On Friday I watched Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home on the big screen for the first time since I saw it during its original run. Even better than that, the film was followed by a nearly hour long Q&A with Leonard Nimoy himself; the only other original series actor I had ever seen in person was a very decrepit James Doohan at a convention (he was escorted by a Klingon honor guard and died not long after). There’s nothing like getting Spock himself to answer your question about Trek IV (in this case I asked him about Eddie Murphy’s one-time involvement in The Voyage Home. You can read my Movies That Never Were column about that right here. And you can read Nimoy’s insights at Ain’t It Cool News. Quint was sitting with me and he’s run a very comprehensive look at the Q&A).

But more than that, this viewing of The Voyage Home really opened my eyes to something about this film – it could be the ultimate Star Trek movie. There’s no question that Wrath of Khan is the best Trek film, and likely always will be – the movie mixes a great story with compelling character drama that resonates because we’ve known these actors since they were young – but I think The Voyage Home is the film that could truly encapsulate everything that Trek wanted to be.

It’s the most human of the Trek films, for one thing. It’s no mistake that Star Trek has been billed as ‘The Human Adventure,’ as that was primarily Gene Roddenberry’s vision for his series. The Voyage Home is the film that dispenses the most with the space ships and scifi – the Enterprise is only in the movie in the final shots! – and completely focuses on the characters. The whole story about Kirk and his crew needing to save the Earth from a probe is classic MacGuffin, only existing to get the characters into unique and humorous situations. There isn’t the heavy drama that Khan captured, but there is the feeling of people who have been working together for decades interaction. It’s not great drama, but it’s a delight to see these people in these situations.

What’s great is that Nicholas Meyer, who wrote most of the San Francisco stuff, understands that Roddenberry’s vision of the future is sort of naive and silly and he embraces it. These are people who have dealt with life and death situations and the fate of the universe on more than one occasion, but when plopped down in the 1980s they come across as sweetly childlike. I think that’s part of what makes this such a great Trek movie is that it allows us to really see the difference between the world of today and the world of the 23rd century, as embodied by these characters we love. 

Which leads to a scene that I think is the complete embodiment of everything Star Trek was and should be. It’s a simple scene, a goofy scene, and a very light scene, but it’s Roddenberry’s vision for the future distilled in a couple of minutes. While on the bus out to Sausalito, Kirk and Spock are confronted by a noxious punk rocker blasting his boombox at top volume. Spock reaches over and gives the guy the Vulcan nerve pinch, which makes him fall forward on his radio, turning it off. What’s key here is that the punk has been listening to completely nihilistic music – a song called I Hate You by the band Edge of Etiquette. Here are the lyrics:

Just where is our future, the things we’ve done and said!
Let’s just push the button, we’d be better off dead!
‘Cause I hate you!
And I berate you!
And I can’t wait to get to you!
The sins of all our fathers, being dumped on us — the sons.
The only choice we’re given is how many megatons?
And I eschew you!
And I say, screw you!
And I hope you’re blue, too.
We’re all bloody worthless…

To have Spock lean over and silence that nihilism – a hand from the future shutting up the anger of the then present day – sums it all up. Things will get better, and these two guys are proof. Of course the song is a bit of a ringer; I Hate You was written and recorded by the very same punk on the bus, Kirk Thatcher, who was an associate producer on the film. The band Edge of Etiquette is simply what Thatcher and friends called themselves on the day when they played the song.

The other thing that makes The Voyage Home a quintessential Trek movie is the lack of a villain, something Quint notes in his write-up. That’s so key, as many of the original series episodes lack traditional villains. Often Kirk and company will deal with something strange or unknowable, or perhaps something confused and acting out. Look at The Squire of Gothos, where the villain turns out to be a cosmic child who gets punished by his parents, or Devil in the Dark, where the monster is actually a previously unknown form of life trying to save its young. Star Trek: The Motion Picture is the only Trek movie that comes close to that, but it does so by essentially remaking The Changeling from the original series. I like the gentle nature of the film – the probe doesn’t need to be defeated, it needs to be communicated with – and it’s something that’s so uniquely Star Trek that it’s hard to imagine another series really using it as well and not coming across as impossibly cheesy.

There are other elements that make The Voyage Home feel the most Trekky of all Treks – small moments like Captain Kirk immediately and without hesitation (or question) deciding that he and his outlaw crew must take action to save the Earth (modern movies, please learn from this. I am sick of the reluctant hero. I don’t need an entire act of a movie dedicated to forcing a hero to take action. I like an old fashioned proactive hero, and I suspect many folks reading this do as well), or the perfection of the Kirk/Spock/McCoy triad. 

There’s a story on TrekMovie today about Orci and Kurtzman trying to juggle darkness and fun with the new Star Trek 2, but all they have to do is look to The Voyage Home to find their bearings. Yeah, it’s the lightest film in the franchise, but this movie makes the threat to Earth real without making the film too grim, and it allows the characters to have fun and express a hopeful vision for the future. The Voyage Home has some problems – how weird is it that Kirk brings a fairly bland blonde from the 20th century to the future with him and then she basically tells him ‘Don’t call me, I’ll call you’? – and it’ll never have the grimness to please Fanboy Nation, but it’s a sweet and honest and heartfelt movie that manages to get across, better than any other film in the series, what Gene Roddenberry believed people could one day accomplish.