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Star Trek: The Voyage Home

By Jim Smith on 05 April 2009

WARNING! Contains spoilers!

‘The Voyage Home’ was the most financially successful ‘Star Trek’ feature film; the one ‘Star Trek’ movie to date to cross over to mainstream audiences during its theatrical release. Fans may prefer ‘The Wrath of Khan’ or ‘The Undiscovered Country’ but ‘The Voyage Home’ is the ‘Star Trek’ movie that survives in common cultural memory, recalled ‘Friends’-style as ‘The One With The Whales’.

What’s most interesting about the movie is the subtle layering of co-writer Nicholas Meyer’s sections of the script. Having previously directed (and re-written) a film in which a selfish madman quoted ‘Moby Dick’ while trying to murder Kirk, Meyer is now given the job of re-writing a script for a movie in which Kirk saves the whales. What a magnificent opportunity. Khan quoted Melville and defined Kirk as the whale and to be destroyed like the whale. Here we see Kirk quoting D H Lawrence and risking his life to save the very creatures Khan saw as archetypically monstrous. Meyer binds ‘The Voyage Home’ to ‘The Wrath of Khan’ thematically, wrapping around the shallower, more obvious ‘The Search for Spock’. Khan killed Spock and hunted whales, Kirk revived Spock and saved the whales. What better way to define our hero as the opposite of his vanquished enemy and Kirk’s generosity of spirit as the antithesis of Khan’s destructive monomania?

What’s telling is that this movie could be such a success without being obviously compromised in any way. Its narrative picks up from the two previous motion pictures with barely any explanation. Touchstones that one should be able to expect in ‘Star Trek’ (a mission, the Enteprise herself) are absent. Our heroes are fugitives from their own utopian future, flying a stolen enemy vessel and the adventure they get involved in lacks a villain, science-fiction set-pieces and space battles. It’s mostly set in (then) contemporary San Francisco and played largely for laughs – and yet at its heart it does what fans always insist ‘Star Trek’ does best. Touch on an important contemporary issue in a thoughtful, but not heavy handed, way.

While it is, for the most part, unlike any ‘Star Trek’ before or since, ‘The Voyage Home’ gives people what they think they want from ‘Star Trek’. It’s witty but worthwhile. Kirk and Spock are front and centre but the other characters you can name get a few nice things to do. It looks good. Never underestimate the need of a normal audience to be impressed by things like special effects – and here ILM do producer Harve Bennett and director Leonard Nimoy proud.

‘The Voyage Home’ was the most successful ‘Star Trek’ movie for a very simple reason. It was, and is, the best one.


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