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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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Star Trek III: The Search for Spock 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.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home form a loose trilogy following the death and resurrection of the franchise’s most iconic character. The events of each leads into the next, and there’s a very clear pattern of cause and effect that brings you from Saavik’s Kobayashi Maru test through to Kirk’s assignment to the Enterprise-A. The start of each of the three films picks up from the end of the last one. It brings the characters involved on a full arc.

However, despite this, there is a bit of a disconnect between the feature films – perhaps inevitable for three movies conceived separately one-after-another. The Wrath of Khan is a story about how Kirk is perhaps broken, too old and too reckless to keep doing the stuff that he does; The Search for Spock shrugs that off by having Kirk joyride on the Enterprise. The Wrath of Khan introduces a next generation of characters in the form of Kirk’s son David Marcus and Spock’s protégé Saavik; The Search for Spock kills David and The Voyage Home dismisses Saavik.

While The Search for Spock might begin with the Enterprise limping back to Earth following the confrontation with Khan, it seems to gloss over every part of The Wrath of Khan that isn’t directly related to the death of Spock. Genesis is carried over as Spock’s final resting place, but Khan isn’t mentioned, nor is the Reliant; Carol Marcus doesn’t appear; the deaths of the cadets on the cruise and the staff of Regula I are somewhat glossed over.

The most interesting aspect of Vonda McIntyre’s adaptation of The Search for Spock is the way that it makes a point to carry over elements from The Wrath of Khan into the story. Indeed, McIntyre is almost a third of the way into the book before reaching the actual plot. The result is an interesting novel that feels more like a sequel to The Wrath of Khan than a direct rebuttal, as the film had been.

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Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan by Vonda N. McIntyre (Review)

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

Gene Roddenberry novelised Star Trek: The Motion Picture. While there’s some lingering discussion about whether Roddenberry actually wrote the novelisation, the book reads like the work of a screenwriter turning his hand to prose. It’s more of a manifesto than a novel – an excuse for Roddenberry to expand on his utopian vision for the franchise.

In contrast, Vonda N. McIntyre was hired to write the novelisation of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Unlike Roddenberry, McIntyre was an experienced and professional novelist. She had been writing since the mid-seventies, and had a wealth of experience in both media tie-ins and her own original work. In fact, McIntyre wrote The Entropy Effect, the book published directly after the publication of The Motion Picture, and only the second Star Trek book published by Pocket Books.

All of this is a very round-about way of explaining that The Wrath of Khan is very much an adaptation in a way that The Motion Picture simply was not.

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