Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was originally supposed to be Spock’s swan song. Saving the ship from imminent danger isn’t that bad of a way to go out, so leaving Spock’s body on the Genesis planet would’ve been fitting—a meaningful resting place for a crew member who meant a great deal to many people. But, as Leonard Nimoy tells it during The Captain’s Summit, that plan got changed at the last minute. A production member approached Nimoy and basically asked him to whisper something–anything–to Bones in order to make another sequel possible, so Nimoy had Spock say the word “remember” as he touched Bones’ face. That being a really bizarre and nebulous thing to say to someone with only three minutes left in the movie notwithstanding, it’s also a really bad way to go about setting up sequels in general. “Hey, just make up something weird and unexplained so we can go back after the fact and make up even more stupid stuff!” is the only imaginary quote that works inside my head in terms of rationalizing and actually going with such a dumb idea.
The Search for Spockcontinues the events of The Wrath of Khan, as the Enterprise and her crew wade through the fallout of Khan Noonien Singh’s short-sighted attempt at vengeance. Kirk is hit hard by Spock’s death, and Bones is acting very strange. It’s not that big of a spoiler, so I’ll just go ahead and fill you in on what happened to Bones. That whole “remember” thing turns out to have been Spock implanting his conscience, or soul, directly into Bones’ mind, the plan being to reunite his soul with his body…somehow. Spock didn’t really think that one through, because as far as he knew, his body was going to be irreversibly irradiated and, well, dead. So, what would make it possible for him to come back to life as the same character we all know and love? Ah, yes! A Really bad (and illogical) plot contrivance!
Before I get to that, I’d like to comment on the fact that Vulcans apparently believe in souls. Not only that, but according to this movie, they’re also capable of transferring souls from one body to another. This is obviously trespassing into the territory of mysticism, and I’m not generally happy to have that in my Star Trek. The thing that makes it kind of cool in The Search for Spock is that without science, the whole soul/body switching wouldn’t have been possible. After Spock’s body is deposited on the Genesis planet, it’s revealed that the planet will destroy itself due to Kirk’s son using unethical and dangerous materials to construct the terraforming machine. As a result, the planet’s rate of growth is erratic and dangerous, and similar effects are also being felt by the late science officer. In a nutshell, the planet regenerates his body, turning him into a Vulcan child. Then, he rapidly ages until he’s back to the old Spock once again. I don’t buy the premise, but somehow the planet’s condition is mirroring itself in his body, even though it doesn’t affect anyone else stranded on the planet. But if the planet is headed for self-destruction due to the Genesis effect, why does Spock merely age rapidly then stop at a random point? Why doesn’t he age rapidly until it eventually kills him? This kind of sloppy storytelling ruins the mood a little bit, even though I almost like the angle taken with science affording a sort of immortality if done properly.
This time around, the bad guy is a Klingon played by Christopher Lloyd, and while he’s rather reserved in comparison to his other famous role from around the same time, he’s still a good fit. He’s ruthless and doesn’t care about anyone but himself (or the survival of his species, as he puts it), so naturally he wants to use the Genesis project for decidedly worse things than creating life. In doing so, he not only commits a bunch of heinous acts, but due to his insane callousness, he forever turns Kirk against an entire species. He will also try to grab your foot and pull you down with him into a pool of liquid hot magma if he ever got the chance. That sounds like someone evil enough to take up the scepter from Ricardo Montalban, I’d say.
Is The Search for Spock necessary? No. Is it entertaining despite that? Sure it is. While not exactly born from fertile creativity, it gets enough things right to not be rendered totally useless. Really, though, the movie would have come from a much more honest place if Spock had stayed dead. Several times, in both The Search for Spock and The Wrath of Khan, a particular theme is brought up: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one.” Spock says this, like, all the damn time. Well, he finally puts his money where his mouth is, and he’s given a get out of jail free card the next time around. That just doesn’t sit well with me.
Still, it’s a fun ride (Kirk should steal more starships), and the story arc fits nicely into the beginning of the next Trek film, The Voyage Home. Your mileage will really, really vary with that one, as I’m about to show.
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home is clearly the Crystal Skull of the Star Trek series. It’s actually more like the end of Richard Donner’s Superman (and the sequel’s Donner Cut), but I’ll address that shortly. The general point I want to get across right now is that there is no excuse for the way this movie was executed. None. Throughout everything Star Trek, not one of its incarnations has dated itself to the extent The Voyage Home seems to do willfully and with relative ease. On top of that, the cast is treated as a punching bag in service of a misguided, one-note plot. It almost makes me forget that the ‘80s was home to awesome stuff, too, like Mohawks and, oh, I don’t know…almost all of the other Star Trek movies.
