Star Trekking V: The Final Frontier

Posted: June 7, 2014 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews, Retrospectives

*Review contains spoilers

Star_Trek_The_Final_FrontierWritten by Daniel “PG Cooper

My “Star Trekking” series has been very rewarding so far. My rewatch of The Wrath of Khan proved it even better than I remembered, The Voyage Home is great, and even the weaker entries like The Motion Picture and The Search for Spock are good movies with strong elements. However, from the moment “Star Trekking” started, there’s been a dark spectre haunting it, and that spectre is called Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. The film has been panned by fans and critics since release and even won the Razzie for Worst Picture. Not only is The Final Frontier considered the worst film of the series, but it’s also unanimously hated. Even the lesser liked Star Trek films do have their fans and supporters. It was almost fascinating to go into such a disrespected film and I’d say The Final Frontier lives up to its reputation.

While the new Enterprise is going through heavy maintenance, Kirk, Bones, and Spock are enjoying shoreleave by camping in the forest together. However their break is cut short by an urgent mission to the neutral planet Nimbus III, where a renegade Vulcan named Sybok (Laurence Luckinbill)has taken the Starfleet, Romulan, and Klingon ambassadors hostage. The Enterprise crew rushes off to confront him, but they do not realize Sybok’s true plan; to pass the impenetrable barrier at the center of the galaxy in an effort to meet God.

On a technical level, The Final Frontier is mostly awful, and a clear step down from the previous Star Trek films. Despite having the largest budget of any Trek film since The Motion Picture, the special effects are worse than ever. From the big scale space battles, to smaller physical effects, it all looks cheap and unpolished. William Shatner makes his theatrical directorial début here, and he doesn’t show the amount of promise or skill fellow cast member Leonard Nimoy did in the Trek films he directed. In addition to the effects, the sets often look very cheap, the action scenes are handled very poorly, the pacing is almost non-existent, the tone is inconsistent, and there is a general lack of menace. I will say though it’s nice to hear a Jerry Goldsmith score in a Star Trek film again.

However, not all the blame falls on Shatner’s direction, since the film seemed doomed to fail. Despite a writer’s strike, production blazed ahead and the rushed writing and lack of refinement comes through in the story. Sybok’s plan in particular is horribly flawed. All Sybok needs is a spaceship to get to Sha Ka Ree, so why go through this convoluted scheme of holding diplomats hostage, attracting the attention of Romulans, Klingons, and Starfleet? There had to have been an easier way to get on a ship. The script tries to explain this by saying there are no ships on Nimbus III, but how did Sybok get on the planet in the first place? He’d have been brought on a ship. While we’re on this topic, why was Sybok on Nimbus III in the first place? The planet, and the diplomats, ultimately serve no purpose in the grand scheme of things.

These plotholes add up too. About half of the film is spent on this material and it ultimately feels like a huge waste of time. The result is a film that lacks any sense of tension or urgency. I found myself pretty bored throughout most of the film. Even after they finally leave Nimbus III, the film is still lifeless, even with Sybok taking over most of the ship and Kirk, Spock, and Bones fleeing. This is largely because Sybok, despite having fairly interesting motives, is overall not a very threatening villain. His goals are not very dubious and while his means are extreme, he isn’t technically hurting anyone. On top of that, when Kirk and the others resist him, Sybok seems more midly annoyed than anything. Another issue is the film’s insistence on comedy, and dumb comedy at that. There are a lot of really lame jokes here, probably the worst being when Scotty takes about how he knows every inch of the ship, then walks into a metal pole and is knocked unconscious. I sure miss the clever comedy of The Voyage Home.

There are plenty of other things that don’t add up as well. For example, the film makes a big deal out of the fact that the Enterprise is barely functioning. First of all, this serves no purpose in the film outside of explaining why they never use the teleporters. It also makes no sense. Why did Starfleet’s brand new ship given to a distinguished and experienced crew be a broken and inefficient piece of shit, and why would Starfleet send this ship on a mission to save hostages? Why is the Enterprise able to pass through the supposedly impenetrable barrier when no ship could previously? And as if these plot holes weren’t enough, the script is also plagued with some head scratchingly stupid scenes, like Uhura’s fan dance, bizarre sexual tension between Uhura and Scotty, a cocktail party with Klingons, and a bookend where Kirk, Spock, and Bones sing “Row Row Row Your Boat” together. These are the moments that bring the film to embarrassing lows.

To the film’s credit, there are some good ideas at the heart of it. The idea of exploring religion and God is an interesting one and I’m glad these films are still interested in tackling ideas. Unfortunately, everything about the execution is wrong. For all the film’s philosophizing about God, none of it really matters since when they finally arrive at Sha Ka Ree, the creature turns out to just be a space monster they fight, with any sense of wonder or awe being lost. And it goes without saying, but similar ideas were handled much better in Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

The Final Frontier has two distinct moments I like. Dumb as some of the camping stuff is early on, I do like when Kirk talks about how he’s always known he will die alone. It offers some interesting insight to his character while speaking to the importance of the friendships he holds. I also like the scene where Sybok has Spock and Bones confront their pain. It’s pretty well-directed, and I like Kirk’s little speech about how his pain is part of who he is (though Spock’s supposed pain regarding being a disappointment to his father seems like it was mostly cleared up at the end of The Voyage Home).

Do two good moments justify an hour and forty minutes of terrible filmmaking. No, but they, along with some interesting ideas, save The Final Frontier from being a complete failure. While the intentions of the film are good, the overall execution is just awful. Shatner’s direction is incompetent and the various behind-the-scenes problems torpedoed any real shot this had at being decent. As far as franchise lows go, I don’t think it’s quite as bad as Batman and Robin or Moonraker were to their respective franchises, but it isn’t too far off. Worst Star Trek film? I certainly hope so.

D-

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