I confess: Today, I’m cheating. Instead of sticking to one great Shatner and Nimoy Star Trek moment, I’m recommending three. Watch these clips one after the other, and then we’ll talk (sans “colorful metaphors”).
Like Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek IV: “The One with the Whales” The Voyage Home usually ranks high when people consider their favorite Star Trek movie (it’s still 85% fresh at Rotten Tomatoes). Yet in many ways it’s not a typical Trek tale at all. For most of its running time, our futuristic heroes are in the past (in 1986, only their past; now, of course, theirs and ours—Star Trek IV has become a period piece), fumbling their way through such challenges as exact bus fare, punk rockers and their blasting boom boxes, and Macintosh computers. This quest to find two 20th-century humpback whales that can repopulate their extinct species in the 23rd is the biggest “fish out of water” story Star Trek’s ever spun.
On the other hand, an optimistic, “can do” spirit saturates Star Trek IV, and that indomitable faith in humanity’s ability to solve its problems and create a better future is at the heart of the Star Trek ethos. Bring a pair of some of the ocean’s largest aquatic mammals two hundred years through time in order to save the Earth from an alien probe of unknown origin? Just another day at the office for Kirk and company! If anything, as our civilization is coming to grips with the reality of climate change, this movie’s message, that we must save ourselves from our own short-sightedness, is even more timely than it was a quarter century ago. In his sophomore directorial stint, Leonard Nimoy delivers a story that entertains and inspires in the finest Trek tradition.
Thanks to Nimoy the actor, however, together with William Shatner, Star Trek IV soars. Both men flex their comedic muscles throughout the movie. In these scenes alone, we watch Kirk try to turn on his legendary charm, with amusing results; and we delight in Nimoy’s deadpan, dead-on sense of comic timing as he announces that Gracie, the female whale, is great with calf.
Both actors, however, never lose sight of the characters they had, by this point, been playing for two decades. Spock, fresh from the re-union of his body and katra, is clearly not quite himself, but his commitment to logic and truth has survived unscathed. Kirk easily slips into the 20th century’s curse-filled patterns of speech and enjoys flirting with Dr. Gillian Taylor, but he’s always mindful that the future of humanity rests on his actions in the past.
No small amount of credit, incidentally, must go to Catherine Hicks, whose performance as Gillian is one of the best guest turns in any Trek film. Hicks not only creates a sympathetic, interesting character all her own but also gives Shatner and Nimoy plenty of opportunity to play off her to grand effect.
“You’re not exactly catching us at our best,” says Kirk, to which Spock readily agrees. But, funny thing? We actually are.