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Whale Watching

June 27, 2013

My mom’s favourite Star Trek movie has always been The Voyage Home.

Except she never calls it by its proper title.

Our fist copy of it was recorded off a TV broadcast onto a VHS that she labelled Star Trek IV: Whales. I was really surprised when I learned that it wasn’t actually called Whales. I mean, she went to all the trouble of writing out the Roman numeral, it seemed weird that she’d get sloppy at the end. Then again, my mom worked at the aquarium when I was a kid and she loves marine biology. So it kind of makes sense.

Anyway, she watched it. All. The. Time. Like, once a week for the first five years of my life. WAY too much.

Later on, I’d be hanging out with my cool trekkie friends drinking homemade Romulan ale (Romulan moonshine) and someone would say: “Let’s watch Voyage Home!” Or sometimes even “How about The One with the Whales?” And I’d shoot down the suggestion like some kind of soulless monster who hates joy. Everybody had to watch First Contact or something equally popcorn unfriendly. I hope you like long-winded speeches about moral obligation, because there will be no whimsical tales of time travel at this get-together.

It was like I’d stuffed my face full of candy and gotten sick, and every time somebody offered me a sweet, I could only remember throwing up. Instant aversion.

Then I started to realize that most of my recollection of the movie was… gone.

I had a few hazy memories of Nuclear Wessels and Scotty inventing some kind of transparent aluminium before he was supposed to, and maybe Spock fighting thugs who were dressed like Bebop and Rocksteady from Ninja Turtles, but that was all. It had melted into the past, and since I was so stubborn about not watching it, I’d lost most of it.

This made me very sad.

It was easily fixed by ordering delicious pizza and making Whales be on my TV.

Oh my god you guys. It is seriously the greatest cinematic achievement of all time, no exaggeration. I don’t even know why people talk about Citizen Kane when there’s a movie where SPOCK MIND MELDS WITH A WHALE.

If you haven’t seen it – which would be kind of weird because you’re at a Star Trek blog – it’s based around the idea that even in the glittering Federation Future, we’ve dropped the ball when it comes to environmentalism. Nelson Muntz has gotten his wish and the whales have, tragically, been nuked to extinction. Prior to 2286, this was just a sad footnote in history. Like the Tasmanian tiger or the dodo. But then a weird interstellar probe shows up and it can only communicate in whale song. Unfortunately, it’s also doing massive damage to all human installations it encounters, and is threatening to destroy the earth.

Obviously the only solution is for Captain Kirk and his crew to go back in time to 1986, collect two Humpback whales and bring them to the future where they can tell the probe to get the hell away from the Alpha Quadrant. Now, you might be wondering why the good people of Starfleet don’t just synthesize a message based on our understanding of whalesong and its frequencies, especially since they have technology as advanced as universal translators. But if that’s seriously bothering you, I don’t think I care to hear about it and I secretly suspect you are the least fun person ever.

There are so many great moments in The Voyage Home that the tenuous thread holding them together doesn’t even matter. If I had to trade seeing Kirk and Spock take the bus for a plot based around better science, I wouldn’t do it. I don’t want to give up watching Sulu walk around in his future clothes and being better dressed than literally everyone in the 1980’s. Lines like “Admiral, there be whales here!” And Kirk explaining how Spock took too much LDS in the 60’s, or Dr. McCoy helping patients at the hospital after Chekov gets the shit beat out of him because of Cold War tensions. (Or maybe he fell off a ledge while he was trying to steal military grade equipment. Potato tomato.)

It’s such wonderful fun and so absurdly entertaining. Of all the movies, it probably has the keenest sense of humour and the deepest love for its characters. And that makes a huge difference when it comes to what stories are strong enough to stay the longest, and which movies might be able to stand the test of time and weather the ups and downs of a franchise.

The weird thing is that I watch it all the time now. Way too much. It’s my absolute favourite Star Trek movie, and even though I know it’s called The Voyage Home, I always call it Whales.

Most young women are terrified of turning into their mothers, but in this case I don’t mind so much. When a movie is good, it’s good. Why fight it?

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