Never the most accessible cinematic franchise, "Star Trek" wound up being just that when it decided to indulge its fun side in this fourth entry. The end result remains one of the series' strongest episodes and proof that the franchise could weather the absence of space-bound action and the iconic USS Enterprise, and still be highly enjoyable.
A time-travel caper, with writers Nimoy and Bennett expertly inserting a save-the-whales sentiment without a hint of preachiness, the film finds the exiled crew of the late USS Enterprise returning home to face trial. With Earth under attack by an alien probe seeking to contact the now-extinct humpback whales, the ever-resourceful Kirk and company travel back to 1987 San Francisco to obtain the creatures and save the future.
The resulting fish-out-of-water antics are hugely entertaining with plenty of fun moments: Spock gives the Vulcan neck pinch to a punk, Kirk gets lost on a bus, and Scotty casually invents the formula for high-tensile, ultra-thin Plexiglas.
Displaying a flair for directing comedy, Nimoy never lets it descend into farce, keeping the pace, while gently poking fun at the characters: Kirk explains away Spock's logical manner as "I think he did a little too much LDS".
With a wonderfully poignant ending that finely underlines the crew's ultimate voyage home, this enjoyable entry is an all-too-rare moment of bravery for the long-running franchise, with Nimoy tremendously highlighting that Trek was as much vivid characters as vivid effects.