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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
After the heavier themes of Star Trek II and III, the producers decided to make the next movie a bit lighter in tone. The result was Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home: a film so popular, it not only broke Star Trek (unadjusted) box office records, but indirectly got Star Trek back on TV in the form of The Next Generation. Nimoy returns as director and it is obvious that he and the rest of the cast are having a blast with this fish-out-of-water comedy adventure.
The best part of why this works is that our future heroes play it incredibly straight. This could have gone into pure parody. While I doubt there was serious chance of that happening, the potential was still there. However, some of the comedy is kind of dumb. For example, there are parts of the movie where the crew seemed to have taken stupid pills so they can act even more out of place in the 1980s (and do not get me started on that blatant ad for the yellow pages).
But these are few and far between and do not hurt the overall product.
The film is bookended by scenes designed to tie-up all the loose plot threads remaining from Star Trek II. In fact, everything is essentially reset to its pre-Khan status. Spock is back, the Enterprise is back, Kirk no longer has a son, and Saavik disappears. The only difference is that Kirk is now a captain again. Probably did not need three movies to get to that point, but there you go. In the end, this does not bother me, but I wish they series somewhat stuck to its guns and the progression did not ultimately feel wasted.
Star Trek IV is a fun movie. There is a reason it is still fondly remembered by Trek fans and non-fans today. Granted, the message of the film is a little heavy-handed (don’t kill whales), and the need to wrap things up is a bit forced. However, the pros massively outweigh the cons, and what we get is a nice Star Trek trilogy that really will not leave you any disappointment.