I am going to assume you already know how this review is going to go. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier‘s reputation for being awful transcends Trekdom into the mainstream. It solidified the general assumption that odd numbered trek films are bad and if it were not for trek’s 25th anniversary two years later, probably would have killed the franchise. Nevertheless, I do not want to look like I am beating up on the film just because everyone else does.
Science fiction fandom is a highly insulated word. Mainstream opinion matters very little to science fiction fans. Everything will have its defenders within science fiction. Add to that the further compartmentalizing of science fiction fans into Trekkies, Warries, Wholigans, and it gets even worse. Such fans feel as though they have to appreciate the virtues of every offering within their drug of choice no matter how bad it might be overall. I can appreciate that and so am going to give TFF as fair a shake as I can. It is going to be difficult. The film is offensive to both general filmmaking conventions and trek fans alike.
Before diving into the review, let me assure you there is nothing you can say about external factors adversely affecting TFF I do not already know about. I know there was studio interference. I know there were budget problems. I know there was a Teamsters strike. They wanted Sean Connery to play Sybok, but he was filming Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade. ILM was supposed to do the special effects, but they were busy with Indiana Jones, too. I have heard every defense of the film from William Shatner himself in his Star Trek Movie Memories and the commentary track. Shatner spelled out the changes he would like to have made. But all that is speculation. The movie is what it is. I have to judge it on its own merits, not what might have been.
Realistically, every problem is TFF rests solely on Shatner’s shoulders. Paramount wanted another trek sequel that would be high on comedy like the previous, since it had been the biggest hit. Shatner wanted to do a pet project about the crew searching for God, but finding the devil instead. Gene Roddenberry himself was against the idea. Surprisingly, his rationale was not his obnoxious atheism, but that he had tried that story in the past and it did not work. Shatner ignored all nay Sayers, claiming he could do his epic quest for God and have comedy. Paramount inexplicably believed him.
Am I being harsh here? I do not think so. Some combinations just do not go together. It sounds difficult to get laughs out of a search for life’s meaning. But I suppose someone with skill can combine contrary elements and make it good. For example, one imagines a movie about the Holocaust could never have any light moments. However, Roberto Benigni made a masterpiece with the bittersweet Life is Beautiful. Conversely, Jerry Lewis’ unfinished film, The Day the Clown Cried, in which the plot revolves around a clown used to keep children occupied I a Nazi death camp and eventually marching them into the gas chamber, has been considered so horrifyingly tasteless by the few executives who have see it, the movie will likely never be completed, much less released. Even talented creative types cannot always pull such combinations off.
I cannot honestly elevate Shatner motherlands of master filmmakers anyway. While he had written and directed some episode of TJ Hooker, TFF was his first feature film. His idea was too ambitious for a first time director. He did make what seemed at the time to be a smart move by hiring David Loughery as co-writer and producer. Loughery had been brought on based on the strength of his science fiction film Dreamscape. Loughery has since disavowed Dreamscape as being unrepresentative of his work. Odd, since it has been his only hit. His subsequent films have included such critical and financial failures as Passenger 57 and Money Train..
That said, I still have to blame the movie’s failure on Shatner because he demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of anyone’s character but his own. The Final Frontier may appear on the surface to center on Vulcan sibling rivalry with Spock and Sybok, but it is a complete love letter to James T. Kirk at the expense of all else, including logic.
The film begins with an emaciated miner working in the desert of Nimbus III. The planet is a failed public relations project between the Federation, Klingons, and Romulans to create a symbol of intergalactic peace. A rider on a horse shows up, notices the poor gain is nothing but a ball of pain, and does so sort of voodoo on him to ease it. The little guy pledges loyalty to his new savior, who reveals himself to be Sybok. When he asks what Sybok’s quest is, he replies it is for ultimate knowledge, but for that he needs a starship. There are none on Nimbus III, but he has an idea how to lure one here.
We have already been introduced with a number of problems you can only get in a bad movie. First, Nimbus III looks like the worst place imaginable for a project of this kind. It is a barren desert surrounded by the dregs of the galaxy, none of whom appear to be Klingon or Romulan, so what is the point of calling it a unifying symbol of peace? The three races are not have people living together in peace.
Second,, Sybok’s power is ridiculous. It is made clear what he does is not mind control. He is relieving pain. One major, crippling pain in particular for each person. I am not a psychologist, but I have doubts that any one pain can completely cripple a person to the point if that pain is salved, one would pledge complete, unquestioned loyalty to his healer to the point one will drop everything in life to follow him on some foolhardy quest.
But let us say, for the sake of argument, that can happen. Would it not be easier for Sybok to go to Starfleet, use his ability on some low level clerk who can get his foot in the door of the chain of command? Surely he could eventually convince someone with authority to order a starship to take him anywhere he wants to go. Starfleet has done stupider things without having a Vulcan mystic remove anyone’s pain.
Finally, we have the most blatant lapse of illogic. If you are looking for a starship, why come to a planet where there are not any? More importantly, how did Sybok get to Nimbus III without a starship in the first place? We are not off to a roaring start here.
