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Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home by Vonda N. McIntyre (Review)

This June, we’re taking a look at some classic Star Trek movie tie-ins. Check back daily for the latest reviews and retrospectives.

Comedy doesn’t always translate well between different media. That’s not to suggest that comedy works better in one medium as compared to others, merely to contend that certain forms of comedy don’t translate perfectly between different media. It works any number of ways. Something that is funny in sound and vision is not necessarily hilarious in prose. Gags relying on delivery might play better with a seasoned performer than in the mind’s eye of a reader. Witty prose doesn’t always lend itself to narration or articulation on film.

Much of Star Trek IV: The Voyager Home plays as broad farce, following a bunch of time-travelers from the future (and refugees from television land) as they try to interact with the real world. The movie does have some wonderful character moments – notably Spock’s character arc that beautifully brings him a full circle and Kirk’s relationship with Spock – but it also plays the Star Trek ensemble in a highly caricatured manner, more as archetypes than fully-realised three-dimensional characters.

This is grand. After all, these are fictional characters rather than real people. After all stories are more than just excerpts from the biographies of fictional characters. While it’s nice to have consistent characterisation, suggesting that you can’t have Kirk and Spock acting in an exaggerated fashion for the sake of comedy is a very narrow and restrictive view of what Star Trek is or should be.

The Voyage Home gets the big character beats right – Spock’s insistence that the crew rescue Chekov, Kirk convincing Gillian to trust him, Spock “guessing” – that we can excuse the crew’s lack of awareness about a time period they have visited before and the general flippancy of the movie itself. The novelisation, however, is another matter. Vonda N. McIntyre clearly cares a great deal about the characters. That was one of the strengths of her work on the novelisations of the last two films. Here, however, McIntyre struggles to balance that with the tone of the story.

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