In my previous review, I took a look at the first three Star Trek films which spanned from 1979 to 1984. I still have three movies to get through, however, and this time we start in the year 1986. The Search for Spock proved to be, for many, an acceptable entry into the series but lacking whatever it was that made The Wrath of Khan so good. I personally really enjoyed the third film, but I’ve already discussed that. With The Voyage Home, writer/director/vulcan Leonard Nimoy wraps up the trilogy that consists of the second, third, and fourth film and also brings the crew into a time that may seem much more familiar.
James Kirk (William Shatner), the reborn Spock (Leonard Nimoy, McCoy (DeForest Kelley) and the rest of the Enterprise crew are on Vulcan with their damaged Bird-of-Prey ship ready to head back to Earth to stand on trial for the events of the third film. As they are heading back, they receive a distress message from Starfleet saying that a mysterious probe is scanning the Earth and sending a secret message while completely ripping apart the planet’s atmosphere at the same time. Spock, in one of his most brilliant and convoluted deductions to date realizes that it is the song of humpback whales, which have been extinct for over a hundred years. The crew then sling shot back in time to 1986 where they find two humpback whales in captivity and cared for by Dr. Gillian Taylor (Catherine Hicks). Along with the doctor, Kirk and his team assemble everything they need to get home and also plan on a way to bring the whales back to the future to answer the probe’s call and save the Earth.
Wow, right? As absolutely ridiculous this whole plot sounds, this is actually one of, if not the best, movie of the entire series. To people who haven’t seen it, that might sound very farfetched, but to those who have seen it, you know exactly why. After the dark tone of the third film, The Voyage Home is a wonderfully lighthearted film but never pushes the boundaries into excessive glee. It’s just so much fun watching this technologically advanced group of people that we love so much trying to navigate the foreign world of 1986. This provides a lot of comedy and funny situations for the crew to get in, and there’s even a good ecological message about saving the whales thrown in. That whole message probably sounds beaten to death, but it works for this movie very well.
While The Voyage Home is definitely the most light hearted in the entire series, it holds up just as well as one of the best of the bunch. Knowing the characters helps a lot and seeing them try to live in this kind of environment is good for a lot of laughs and a fair share of excitement. The plot is ridiculous, yes, but the writing, characters, and effects are all top notch and loads of fun.
Oh, then it happened…
The year was 1989. The story arc of the previous three movies had ended and Leonard Nimoy is no longer interested in sitting in the director’s chair, but there was still a demand from Star Trek fans. Who would want the adventures of Kirk and Spock and all the rest to end? Well, that still doesn’t excuse the abomination…the catastrophe…that is The Final Frontier.
Finally earning some down time after the unbelievable work that they are faced with time and again, the crew of the newly commissioned Enterprise are on Earth and enjoying themselves. Of course, this doesn’t last too long when human, Romulan, and Klingon ambassadors are taken hostage on the planet Nimbus III by a renegade Vulcan, Sybock (Laurence Luckinbill). The Enterprise is then forced to end their shore leave and go to Nimbus III to stop Sybock and his followers. Things begin getting strange aboard the Enterprise after Sybock is taken aboard, however, when it appears that members of the crew begin looking at him as some sort of spiritual guide. Not everything is at it seems and all are stunned when Sybock’s true mission is revealed and just how close his relation to Spock apparently is.
I think I might’ve given this movie a hard time in my little introduction I wrote for it. Then again, maybe not. I’m not quite sure. All I’m sure of is that this movie is a complete joke when it comes to the lore of Star Trek. Kirk, McCoy, and Spock sing in the woods, Scotty bangs his head on rafters, and Uhura does a sexy dance to distract guards. What the hell is going on? This is a weird movie, to put it nicely. It’s like that really bad episode of Star Trek that’s so bad it can’t even be enjoyed that much. Think of it as season 3 episode 1, Spock’s Brain. It’s stupid on every level and the cheesiness can’t even save it.
While The Final Frontier may be considered the bottom of the barrel when it comes to this series, it did have some humor in it that made me chuckle and it was nice to see the characters in another adventure. Truth be told it did feel more like Star Trek than the first film, and that’s saying something. If I had a choice to watch the 1979 film or this one, I’d probably choose this one because at least I wasn’t bored. Still, it is a pretty awful movie with very little redeeming qualities at all. If you thought whales were a crazy plot device, this one will blow your mind. It’s a completely shallow entry… Did I mention it was directed by William Shatner?
Well, the end of the series finally came in 1991 with the sixth entry, The Undiscovered Country.
When the Klingon moon of Praxis explodes, their home world’s ozone layer begins to waste away giving them just 50 years of survival left. In order to save the Klingon race, Star Fleet decides to hold a peace talk in order to do away with the Klingon Neutral Zone and all of the hostilities between the two factions. Without any permission to do so and much to Kirk’s frustration, Spock volunteers the Enterprise to transport the Klingon ambassador Gorkon (David Warner) to Earth for the council. Gorkon is soon assassinated with the blame place on Kirk and McCoy by the Klingon Chang (Christopher Plummer), Gorkon’s chief of staff. Now begins a race against time for Kirk to get out of the screwy Klingon justice and lead the Enterprise to the new secret location of the peace talks to prevent another possible assassination attempt, this time on the president.
In terms of a send off for the original Star Trek crew, this couldn’t have been a better movie. After the wreck that was The Final Frontier, it was nice to see a more than decent entry in the series. This one almost plays out like a spy thriller, and definitely has Cold War undertones concerning miscommunication, deception, paranoia, and finger pointing which leads to violence. It’s a smartly written movie that has plenty of action, adventure, humor, and politics that I’ve come to expect from Star Trek as a whole. This movie also gets pretty violent at times, even though the outcome looks pretty fake by today’s standards. Other than some wonky special effects in the beginning, this is actually one of the better looking movies in the entire series.
The Undiscovered Country may not be on the same level as The Wrath of Khan, The Search for Spock, or The Voyage Home but it still is a really good movie. The ending itself is bittersweet because we know this is the last adventure we are going to have with this crew, but we also think back to the many episodes and movies that we had to see where they would take us. Sure this is me getting sentimental, but I love Star Trek and this movie is a great reminder as to why it’s so easy to fall in love with a franchise like this.
Well, that’s it. That’s all the original Star Trek movies. Overall, there’s more good than there is bad which isn’t too surprising. From the sorrow of Spock’s death in The Wrath of Khan to the joy that is felt when Chekov has the worst time trying to get people’s attention on the modern streets of San Francisco, the Star Trek movies are science fiction adventure at some of its very best. They may not reach the artistic designs of 2001: A Space Odyssey, but they do have characters and stories that are timeless.