Sunday, 26 October 2014

Going Home with the Whales

"Hey," said Tom; "I've written something on one of the movies I watched last night...what do you think?"

How could I refuse and it's certainly one we've barely touched since the start of Some Kind of Star Trek.

The first Star Trek movie without Kirk on the Enterprise, the classic crew resolves to return to Earth to face the consequences of their actions - in a Klingon Bird-of-Prey. What?!

A bit of the plot is unveiled below for those of you who haven't see it or wanted a refresher, but first a little bit about my time with the Star Trek franchise. The first time I saw this movie I was a very young boy, and I don’t remember much. I remember it was my favorite of the original movies, and I remember it was because they went back to Earth in our current time period. While I’m sure that helped with the costs of filming this movie, I thought it added something different to the franchise. Perhaps it was foretelling the impact time travel would have on future series, like Enterprise, but I certainly enjoyed it.

As the crew departs Vulcan to stand trial for their actions in the rescue of Spock’s body, they discover that some alien device, resembling a large piece of lead from a mechanical pencil, has attacked Earth, beginning to vaporize the world’s oceans. Spock quickly determines they are trying to garner a response from the long-extinct humpback whales, so now-Admiral Kirk determines that the easiest way to solve Earth’s dilemma is to go back in time - by flying at warp nine around the sun (first seen in The Original Series' Return to Tomorrow) Again, what?!

I appreciate Trek quite a bit, mostly for the fact that a majority of it is based in science fact, not pure fiction - but this one tops the charts. If we can use warp velocities (which exceed the speed of light) to travel between distant stars, then we most certainly cannot use the same warp drive to slingshot around a star and go back in time - and certainly not go forward in time by doing it in the opposite direction.

All of that aside, Kirk and his contingent do a good job of going back in time and finding two humpback whales to abscond with, albeit with the permission of their handler from the Cetacean Institute in San Francisco. Much hilarity ensues with the cloaked Bird-of-Prey setting down in San Francisco proper, with crushed grass marks and all. Of course, it’s not just rescuing whales, but the Bird-of-Prey has run out of dilithium as well, so let’s send the Russian in the middle of the Cold War to steal some photons from the “nuclear wessels.”

In the end, Kirk gets demoted back to Captain and given command of the new USS Enterprise, NCC-1701-A, a move that’s sure to win fans over (and a lettering system that would influence The Next Generation to go for "D" rather than "7"). This movie is one of my favorites for the story, but one of my least favorites for the execution. Kirk and his cadre give away the formula to transparent aluminum to obtain enough plexiglass to build a whale tank, and they take someone from the 20th century back to modern times, but no trouble there is mentioned - not the Prime Directive or anything else. It’s obvious this movie was made more for the fun of the audience than anything remotely relating science fact or canon Star Trek rules (or you can simply attribute it to Kirk always getting his way). 

Last gripe of mine - sound can’t travel through space, so how in the heck was this alien race communicating with the whales? No explanation given - ah well - but still, like all Star Trek an enjoyable show. This movie is still, with her flaws, my favorite of the original six.

Watching this movie for a second time now, one where I’m still in the US Navy, I can’t help but smile when we hear Chekov asking where the American ‘nuclear wessels’ are, especially considering I now operate one of those vessels. Watching things a second time in Star Trek has given me a much greater understanding of the deeper meanings behind things, and in The Voyage Home, there’s plenty to notice that will make this a good watch for anyone again.

And over to Clive...

Ahhhh. Star Trek IV. The first Star Trek movie I ever saw at the cinema and right confused the hell out of me since I'd not seen The Search for Spock and suddenly we were on Vulcan with a Klingon Bird of Prey and the crew in a whole heap of trouble.

I was seven(ish) and living in Cornwall when I saw this and didn't really get it. There were no space battles, no big set pieces and it was played a lot less seriously than The Wrath of Khan and was a lot more environmentally friendly and they saved some whales. I was a bit disappointed since the recap at the beginning showed lots of top action stuff from the previous two movies. Sigh; at least there would be a cool new movie soon with this new Enterprise and it's immaculate bridge set which burned my eyes out. Sadly we'd have to wait until 1991 to get the movie it deserved with Star Trek VI.

The Voyage Home is most likely the second most watched Star Trek movie I own after The Wrath of Khan but I wouldn't place it that high in my list of favourites. It probably comes in a fourth or fifth after The Wrath of Khan, First Contact, The Undiscovered Country and Generations (yes,I do love that one more). The humour is fine but I still find that after 27 years since it's initial release in the UK in April 1987, a full five months after it's November 1986 US release, it still leaves me a little off. Also, feel sorry for Sweden who had to wait for it to come out in March 1989. It's the only movie which captures not only that key balance of elements but also provides a snapshot of the real world in which Star Trek was being developed and 1986 never looked so scary; colourful metaphors, Apple Macs, exact change buses and it's worth paying close attention to the mish-mash of characters who form the tour party at the Cetacean Institute which leads to Spock's swim with George and Gracie. 

There are some brilliant moments and it's not uncommon for my Dad and I to discuss whether or not I like Italian or work in outer space. In fact it's probably the Star Trek film we quote from on the most regular basis even though the Star Trek II script is tattooed on the inside of my skull. For me it's highlights are the disasterous Italian meal which does make Kirk look even more crazy than usual alongside the court scene right at the end. How many of us ritually tick off where each of the misdemeanours occur in the previous movie? For those of you who can't recall the charges, here they are word for word from the President himself:
  • Conspiracy; (pretty much everything that happens in the second half of the movie)
  • Assault on Federation Officers; (breaking McCoy out of jail)
  • Theft of Federation Property; namely the Starship Enterprise
  • Sabotage of the USS Excelsior
  • Willful destruction of Federation Property, specifically the aforementioned USS Enterprise; and finally, 
  • Disobeying direct orders of the Starfleet Commander (which is aimed solely at Admiral Kirk)
It's got a lovely panning shot along the crew as the charges are read and each recalls their part in proceedings. 

Along with those two favourite moments there's a wonderful, unusual score notable with the fast, lively Hospital Chase sequence and also the closing credits music complete with chimes - which unusually has clips from the film for about half their running time. It is a very different sort of Star Trek movie that even the time travel element of First Contact doesn't replicate nor do any of the films ever get close to achieving the balance of humour and action that is managed here. 

The Voyage Home remains a pinnacle in the adventures of the classic Star Trek line-up, not only adding lighter aspects to the franchise following two heavy installments while also finalising the story told by those same two segments. It's influence can be seen many moons later when Abrams paid homage to this movie with young Spock's testing early in the 2009 movie. Another two movies would follow but neither would hit the tone perfected in the fourth feature

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