A mysterious probe is on a direct course for Earth, and James T. Kirk is the only thing standing in its way. He has to find a way to respond to the probe and give it what it expects to find on Earth. Meanwhile, Spock struggles to rediscover his emotional side. Am I describing Star Trek: The Motion Picture or Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home?
I propose that Star Trek IV is simply Star Trek: The Motion Picture with jokes. Let’s go through all of their similarities to see if I can prove this theory correct.
The Probe Attacks
Star Trek: The Motion Picture begins with a shot of V’ger, which is being approached by three Klingon Birds of Prey. They shoot torpedoes at the enormous entity with no effect. V’ger retaliates by vaporizing all three ships. We see the battle through the eyes of a Federation space station, which will later suffer the same fate as the Klingons. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home begins with a shot of a cylindrical probe, which is being approached by a Federation starship. They try to send a message of friendship, but they receive no response. As it gets close, the probe drains the ship’s energy and leaves it powerless and crippled. Starfleet’s home base on Earth soon hears about this development, and it will later suffer the same fate.
The Threat Is Just Old and Misunderstood
There is no villain in either of these films. V’ger and the cylindrical probe are from the Earth’s past, and they have been sent to reestablish contact with someone on Earth who is long dead. NASA is defunct by the time the modified Voyager VI probe returns to Earth, and whales have been extinct since the early 21st century. After learning the truth about the probes, Kirk and his crew are able to reason with the probes and get them to leave in peace.
Spock Slowly Regains Emotions
Spock starts both films on the planet Vulcan either performing a ritual to purge himself of all emotions or testing his cognitive and emotional abilities with a computer simulation. In both cases, he fails the test. He feels V’ger calling him, and he doesn’t know what to say when asked how he feels. He soon decides to leave Vulcan to rejoin his Enterprise crewmates. Over the course of his adventures, he learns to appreciate the need for human emotions, realizing that sometimes the human thing to do is better than the logical thing.
The Enterprise is not the same ship it was in the Star Trek TV show. It’s been completely refitted so that the Bridge, Engineering, and all other decks and rooms are different than they originally were. The Klingon Bird of Prey has also been overhauled and refitted to resemble a Starfleet ship on the inside. The Bridge used to have the captain elevated above his crew in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, but that’s not the case in Star Trek IV.
Kirk Wants the Enterprise
Despite being an admiral, Kirk acts as a captain for most of the film. He wants to command a ship, specifically the Enterprise. He has to settle for a Klingon Bird of Prey until the end of Star Trek IV, but the spirit is the same. In both films, he is unfamiliar with his new ship. This is exemplified when he has to ask someone for the right way to get to a turboshaft, and when he has to carefully push the right button to activate a communicator in Engineering.
Dr. McCoy is not too happy about getting beamed aboard the Enterprise at first. It takes a little persuasion from Kirk to get him to stay on in spite of his apprehensions. This is reminiscent of the moment when Kirk beams a 20th-century woman named Gillian aboard the Bird of Prey. She’s certainly not prepared for such a shocking experience as being beamed up, and it takes her a few moments to collect herself and accept Kirk’s message of welcome.
Enterprise Crew Figures Out the Probe’s Message
When communication between the Enterprise and V’ger initially fails, Spock quickly figures out that they were using the wrong frequency, so he switches frequencies and is able to successfully transmit a message of friendship. Also, when V’ger reaches Earth, it sends a radio message to the creator expecting an answer, but (as Kirk notes) no one on Earth knows the question being asked. They eventually figure it out and let it get in contact with its creator. When the probe reaches Earth and starts transmitting a message at the oceans in an unknown language, Spock’s father Sarek notes that it is impossible to answer when one does not understand the question. Spock surmises that it’s trying to contact a sea creature. Uhura adjusts the transmission to hear what it sounds like underwater, and Spock identifies it as the song of a humpback whale. They come up with a creative solution to find a whale that can respond.
In a risky maneuver, the Enterprise attempts to go to warp speed while still in the Solar System. It encounters a wormhole, which thrusts the crew into a dreamlike sequence that seems to slow down time. They manage to escape the wormhole with a well-timed torpedo. In a potentially fatal move, the Bird of Prey enters warp speed heading directly for the center of the Solar System. After slingshotting around the sun, the crew travels back in time and enters a dreamlike sequence where their lives and mission flash before their eyes. They awaken to a safe position above Earth of the past.
Admittedly, a lot of what happens when the crew enters V’ger and San Francisco is completely different, but that’s where the comedy angle diverges sharply from the serious tone of the original film. There is one interesting parallel in the form of the Ilia replica and Gillian. A crewmember named Ilia gets vaporized by V’ger and replaced with a robotic replica. She suddenly appears on the Enterprise to act as the voice of V’ger and attempt to understand the carbon-based lifeforms infesting the ship. Her romantic feelings for one of her crewmates, Decker, begin to reemerge, causing her to reveal a major flaw in V’ger. Gillian plays an important role in educating people about whales, and she catches on pretty quickly that there’s something peculiar about Kirk and Spock. She has a photographic memory, which makes her just as good as Ilia at recording information and playing it back in her mind. She gets a little flirty with Kirk and presses him for information until he finally spills the beans about his true identity and mission.
Decker shows Ilia pictures of previous ships that had carried the name Enterprise. One of them is the very aircraft carrier that Chekov and Uhura steal nuclear power from in Star Trek IV.
Only One Shot
In Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the Enterprise only fires one torpedo in the entire film during the aforementioned wormhole scene. In Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Kirk only fires one phaser shot to seal a door shut. No other films in this series feature so few shots fired.
A Spaceship with a Missing Man
Kirk goes out to rescue Spock, who was knocked unconscious after he left the Enterprise in a spacesuit and mind-melded with V’ger. Spock awakens in sickbay with a laugh, noting that V’ger has no comprehension of simple feelings. It is asking if this is all that it is and if there’s nothing more for it to be. Kirk and McCoy go to a hospital to rescue Chekov, who went comatose after falling from a great height during a daring escape from the Enterprise aircraft carrier. McCoy puts a futuristic medical device on Chekov to heal him, and he awakens in an operation room with a smile, vastly overstating his rank as admiral. Apparently, he has no trouble imagining himself as more than what he is.
Birth of a New Lifeform
Kirk, Spock, and McCoy witness the birth of a new lifeform when V’ger joins with Decker. The melding of man and machine creates something unique. In Star Trek IV, we don’t get to see the actual birth, but Spock makes it clear that one of the whales is pregnant, so there’s sure to be a new lifeform in Earth’s oceans very soon. It’s been hundreds of years since that type of event has occurred.
Of the first 10 Star Trek films, these are the only two that end on a shot of the Enterprise going to warp speed. Though I do admit that Star Trek III: The Search for Spock is the only other film in the series to end with a message written on the screen like Star Trek: The Motion Picture has.
The Voyager Home
This is by no means intended to diminish Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. If anything, it’s a testament to its greatness that it managed to tell essentially the same story in an even more effective way than the first film did. There’s certainly a solid story going on in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Star Trek IV simply adds a fish-out-of-water element to the mix that makes it fresh and fun. Perhaps its name should have been the biggest giveaway. Just add one more letter, and suddenly it’s The Voyager Home!
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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