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As a child, I was a huge Star Wars fanatic: I must have had every action figure, vehicle, play-set and pajama-set in the history of the original trilogy. Star Trek, on the other hand, wasn’t quite my thing. I’m not sure if it had more to do with the ration of laser-blasts to philosophical discussions or if I was just more partial to Han Solo than Capt. Kirk. Whatever the reason, I just never felt a big connection to the Enterprise and its crew when I was younger.

As I got older, however, I found my alliances shifting. The Star Wars films lost some of their original luster, particularly once the prequels were tossed into the mix. Star Trek, on the other hand, was finally beginning to appeal to me. I ended up falling in love with the original series (I can still watch those episodes any time: it’s cinematic comfort food like mashed potatoes and meatloaf, as far as I’m concerned) and became a fan of The Next Generation, although I’ve never seen any of the other . I also began to really pay attention to the Trek films: I’d already seen many of them since my family was always big on new releases and action/adventure films but I’d never really paid attention.

Currently, my admiration for the two series still tends to lean towards Star Trek, although I definitely wouldn’t consider myself a hardcore fan of either. I think that Star Trek has tended to stick with me longer because the social problems and philosophical issues raised seem to have more real-world applications than the space operatics of Star Wars. At any rate, I find that some time has passed since I saw either a Star Trek or Star Wars film. When it came time to choose last Thursday’s entertainment, my lovely wife suggested Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (her personal favorite in the series) and this seemed like a perfect time to get reacquainted with the series.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home is certainly an odd Star Trek film but I think that’s actually one of its biggest benefits. Coming right after the triple punch of The Motion Picture, The Wrath of Khan and The Search for Spock, The Voyage Home is a much lighter affair, more comedy and satire than pulse-pounding space shoot-em-up. This also makes it an easy film to mock, particularly when we get to elements like Spock using the Vulcan nerve pinch on a mohawk-bedecked “punk rocker” on a bus or Kirk’s constant swearing (this affectation, however, is one of my favorites in the film, particularly when he responds back to a rude motorist with the classic retort, “Double-dumbass to you!”

Story-wise, The Voyage Home takes place immediately after The Search for Spock ended. Spock is once again alive and with the crew, the crew is on the run from the Federation in a stolen Klingon warbird (dubbed the HMS Bounty, in a particularly nifty touch) and some strange probe is draining the energy from every vessel and planet it comes near. When it begins to drain Earth, the renegade crew put their heads together and realize that the strange signal emanating from the probe is a whale song. Where to find a whale to respond to the probe since they’ve been extinct for hundreds of years by that point? Why, the past of course: San Francisco in 1986, to be exact. The crew heads to the past, endures the typical fish-out-of-water shenanigans that we’d expect (including the aforementioned bus antics and a gloriously goofy sequence where Spock dives into a whale tank to commune with the big lugs) and, of course, ends up saving the day.

Since The Voyage Home isn’t played strictly seriously, it may seem easy to discount it, especially when compared to earlier fare like The Wrath of Khan. Despite a few particularly dodgy effects moments (especially the dated time-travel effects), a few silly moments (Spock’s IQ test scene is really silly, one short step from being eye-rolling) and a distinct lack of action (there’s some minor action sequences at the beginning and a rather quickly resolved one at the end), however, the film actually holds up pretty well. Leonard Nimoy wrote and directed the film and there’s a general sense of amiability that permeates everything: at no point do any of the actors look like they’re having anything less than a great time. Shatner, in particular, is in fine, mischievous form and gets a few choice lines to rattle off.

As a rule, the effects are pretty simple and clean (aside from the ridiculous time travel scene): I bet The Voyage Home must have looked pretty good in theaters on opening weekend. I was initially concerned that the film would lose its footing completely once the crew made it to Earth but Nimoy keeps a pretty consistent visual thread running through the film, making the Earth scenes no less (but certainly no more) visually arresting than what’s happening in space. Add in a pretty rousing finale, with a truly great final scene, and you have one pretty decent film. Certainly nothing ground-breaking (or even something to make people forget the three films that came before) but Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home is consistently entertaining and fun: that’s certainly more than I can say for Attack of the Clones.