw this in theatres I loved it myself especially when they transported the whales from Earth past back to present day Earth to save the planet. It's an interesting premise well-executed by Nimoy with great effects, a good story and snappy dialogue.

The film begins with a dedication to the men and women who lost their lives in the space shuttle Challenger. Director Leonard Nimoy the film with the sound of whales emanating from an incoming vessel of unknown origin.

Meanwhile, William Shatner is on trial as a terrorist. Can you believe in a world filled with the kind of terror that's out there Captain James T. Kirk would be considered one of them? He is being held accountable by a Klingon prosecutor for the murder of Klingons and the theft of a Klingon Bird Of Prey. The alien demands justice for Kirk's crimes. Spock's father, Sarek [with Mark Lenard returning], speaks on Kirk's behalf, making the case for his innocence.

Elsewhere, the exiled Kirk and crew agree to return to Earth in their stolen Bird Of Prey to face charges. All of this of course comes as a result of events which occurred in Star Trek III: The Search For Spock. Spock continues to assimilate his intellectual growth via computer. He is approached by his mother when he is asked "How do you feel?" As a vulcan, Spock does not compute. His human mother, Amanda [played by the always beautiful Jane Wyatt returning], appeals to the human side of her son's very fiber. He is still coming to terms with his rapid growth and development particularly coming to terms with his human attributes. The question is one posed not only to Spock but also to the audience? It is a thread that ties the film together as you'll see here.

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Well thanks for asking. I'm feeling quite fine actually.
The alien probe passes the Saratoga sapping it of its power. Anything in its path is either damaged or destroyed. The probe is a funny design, simple but effective. It's like a long, metallic cigarette and it is one hell of an imposing, immovable object. Lt. Saavik [played by Robin Curtis] bids farewell to Kirk and informs him of his son David's bravery in saving their lives. Spock greets Kirk and Kirk insists he call him "Jim," but Spock just isn't quite there yet or as Bones puts it, "He's not exactly working on all thrusters." It's humorous as Kirk wills Spock to call him Jim with some frustration throughout the film. This is one of the trademarks of the series and the triangle of characters that is Kirk, Spock and Bones. Bones attempts to make a breakthrough in reaching out to his old friend, but is merely frustrated by his efforts as only Spock can thwart them.

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Before long the probe is wreaking havoc on Earth's weather patterns. Electrical storms and cloud cover is so intense there is no sun. I must say the Bird Of Prey is a pretty spectacular ship design and one that I enjoy seeing on the screen even if it is in the form of a matte painting. Great color and design. Earth sends out a distress signal and informs Kirk and crew to avoid the planet.

Kirk opens speakers and listens to the sound transmissions. Using the database Kirk begins scanning the files for a match to other Earth lifeforms at Spock's suggestion. Uhura modifies the sound clip to determine what it would sound like underwater. Whales? Spock finds a match. Humpback whales to be exact. At this point, Humpback whales have been extinct since the 21st Century. Spock indicates they might need to find some whales because fighting the problem would be futile. Kirk orders Spock to figure out computations for time warp. Time warp must be really handy. You can fix anything.
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Weather patterns are certainly becoming critical on Earth. So Kirk and Scotty discuss the possibility of storing some whales aboard the Bird Of Prey in the form of a kind of intergalactic space aquarium for transport. Kirk informs present day Earth of his plans for time travel if they are sto stave off complete disaster. The crew's destination is the Pacific basin of Earth past. "May fortune favor the foolish," prays Kirk. I supose foolish is better than dead.
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As you might have guessed, they are successful in arriving at the latter half of the 20th Century. The Bird Of Prey picks up the sound of whales from San Francisco. Scotty informs Kirk the ship has some significant engineering issues that may not allow them to get home. The Dilithium crystals are weak. Those damn Klingon crystals! No cloaking ability and no time travel will be capable for 24 hours. Spock suggests nuclear material from the 21st Century that might just solve their problem. Photons will repower the crystals and give them the necessary power. Kirk asks Spock to cloak the ears and he makes a kind of instant sweat band to everyone's amusement.
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Off go our friends to the groovy sounds and goings on of 1980s Earth.

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Uhura and Checkov will handle the nuclear materials issue by looking for the "nuclear wessels." Sulu, Bones and Scotty will handle tank building and assembly issues inside the Bird Of Prey. Kirk and Spock will handle looking for the whales.
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This kills me as Chekov [with Uhura] is looking for the "nuclear wessels." It really kills me.

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And so begins the comical second half of the film as our heroes from the future take a step back in time to Earth of old for their comic antics and reactions to Earth circa 1986. One good example is when the taxi driver yells at Kirk and calls him a "dumb ass" only to have Kirk respond in child-like frustration with "double dumb ass on you." Money issues. Communication issues. This is all part of the fun. Here is one of those classic moments.

