Directed by Leonard Nimoy
Adm. James T. Kirk (William Shatner) and crew, having saved Spock (Leonard Nimoy), have decided to head back to Starfleet Headquarters on Earth to face punishment. While on their way they learn the planet is under assault by an alien probe looking to communicate with an unknown intelligence. Upon realizing that this intelligence is the extinct humpback whale they decide to attempt a risky maneuver of time warp and retrieve some specimens in the hopes they will communicate with the probe and send it on its way.
This film had no defined villains for Kirk to punch or the crew of the Enterprise to shoot at. Having no villain is very unusual in the Star Trek universe. The probe in and of itself is not a villain even though what it is using to communicate with is disruptive and its efforts to locate whales is causing harm. The crew must fix damage rather than stop a villain.
Star Trek has long been about presenting messages in an easily digestible form. The message of this film is one of conservation and environmentalism yet Nimoy does not beat you over the head with that message. Like all good Star Trek stories, the message is wrapped up in a good story carefully presented to you without the message being overt. That is how good science-fiction should be. That is how good storytelling is supposed to be. Deliver your message but do not shove it in your audience’s face. Too often storytellers become heavy handed rather than use a gentle touch.
The characters are broken up into smaller groups to do things in order to get the whales back to the future. Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) and Chekov (Walter Koenig) get some good scenes when they go to the U.S.S. Enterprise aircraft carrier to get high energy photons to re-crystallize the dilithium crystals. Scotty (James Doohan) and McCoy (DeForest Kelley) get some focus while searching for materials to build the water tanks. Those two had a very good dynamic working together. It’s a shame we did not get to see more of it in the series or on film. Sulu (George Takei) is the only one that got a little shortchanged here. He got some solo time while searching for a helicopter, but supposedly he was to have a scene with an ancestor. The child actor they hired didn’t work out and the scene never materialized.
Kirk and Spock are the ones off working to secure two whales to take with them. This is where the deepest dive into the culture clash of past and present is. One of the better-known scenes in the film comes out of this pairing when Kirk and Spock are riding a bus to go to the Cetacean Institute where they have learned two whales are located.
Who can forget the punk rocker on the bus? We’ve all encountered someone who’s rude or obnoxious while we’re out in public and have wished to do something about them. This scene was a performance of that fantasy when Spock gave the punk the Vulcan nerve pinch and his head smacked down on the boombox and turned the music off.
Kirk finally gets a lot of interest in this film in the form of the Cetacean Institute scientist Dr. Gillian Taylor (Catherine Hicks) who cares for the two whales, George and Gracie, that Kirk and Spock are focused on. She also serves as their way to understand the culture of the time and helps speed the story along. Often the love interest character for Captain Kirk doesn’t contribute too much to the story and is not that fleshed out but the character of Gillian is much more well-rounded and perhaps that is to it happening in a film rather than an episode of the television series.
It’s always been my understanding that Roddenberry wanted the crew to avoid profanity as a sign of the maturing of humanity. The crew is visibly taken aback when they encounter the language of the 20th-century and its heavy use of profanity. It provides a nice contrast between the past and what we hope for the future to be.
My main gripe-my only gripe really-is the music. It is not the music during the course of the film that’s the issue. It’s what opens and closes the movie. It just doesn’t fit. It doesn’t say “Star Trek.” It doesn’t even say “science-fiction film.” It sounds more like something out of a campy adventure film. It is quite possibly the worst and most ill-fitting Star Trek theme for any of the movies.
The Voyage Home is a great work of science fiction and an outstanding work of Star Trek. It nicely ties up the three-film story arc accidentally begun in Star Trek II. It also puts Kirk back as a captain at the very end so that future films don’t have to keep finding an excuse for him to take command of a starship.
It does perfectly what Star Trek does so well: delivers a message without beating you over the head with it in an entertaining character-driven story. Here they deliver an ecological message that resonates with the audience. This is an amazing film. It is a definite classic and a must-see. One of my favorite films.