May 4 2011 5:00pm

“I Feel Fine”: Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

For the fourth installment of the Star Trek Movie Marathon, I thought I’d do something different and liveblog the film. It’s been quite some time since I sat and watched the entire movie. I watched the bits with the Federation Council in 2004 when I was writing Articles of the Federation, a Star Trek novel that focused on the Federation presidency, but it’s probably been well over a decade since I last viewed the movie front-to-back.

I have to admit, I totally forgot that the film was dedicated to the crew of Challenger. Good for them. The film came out in 1986, which was not only the year we lost Challenger, but also the 20th anniversary of the premiere of Star Trek. (And, for that matter, the year they announced that there would be a spinoff called Star Trek: The Next Generation.)

The opening scenes are a smorgasbord of awesome voices. First we have Madge Sinclair as a Starfleet captain—the first female starship captain seen on Star Trek, as it happens. Then we have the Council scene where a Klingon ambassador verbally fences with Ambassador Sarek—played, respectively, by John Schuck and Mark Lenard. Honestly, I’d watch a movie of just the two of them arguing….

As menaces go, the probe fails on several levels. First of all “the probe” is a weenie name. Secondly, it looks like a log with a globe sticking out of it. Even past menaces that looked silly, like, say, the doomsday machine—which was a cornucopia with a fake fire inside it—at least had a cool name like, well, the doomsday machine.

“We don’t want to be shot down on the way to our own funeral.” That’s one of several bits of banter among Kirk’s crew that reminds you why this particular bunch was so successful for so long. The easy camraderie among the seven of them is tremendously appealing.

Then Saavik comes on board for the “you’re not coming with us because you have utterly failed as a character since we recast you with a more boring actor” scene. Seriously, there is no good reason for Saavik not to be going along with them except that Robin Curtis wasn’t as good as Kirstie Alley.

The Klingon Bird-of-Prey takes off from Vulcan just in time for the probe to start wiping out Earth. Kirk gets the message to stay away from Earth. The crew immediately does their thing—Spock theorizes, McCoy makes snotty remarks, Uhura plays with her console, Spock figures out that they’re trying to talk to humpback whales, which are extinct, and Kirk comes up with a crazy idea to travel in time. After all, if there are no humpback whales in the present, find some in the past! It makes perfect sense!

Interesting that when they go into time warp, the ship does, in fact, jump to the left. Also, the way they’re sitting, they have their hands on their hips and their knees are together.

Rocky Horror got it right!

Time travel apparently involves images that desperately want to be psychedelic but fail rather spectacularly.

Once the crew arrives in 1986—by a startling coincidence, the same year the film was made—the one-liners fly fast and furious.

  • “Did you see that?” “No, and neither did you, so shut up.”
  • “Everybody remember where we parked.”
  • “Well, double-dumbass on you!”
  • “What does it mean, ‘exact change’?”
  • “We are looking for the nuclear wessels.”
  • “Nobody pays attention to you unless you swear every other word.”

Ah, boom boxes. That takes me back….

As methods of conveying exposition and also educating the audience, you can do a lot worse than a tour given by a scientist, especially when the scientist is as engaging as Catherine Hicks’ Gillian Taylor when she talks about the systematic slaugher of Earth’s whale population. It falls around the middle of Star Trek’s subtlety scale (where the half-black, half-white peoples of “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” are at the greatest extreme), and it leads nicely to the hilarious image of Spock swimming in a whale tank and mind-melding with Gracie.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

Only slightly less hilarious is Scotty talking into the mouse of the boxy little Apple Macintosh right before he shows off the formula for transparent aluminum. Scotty as the bloviating professor from Edinburgh is pretty entertaining, too. (“Don’t bury yourself in the part.”)

A very nice, subtle touch is when Kirk finally does come clean to Gillian. (“No, I’m from Iowa, I only work in outer space”) He doesn’t even try to get into the probe and Earth being destroyed and the rest of it, but only tells her that their mission is to repopulate the humpback whale species. This has the dual benefit of not overcomplicating his story to Gillian, which is already straining credulity, but also is more likely to appeal to her sensibilities.

