Release Date: November 26th
Box Office: $107,109,310
By 1986 Paramount was a movie studio very much at the top of its game. Of the top ten grossing films four were from that studio showing their mastery of the mainstream. Despite this they had saved their two biggest guns until Christmas, both perceived as their two biggest franchises: Eddie Murphy and Star Trek.
Seems daft to say that one man is seen to be on the same level as a multi film and TV series stretching back to the 60s but there you go. It was also clear who the number one was: Star Trek IV The Voyage Home (1986) was moved from Christmas to a Thanksgiving release to move it out of the way of Murphy’s next film, The Golden Child (1986).
The 80s were pretty good to Star Trek all told: the series had entered the decade on the back of the ponderous Star Trek The Motion Picture (1979) to a tepid repose. The director Nicholas Meyer was brought in for the sequel, someone who wasn’t behold to what had come before in Trek. The result was Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan (1981), a film that added a bit of grime to Trek, brought some flaws to the characters that people could get their teeth into. The follow up Star Trek III The Search For Spock (1984) was a solid hit that was directed by Spock himself, Leonard Nimoy.
That film was Nimoy’s debut as a director; after enjoying Wrath of Khan more than he thought he would only sign on for the next film if he directed it. Given the success of that film he was quickly signed on for the fourth.
The Voyage Home completes the loose trilogy of films started with Wrath of Khan; the Enterprise crew are in exile on Vulcan helping the reborn Spock regain his memories. Meanwhile, a giant probe is headed towards Earth (again) and is causing havoc with everything to the point where Earth declares itself a disaster zone. Naturally, upon hearing this, the Enterprise crew hop in their stolen Klingon Bird of Prey and devise a plan to rescue everyone that involves time travel and humpback whales. Right.
What immediately sets this film out from pretty much all of Trek so far is that so much of it is filmed on actual locations. Traditionally, Trek would be filmed in studio on made up sets of space ships or alien worlds. This lent everything a sense of artificiality that was always hard to shake. However, seeing Kirk and Spock and the rest stomping round late 20th Century San Francisco was a breath of fresh air.
The whole fish out of water thing lends the film a lighter tone, from Spock knocking out a punk playing loud music to Scotty trying to interact with computers from 1986. There are isn’t that antagonist, that loud villain like Khan or the Klingon captain from Search For Spock. It return me to the idea of the first film by having a giant faceless space thing as the bad guy which can’t help but leave a bit of a hole in the film where someone should be chewing on some scenery.
This was partly due to Nimoy being able to work with out the constraints out on him during the production of Search for Spock. He wanted a lighter story with the time travel element giving an environmental message.
The studio wasn’t really happy with the work so far so turned to Nicholas Meyer, the director of Wrath of Khanto work on it. Turning the script round in 12 days it was quickly approved and went into production.
The film is a shift from previous Treks but thanks to the great relationships built between the characters everything works. It may not have the tension or sci-fi action of previous films but it doesn’t need it; it works as one of the purest expressions of what Star Trek is without relying on bombast or violence.
For the original crew it was probably a high water mark; Star Trek V The Final Frontier (1989) would be notorious for the wrong reasons whilst Star Trek VI The Undiscovered Country (1991) would end up in the shadow of a TV show of all things, Star Trek The Next Generation.
That was in part born out of the production of The Voyage Home; the rising wage demands of the Enterprise crew led to Paramount developing the new TV series with cheaper actors. Another strange thing about the production of the film was one idea from early in development that nearly happened: a starring role for Eddie Murphy.
A blending of Paramount’s two biggest franchises would have been interesting to see. It didn’t happen through because Murphy decided to make The Golden Child instead.
And then, despite being the film that was moved,The Voyage Home easily defeated Murphy’s film at the box office, perhaps settling the debate over who was the biggest franchise.
At least, settled it in 1986.