The Star Trek franchise is known for many things, but humor is typically not one of them. The TV shows are enjoyable but largely devoid of out-and-out humor, aside from a few tongue-in-cheek quips that would only make sense to avid Trek fans. And the original series was often funny, but unintentionally so. When the series was making somewhat of a comeback in the 1980s thanks to the original cast starring in a string of Star Trek movies, humor was once again relegated to the backburner or eliminated altogether. The Star Trek universe, it would seem, was one of adventure, exploration, and soul-searching. But it sure didn’t seem like it was all that fun. After the pair of heady soul-searching, philosophizing, and Melleville-quoting, Wrath of Khan and Search for Spock, it was time for the series to lighten up. And who better to man the director’s chair for Star Trek’s fourth celluloid outing than series straight man Leonard Nimoy, who famously plays the emotionless Spock.
In a classic fish-out-of-water tale, the crew of the Enterprise, whom are now piloting the stolen Klingon ship HMS Bounty, must travel back to earth circa 1986 to find (get this!) a pair of humpback whales (no, really) in order to bring them to the 24th century where (it gets better!) a giant alien probe that only speaks Humpback Whalian (seriously!) is destroying earth as it tries to communicate with the giant water-bound mammals that have been eliminated due to poaching. The plot is incidental, really, as it’s really just an excuse to inject some lighthearted humor and good old fashioned adventuring into a franchise that was spending far too much time brooding over existential questions of life and death. The result is a film that easily appeals to a wide range of audiences and doesn’t take itself too seriously, and in doing so becomes one of the best Star Trek movies of all time.
When Kirk and his intrepid crew arrive in 1986 they are put in a number of situations that are designed to create a deliberate contrast with the Star Trek universe and conventions we all know and love. Sans transporters and shuttlecraft, the crew must traverse San Francisco on foot, by bus, and the occasional hitchhike. Unaware of 1986 culture, Spock meditates on the purpose of profanity while Dr. McCoy pontificates about the sorry state of “dark ages” medical care. And in one of the most endearing scenes, Scotty is forced to interact with what was then an ultra-sophisticated piece of computing hardware by using “quaint” input devices such as a keyboard and mouse. There’s even a good joke made at the expense of Chekov’s native tongue as he attempts to ascertain directions to the nuclear vessels. It’s all played for laughs, and comes off as heartwarming, endearing, and downright enjoyable–adjectives that are not often applied to Star Trek outside of certain circles of geekdom.
Of course Kirk and Spock are the stars of the show, and Kirk plays his usual Alpha Captain character to the hilt, even wining and dining (if pizza and beer count) the female marine biologist Gillian (Catherine Hicks) in order to get information about the humpback whales in her charge at the local marina. Star Trek IV deftly walks a line between catering to the fans (at one point Kirk pawns the specs that McCoy gave him as a birthday present in Star Trek II, only to postulate that the very act of hawking the glasses is what ultimately leads to McCoy being able to give them to Kirk hundreds of years in the future–a classic Star Trek ontological paradox if there ever was one) and opening the franchise up to a much wider audience. And in doing so, the series successfully goes where it has never gone before.
Last 5 posts by Simon R.
- Mission: Impossible III - November 1st, 2013
- Pacific Rim - July 19th, 2013
- House of Cards - May 9th, 2013
- Academy Awards 2013 Liveblog - February 23rd, 2013
- Why JJ Abrams Will Save Star Wars - February 19th, 2013