Because this is a movie, there needs to be a complication, so Chekov gets captured by the crew of the Enterprise (natch) while he and Uhura are stealing photons from the nuclear reactor in order to make the technobabble work right. While attempting to escape, he gets a head wound and is brought to a hospital, a complication that has the entertaining side effect of setting Leonard McCoy loose amidst 1980s health care. DeForest Kelley is always at his best when he’s ranting, and nothing makes Bones rant more than 20th-century medicine. (“Dialysis? What is this, the Dark Ages?” “Sounds like the goddamn Spanish Inquisition.” “My God, man, drilling holes in his head’s not the answer!”)

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

The sight of the Bird-of-Prey decloaking over the whaling ship is totally awesome. Also totally self-indulgent, but who cares? The only real problem is that the “suspenseful” lead up to it takes way too long—it’s the only real pacing misfire that director Nimoy makes.

Again, this is a movie, so Kirk must commit one last act of heroism. First he rescues Scotty and Gillian from the bowels of the crashed Bird-of-Prey, then he swims underwater (his weave flopping out of sequence with his movements) to free the whales.

George and Gracie talk to the probe, the probe heads back into deep space, Earth is restored, God’s in his heaven, and all’s right with the world.

Well, except for the court martial. The crew gets off the hook except for Kirk, who’s “demoted” to captain, with everyone assigned to the same ship and positions that they occupied three grade ranks ago. Right.

The final scene between Kirk and Gillian is charming—and it’s nice to see Kirk be the flabbergasted one—but the one between Sarek and Spock is a masterpiece. (“It is possible that I was in error.”) Damn, but I miss Mark Lenard.

My last memory of seeing this film was that it was horribly dated, but that was many years ago. I graduated high school the year this movie came out, and watching it in the 1990s reminded me a little too much of awkward adolescence and big hair. Watching it in 2011 with even more distance and (presumably) maturity, I found it just as enjoyable as I did as a teenager.

And double-dumbass on you, too!

Keith R.A. DeCandido is the author of a buttload of Star Trek novels, including the aforementioned Articles of the Federation, in which he gave the president in Star Trek IV the name of Hiram Roth, and established that he died during the reconstruction of Earth following the film. Keith will also be providing the Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch right here at as soon as this movie marathon ends. You have been duly warned. Follow Keith on Facebook and/or Twitter under the username KRADeC, or read his blog. Or, y’know, don’t, it’s really not that exciting.

This article is part of Star Trek Movie Marathon: ‹ previous | index | next ›
Gary Schaper
1. Garyfury
The amusing thing about stories involving time travel to the present day is that they never become dated: they just become stories about time travel to the recent past.
Chris Hawks
2. SaltManZ
@Gary: Just as long as the future doesn't have a dated look to it, which I think the ST movies (barring maybe the first one) managed to pull off.
Glenda Wilson
3. glinda
This is my favorite of the Star Trek movies. I may have to pull out my (VHS. meep.) tape and re-watch.

Favorite lines: Scotty's "Keyboard. How quaint." and. Kirk's? "He did too much LDS..."
Matthew Knecht
4. mknecht01
" order to make the technobabble work right." --> Brilliant! And true, and yet doesn't detract from the movie at all, as it so often did in so many ST:TNG episodes.
Neville Park
5. nevillepark
I watched this fairly recently and was amused by the part where Gillian thinks Kirk's communicator is some kind of pager. No one would blink an eye at it nowadays, though they might wonder why he doesn't have a smartphone instead!
Rich Bennett
6. Neuralnet
Such a cheesy movie but I can't help loving it. Maybe the funniest trek movie.
john mullen
7. johntheirishmongol
This is a fun ST movie, and they found some great characters to fill out the screen. Catherine Hicks was certainly spunky enough to play off of Kirk and Spock. Lots of interesting little asides too. Checkov sneaking onto a nuclear carrier made a nice side plot. The whole Bones sequence was great.

The basic plot was pretty silly, which is why this one loses out over 2 and 6 for me. Whales talking across space is just silly. Seemed like a bit of a heavy handed liberal message and Hollywood seldom does those well.

