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The final frontier’s waiting.
It waits for those who dare.
For each frontier
That man draws near,
A new one grows elsewhere.

We often think that warnings
Were made to be ignored,
Yet some frontiers
Deserve their fears
And should be unexplored.

But human beings being
What human beings are,
We will not see
Our fallacy
Until we’ve dared too far.

MPAA rating: PG

Before recently, I could say that I’d seen all the Star Trek films, from the original series cast to Next Gen to the J.J. Abrams reboots…all of them except Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. Why? Well, I suppose I just assumed it wasn’t worth seeing. My parents always said it was one of the bad ones and never had any desire to see it more than once, so I never did while growing up. But then I thought, “Why should I take their word for it? I ought to find out for myself how to view a Star Trek film!” So I watched The Final Frontier, and you know what? They were RIGHT!

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There’s a commonly held notion that all the even-numbered Trek films are good and the odd-numbered ones are bad. I personally don’t think that holds true for later films, since I didn’t much like Insurrection or Nemesis but love all three reboots, yet it’s films like The Final Frontier that give that kind of theory credence. It’s not unwatchable; it’s not utterly boring like Star Trek: The Motion Picture was, but like that first movie, its story is both ill-advised and far more fitting a small-screen episode rather than a feature-length film. It’s the only Trek film written and directed by William Shatner, and no offense to him, but that’s likely for the best.

After an introduction to the film’s unusually empathetic Vulcan antagonist Sybok (Laurence Luckinbill), we catch up with Kirk, Spock, and Bones on shore leave in Yosemite National Park, which very quickly reveals the problems that will plague this film. The banter is far more forced than in other films, relying more heavily on the proven chemistry of the actors rather than actual wit or humor. A scene with Kirk falling off a cliff and Spock rescuing him features some atrociously obvious green screen and hints that the effects won’t be nearly as polished as in prior films. (ILM was busy with Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Ghostbusters II, so a less prestigious effects house was commissioned instead, and it shows.) Plus, a scene with the three amigos sitting around a campfire just felt rather pathetic, Kirk and McCoy trying to teach “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” to Spock. I think my mom once said it was a reminder of how old these actors/characters had gotten, keeping each other company for lack of any families of their own.

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The middle of the film does bounce back a bit, as the malfunction-ridden Enterprise is sent to Sybok’s desert planet to rescue some consuls he has taken captive, only for him to seize Kirk and his ship. It allows for some decent action and even a glimpse into a private trauma in McCoy’s past, thanks to Sybok’s patented form of therapeutic brainwashing. Yet there’s always a sense of this being a second-rate production, from bewildering creative choices (a three-boobed cat woman? Uhura doing a fan dance to distract some guards?) to unavoidable plot holes. Here’s a prime example: Starfleet sends Kirk on this mission, despite his ship’s handicaps, solely due to his experience because hopefully he won’t have to resort to violence to rescue the hostages. However, he opts for an infiltration plan that immediately turns to violence because his transporter wasn’t working. If Starfleet had sent another fully functional ship, they could have just beamed up the hostages, and Kirk’s unparalleled leadership wouldn’t have even been necessary!

By the end, the film nearly falls apart as the Sybok-led Enterprise navigates to a planet at the center of the galaxy where Eden and God supposedly await them. The “dangerous” barrier surrounding it is nothing but a bunch of swirly colors, and when they beam down to the planet, they wander yet another desert landscape while the music swells like we’re supposed to be awestruck by its grandeur. The god they encounter is visualized as a big glowing face that shoots lasers out of its eyes, and…now that I’m describing it, I realize how stupid that sounds. Yeah, it is, and even with the attempt at deep religious questions that might have made a worthwhile episode, the end product just isn’t a very worthwhile film.

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Although I’d easily consider it the second-worst film in the series, Star Trek V has moments where you can see why the filmmakers and actors kept running with it rather than throwing their hands up and starting over. Luckinbill has a great screen presence as the villain, if only he had a better film to antagonize, and it’s hard to hate Shatner, Nimoy, and Kelley in these iconic roles. The film was reportedly plagued by multiple budget problems during filming and post-production, and while some movies can hide such issues, here the end result suffers. The plot is unfocused (a potential romance is teased between Uhura and Scotty but goes nowhere); the humor is largely unfunny; certain elements are introduced, never to be seen again in the franchise, as far as I remember (Spock’s rocket boots, an observation deck with a literal ship’s wheel); and I found it unfortunately easy to mock while watching it, MST3K-style. The plot of Star Trek IV can also sound stupid when you describe it, but it’s all in the execution. There, it worked; with The Final Frontier, it didn’t.

Best line: (McCoy, to Spock) “I liked you better before you died.”


Rank: Dishonorable Mention


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