Medical Biophysics Graduate Student Association

MBPGSA Blog

Updates, opinion pieces, and news related to the department

There Be Whales Here...

After enjoying the previous two Star Trek movies, we move on to the fourth movie in the series. As always, Edwin tries to convince me to renounce my love of Star Wars, join the Dark Side, and become a self-professed Trekkie. Will this movie be the one that pushes me over the edge? Let's find out...

ED: Poor, poor Greg. His steady stream of emails from his viewings of the first three Star Trek movies in rapid succession suddenly stopped. My immediate thought was that maybe his head was starting to feel like Chekov’s when those slimy ear-worm things started boring into his brain. But maybe I’m being too pessimistic about our chances of converting Greg into Trekkie-dom. It’s also possible that his silence was because (a) he was busy attending his first Star Trek convention, (b) he was too busy practicing his James Kirk impression, or (c) he was too busy translating his Masters thesis into Klingon. But at last, he was finally convinced to slog onto the fourth movie, the infamous whale one.

GREG: Actually, the only reason I haven’t moved forward as quickly with the last three movies is simply that I’ve had trouble finding them available for rent! But I’ve finally managed to do so. After enjoying the last two Star Trek movies, I was more than hesitant to dive into a fourth movie. The reason is obvious, I think: I cannot think of a “part 4” of any movie franchise that is any good. Usually by this point in any movie series, everything from the writing to the acting is very run-of-the-mill, uninspired, and/or just plain goofy. Seriously – name a movie that’s any good that has a “part 4” in the title!

ED: I’ll be damned if I have to hear a bad word said about Rocky IV! Not to mention the screenwriting brilliance that was Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol. Oh that Bobcat Goldwaith, he cracks me up!

GREG: Sweet baby Jesus – I hope you’re kidding about Police Academy 4. Nonetheless, I’ve heard from Edwin (and others) that the even-numbered movies are supposed to be the better movies in the series, so that gives me hope. Let’s see if I agree with the Trekkies.

ED: Star Trek has this weird thing with numbers. Did I ever mention to you the Star Trek “Rule of Three”? It’s probably my favourite of the cheesy Star Trek affectations, alongside the whole redshirt thing. The “Rule of Three” is used when a character needs to cite examples to underline his point, to which he’ll always use two that you know, and one that you don’t. For example, he might say: “Ah yes, I knew him when he did a sabbatical on Earth. One of the greatest scientists in the galaxy, in my opinion. Like Newton. And Darwin. And Kablak of Rigel VII.”

GREG: Well, now I can add another rule to my Star Trek repertoire. As the movie starts, I notice that Leonard Nimoy is again the director of the movie. Okay, I think, that’s good news, since I rather enjoyed the last movie. This has gotta be a good movie, right? Right? I’m afraid to say it, my dear readers, but I did not really enjoy this movie. Was it terrible? No. Was it great? Certainly not. The reason: the cheese factor was set at warp factor 10 for this movie. And how long did it take for the cheese to start smelling? Not long at all.

ED: Okay, first of all, cheese doesn’t smell in the vacuum of space. So double dumb-ass on you! But I think you took this movie too seriously. Perhaps it’s your unfamiliarity with some of the goofier, comedic Star Trek episodes (there was once an episode called “A Piece of the Action” where Kirk and Spock ended up on a planet where they had to be 1920’s gangsters), but Trek often lightens up considerably. And this movie was basically just one big joke.

GREG: Maybe that was part of the problem: this movie was essentially a comedy, and I was NOT expecting that. But it starts out quite serious: apparently a giant tube with a rotating ball attached to it has set its sights on planet Earth, and it beginning to blast it with some unknown form of energy, doing God-knows-what to it. Admiral Kirk and the rest of his crew quickly determine that the audio signal being given off by this entity is a humpback whale call! I’m not even going to bother trying to tell you how they figured that out, because it’s absolutely foolish and, quite honestly, makes no sense. But here’s the rub: no humpback whales exists anymore on planet Earth, because they were hunted to extinction sometime back in the 20th century. So how can they possibly find some whales and save mankind? You guessed it: time travel. Wow, that seems complicated, you might think. Wouldn’t it be easier to just find some whale recordings, since the technology in the 23rd century seems to be limitless? Apparently not. Kirk simply tells Scotty to get him the coordinates for time travel, and that’s that.

ED: Oh Greg, your way-too-in-depth analysis has me wanting to use some "colourful metaphors" and do some "LDS". I guess you were expecting a sci-fi movie, but Trekkies kind of recognised the tone of this movie fairly early on, that this would be a campy comedy.

GREG: See, I didn’t know it was going to be a comedy. Had I known that, maybe I would’ve changed my expectations. Now, I can forgive a lot of things, especially in a sci-fi movie, but this seemed a little too easy to me. They simply whip around the sun (way too close, I might add), and end up in 1986.

