Monday, September 9, 2013

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

Alright, I fully admit that by doing a marathon on all of the Star Trek movies, I am stepping completely outside of our stated genre, but as a life long Trekkie, this simply had to happen. Given the success of this franchise, I'm betting that at least a few of our readers are also Star Trek fans. Of course, I will stick to the usual social justice perspective, as we work our way through the series.

The Klingons are looking over the recordings from Kirk blowing up the Enterprise to escape.  They wrongly believe that Genesis is a weapon designed to attack the Klingon people and so they demand extradition and justice.  Sarak, Spock's father, shows up to speak on behalf of Kirk, but he is informed that Admiral Kirk is charged with nine violations of Star Fleet regulations.

In the meantime, the Enterprise crew is on exile on Vulcan. Kirk takes a vote and they agree to return to earth to deal with the consequences of their actions. This is the first act and only act of democracy ever shown in the franchise. Spock is busy trying to re-learn how to be Vulcan but pauses when the computer asks him how he feels. This confuses Spock and he says that he dos not understand.  Spock's mother tells him that the computer knows that he is half human and that he must deal with his emotions. Spock then informs his mother that he intends to return to earth to give testimony in the trial.

In the meantime, there is an unknown ship in the neutral zone emitting a loud signal. Despite repeated attempts to contact it and relay friendly messages of greeting, it does not respond. The signal that it is emitting is damaging everything in its path.

Spock boards the Klingon Bird-of-Prey and McCoy is not sure that having Spock back at his regular duties is a good idea. Kirk however is sure that everything will be fine.  I'm sure the fact that Spock refused to call him Jim and referred to Kirk as admiral, citing that it wouldn't be proper to use his first name, while he was in command, went a long way to assuring Kirk that Spock was doing just fine.

The alien vessel has arrived at earth and is shooting some sort of beam through the ocean, even as it continues to issue the damaging sound.  The crew is now approaching earth in the Klingon vessel and are shocked that things are not as they expected.  Uhura then picks up a planetary distress system message, which instructs them to avoid the planet earth at all cost and talks about the damage which the probe is causing. Kirk asks to hear the probe's transmission and Spock says that he finds it unlikely that the message is hostile and that the transmission is probably meant for an intelligent life force other than humanity.  Spock points out that the transmission is directed at the earths ocean. Kirk asks Uhura to modify the probes transmission, so that they can hear what it would sound like under water. Spock says that if his suspicions are correct, there can be no response. Spock does some quick research and realizes that it is the sound of the humpback whale.

Kirk suggests that they try to destroy the probe but Spock counters saying that they need to attempt to find some humpback whales.  McCoy is not keen on the idea but Kirk orders Spock to start some calculations for a time warp.  This is when they do the whole slingshot around the sun, an act which we first saw on Star Trek the television show.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home is what I perceive to be the first attempt in the franchise to impart a moral.  There can be no doubt that the discussion about whaling and man's lack of respect for  animals and by extension ourselves, will one day lead to the destruction of our environment and humanity itself. Spock refers to this as illogical and in this, he is right. "George" and "Gracie," two humpback whales, which are extinct in Kirk's time, represent the salvation of humanity. It is Spock who points out that it is human arrogance to believe that humanity represents the only intelligence on earth.  This speaks to how little we value animals and the degree to which we have long killed beyond the needs of our survival.

In many ways Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home takes the crew out of its most familiar environment because they are largely dealing with fellow humans, rather than aliens and adds an esthetic that is unique to the rest of the movies in the franchise. To lighten the moral message of the movie, we are treated to a good deal of humor. With the exception of Spock, all of the crew are human but that does not stop them from experiencing dsyphoria.  Common everyday phrases are beyond their understanding and things that we take for granted like taking the bus and navigating a major city, are difficult for the crew. Also, who didn't laugh at Spock questioning the purpose of profanity and trying to lace his speech with it in order to fit in?  There was also McCoy's absolute horror of what constitutes medical treatment in the 20th century.  I couldn't help but wish that treating kidney disease really was as simple as taking a pill.

Of course, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home has the expected cast but once again women have a limited role to play.  Uhura and Pavel Chekov are tasked to find a way to recharge the ship's dilithium crystals and while this is significant, Uhura's role is once again minimal.  Dr. Gillian Taylor, a biologist has a far larger role in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.  Kirk begins by lying to her and when he does finally Taylor the truth, predictably she does not believe him. Taylor is only willing to take a risk when George and Gracie are released into the wild.  Kirk then seeks to use Taylor for her information but she thwarts his plan by quickly embracing him as he is in the middle of being beam me up Scottied.  Taylor quite correctly points out that in 2286, there is no one with the knowledge to take care of the two whales and this makes her presence essential.  When they return to 2286, Kirk asks Taylor about keeping in touch and she replies that she'll find him with a smile.  I don't see that smile as friendly, but as an acknowledgement that she got her way and he is no longer necessary. It really is quite fitting.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home is one of my favorites of the franchise for it's humor and message of environmentalism. Once again, the dialogue is at times is heavy handed but I find it easy to forgive, given the importance of stating unequivocally the dangerous path that humanity is on by destroying our planet. It's light hearted and who hasn't wanted to use the Vulcan nerve pinch on someone who is being loud and obnoxious on the bus?