It’s time for another installment of Carlie is The Worst Little Trekkie in the World.
I finally got around to watching Star Trek: The Voyage Home. It’s . . . not my favorite.
There will be SPOILERS for this movie and any of the Trek movies that preceded it. (Well, not The Motion Picture because I still haven’t watched that one yet. Apparently, my plan is to review films 2-6 and then circle back to 1 because my brain moves in mysterious circles that you simply can’t understand unless you, too, are a genius. Oh, doubt not, dear friends. GENIUS.)
An alien probe threatens the Earth, so Kirk and co. go back in time to 1986 in order to pick up a couple of pre-extinction humpback whales, as they’re the only creatures who can communicate with said probe.
1. First, let me say this: after this paragraph, I will no longer refer to this movie as The Voyage Home. That name absolutely refuses to stick in my brain because, clearly, the true title of this movie is Star Trek: Whales! and anyone who says otherwise is lying.
2. So, I know people like this movie. It has a perfectly respectable 85% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and it’s the fourth film in the Trek series, which means it has to be good. (Non-Trekkies: the rule is that all even-numbered Trek films are good and all odd-numbered Trek films are bad.) But I just can’t get past this plot. This plot is so . . . dumb.
Again — the crew of the USS: Enterprise goes back in time to kidnap a couple of humpback whales so they can save the Earth. Who even thinks that? Who looks at that sentence and doesn’t see outright parody? I know Leonard Nimoy wanted to make a lighter Trek film and all, but Jesus.
I do like the idea that there are various forms of alien species who wouldn’t have any method or desire to communicate with humans, that’d they be looking for other types of lifeforms, whether those lifeforms be whales, insects, plant life, whatever. That’s kind of a neat idea, and I could totally see a story premise built around it. But I’m sorry; I simply cannot take “Whales to the Rescue!” seriously as a movie plot. And yeah, time travel? It’s not helping.
3. In a related note, it must be nice to live in the Trek universe. You don’t have to deal with money problems or discrimination in the workplace, and anytime anything doesn’t go your way, you can just go super fast in your space ship and travel back in time to fix it.
But let’s remember, kids: hit 9.8 warp speed and you get time travel:
But hit Warp 10 and you get lizard sex:
Trust me, kids. Nobody wants lizard sex.
4. I could probably get past the ridiculousness of the plot — because let’s be real here: I love ridiculous plots — if it wasn’t for this woman.
This is Gillian (Catherine Hicks), and I hate her.
I hate almost everything about her. I hate her line deliveries. I hate her weepy “BUT THE WHAAAAALES!” face. There’s this part where she’s playing tour guide, showing the visitors some truly horrific images of whales being hunted down and killed, and the video is pretty powerful . . . or would be, if Hicks wasn’t narrating it in the most comically earnest, hand-wringing, woobie-eyed manner possible. Dr. Gillian Taylor is like a walking PSA. Rather, she’s everything I absolutely despise about PSA’s, particularly the ones that wrap their message in such overwrought melodrama that I simply can’t buy into their sincerity any longer.
5. Of course, preachiness has always been something of an issue for me with Star Trek — I prefer my sermons to come with both humor and subtlety, and while Star Trek: Whales! has a good deal of humor (some of which is genuinely funny, and some of which makes me want to die a little on the inside), subtlety has never really been Trek’s forte. I’m not saying Star Trek is dumb because I think the various TV shows and movies have produced a lot of awesome and interesting stories — otherwise, I wouldn’t keep going back to review them all — but they can be awfully obvious about their morals and messages sometimes. And this movie’s message about barbarism and environmentalism and all the rest? BLARG. You are KILLING me, movie. KILLING ME.
6. But let’s talk about something positive, shall we? Because I do like parts of this movie. Specifically, I like that Star Trek: Whales! is still dealing with the fallout of Star Trek: The Search for Spock which, of course, was dealing with the repercussions from Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan. I like the idea of connecting all these stories, although I suppose that stops with the next film, considering that it’s about . . . Spock’s Evil Twin Brother? Also God? (Clearly, someone looked at time travel and whales and said, Utterly Ludicrous Plot Challenge? ACCEPTED.)
But I like that Spock isn’t 100% back to normal at the beginning of this film, that while his memories have come back, his personality (and dare we say humanity) is still on the fritz. I especially like how the Vulcan Cognition and Memory Test totally stumps him with this question:
That was a nice touch. I do kind of wish the changes in Spock’s personality had been a bigger part of the movie, though, like not just a funny line here or there. I know this film is primarily a comedy, and I guess I’m okay with that, but this does feel like it has the potential to be a bigger deal, you know? Like, this is a serious thing that’s happened to Spock and, in a way, to the crew as well. Kirk and Bones are trying to reform their friendship with someone who’s gone through something at least semi-equivalent to a traumatic brain injury. I guess I just wished there was a little more genuine reaction to New Spock. Then again, I’m still happy they dealt with it at all.
7. Likewise, I guess it’s cool they at least mention Kirk’s son died . . . even if it’s only for a couple of seconds early in the film before Kirk’s off gallivanting with blondes and humpback whales. And hey, there’s Saavik!
