***What happens when I, a 30-something-year-old fanboy, decide to look at the Star Trek franchise for the first time with an open heart? You get “Rob Watches Star Trek.”***
TITLE: Star Trek V: The Final Frontier
STARRING: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, Laurence Luckinbill, James Doohan
DIRECTOR: William Shatner
WRITER: William Shatner (Story), Harve Bennett (Story), David Loughery (Screenplay)
STUDIOS: Paramount Pictures
RUN-TIME: 106 min
RELEASED: June 9, 1989
By Rob Siebert
New Around here? Check out the “Rob Watches Star Trek” archive!
Star Trek V is considered by many to be the worst of the franchise. Certainly it’s the red-headed stepchild among the films featuring the original cast. Case in point, Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 21%. Most of the other OG Star Trek films scored in the 70th or 80th percentile. The one with the closest score is the first film, which has 41%.
I can’t necessarily disagree, or say that Star Trek V is a good movie. What I can say is that, like most bad movies, there’s a good movie in there somewhere. You just have to squint to see it. And frankly, I didn’t have to squint very hard at Star Trek V.
The movie certainly takes a hell of a leap from the last one. We go from searching for whales in Star Trek IV, to searching for God in Star Trek V. Indeed, a renegade vulcan named Sybok claims to have a path to the planet where creation originated. He also has a mysterious ability to “take away” the pain of any person he wills. Against their will, Kirk, Spock, Bones, and the others soon find themselves at the mercy of Sybok, and even on the receiving end of his powers. But the most pressing question remains: Can Sybok back up his claims? Can he truly take them to where life began?
One of the major issues with Star Trek V is that its tongue is planted so firmly in its cheek. In Star Trek IV, we learned we didn’t always have to be so big, epic, and serious about everything. That lighter tone is what makes The Voyage Home my favorite among the Star Trek films so far. Remember, this is supposed to be fun…
But Star Trek V takes the humor too far. What should ultimately be a story about Kirk, Spock, and Bones being a little surrogate family becomes something that’s almost a parody of the Star Trek franchise at large. We’ve gone from one extreme to the other. Star Trek III tried to be too serious. Star Trek V isn’t serious enough. Star Trek IV was the happy medium between the two.
Simply put, there are too many jokes. And often they come at awkward times. We get Kirk falling off a friggin’ mountain, a bizarre campfire sing-along, Kirk lamenting for his old captain’s chair, would-be comedic attempts at escape, just to name a few. These moments aren’t necessarily offensive on their own. It’s the accumulation that becomes an issue.
Star Trek V states its thesis early on, and it’s a damn good one. Kirk, Spock, and Bones are sitting around said campfire, and Kirk says he knows he’ll die alone. Bones wonders what draws the three of them together, adding that other people have families to go home to.
“Not us, Bones,” Kirk says. “Not us.”
And there it is right there. Family. These three men, through all their adventures, trials, and tribulations together, have become like family. Despite all Kirk has been through, he’s not really alone. Kirk doesn’t have a family by blood. But he has the family he’s chosen. This idea takes a twist later on, when we discover that our villain Sybok is actually Spock’s half-brother.
Mixed in with that family theme is one of pain. What we do with pain, how it defines us, and who we become if it’s taken away. There’s a really intriguing sequence toward the middle of the movie where Sybok ventures inside the hearts and minds of Bones and Spock, and see where their greatest pain lays. With Bones, it’s that he took his dying father off life support. For Spock, it’s in his attempts to earn the approval of his father. Kirk cuts Sybok off before he can explore his pain, saying his pain makes him who he is. “I don’t want my pain taken away,” he says. “I need my pain.”
And of course, how do we deal with pain? By leaning on the ones we love. On our family. That’s beautiful, and great territory for a Star Trek movie. I only wish the film had taken more time to explore it, instead of getting caught up searching for, of all things, God.
One one hand, I can see going that route. The movie is called The Final Frontier, and is man’s search for meaning and answers not the ultimate frontier? The ultimate journey?
But on the other hand, Why even go there? To put it in pro wrestling terms: What’s the finish? God is a weird thing to have to deliver. How do you portray Him without offending part of your audience? And what do your characters do once they meet God? What about afterward? I imagine God is a pretty tough act to follow…
Conspicuous by his presence in the director’s chair is William Shatner, who was also involved in the writing of the film. Apparently he was inspired by televangelists, and people supposedly “speaking” to God. That’s an interesting idea, and again, fertile territory for Star Trek. But did we have to actually search for God Himself?
How about this: Sybok (shown above) emerges as the leader of his own cult/church. His followers, which perhaps include a mix of Klingons, Romulans, and other evil aliens from Star Trek lore, storm Federation occupied space in the name of “God.” Kirk and the Enterprise go up against them, in the process learning Sybok is Spock’s half-brother. In the end, they expose him as a fraud.
I do, however, like the conclusion the movie comes to: The God is inside all of us. That feels like something they’d have done on the show.
Part of me wishes Sybok had only looked into Kirk’s mind, as opposed to Bones and Spock. There’s so much fertile ground to cover there. As I’ve been so fond of pointing out, HIS FRIGGIN’ SON WAS KILLED. It would then be up to Spock and Bones to convince him not to have that pain taken away, despite the great temptation. Yet another chance to explore David’s death that’s completely passed up. Heck, knowing these movies even if they had gone that route they’d have ignored David and explored something else entirely…
Question: Is this movie trying to tell us that Scotty and Uhura are together? Or at least romantically interested in one another? If so, why? After all these years, why those two? (Although I suppose a valid could be, why not those two?)
And while we’re talking about her, yes, having Uhura do that naked dance thing was weird. It felt beneath her character. Even though they used her for sexual purposes in “Plato’s Stepchildren” as well, this felt like a needless and frankly bad attempt at comedy.
Star Trek V fumbled the ball in terms of both story and tone. After 30 years, it’s pretty tough to deny it. But I don’t think it was bad at the idea stage. Conceptually, this could have been the best of the Star Trek series. What a shame it ended up among the worst.
Email Rob at email@example.com, or check us out on Twitter.