And so we reach the fourth cinematic installment of the ongoing mission of the crew of the star ship Enterprise. The voyage home, as with The Search for Spock before it, follows directly on from the previous film to form a loose trilogy. With all the major characters returning and Leonard Nimoy once again in the directors chair the film on the surface looked like an exciting continuation of the franchise. Would it be possible for lightning to strike in the same spot for a third time in a row?
The film finds our heroes in exile on Vulcan. Having saved Spock and reunited him with his spirit, the crew are wanted back on Earth on a variety of charges relating to the destruction of their ship, Killing a Klingon warrior and acquiring his ship. After some debate the crew decide to return to Earth and face the consequences. Wouldn’t you know it, as they approach Earth they find that a giant probe is sending a signal down to the surface. The signal is so powerful it has knocked out all electrical systems causing widespread disruption and damage. Spock (who else!) is able to decipher the signal, working out that is in fact whale song. The probe is waiting for a reply from the seas to let it know that all is well.
There is a problem. Whales are extinct having been hunted for years during the twentieth and twenty first century. With a limited time until the probe’s signal destroys life on earth, Kirk has to find a whale to save the planet. The only place they are to be found is in the past so the crew in their Klingon Bird of Prey has to perform a tricky manoeuvre around the sun in order to travel back in time to nineteen eighties San Francisco.
Sadly this film is not up to the high standards of the previous two films. With the decision to time travel the film is immediately dated. The beauty of a good science fiction film is that it can appear timeless. Usually set in the future and possibly in Space there is no reference to the present day. With The voyage home’s partial setting in 1988 the film dates very quickly. The fashions, styles and technology all look old.
The humour element has been ramped up for this film with a good deal of the middle section given over to the fish out of water scenario. Humourous remarks about currency, customs and primitive computers may have seemed funny in 1988 but fall a little flat now. It’s not that it is bad but before now the stories were engaging enough to warrant a serious approach to the film. Humour is also a substitute for more action orientated elements. With the ageing cast there is less of a likelihood of a brutal high paced fight sequence and more of a realisation that the action will be short and obviously featuring stunt performers.
Leonard Nimoy manages to hold the film together for the most part. He is a good director and knows the best elements to blend together to give the fans what they want. He wrote the source story as well as directing it. Unfortunately there is no real character arc here. This is unusual in a Star trek film. The norm is for at least one character to have some sort of development. In the first is was Kirk and the second and third was Spock. It would have been refreshing to see one or more of the supporting characters getting a little more screen time and work them into the main story a little more.
The one feature that is unique to the film is the lack of a villain. The probe is just a machine which arrives and carries out its task. So no battles or outwitting the opposition. A fairly straight story then. One thing that bothered me about the probe was its apparent lack of intelligence. For something that has traveled half way across the galaxy to communicate with the whales it is a bit thick. Surely when it didn’t get a response to its call it might carry out a scan and find that there were no whales in the world’s oceans. Seems obvious to me.
Overall a bit of a drop in quality and entertainment value on Star trek terms,but still a decent way to spend a couple of hours. Recommended.