The crew of the Enterprise has discovered a dizzying array of alien beings and cultures in their explorations of the universe. They've battled Klingons, faced off with Romulans and been troubled by Tribbles. But out of all of their adventures, my favorite encounter will always be their brush with the life form known as 1986 San Franciscans.

In STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME, a mysterious alien probe threatens to destroy the planet Earth unless its communications are answered by a very specific type of creature. Unfortunately, that creature has been extinct for centuries, which means Kirk and company must journey to the past to retrieve it. After a time travel sequence that puts the trippy in trip, the crew lands in the city of San Francisco, where they must overcome their greatest adversary-- the archaicness of the '80s-- to retrieve two humpback whales.

That's right, STAR TREK IV is a whale movie, and not only that, it's the best whale movie ever made. (Sorry, Willy!) The unabashed earnestness of the Star Trek franchise lends itself gladly to an environmental agenda, and the idea of Kirk, Spock and the gang fighting to save the whales is the most heartwarming thing that's ever happened in the United Federation of Planets. (Need I mention that the whales' names are George and Gracie?)

With such a noble message, this film could have easily slipped down a sanctimonious slide, but fortunately, the script combats any threat of loftiness with major wallops of humor. This is, arguably, the funniest of the Star Trek movies, with the series' inherent campiness joyfully mingling with the goofiness of the '80s. From Chekov's "nuclear wessels" to Kirk yelling, "Double dumbass on you!", the Enterprise crew isn't afraid to get ridiculous, and their interactions with relics of the past like computers and punks are goldmines of hilarity.

Some of the most amusing moments in the movie are a natural byproduct of the fact that the "future" was conceived in the 1960s, while "the past" was actually the present when this film was released. Compared to '80s fashion, Kirk's boots and bell bottoms are delightfully retro, while an IBM PC looks way more high-tech than the computers on the ship. These contrasts, rather than detracting from the film, actually make it even more enjoyable, because the movie's creators are in on the joke, and they're laughing along with you.

After more than 25 years, the charm of STAR TREK IV is far from endangered, though the same can't be said for humpbacks. Who wants to join my "Save the Whales or We'll Be Destroyed by an Alien Probe" campaign? (Sarah Pitre)

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