Ossus Library Index Science Fiction Movie Index


Directed by Leonard Nimoy (1986, Paramount Pictures)
Starring William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, and Catherine Hicks

The crew travels back in time to retrieve some extinct whales in order to save Earth from the devastating effects of an alien probe.

View count: 4 times



4 stars

February 6-7th, 2004 on DVD  

This is definitely one of my favorite Star Trek movies. It manages to carry everything Star Trek, without being bogged down in technology, and most importantly, without feeling forced.

One of the problems I have with all of the Next Generation movies is that they feel forced. Every movie has a bad guy who is about to destroy the universe, or at least the moral fabric of the Federation, they over-rely on technology, have giant firefights, long chase scenes, and forced humor. The humor always bothers me, because it is not natural. Data and Worf are the typical characters who get laughed at, but they are not funny. They weren't funny in the series, for the most part, so I don't know why the humor was brought into the movies.

These characters, however, have such a natural chemistry on the big screen, something the Next Generation cast only achieved on TV. The humor is funny, and they react so well to each other.

There are two types of humor in this movie. The first comes from the natural Star Trek universe, and is mostly between Spock and McCoy. They have some great banter, even though those two aren't at each others' throats like in other stories. Kirk's "a guess... Spock, that's extraordinary", with Spock's reaction to it is one of the best lines in the movie.

The second type of humor comes from the out-of-place Starfleet officers in the 1980s. Almost every part of it is funny, just because it arises naturally from the situations and the characters. Nobody tries to play stand-up comic, the way Data does in the later movies, for example.

The other great thing that really works in this movie is the way everybody gets their parts. Even though Kirk and Spock get the bulk of the movie, it doesn't feel that way, because there is a lot of time devoted to everybody else. My favorite part deals with Scotty ("...I've travelled millions of miles... thousands of miles"!) and the transparent aluminum, as well as Sulu and the helicopter (he has to get used to the controls of a starship again because he got used to a Huey!). The part that doesn't work here is Scotty's cute use of a Macintosh computer. There is no way the computer could accept keyboard commands that fast, and Scotty didn't even know what software they were running. I guess Starfleet engineers really are miracle workers!

Uhura and Chekov's search for the nuclear "wessel" is funny, as well as the capture of the radiation. The subsequent capture of Chekov allows McCoy to have an outing later in the movie. I love the hospital scene, where McCoy heals an old woman with kidney failure, and the way he debates Chekov's condition with the surgeons.

Of course, most of the movie is devoted to finding the whales and securing them for transport to Kirk's time. I liked Gillian, as she felt really natural, not high-tech, but passionate about her work. I think this is partly due to the writing, as she felt like just a normal woman who loved those two whales.

One thing that I had never noticed before watching the special features on the DVD was that this movie doesn't have a bad guy. I don't even think a single phaser was fired! I wonder if some of the Next Generation movies could have been better if they had been focused on exploration rather than saving the world.

Of course, this movie is about saving the world, from the probe that came from who-knows-where to find out why the whales stopped responding to them 300 years earlier. The two whales successfully transported into the future get to tell the probe, presumably, that they were extinct, but now humans appear to have their act together. Or maybe they don't care, and the probe is just happy to have somebody to talk to... I think that's the beauty of the probe, and it's something that is not permitted anymore, by either most fans, or Paramount management: we know nothing about the probe, even when the movie is finished! It's like the ending of Rendezvous with Rama, which was essentially ruined by the sequels.

My favorite line in the entire movie once again goes to Scotty. He sums up the awe and majesty that is the true Star Trek, when he says, "Admiral, there be whales here!" The look on his face is the novelty of something he's never done before, which is saying a lot for that engineer.

The parts of the movie that take place in the 23rd century feel great, too. They don't have the glossy features of later movies. It's nice to see Vulcan again, and to see Kirk and his crew charged with so many crimes from the acts they committed in The Search for Spock. There is even a nice little recap of the end of that movie, in the form of a Klingon petitioning for Kirk's extradition (which would happen two movies in the future).

One of the most understated characters in this movie is Sarek. I love the character as he is presented in this movie. I don't know what makes him different from the same character in the last movie, or in The Next Generation, but here he seems so stately, so calm, reserved -a true Vulcan, and what I think they should have modeled the Vulcans after in Enterprise.

Speaking of Enterprise -the starship this time, it had to make an appearance, and not just in the form of the exploding ship we see in the Klingon recap. When I first saw this movie, in the theatre back in 1986, I didn't understand the naming convention of putting an A after the ship designation. Now, I think it's a terrific tribute.

The music is normally something that I comment on about great movies, though usually it's in a positive way. This movie didn't have a great score. I don't know what it was, but except for the main theme, nothing caught my interest. Actually, there were several sequences that I actively disliked. One example is running down the hospital corridor with Chekov- the chase music was way too cheesy.

The video quality could have been better in some of the effects shots, too. They did so much work on the original Motion Picture, I wonder why they didn't remove the matte lines from the alien probe, which are very, very visible at the end of the movie, for example.

What about the DVD extras? As with the other DVDs in this series, they are forgettable. I don't know when Paramount will understand that the extras should have some meaning. The only one worth watching, of all of them, is the look back, and a bit of the on location video. The sound design is a guy talking for fifteen minutes, while the visual effects featurettes were not very interesting, for the most part. The tribute to Gene Roddenberry was mildly interesting, while the tribute to Mark Lenard was quite moving, but both were just people talking. Some actual footage of these people would have been nice.

Then there are the bad features. I don't know where they dug up the interviews, but they are hideously bad, especially the Shatner one, where the actor is actively being arrogant and snotty. The questions asked by the interviewers could barely be heard. Finally, the four featurettes on "the star trek universe" are horrible, horrible, horrible, though if they are watched back to back, each one is better than the one before. The time travel one was remarkably bad, while the whales one was at least interesting. The Vulcan primer didn't say much of anything, and while it was nice to see interviews with three of Kirk's women, once again, they were mostly talking heads, and they didn't say much.

As I said on the last movie, it's a good thing I really like this movie, because the DVDs are not worth having for the bonus material. At the very least, however, the production quality of the bonus stuff is better. There were no shaky cameras, and the screen wasn't filled with noses from shots taken too close up.

However, although I may never put disk two in my player again, at least I can watch the movie -in widescreen- whenever I want, and I can laugh and enjoy it to my heart's content.


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