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Cult Movie Essentials: Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

The fourth entry in the “Star Trek” movie series or ‘the one with the whales’ as it’s sometimes called is the most popular and unarguably the best-liked of the series. It was directed by Leonard Nimoy (famed director of 3 Men and a Baby).

Following on from The Search For Spock, The Voyage Home begins with an alien probe on its way to Earth, sending out a mysterious signal that no one can understand, disabling Starships as it goes. The probe continues toward Earth, causing mass disruption as it goes, before entering Earth’s orbit, and vaporising all the water from the planet’s surface. With the Earth yet again in mortal danger, a planet wide distress call is issued, and thanks to Spock, our crew figure that the probe is looking for humpback whales, which in Trek’s alternate history, have been extinct since the 21st Century.

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Spock decides the only logical solution is to travel back in time, rescue a pair of whales and return, so that, in the words of Dr McCoy: “Find humpback whales, then bring them forward in time. Drop them off and hope to hell they tell this probe what to go do with itself!” The crew arrive back in late 20th Century Earth, to San Francisco. Landing in Golden Gate Park they are soon ready to find their whales and get home, provided that, as Kirk implores, “Everyone remember where we parked.”

After an entertaining encounter with a punk (played by Muppets legend Kirk R. Thatcher) on a bus – Spock gives him the Vulcan nerve pinch; Kirk and Spock find Dr. Gillian Taylor, and the humpback whales, George and Gracie. Spock mind-melds with one of the whales, and learns she is pregnant, and that they are willing to help the crew. (Good old whales)

The Voyage Home is, to my mind, the maddest and greatest Star Trek film. It opened up the franchise to its widest audience yet, and at the time stood as the biggest grossing film in the series. With little or no special effects, and no battles, we really get to focus on the crew. It also succeeds by being genuinely funny. Too often Trek’s attempts at humour are cringe worthy, but Nimoy’s script and direction has warmth and a deft comic touch. The resulting fish-out-of-water antics are hugely entertaining with plenty of fun moments, Kirk gets lost on a bus, Kirk explains away Spock’s logical manner as “I think he did a little too much LDS” and Scotty casually invents the formula for high-tensile, ultra-thin Plexiglas.

Nimoy never lets it descend into farce, keeping the pace, while gently poking fun at the characters. Shatner, Nimoy, Doohan, and Kelly all have excellent comic timing as they try to blend in with 20th Century San Francisco culture with hilarious results. The story is excellent, funny and great for all the family. The main thing about this film, which somehow got lost when the Next Generation hit our screens, was that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. You could argue it’s not ‘Star Trek’ enough but it’s still an enormous amount of fun, and it nicely ties up all the loose ends from the previous two movies. The Voyage Home highlights that Star Trek is as much vivid characters as it is vivid effects. Star Trek IV really was made to be enjoyed.

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Stephen Pryde-Jarman is a Cult TV and Film journalist, award winning short story writer, playwright and screenwriter. A natural hoarder, second hand shopping fulfils his basic human need for hunter-gathering; but rummaging through a charity shop’s bric-a-brac shelf also brought him the inspiration for his novel Rubble Girl having seen a picture of a Blitz survivor sat amongst the rubble of her house with a cup and saucer. Rubble Girl has been described as " thought-provoking" and "fast paced ... with plenty of twists and turns." Amazon.

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