I’ll get what I like out of the way first, since it’ll only take a few sentences. I really like how the second, third, and fourth movies are all tied together under one story arc. The beginning of The Voyage Home shows Kirk and crew having to pay for disobeying direct orders in The Search for Spock. En route to face the music, they get a distress call from Earth, explaining that an alien probe has parked itself next to the planet and is destroying it with undefined technology. There. That’s all I like.
Once they receive the distress call, they’re able to figure out that the probe is emitting humpback whale calls. In the world of Star Trek, humpback whales are extinct, so there’s nothing to greet or answer the probe’s calls. As a result, I guess that means the probe has to ionize our atmosphere and just destroy everything…? Naturally, Kirk concocts a great idea to fix the problem at hand: time travel. Oh, god. With the number of exceptions to this rule probably accounted for on one hand, it’s never a good idea to use time travel as a plot device. So much failure is associated with this choice that I can’t believe that—even almost thirty years ago—someone couldn’t have told Nicolas Meyer and the forty other people working on the script to just scrap it and start over. It’s usually bad, but how bad is it in The Voyage Home? Here’s how the scene plays out: Kirk walks up to Spock and says they’ll need to time travel in order to bring some humpback whales from the past into the present. He tells Spock to compute it. End of conversation. That is literally all the thought put into the mechanics of time travel. “Just do it.” Awesome, thanks.
What does the amazing time-traveling get them? A dated look, that’s what. After watching this, I never want to think about the year 1986 ever again. It never happened. Spock ends up walking around, looking like a black belt hippie, and that is not a good thing. Although, if you remember how Bones looked in The Motion Picturewhen he was called back to active duty…yea, that’s what he should have been wearing in this movie. It also doesn’t help that once they hit Earth in 1986, the soundtrack immediately finds the worst, generic, synth-heavy song and wears it like a badge of pride and/or shame. Nothing about the look or feel of The Voyage Home holds up to any scrutiny, if you haven’t noticed yet.
Oh, but just as awful is the enigma that is the way the Enterprise crew interacts with just about anyone from the 20thcentury. The movie is one long fish-out-of-water routine, and no one gets the brunt of that treatment more than Spock. He’s reduced to comic relief in a lot of scenes, with dialogue examples being too plentiful for me to pick a favorite. He and Kirk periodically try to use “colorful metaphors,” which were prevalent in our time, but somehow missed the transition to the future. The movie asks me to believe that Kirk has never heard the word “dumbass” before, and Spock just can’t quite figure out how to insert “hell” into a sentence such as “The hell I will.” I refuse to accept that. Dumbass.
I previously mentioned Donner’s Superman movies, because The Voyage Home shares something in common with both of them. In the end of Superman, his solution for saving the day is to fly backwards around the globe, magically sending him into the past and allowing him to right whatever went wrong. Out of the gate, I have a major objection. From that point on, what’s to stop him from just rewinding time whenever anything bad happens? Lois gets impaled by a steel girder? Eh, fly backwards around Earth one more time. There’s nothing that can happen that can’t be fixed by just flying around the world. The same scenario is at play in The Voyage Home. If time travel is as easy as saying “Just do it,” then that should be the correct course of action for anything they encounter ever again. Kirk’s son doesn’t have to die; Spock doesn’t have to die (although, who would correctly compute time travel then? ahhhhh); the Enterprise never has to self-destruct; etc., etc. This kind of solution is, from a screenwriting standpoint, lazy at best and incompetent at worst. I let Superman slide a little because of its overall quality, but The Voyage Home gets no such sympathy from me.
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home isn’t a movie I’ll defend parts of even though the whole isn’t good. The Search for Spock better fits that mold, and despite the fact that the story continues between movies, the quality takes a nose dive. Add to everything I’ve already mentioned a message so ham-fisted and heavy-handed that a progressive, eco-friendly person such as myself has no recourse but to vomit into my half-empty beer bottle, and you have yourself one crappy Star Trekmovie. I get it; whales and our planet are good things, but why have aliens been communicating with the whales, and why is the probe decimating Earth? Why is time travel as easy as setting the cruise control on my Honda Civic? Why is everyone so horrible at fitting in? They did it really well in the show. The Voyage Home should have spent its time answering questions like those instead of piling on garbage on top of garbage. At least some redemption comes quickly in the form of the next movie in the series, The Final Frontier(which isn’t actually the final frontier of anything, but whatever).
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