Forget all that for a moment, because we have to check in on the most awesome man in the universe, Kirk. Kirk, Spock, and McCoy are vacationing in Yosemite. Kirk has taken in open himself to go free climbing a mountain. Free climbing is such a dangerous sport, even experienced climbers do not do it. Climbing with nothing but your fingers and feet to keep you from certain death is dumb enough, but when you are a 55 year old man who has spent his most recent years sitting behind a desk at Starfleet command, it is suicidal.
Ah, but Kirk has no problem with it. He even takes his hand off the rock in order to gesture a bit when Sock flies next to him wearing rocket boots. Kirk slips, but is rescued in the nick of time by Spock, who can inexplicably fly sideways like Superman with those boots. Kirk, just inches from certain death, quips to McCoy, “Mind if we drop in?” A fine example of what passes for comedy in TFF.
Back on Nimbus III, we are introduced to Paradise City, the capital of the planet which I am pretty sure was meant to be an homage to Mos Eisely from <Star wars, but it very out of place with what the Planet of Intergalactic Peace should be all about. We follow the Romulus ambassador as she walks into a strip club featuring a three breated dancing cat towards the back of the bar where the other two ambassadors are. Shatner was going for gritty, but having the embassy in the back of strip club is just absurd. Sybok attacks the place with his rag tag army of societal rejects, takes everyone hostage, and waits for a starship to come to the rescue. In accordance with his plan, Sybok prevents the ambassadors from sending out an SOS because that would, you know, bring a starship there and stuff.
Sybok creates a video of the hostages pleading for their safety and broadcasts it. The Federation receives it and decides to cancel Kirk’s shore leave. The Klingons receive it, too. The Romulans apparently do not give a rat’s behind because we never see or hear from them.
The first Enterprise crewman to be reactivated are Sulu and Chekov. Their first appearance in the film sets up their sole purpose for being in it in the first place--to be the butt of jokes. There has been a lot said about the animosity between Shatner and the rest of the cast which dates back to TOS. More than any other time, you see Shatner take his revenge by humiliating his costars in TFF. The first instance involves these two, who are lost near Mt. Rushmore, but are trying to hide that fact from Uhura even though she can see from space they are not actually trapped in a blinding blizzard. Walter Koenig spits out his lines with such an obvious contempt for his role, you have to feel sorry for him.
Even though it is in the early afternoon for Sulu and Chekov, it is the middle of the night for Kirk, Spock, and McCoy in California. Figure that one out. They have been eating beans lathered in whiskey, which prompts the only fart joke in trek history, learn Spock cannot pronounce “marshmallow,“ and have a discussion on death. McCoy is unhappy with Kirk’s casual disregard for his own life. Kirk responds he was not worried about falling because he has always known he will die alone. Or with the emotionally distant Picard, which is probably a lot like being alone.
They are finally retrieved after singing badly and farting the night away. The Enterprise they return to is a wreck. It is part of the lame comedy that absolutely nothing works, but it is taken too far. Even the logbook, which is a separate component, is broken. Scotty is his usual grumpy self about the situation in spite of the sudden appearance of Uura’s infatuation with him. I have no clue where that came from and am glad it disappeared with the end credits.
Turns out the <Enterprise is the only ship close enough to Nimbus III to be of any use, so even if it is not ready to fl, it has to be the one to go. Remember this point for later. Kirk views the hostage video tape and the appearance of Sybok spars off recognition in spock. He describes Sybok as a mystic who was banished from Vulcan for seeking forbidden knowledge. He does not say Sybok is his brother.
McCoy reminds Kirk the Klingons will be sending a rescue ship ,too. Right on cue, we go to a ship commanded by Klaa, who is busy shooting a NASA satellite that screams when it is hit. Is it Shatner’s jab at V’Ger? It would not surprise me. Klaa learns about the hostages on Nimbus III and decides to go there in order to challenge whatever Federation ship is sent on the rescue mission. So we have a Klingon captain taking it upon himself to attack his government’s mortal enemy at the Planet of Intergalactic peace. All right.
The transporters are, of course, not working, so the Enterprise crew has to conduct the rescue the old fashioned way. Lucky for Sybok, huh? The Enterprise could have just beamed out the hostages and left otherwise. Nichelle Nichols becomes the third cast member to feel the wrath of Shatner as the 60 year old woman dances naked I order to distract a band a sentries watching out for a rescue team just in case the transporter is broken so the rescue has to be conducted the old fashioned way. I cannot add anything to that without blood splurting out of my nose.
To cut to thechase: therescue fails because the hostages have been voodooed by Sybok. Everyone gets captured among loads of remarks about how dumb the situation is. Sybok greets Spock, who still is not thrilled to see him. Sybok explains that he isaftera starship so he can go to Sha ka Ree and find God.
Stop for a moment here. I am confident Sybok has lost touch with Spock, so he has no idea his brother has just died and retrned from the dead. But if he is on aquestfor ultimate knowledge, God, and all that goodstuff, is that not something that ought to be mentioned to him? Maybe it would satisfy him? But of course no one cars about that.
