A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home is the most farcical of the big-screen series. As much comedy as adventure derives from the journey of the Starfleet heroes to 1986 Earth, and the relative rudeness and local color they encounter in San Francisco. While this installment is less scary and violent than most other Star Trek movies, there are instances of comical swearing and drug references. There is also a depiction of the killing of whales.
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What's the story?
Having rescued a returned-from-the-dead Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and committing multiple offenses against Starfleet in the process, the core crew of the now-destroyed starship Enterprise are in exile on the planet Vulcan at the start of STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME. Voting unanimously to return to Earth and face justice, they depart in their captured Klingon ship, only to find their home planet besieged by a bizarre, enigmatic alien space probe that's battering Earth through storms and energy drains. The heroes figure out that the probe is trying to contact humpback whales, described as an intelligent species which, by the 23rd century, have been long extinct, hunted to their doom by greedy humans. Admiral Kirk (William Shatner) orders the crew to time-warp back to the 20th century, where humpback whales can be found.
Is it any good?
This movie successfully captured the same lighthearted spirit of some of the classic 1960s TV episodes. The bulk of the fun of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home -- and it is fun, much of the time, played for breezy laughs, despite the mortal peril for the Earth -- centers on the super-competent 23rd-century visitors' awkwardness fitting into 1986 Earth society and dealing with money, rude people, profanity, exact bus fare, and more.
The cast has seldom been more charming (and that's saying a lot), and there's a running undercurrent about Spock gradually reconnecting with his shipmates and learning to balance logic with emotion. Sure, the special effects are good too (note the use of early CGI to simulate the time warp), but it's the beloved characterizations that set it apart from the vast majority of screen science-fiction that's all about the gadgets, rockets, aliens, and monster costumes.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home's emphasis on comedy, and the culture-shock of the future space travelers in (more or less) present-day Earth society. What aspects of this world do you think would bewilder visitors from tomorrow?
Is there an eco-friendly message to this film? What do the heroes do to protect the Earth in the recent past to save the distant future?
Which elements of the Star Trek universe are possible and which are purely science fiction? Is there any technology that they have in Starfleet that is similar to something that exists today?
- In theaters: November 26, 1986
- On DVD or streaming: March 3, 2003
- Cast: DeForest Kelley, Leonard Nimoy, William Shatner
- Director: Leonard Nimoy
- Studio: Paramount Pictures
- Genre: Science Fiction
- Topics: Adventures, Ocean Creatures, Space and Aliens
- Run time: 119 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: parental guidance
- Last updated: September 21, 2019
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