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EZ Viewing IV: Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and Run, Lola, Run

October 29th, 2009

The fourth film that we showed at this year’s EZ Viewing movie-marathon was Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, and we wrapped up the evening with Lola Rennt (Run, Lola, Run).

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home — We screened Star Trek II two years ago at EZ Viewing II (the year I highlighted my favorite movie sequels) and Star Trek III last year, so how could I not complete the mid-series trilogy by including Star Trek IV in this year’s EZ Viewing??

Following Kirk and crew’s mutiny and theft of the Enterprise in Star Trek III in their attempt to find and revive Spock, the opening of Star Trek IV finds Kirk and Co. still stranded on Vulcan, preparing to face the consequences of their actions. The Enterprise has been destroyed, and they don’t know if they have careers in Starfleet to return to. Spock is alive, but struggling to fully piece together his memories and personality. But the gang is spurred into action when a mysterious alien probe threatens all life on Earth, seeking a species of whales that has long-since been extinct.

Star Trek IV was, until this year’s new film by J.J. Abrams, the most financially successful of all the Star Trek movies. And it was by far the most popular outside of hard-core Trek fandom. If you’ve seen only one Star Trek film, this is probably the one you’ve seen. There are a number of reasons for that, I think. This is a much more accessible film than most of the other Star Trek movies. Much of the story takes place on Earth (in what was the present day when the film was released back in 1986). There’s a pretty simple (but still compelling) hook to the story – go back in time to find humpback whales – that I think is easier for general audiences to grasp than a lot of sci-fi elements of aliens, politics, etc.

The environmental message, I think, also enabled this film to be successful with a broader-than-usual audience. Many of the episodes of the original series dealt with difficult issues (such as racism, class struggles, involvement in foreign countries, etc.) – sometimes subtly, sometimes not. But the allegorical nature of classic Trek was sort of abandoned by the film series (not entirely mistakenly, in my opinion) in favor of more exciting action/adventure. Star Trek IV, though, gets back to those sorts of ideas, and that added a depth to this particular endeavor (bet you thought I was gonna say enterprise) that captured people’s attention.

Finally, Star Trek IV is by far the lightest, in tone, of all the Trek films, and I think people found that to be very appealing. After all the death and seriousness of Star Treks II & III, Star Trek IV is really just a romp – the producers set out to make what is pretty much a Star Trek comedy, and to a fairly surprising degree they succeeded. It’s a pretty funny film. (As opposed to, oh, I don’t know, the wince-inducing attempts at humor in the dreadful Star Trek V.)

OK, I’ve talked about why general audiences responded to Star Trek IV in far greater numbers than the other films – but what do I think of it? I think it’s great! I do tend to prefer my Star Trek to be SERIOUS (which is why II and VI and my very favorite Trek films – and don’t think that I won’t be showing VI next year, by the way!!), but Star Trek IV is so much fun that it’s very hard to resist.

Here’s what else the film has going for it, that I haven’t mentioned yet:

I. This is the only other Star Trek film that Nick Meyer, who wrote and directed Star Trek II and Star Trek VI (hmmm, didn’t I just mention that those two are my very favorite Trek films??) was involved in. Meyer scripted almost the entire back-in-time portions of the film — which makes up about 3/4ths of the movie, at least. (His first line is the film is the wonderfully snarky “Judging by the pollution content of the Earth’s atmosphere, we appear to have arrived in the latter half of the 20th century.”) And Meyers’ involvement clearly shows in the final product. He has an understanding of – and love for – these characters that is unmatched, and he gives every character a key role in the unfolding story. He is also able to very effectively include a LOT of humor without turning the film into a farce (cough Star Trek V cough).

2. This film is unique among the Trek films (and frankly, among sci-fi and adventure films in general) in that there is really no villain. There is the threat of the alien probe that sets the story in motion, but that’s it. There’s also no fighting and, unless I’m mistaken, not a single shot is fired (by any starship, or by any character) in the entire film. Pretty neat.

3. Although this film was designed to be easily accessible to Trek newbies, it doesn’t dumb itself down and ignore previously-established Trek continuity and character arcs. Quite the contrary, the film is filled with little touches that long-time Trek fans can appreciate, such as the continuing involvement of Sarek, Spock’s father (and the callback to the father-and-son’s decades-long feud which was a major story point in the Original Series episode “Journey to Babel”). I also am always tickled by the opening scene where the Klingon ambassador angrily swears to the Federation Council that “there will be no peace as long as Kirk lives.” That scene has almost nothing to do with the rest of the movie. But its presence shows that the filmmakers were interested in exploring the repercussions of Kirk & co.’s actions in Star Trek III (rather than ignoring them, which would have been the easier choice)… and, of course, there is terrific pay-off to that moment two films later, in Star Trek VI.

Lola Rennt (Run, Lola, Run) — I reviewed this film not too long ago on the site, so you can click here for all the details.

So that was EZ Viewing IV!  Can’t wait until next year!

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