Everyone escapes in a shuttlecraft just as Klaa arrives and firesat the Enterprise The shuttle flies into a barricade set up in the bay because they do not have time to use a tractor beam to haul it in. Completeing the landing is the only example of competence Sulu is allowed to exhibit the entire film. No one is injured in spite of the high speed collission in which no one iswearing a seatbelt. All right.
Kirk and Sybbk struggle over a gun I a sequence in which the blatantly obvious stuntman is hung unbelievably on blaantly obvious wiresand tossed about like Sandy Duncan playing Peter Pan It is absolutely horrible. The gun gets away from them both (It was probably humiliated to be seen with them.) and lands near Spock’s feet. He picks it up but refuses to shoot Sybok, so he, Kirk, and McCoy aresent to the brig while Sybok works his magic on the brig crew.
In the brig, McCoy gets his second line I the last thirty minutes, but is quicy hushed by Kirk. That is probably how it was during the production, too. Spock finally explains Sybok is his half brother by way of a Vulcan princess, so he could not kill him. He further explains sybok has spethis life looking for Sha Ka Ree. Heclaims it is the reason he left Vulcan although he previously said Sybok was banished from Vulcan or heresy. Take your pick. I do not care anymore. This script is horrible.
At this point, Sybokhas converted the entire bridge crew, so they have all turned on Kirk. Even the crewmembers he has not been able to work on personally. Seriously,he announces he has taken over theship and no one is the least bit upset. That is stupid enough, but consider this; a couple moviesago, Sulu, Chekov, Uhura, etc were loyal enough to Kirk and Spock they were willing to steal the Enterprise and go rogue in order to bring spock’s body to Vulcan. They were risking court martial and imprisonment. now with onewave of Sybok’s hand, that loyalty is undone? It is not possible.
Furthermore, it is insulting. everyone was supposed to turn against kirk, including Spock and McCoy. Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelly refused to go along with it because they could not believe their characters would ever betray Kirk Spock especially after what Kirk has done for him. It is further proof shatner lacks understanding of every character but Kirk.
Scoty breaks them out of the brig, thenlikea buffoon, cocks his head in the corridor. James Doohan and Ahatner hated each other for a long time, you know. There is another comedy sequence here involving the et boots, escaping Sulu who is ready to shoot thitherto them, and the ship essentially being skyscraper, but there is really no point indwelling on any of it.
Kirk tries to send a message to Starfleet, but he is actually jst letting Klaa know where he is, setting up the final confrontation. Before all that, Sybok discovers the three of them. He does his voodoo on McCoy and Spock. I said I would give kudos where kudos were due, so here it goes. McCoy expressed earlier in the film that he places a high value on life. Here we learn why. He euthanized his father to preserve his dignity months beforea cure was found. Had he possessed that philosophy earlier, hisfather would have survived. Honestly, it is the only bit of the film that logically follows.
Sybok wants to help Kirk, but he refuses, saying you cannot wipe away someone’s pain with the wave of a hand. That is true. It is one of the big reasons TFF is sch a bad movie. It is hilarious the writer/director will break the fourth wall and admit it on screen.
Remember earlier I said you should remember the Enterprise was sent to Nimbus III ecause it was the only ship that could get there in a reasonable amount of time? Well, the ship reaches the center of the galaxy here within afew hours, so neermind thereare no ships avaibalewithin a reasonable ditstance. There must not have been any ships available at all! It makes one wonder why Sha Ka Ree was so hardto find if it was so convenienty located.
Kirk decides if they are going to explorea new plaet, they are going to do it by the book. That means the main crewand aloopy Vulcan mystic. They go down and find nothing until some large rock formations pop up. Then they meet acreaturewho claims to be God. He demands their starship, which prompts Kirk to ask the famous question, “What does God need with a starship?” The query prompts “God” to blast kirk, at which point Sybok realizes thisain’t God. “God” gives him some lesson on egotism--Lord, Shatner wrote this. The irony, the irony!-- and becomes enraged.
Everyone manages to escape except Kirk. Wearesupposedto think he might die here, since he is alone and the Kligons are attacking the Enterprise, but it is difficult to think about that because of thescene itself. “God” was supposed to createsomerock creatures to battle Kirk, but they were so implausible, they were scrapped. We will see them eleven years later in Galaxy Quest. Instead, we get a stationary mattee panting and howling from “God” that sounds like a frustrated Yosemite Sam. “God”gets blasted by the Kligon ship, for which Spock is now the gunner thanks to the Klingon ambassador‘s orders to Klaa.
So the movie mercifully ends, but not before making Sulu and Chekov look like idiots yet again by checking out a Klingon female’s rear end. Lord, make it stop!
I assume I do not have to sum up anything here. This movie is horrible in every possible way as far as cinema, Trek, and common sense are concerned. You could remove it from Trek continuity altogether and nothing would be missing. In fact, it would probably flow better consider in the next movie deals with themes from the fourth, but not the fifth. No one would have to reconcile so many strange points, either. This is easily the worst mainstream science fiction film of the last quarter century.
Obligatory:Rating: * (out of 5)