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These Are the Voyages

Note: This review was written as though I were seeing the movie and commenting on it on the day it opened in 1986. 

In the 23rd century, a mysterious alien probe seeking to re-establish contact with humpback whales on Earth threatens to destroy the planet because the species is extinct. In response, Captain James T. Kirk and his crew travel back in time to San Francisco in the late 20th century to find and retrieve a pair of whales, and encounter an alien world of pizza, punk rockers, and pickup trucks that is as foreign to them as anything that they have encountered in the remote corners of outer space.

After 20 years of visiting the world of Captain Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise, first in the live-action and animated television series that many of us watched as children, and later in the three major motion pictures released in more recent years, it’s about time they came to visit ours. It is strange that one of the most far-fetched and frivolous plots of a “Star Trek” movie yet should prove to be one of its most successful endeavours, but that is indeed the case with the latest installment. After tying up a few of the loose ends from the finale of “The Search for Spock,” “The Voyage Home” gets straight down to the serious business of having fun with its characters.

The special effects continue to improve with each successive film, and “Star Trek IV” is no exception. It is amazing to see the vast improvements science fiction movies have made in this area just in the past decade. Movies like this one showcase spectacular visuals which are rapidly reaching a peak of realism, making the experience of visiting fantastic situations and locations far more absorbing to the modern viewer. Science fiction fans have long been adept at suspending their disbelief around mediocre special effects in order to appreciate an original concept, but “The Voyage Home” proves that, before long, they will no longer have to.

Nevertheless, “Star Trek” is not really about special effects. Rather it is the characters that are this franchise’s greatest strength, and this movie does well in finding new surroundings for them to interact with, much to the entertainment of the audience. We find that Kirk, Spock, Bones, Scotty and the rest respond to our own 1986 in much the same way that we might respond to their time if we were to actually visit: with curiosity, confusion, and wonder. The result is a pleasant and absorbing blend of drama and humor. Our heroes from the 23rd century scoff at the “primitive” computers and medical technology of our world, but have difficulty grasping the concept of an exact-change bus. The result is two hours of highly entertaining escapism.

There is a deeper significance to “The Voyage Home,” though, and the rest of the “Star Trek” franchise in general. The movie begins with a touching tribute to the seven astronauts who lost their lives in the explosion of the “Challenger” early this year. Continuing missions into outer space can exact a terrible cost, as our nation discovered then. But as we continue to “boldly go” beyond the confines of our own atmosphere, who knows what we way ultimately accomplish? Regular manned missions to the planet Mars by the year 2000? Establish a colony on the moon within 20 or 30 years?

Whatever it is, “Star Trek” reminds us of the startling discoveries and possibilities that await just over the next horizon. And if the success and quality of this latest installment from the “Star Trek” universe is any indication, the franchise will be providing us with great movies about the ongoing adventures of the Enterprise crew indefinitely as we continue to take our own hesitant steps out into the final frontier.

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~ by Jared on April 1, 2006.

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