When I started writing for Unreality six months ago, I did so by saying goodbye to Robin Williams, who was an indomitable icon of my childhood. Six months later, I’m doing the same thing for just as monumentally beloved a man. Leonard Nimoy died last Friday at the age of 83. And although he will be most widely remembered as the man who breathed life into the impassive Mr. Spock on Star Trek, his true legacy will be his lifelong devotion to the most logical of all pursuits: the preservation of life through wildlife conservation. At no point do these two intersect more than in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home – a film which he wrote, directed and starred in, dedicated in its entirety to raising awareness about the endangerment of the Humpback Whale.
In the 23rd Century, a probe broadcasting an indecipherable message threatens to destroy the Earth if it doesn’t receive an appropriate response. Realizing that the message is actually the song of the long-extinct Humpback Whale, the crew of the former U.S.S. Enterprise is left with only one course of action to save the planet. They must travel back in time to the late 20th Century and return with a Humpback Whale in order to assuage the probe’s deadly course of action against humanity. But when the futuristic crew becomes stranded in 1986 San Francisco, they will need the help of Dr. Gillian Taylor if they ever hope to return to their own time again.
Strange as it might seem at first, The Voyage Home most strikingly reminds me of Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives. In that film, the iconic slasher, who had been dead and buried since Part IV, was revived
through plot by being struck by lightning, allowing him to rampage through his old stomping grounds and deliver some of the most memorable kills of the franchise. It didn’t matter how Jason was resurrected, just that he was back and killing once again. The ends, as it turned out, more than justified the means.
The same is true for The Voyage Home. It doesn’t matter why Kirk & Co. went back to 1986 – because the entire plot is inestimably stupid on its face – just that they did, allowing the crew to run around present-day San Francisco, interacting with the locals and showing just how far humanity has come in the last three hundred years. Their sometimes hilarious, sometimes awkward antics were more than worth the film bending over backwards in blind service to its conservationist theme.
More than any other original continuity Star Trek movie, The Voyage Home most closely deals with Spock’s biracial heritage. Forced out of his Vulcan comfort zone, Spock lies, swears and even guesses his way out of tough situations – in short, embracing his Human strengths as much as he had already embraced his Vulcan ones. And while he also had to confront the illogical shortcomings of man, his path in The Voyage Home was much more of a balancing act than he had previously shown with the character in the television series and previous films.
Although the film does hit you over the head with its message about the sanctity of animal life and the unforeseen consequences of a species’ untimely extinction, it does so with such earnest desperation that you can’t help but forgive its incessant zeal. Not only does Spock directly address the inherent arrogance at assuming that any interstellar message delivered to the Earth must undoubtedly be intended for human kind, he also asserts that “if we were to assume these whales were ours to do with as we pleased, we would be as guilty as those who caused their extinction.”
Although riddled with innumerable inconsistences and head-scratching plot points, Star Trek IV is my absolute favorite of the pre-booted film series. Much like Spock’s own dual nature, it succeeds at striking the appropriate balance between being intoxicatingly fun and timelessly thematic. In many ways, it represents the very best of the franchise, and of Leonard Nimoy.