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Stardate 2013 - The Voyage Home (1986)

The crew find themselves in 20th century San Francisco.

Directed by: Leonard Nimoy
Starring: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, Catherine Hicks, James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, Walter Koenig, Mark Lenard, Robin Curtis

A large space-probe takes up orbit around Earth, disrupting the planet's weather and energy sources to create an impending global catastrophe. The probe emits a strange sound which Starfleet fail to decipher. When the crew of the Enterprise, now commandeering a Klingon 'Bird of Prey', arrive in Earth's atmosphere to face trial for the events seen in 'Search For Spock', they decipher the probe's signal as the song of, now extinct, humpback whales. Deciding that live whales are required to communicate with the probe, the crew time travel back to 1986 San Francisco, where a local aquarium houses two such creatures.
If there's one sub-genre which defined Hollywood during the eighties, it's the "fish-out-of-water" archetype. The massive success of 1982's 'E.T', followed by 1984's 'Beverly Hills Cop', meant the sub-genre would be milked till this particular cash cow's teats ran dry. We had gruff Aussies struggling to adapt to life in New York city ('Crocodile Dundee'), geriatric convicts struggling to adapt to life in the eighties ('Tough Guys'), and even kids struggling to adapt in the adult's body they magically find themselves in ('Big'). The permutations were endless, making it a screenwriter's dream. All you needed was a character and a contrasting setting to drop them in. It was drama in its simplest form and adapted easily to comedy. For the bean-counters of Hollywood it was manna from heaven, particularly where science fiction was concerned. In the wake of 'Star Wars', sci-fi was associated with huge budgets but the fish-out-of-water concept changed this. Rather than spending millions creating alien worlds, you could simply bring the aliens to our world. Thus we got 'Starman', 'Masters of the Universe', 'Lifeforce', and countless others. It was inevitable then that Kirk and crew would find themselves Earthbound.
With the success of time travel movies like 'Back to the Future' and 'The Terminator', the producers of 'The Voyage Home' knew they had a winning formula on their hands. Nicholas Meyer ('Wrath of Khan') was brought back as co-writer, along with Harve Bennett ('Search For Spock'). Bennett handled the film's future-set bookends while Meyer wrote the 1986 middle section. In the hands of a lesser writer, the film could have become just another bad eighties high concept comedy but Meyer comes up with some clever ways to mine jokes from the situation without completely destroying the integrity of the characters. Every eighties fish-out-of-water movie seemed to feature a scene where our "fish" is confronted by a mohawk-sporting punk, (Hollywood seemingly failed to realize punk died in the late seventies); "Nice night for a walk", "That's not a knife, this is a knife" etc. Here, Meyer has Spock (Nimoy) employ the Vulcan neck-pinch on one such stereotype, a hood who insists on blaring loud music on a bus. Meyer also gets around the old time-travel paradox with some simple, yet clever, throwaway dialogue.
Some of the jokes don't work quite so well, particularly Chekhov's subplot of being mistaken for a Russian spy. Likewise, Spock's failure to grasp "colorful metaphors" is a tad overplayed. The film is at its best when focusing on Kirk, allowing Shatner to exploit his brilliant, and under-rated, comic timing.
'The Voyage Home' came at a time when special effects where at a crossroads between practical and digital. It's the former which hold up the strongest here, with some stunning model work on display. The early experimental computer generated effects, seen in the time-warp sequence, look extremely primitive now, resembling an Atari ST loading screen. The matte paintings, particularly one featuring the Klingon ship, are totally unconvincing yet still beautiful to look at. Given the choice between real and stunning, I'll gladly take the latter.
The worst element of 'The Voyage Home' is its horrifically bad soundtrack. Following great work by Jerry Goldsmith and James Horner on the previous three installments, Leonard Rosenman's score sounds like it was composed for a Christmas comedy rather than a Trek movie. Bizarrely, along with Goldsmith's work on 'The Motion Picture', it's one of only two Trek scores nominated for an Oscar, yet another reason why the Academy shouldn't be taken seriously.
Of all the Trek films, this is the one which divides fans the most, a movie arguably more appreciated by casual film viewers than hardcore fans of the franchise. Yes, it milks a formula with a minimum of effort so, in this regard, it can be seen as the 'Jaws: The Revenge' of the series. However, in Meyer, you have a writer who cares deeply about his work and this, coupled with the familiarity of the characters, elevates it above the standard commercial dross of the eighties. It was also a massive commercial success, returning $133 million from its $21 million budget, something which became a huge factor in the green-lighting of the franchise's return to TV a year later with 'The Next Generation'.
7/10