And now Saavik’s leaving! Uh, bye, Saavik. It was nice seeing you, I guess, even if I have no idea why you’re staying behind on Vulcan for the rest of the movie. (And, consequently, the rest of the series as well.)
8. This movie has a bunch of other little tie-ins to past and future Star Treks, which I thought was pretty cool. Janice Rand goes from Yeoman to Commander here. An uncredited Madge Sinclair pops up as a starship captain. (She later plays Geordi’s mom in TNG.) Admiral Cartwright (Brock Peters) shows up again in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. And, of course, there’s a Majel Barrett cameo, which made me inordinately happy. Admittedly, this is mostly because I love Lwaxana, but still. Majel Barrett!
Also, Sulu likes the Excelsior? AWESOME. Love how this pops up again in The Undiscovered Country.
9. Here’s what I want to know — why is time travel to the past like a bad LSD trip? (Or should I say a bad LDS trip?)
Furthermore, why don’t we see any of this bullshit on our way back to the future? I mean, it’s weird, right? I think it’s weird.
10. You do have to like Spock in a makeshift headband. I’ll give you that.
You do not have to like Kirk’s horrible pink shirt, though.
It is a terrible thing that deserves to be torn apart and burned.
11. I’m going to ignore any possible time travel paradoxes or other complications because, frankly, those just don’t interest me much and never have. What I cannot ignore, however, is Gillian’s crazy ass behavior.
Oh, you thought I was done complaining about Gillian? HA! Not even close.
So, this is what happens: Kirk and Spock go to the Cetacean Institute to scope out some humpback whales. While on the tour, Spock takes a dip in the pool to swim with said whales cause, you know, it’s a hot day. (Oh, okay, he’s mind-melding. Whatever.) Anyway, Gillian is properly horrified by this and has the two of them thrown out. That’s all fine.
But she later comes across them in her truck and offers them a ride, despite all their totally crazy-ass behavior. Because that’s what a woman does — she invites complete strangers who are very likely suffering from some kind of mental disorder into an enclosed space with her, and she’ll be okay because, you know, she’s spunky and has a tire iron and so on. And is her next thought, “All right, playing Good Samaritan gets old pretty fast, so let me drop these guys off at their home and go on with my day?” No, of course not. Instead, Gillian’s like, “Hey, who’s hungry? I’ve known you for approximately ten minutes, and you’ve only said strange, enigmatic, and deeply concerning things . . . but I’m thinking Italian. Wanna go?”
12. Of course, Spock does not go to dinner, presumably because he doesn’t like pizza but actually because Gillian is Kirk’s love interest, and their date might otherwise be awkward. (Although it wouldn’t be in fanfiction. I bet if I looked hard enough, I could find some Kirk/Spock/Gillian fic somewhere.) This is unfortunate because the romance angle is just . . . boring. I mean, other than the fact that I just generally hate Gillian . . . there’s really nothing between her and Kirk. They’re just kind of paired together in the most generic, paint-by-numbers kind of way. Like, I literally called it before I saw the movie — hey, let’s see what kind of woman Kirk falls for in the past.
I think I might have actually preferred this storyline when Voyager stole it and replaced Kirk with Tom Paris, Spock with Tuvok, and Gillian with Sarah Silverman.
13. The only good thing I can say about Gillian is that when she follows the Enterprise crew into the future, she isn’t doing it solely for Kirk. That would have just killed me dead. I don’t think I would’ve been able to write this review for the fury in my quivering limbs. Thankfully, Gillian’s pretty much like, “Well, I’ve got important whale stuff to do! Sure I’ll catch you around, Kirk. Seeyas!”
That made me like her a tiny bit more.
Of course, I feel like her hasty decision to just travel a few centuries into the future and live out the rest of her life there is a tiny bit suspect. I mean, how long does she take to think about this? A couple of minutes? If even? And sure, she’s all, “I don’t have anyone here.” (That is, in 1986.) And I’m like, “Really? No one? You don’t have a single family member or friend who’s going to miss you or wonder what the hell happened when you dropped off the face of the Earth? No one’s going to call the police? They’ll just be like, ‘I haven’t seen that Gillian girl around lately. Well, she was pretty annoying anyway’.”
Hmm. I take it back. That’s probably pretty much the case.
14. In case you were wondering — DeForest Kelley? Kind of the best.
That probably doesn’t really need to be said, but in case it does: THE BEST. I very much enjoyed him in this movie, even if I didn’t enjoy the movie nearly as much as I was hoping to.
15. Cause the thing is, I think this film could have benefited from even a little bit of tension. I don’t know. There’s no real bad guy, which isn’t a problem in and of itself — there are good movies out there without bad guys — but I was never worried about any of the characters, not ever, not even a little bit.