ED: Now this I’ll grant you. Trekkies have been groaning for decades over the random way in which time travel is done in Star Trek movies. In Star Trek 10, after they got sucked into the past by an alien species called the Borg using technology they didn’t understand, after they saved humanity, they pretty much just did everything in reverse to get back to the future? Everyone in the theatre was like: huh?

GREG: Time travel is tricky, and no movie really does it well. But hereafter the cheese level really amps itself up. They crew simply lands their Klingon ship (the same one from the last movie), which is cloaked with invisibility, in a park in San Francisco. The very idea that one could land a spacecraft in a large city like that and assume that no one would run into it is preposterous at best. The crew then spread out throughout the city to procure certain items, such as the whales, and materials that will allow them to carry the whales in the ship. Sulu even steals a helicopter at one point, and USES it in the park, and no one seems to care.

ED: I can’t argue your points, as they’re all very valid. But in the end, kind of unimportant to the Trekkie’s enjoyment of this movie, I guess. So I’m just going to go off on tangents. Does anyone aside from me find it really cool that Marine Biologist Annie is the reverend’s wife in 7th Heaven? Meaning that both of the parents in that show have been in Star Trek movies (Stephen Collins as Decker in the first movie). I wonder if they ever talked about their experiences on the show?

GREG: The fact that you know about the show “7th Heaven” scares me. So what was the point of this movie? Obviously they bring whales back to the future, and save the world. But what was the point? Well, it would seem that the filmmakers wanted to make a not-so-subtle argument about animal/environmental sustainability. “Hunting an animal to extinction is not logical”, says Spock at one point. Agreed – it is not logical, and is quite terrible. We can all agree upon that fact. But do we need an entire Star Trek movie devoted to this idea? I mean, there was no real villain, just a giant tube that was rather stupid looking and just wanted to know why the whales stopped communicating with them. There was no real conflict that needed to be overcome either. I was far more interested in what the hell that tube-thing was, where it came from, and why the hell it cared about the whales in the first place. None of these things were remotely delved into though.

ED: To be fair, perhaps the whole ecological angle wouldn’t have been quite as heavy-handed back in the ‘80s. By the way, when I was in undergrad, I read an essay in a sci-fi magazine explaining why there is no Star Trek in the Star Trek world. Why, for example, when Jim Kirk and Spock walked the streets of San Francisco in this movie, people didn’t stop them and say; “Say, aren’t you that TV character from that Star Trek show?” It apparently had to do with some other time travel story which created a paradox in space-time, created a parallel universe which was the one we saw in the movie, in which the Star Trek show had been eradicated from existence. It’s a wonder my GPA dropped by 0.5 that year.

GREG: You lost me there. Also, why was Lt. Saavik simply left on Vulcan at the very start of the movie? Robin Curtis, who plays the character, had her name splashed up on the screen during the opening credits, making her seem like a main character, and then she delivers one line in the first 10 minutes of the movie and disappears. It seemed to me that they had been molding that character for more than that in the past 3 movies.

ED: Interesting factoid about Saavik. She had been left on Vulcan because – duh duh duhnnn!!! – she was supposed to have been pregnant with Spock’s love child. As it turns out, that plot point was never developed for the later movies. But remember in the third movie when adolescent Spock on the genesis planet went through something called pon farr? It’s something that happens every 7 years when Vulcans essentially go into heat. And remember when Saavik helped him through it? Well, let’s just say they didn’t have at their disposal at the time any… vulcanized rubber. Rim-shot!

GREG: What!? How would anyone ever know that? There was no love scene or anything in the last movie! Whatever. Okay, so I didn’t like this movie very much. But it did have some positive attributes. The camaraderie between the main characters was never more evident than it was in this movie, and I do really like the characters at this point. The early space scenes look a lot better in this movie than they have previously (but unfortunately very little of this movie actually takes place in space). Also, I’ve been the Monterey Bay aquarium (which is seen a few times in this movie), so I appreciated that. All in all, I thought this movie was a letdown of sorts. I think it’s better than the first movie, but not nearly as good as either part two or three. So I’d have to give it a 6.8/10 (these numbers are just getting random now).

ED: Haha, not 6.7 or 6.9, eh? Well, I liked this movie, although I’ll grant you it was my least favourite of the even-numbered ones. In the end, it epitomized everything I love about Star Trek. It was fun.

GREG: Yes, it was “fun”, and I guess that was supposed to be the point. Maybe I just keep expecting some sort of kick-ass action movie. Oh well. Now with 2 movies left to go, I really wonder what in the hell I’ve gotten myself into. Only time will tell.

ED: Next up: Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. Just think: there’s no way it can be worse than Police Academy V: Assignment Miami Beach, right?

GREG: Ugh…another Police Academy quip.

ED: Oh that Tackleberry really cracks me up...