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'Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home' (PG)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
November 28, 1986

Captain's log, Stardate 2290. Admiral James T. Kirk has more swash to buckle and Scotty is likewise broader around the beam. Middle age may have spread into space, but never have the Trekkers been more intrepid than in this rousing adventure. "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home" is a flat-out four-thruster blast.

The episode is dedicated to the Challenger crew, but there's nothing solemn about this warp-time trip back to the 20th century. It crackles with comedy, but it's no space cartoon, nor self-lampoon. It's a happy, heartfelt chapter that reunites the original cast with the original TV format, shying away from the cold and epic scale of the preceding movie adventures. George Lucas may provide his incomparable Light and Magic for the splendid effects, but "Star Wars" is no longer a primary influence on the story.

Leonard Nimoy is the force behind this sparkling comic fiction; he not only reprises his role as the half-Vulcan Spock, but directs the screenplay which he cowrote with Steve Meerson, Peter Krikes and producer Harve Bennett. The story, an ecological allegory, makes full use of the vast Trekkie mythology provided by series creator Gene Roddenberry. The script, upbeat as it is uplifting, never wavers from Roddenberry's perennial notion that Earth's people will live long and prosper. But just barely.

In this instance, 23rd-century Earth is endangered by an alien mothership gone amuck as it searches the seas for the extinct humpback whale. The Trekkers must warp back to 20th-century San Francisco to save the whales -- and so mankind.

Exiled on Vulcan after destroying the Enterprise in "III," the crew is forced to save the day in a stolen Klingon Bird of Prey (with cloaking device). Naturally, the di-lithium crystals destabilize, leaving the veteran mariners just 24 hours to beam up the leviathans and beat it back 'round the sun to the 23rd century. Cross-cutting between our present and their future, Nimoy manages to keep the proceedings as tense as they are funny.

Starfleet Command is on red alert. Meanwhile, the crewmen are in their little red suits, roaming the streets of '80s San Francisco, like Santa's helpers from a junta. Nobody notices even Spock, who has been recuperating from exaggerated reports of his death and left Vulcan wearing a long, white bathrobe. Space's answer to Bobby Ewing has lost none of his Vulcan faculties, but his human emotions are on the fritz. "You really have gone where no man has gone before," says McCoy, who's even crankier now that he's matured.

DeForest Kelley returns as the blustering Bones, with James Doohan as Scotty, George Takei as Sulu, Walter Koenig as Chekov and Nichelle Nichols as Uhura. Eternally typecast, the actors and their characters have a 20-year history we share, like celestial soap opera. We know Uhura never wanted to get old from the TV shows, but now she contends with the inevitable gracefully. Albeit chunkily.

William Shatner, pleasingly paunchy and mellowed with the years, is no less the hero as Kirk, a man you can count on whether the nemesis is tribbles, Klingons or the whale god. Now, Shatner and Nimoy have hit upon a rejuvenating shtick -- as a sort of orbiting Odd Couple. Kirk patiently teaches the utterly logical Spock to cuss like they did in the '80s. It's something he learned from the literature of the period -- Jacqueline Susan, Harold Robbins, explains Kirk. "Ah, the giants," Spock nods.

Peopled with exotics and set against an ocean of stars, the plot is expected -- with elements of "Back to the Future" and "Cocoon" -- but never predictable. It reflects social change in the character of a liberated marine biologist (played with complete charm by Catherine Hicks), but it stubbornly returns to its old beloved self. Don't beam us up just yet, Scotty.

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