My fave chat was with Kirk and Spock riding the bus and talking about books...with Spock calling Jaqueline Susannes books classics. Makes me giggle.
8. AndrewV
This film probably has the worst plot of all the Trek movies and was basically a giant screaming PSA about saving the planet.

At least it was funny, but I could have done without the heavy-handed message delivery.
Michael Sisley
9. Michael Sisley
Most enjoyable movie but subject to groans from contemporary young mostly due to costumes. Also, the movement FLT missed the opportunity to use a theremin. What were they thinking?
Robert Evans
10. bobsandiego
On the Bonus material on the Blu-Ray and DVDs they mention that whales were not the first plot element for their time travel story. Originally it was going to be an extinct plant, but it was decided that gtting a plant was not dramatic enough. Whales were selected because it would be so difficult to get and transport. The 'save the whales' aspect was purely secondary.
Surprised me as I had assumed it was a primary factor for years.
rob mcCathy
11. roblewmac
I liked it well enough but i'm glad "how the hell do whales talk to aliens" bugged someone else A UM maybe whales are REALLY REALLY POWERful telepaths? Or maybe the probe is really from a universe where whales evolved?
Ironically the whales were killed in the first place because one of the people McCoy saves dies in the ocean releasing all manner of alien matter into the food chain killing a bunch of whales and (somehow) causing the events of the movie Orca
12. J. Ray Ryan
SO psyched you're doing TNG next! :D
Keith DeCandido
13. krad
J. Ray: Thanks! And thanks to all others for the kind words. It was fun to sit and watch the film again....

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
rob mcCathy
14. roblewmac
I too look forward to tng as I'm no longer so set in my ways as to scream "NO SHATNER NO watch! I might enjoy it.
15. Megaduck
This was always my favorite of the Star Trek Movies, mainly I think, bececause it was also the funniest.

Though I have to disagree about the probe. I've always through it was probably one of the best Star Trek villians because it's both unknown and a little weird. I think It perfectly fits the idea of, "We don't know what is out there."
Marcus W
16. toryx
This is the movie that turned me into a Star Trek fan when it first came out, though it's no longer my favorite. It was simply a fun movie and a nice tie-up of the trilogy arc.

They originally planned to have Eddie Murphy star in the movie too. Evidently Eddie was a huge fan of Star Trek and really wanted to be in a movie and they came close to centering the film around him. Which sounds pretty terrible to me but I've always had a sort of sick fascination with the idea and kind of wonder what that would have been like.
17. matta
How do you miss the best line of the movie?

Kirk: Spock, where the hell's the power you promised?
Spock: One damn minute, Admiral.

you got to wonder how many times Scotty wanted to tell Kirk the same thing down in the engine room...
Keith DeCandido
18. krad
matta: Er, well, by virtue of my not considering it the best line of the movie. *laughs* It was a nice little callback to the (drawn-out-a-bit-too-long) "colorful metaphors" shtick from earlier in the film, and it worked better than many of Spock's insertions of "the hell" at the top of a sentence, but the line didn't blow me away as much as the others.


---Keith R.A. DeCandido
19. DianeB
Great liveblog, K! This movie never gets old for me, no matter how old *I* get!

Cool beans you're doing TNG next. They gonna be live, too?
Michael Poteet
20. MikePoteet
My favorite scene in the film is the reveal of the Enterprise-A. It gave me goosebumps in the theater, and it still does, all these years later. To hear the opening notes of the Courage fanfare swell as they go up and over the Excelsior's hull... and there she is! Glorious.

I rewatched ST IV not long ago and found that while it hasn't aged terrifically well (being, essentially, a period piece), many of the gags are still quite funny; and I adore the way it epitomizes the "can do" optimism of the original series. "So the Earth is threatened with certain death unless we travel back in time and get two whales? Sure! We can do that!" Great fun.
21. nycahi
Wasn't the probe just a lost spacing guild heighliner from the 1984 Dune movie?
P J Evans
22. PJEvans
I seem to recall that the line was You must wait one damned minute, admiral.
(Which, from Spock, is fairly funny.)
I liked this movie the best of the ones I've seen (which are far fewer than the number released, I will admit.)

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