The Enterprise crew are now renegades. Returning to earth to face up to their crimes, they have no option but to journey back in time to 1984 in order to rescue a pair of humpback whales so that they can talk to an alien probe that is causing damage to the Earth.
Star Trek IV, or the ‘whale one’, was a sizeable hit back in the day and is the film that seemed to have the biggest appeal to the non-trekkie audience. Looking back on the movie today, it’s still an immensely enjoyable film, with some really nice gags.
Nimoy rightly felt that the film franchise required a change of tone after two movies that dealt with conflict and he wanted a film without a main villain. It’s something that I wish the Next Generation had been brave enough to do, namely take a chance with a different type of storytelling.
The special effects in the movie are so good that many people assumed that they were real. I am of course talking about the animatronic whales used in the production. Wildlife groups wrote to complain that the film-makers must have disturbed real whales by getting so close to them. It’s a triumph for practical special effects and this aspect of the movie has held up really well.
The music is scored by Leonard Rosenman and it is probably my least favourite score in the original movie series (though it is still rather good). It has a weird kind of Christmassy feel to it, and whilst it suits the film, it’s a little bit forgettable and light weight. That said, the score does reference Alexander Courage’s original Trek theme, which is underused.
The films ecological message is hammered home without subtlety or refrain and yet the film is not overtly preachy. It is sad that the plight of the blue whale especially is still so desperate.
There are some wonderful ‘fish out of water’ jokes in the film, Nimoy plays straight man to Shatner and they share some of the films best scenes. It’s also great to see that the supporting cast all get sizeable chunks of screen-time and are pivotal to the plot. Shatner appears to be channelling Cary Grant in this film and he puts in quite a charming performance.
Catherine Hicks is great as the Marine Biologist and has a nice chemistry with Kirk. It is often said that there aren’t enough strong roles for women in the movies. Yet here, Gillian is easily Kirk’s equal and is a confident and knowledgable scientist.
In these Star Trek movie reviews, I often mention instances of great dialog and this film is no different.
Spock: [in response to McCoy’s query regarding the afterlife] ‘It would be impossible to discuss the event without a common frame of reference’.
McCoy: ‘You mean I have to die to discuss your insights on death’.
Spock: ‘Forgive me Doctor, I am receiving a number of distress signals’.
McCoy: ‘I don’t doubt it’.
Nimoy as director excels, notably with the tense and desperate dash to stop a whaling ship from killing the humpbacks that they need to return with to Earth. I must’ve seen the sequence a hundred times, but I’m always on the edge of my seat, willing the bird of prey to protect the whales.
I love the ending of the movie when after the trial, Sarek makes amends with Spock, by admitting that he was wrong to oppose his son joining Starfleet. It’s a wonderful scene, delightfully played by both Nimoy and Mark Lenard and it brings to a close a story arc that began in the original series episode ‘Journey to Babel’.
Looking at the negative side of things, some of the matte paintings on Vulcan look a little rough, as does the one showing the Cetacean Institute and it would have been nice to learn a little more about the probe that was sent to Earth to talk to the whales. As a nit-pick, I obviously don’t like that the bird of prey seems to go to warp inside the Earth’s atmosphere as it contradicts the established logic of the series.
With the huge mainstream success of Star Trek IV, it was pretty much guaranteed that there would be a Star Trek V. Nimoy’s deft hand at comedy would also provide him with another mainstream hit: Three Men and a Baby. It was also around this time that the announcement of a new TV show ‘Star Trek The Next Generation’ was made.
To sum up then, Star Trek IV is a delightful film, in which everyone seems to be having fun. The camaraderie, combined with a genuine heartfelt ecological message makes for a movie that’s impossible to dislike.