‘When they finished writing the script for Star Trek IV, they must have had a lot of silly grins on their faces,’ declared noted critic Roger Ebert in 1986 when the fourth instalment of the cult television show’s big-screen franchise The Voyage Home was released. ‘This is easily the most absurd of the Star Trek stories – and yet, oddly enough, it is also the best, the funniest and the most enjoyable in simple human terms. I’m relieved that nothing like restraint or common sense stood in their way.’ This positive reaction was shared with many other journalists. ‘The script, upbeat as it is uplifting, never wavers from Roddenberry’s perennial notion that Earth’s people will live long and prosper. But just barely,’ added Rita Kempley of the Washington Post, while Michael Wilmington of the Los Angeles Times stated, ‘It has an irresistibly sure touch, an easy command of its audience. It hits the right buttons, strikes the right chords, plays with our expectations with the right blend of savvy, guile and imagination.’
The universal reaction for The Voyage Home, following its somewhat lacklustre predecessor The Search for Spock, was also evident in its commercial performance, with the film not only satisfying the desires of its core fan base but also drawing in novices of the series. Star Trek IV was the first science fiction film since Star Wars and its sequels to extend beyond the fantasy crowd and into the mainstream. Once again directed by actor Leonard Nimoy, an actor best known for portraying Spock in the series and who had helmed the third movie, the environment message that the story preached did little to turn away audiences as it dominated the box office upon release in November 1986. By the end of its theatrical run The Voyage Home had earned approximately $133m in the United States from a budget of $21m and its success would continue through the increasing popularity of VHS.
Over the last thirty years the credit for Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home has for the most part been given to actor-turned-filmmaker Nimoy, just as the failure of the fifth instalment, The Final Frontier, would be thrust upon its star and director William Shatner, but the focus of the majority of reviews would single out the screenplay for praise. ‘They knew they wanted to make a movie that would make a statement about the environment. They knew that they wanted it to include whales. They had a notion that time travel might enter into it. But it’s basically all they had,’ co-writer Steve Meerson recently told the Hollywood Reporter’s Heat Vision blog. ‘At the beginning of the process, it was actually a lot of fun. As the process progressed, it became less fun, because it became more political. And I don’t say that with any bitterness. It’s just the way things work in all businesses. We began to feel like at a certain point that this was going to be taken away from us, which in fact, it was.’
Despite having worked hard on the screenplay with co-writer Peter Krikes, Meerson was then forced to take a back seat to allow a veteran of the series to redraft the script to incorporate more Star Trek elements. Nicholas Meyer had already received considerable acclaim for his work 1982’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, an instalment which most fans believe to be the pinnacle of the franchise and his past experience proved essential to the success of The Voyage Home. ‘From what I’ve read online and what I know we did, the process of ‘Treking it up’ — I don’t think there were very substantial changes from what we had handed them,’ admits Meerson. ‘For us, we just derived a great sense of satisfaction. We always had a lot of pride in our work and this other stuff is kind of irrelevant. It’s just interesting the way things go. It just got very political, and that’s okay.’
The tone of the movie and focus of the story could have been considerable different had the studio managed to include one of their brightest young talents. Following starring roles in the hit comedies 48 Hours and Trading Places, former Saturday Night Live alumnus Eddie Murphy had signed a $15m deal with Paramount Pictures in 1983 but even before the release of the highly-anticipated action comedy Beverly Hills Cop a year later, by which point he had signed a five-picture deal that would commence with The Golden Child in 1986. Having already enjoyed success as a standup comedian with his first live show Delirious, Murphy had become the studio’s most profitable star and so from a commercial point-of-view his involvement in a Star Trek movie guaranteed box office success.
‘The only good show on TV now is Star Trek,’ claimed Murphy during his Delirious performance. ‘Captain Kirk will fuck anybody…Ever seen the episode where he fucked this green bitch? You gotta be a horny motherfucker to fuck a green bitch!’ Murphy would once again reference Star Trek a decade later in the romantic comedy Boomerang during a scene in which he is watching an episode with Halle Berry and annouces that, ‘Captain Kirk is the coolest white man on the planet!’ Murphy’s involvement in Star Trek IV first began when Daniel Petrie, Jr., fresh from his success with Beverly Hills Cop, was approached to write the story before finally being replaced by Meerson and Krikes. ‘The role of biologist Dr. Taylor was originally written with comedian Eddie Murphy in mind, before morphing into the reluctant object of desire for one James Tiberius Kirk,’ explained Pat Jankiewicz in Star Trek: Movies.
‘It was always the same story that approved, but the original draft included a part for Eddie Murphy. Eddie was on the lot at Paramount at the time and arguably was the biggest star in the word. They had told us he was a huge Star Trek fan,’ Meerson told Heat Vision. In the final script, Gillian Taylor is a biologist in San Francisco who is overseeing the care of two humpback whales, George and Gracie, who are to be released back into the ocean to fend for themselves against hunters. When Murphy was dropped from the project the character was rewritten as female and Emmy Award nominee Catherine Hicks was cast in the role. ‘I remember the fun, the kindness, just the kidding around, the joyfulness, and fighting for some close-ups, the tug of war with Bill (Shatner) for close-ups,’ the actress told the official Star Trek site. ‘It taught me to stand up for myself. I’d go to Leonard (Nimoy) and say, ‘This is MY shot. I need a single. I’m not going share the shot with Shatner.’ He wanted to get in every shot, but you couldn’t get mad at him because he was like a devilish brother.’