Like, Chekhov gets captured, right? And then he almost immediately manages to give himself a serious brain injury by basically tripping over the side of a boat. (Smooth, Chekhov. Very smooth.) I actually did like this, mostly because I kind of forgot that Chekhov’s a Russian in the middle of the Cold War, so it made laugh when I realized why he had to be the one who got abducted. (I knew he’d get captured as soon as he told Uhura to leave, of course, but I just assumed we were saving Uhura because, you know, she has a vagina and all. Supposed-commie hijinks . . . much better.)
That being said . . . I was never even the slightest bit worried that Chekhov was in danger of dying or being left behind in the 1980’s. I never doubted that Kirk would manage to snag a couple of whales — I certainly wasn’t worried about the thrown-in whale hunters that were closing in on George and Gracie near the end of the film. And it never once crossed my mind that all of Spock’s time travel guesstimation wouldn’t work. (Apparently, it never crossed Kirk’s mind either, cause he’s all grinning when Spock admits he’ll have to guess how to get them home. Bones explains that Kirk has faith in his friend, which is very touching and all, but dude, this is TIME TRAVEL. Maybe grinning is not the appropriate response to, “Hope I don’t fuck it up.”)
Like I said before, I don’t necessarily object to making a lighter film in theory, but I feel like there’s a way to do that without bleeding out all the tension from the story. Plus, I’m just not sure this is the right place in the series for a lighter story. Like, if you think of The Wrath of Khan, The Search for Spock, and Whales! as a kind of trilogy — that just happens to take place in the middle of a series — you know, the arc of the ongoing story feels off. Like you build to a dramatic conclusion, not a farcical one. We killed off Spock, then we killed off David, and now we’re . . . singing whale songs and eating Italian? I don’t know. I’m not sure it works.
16. About those whale songs — according to IMDb trivia, the sound effect is actually created by the fetal heartbeat of a human baby warped and slowed down. I’ve worked in Labor & Delivery for over five years now, and I never knew until this week just how annoying a baby’s heartbeat sounds. At least, when you warp it and slow it down and play it twenty bazillion times.
17. Oh, and back to Chekhov at the hospital? Yeah, this isn’t how hospitals work, probably not even hospitals in the 1980’s. Like, I can forgive the super inept cops guarding surgery, I guess, and I can forgive the cramp joke too — although it just strikes me as silly cause, you know, why? Why would Bones take the time to come up with a cramp joke instead of just saying an actual disease? Was the need to feel clever that strong? Anyway, fine. Whatever. It’s doable.
But Kirk and co. stroll into surgery, not properly scrubbed or even wearing hats or masks, and only one guy bothers to question this while the others just stand around uselessly.
The one guy with dialogue argues with Bones on the effectiveness of whatever medical procedure he’s planning to undertake. In the meantime, no one else, not the doctor or the anesthesiologist or any of the nurses standing around apparently think to call for the cops who are still standing just outside the door. And when Kirk pulls a gun, maybe, maybe all the staff would be willing to leave their patient behind on the table — but are you really saying no one’s inclination would be to scream? Because I don’t believe you. The OR team all just shuffle into the next room like recalcitrant children who got caught with their hands in the cookie jar or something and are now on a time-out. It’s ridiculous.
18. Also, the thing on the bus:
Okay, it’s totally funny when Spock gives the Vulcan Neck Pinch to the obnoxious punk playing loud music on the bus. I laughed. But I also ride the bus on a regular basis, and let me tell you people: when a man knocks another man out on the bus, you don’t applaud. You scoot away as far as possible and try not to make eye contact with the guy as the bus driver pulls over and calls the police.
19. You think the police might get called about the Bird of Prey in the middle of Golden Gate Park too, but apparently not. Oh, I know. It’s cloaked. Please. People would be walking into that thing like crazy. Except in this movie which, apparently, takes place in a parallel world where no one actually goes to Golden Gate Park.
20. Finally, I’ll get to the good quotes in a minute, but the bits that killed me, that made me roll my eyes the hardest?
Kirk: “Nobody pays any attention to you unless you swear every other word.”
Oh, wah-wah. Shut up, writers. And then . . .
Kirk: “They say the sea is cold, but the sea contains the hottest blood of all.”
(Gillian looks at him with wonder and burgeoning passion in her eyes)
Gillian: “Whales Weep Not. DH Lawrence.”
UGH. I am dying here. AGAIN. You are killing me with your forced bullshit love connection and D.H. Lawrence, and I like D.H. Lawrence. (Okay, I’ve read one short story and one poem. Still. I liked that story and that poem.)
Screw you, movie. Screw you all to hell.
Kirk: “Double dumbass on you!”
Bones (patting little old lady on the cheek): “You swallow that, and if you have any problems, just call me.”
Kirk: “You’re not exactly catching us at our best.”
Spock: “That much is certain.”
Gillian: “Don’t tell me: you don’t use money in the 23rd century.”
Kirk: “Well, we don’t.”
Gillian: “How do you know Gracie’s pregnant. Nobody knows that.”
Spock: “Gracie does.”
Some silly fun, but a ridiculously dumb plot coupled with one of my least favorite female characters in a Star Trek film or television show made this one a struggle for me.
Oh, save the whales. Save the planet. Save the cheerleader. Whatever.