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It wouldn't be a proper Star Trek film without the vulcan neck pinch. You also get one of those frustrated "Jim" exchanges.
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Kirk and Spock arrive at the Cetacean Institute and meet Dr. Gillian Taylor [played like nails on a chalkboard by Catherine Hicks]. She reminds me of one of those yippee little dogs that nips at your heels when you ride by someone's house and it chase you for the next quarter mile.
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Classic line by Spock in response to learning about the whaling industry by humans back in the day: "To hunt a species to extinction is not logical." Some of the most interesting information on whaling can be found at the whaling museum in Nantucket, MA. And if you've never read the book you should do yourself a favor and check out In The Heart Of The Sea: The Tragedy Of The Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick. It's a haunting, brutal but fascinating story. I think Spock would agree.
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The whales, George and Gracie, are slated to be released back to the ocean from the institute. Spock dives into the waters to speak with the whales via mind meld.
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Uhura and Chekov find the materials they need on a warship dubbed, ironically and with the proverbial wink, the U.S.S. Enterprise.
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Dr. Gillian Taylor gives the boys a ride as they attempt to explain who they are. Spock drops a bombshell by telling her Gracie is pregnant. It's a bombshell not because she's pregnant [and Taylor already knows as we find out later], but because he knows and she is dumbfounded by the possibility that Spock could know.

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Scotty, Bones and Sulu get their answers at Plexicorp. There are so many funny moments in this film it's hard to keep track.

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I remember having to train this fellow on how to use a mouse years and years ago. I literally had to hold his hand on the mouse and show him how to move his hand with the mouse in it. It sounds quite disturbing, but it's true.

Taylor: "Are you sure you won't change your mind?"

Spock: "Is there something wrong with the one I have."

Kirk: "Little joke." There's plenty here.
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Over dinner Kirk gives Taylor the lowdown on how he and his friends could help those whales.
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Taylor: "You're from outerspace."

Kirk: "No. I'm from Iowa. I only work in outerspace." You see.
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This is key moment in reaching Spock's humanity and the question of how he feels. It's easy to miss.

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Collecting the necessary materials Uhura is beamed aboard the Bird Of Prey, but Chekov is captured by the military. I can't imagine a Russian being captured on the Enterprise on Earth in 1986 is a good thing for Chekov with the Cold War and all. Chekov makes a break for it but gets hurt and is hospitalized in critical condition.
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I love moments like this.

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Sulu brings back some nifty materials for the whale tanks via chopper. While outside the Bird Of Prey Dr. Taylor is yelling for Kirk in the park. They beam her aboard to quiet down that yippee little dog. She is an annoying woman and an annoying actress. Kirk is informed the whales have been released. Chekov is in the hospital and critical, but our man Bones saves the day. Spock agrees the one must be saved. "It is the human thing to do."
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They bust into the hospital in medical garb and using Dr. Taylor as a patient with a bad case of upper abdominal distension otherwise known as "cramps." Damn that doctor lingo sounds good though.
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Back on board the Bird Of Prey the crew heads off looking for the whales. I'm reminded of a-ha's song We're Looking For The Whales. I never really thought I'd have reason to think of that song until now.
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There are a number of very subtle moments like this throughout the film bringing the Spock we know and love back into the fold.

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Our fearless heroes find George and Gracie just in time arriving above a whaling ship prepared to harpoon their catch. Lock and load. Scotty beams our watery mammal friends aboard the ship with water for the containment tanks to boot. "Admiral, there be whales here!" celebrates Mr. Scott in excitement. Back to the future they must go. I'm not really sure about the whole time travel special effect. It was a little pathetic and weak.
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The Bird Of Prey arrives and crashes waterbound into the Earth oceans releasing the whales to communicate with the probe and in turn prevent the destruction of Earth. It's a flawless landing that might never actually happen in real life except for that one miraculous instance in New York's Hudson Bay. Bless them.
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Success. I love the visuals of the Bird Of Prey in the water and rain. It's a nicely executed segment with the cast outside looking on at the surviving whales against the backdrop of the green vessel. I also like the swimming moments with the crew. There is such joy in these shots. So what exactly was the probe that spoke whale? Why? Why did it need to hear the whales in order to go away? I can only say I have no idea still, but fascinating. Happy with its findings, the probe turns and departs, but to where it has gone is anyone's guess.
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The sun shines once again and all is literally right with the world.
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The epilogue: Kirk is brought before the court for his charges with his crew and Spock. Spock, who while not named, chooses to stand with his shipmates. Kirk pleads guilty, but the court dismisses all charges except for Kirk's charge of disobeying the orders of a superior officer. In effect, it's a godsend as he is reduced in rank to captain from admiral. He will be back in command of a starship as only we have come to know and love. They receive the one and only home they know, the NCC-1701-A, U.S.S. Enterprise. There is great meaning in the film's title, the voyage home, on many levels and this is no exception for the crew.
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Spock says goodbye to his father. This is yet another fine moment in the Star Trek cannon answering his mother's question asked earlier in the film.

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Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home is worth the trip.
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Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home: B+

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