Movie Review – Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

1989 Paramount Pictures

Two Stars

After being very disappointed in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home I was hoping for a rebound and return to more serious Trekking with the fifth entry in the series. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier unfortunately is an extremely mixed bag when it comes to the level of seriousness, humor, and quality.

As every Trek fan knows William Shatner was given the reins after Leonard Nimoy’s two outings in the director’s chair and he definitely takes this movie in a different direction.

The movie opens on the surface of Nimbus III as a downtrodden humanoid comes face to face with a mysterious and emotional Vulcan. We then switch to Yosemite Park back on Earth as Captain Kirk attempts to climb El Capitan while on a camping trip with Spock and McCoy. Forced to return to duty our crew warps away to take care of a hostage situation on Nimbus III and a meeting with Sybok, the Vulcan seen in the prologue who turns out to be Spock’s half brother (and the twin sister of Luke Skywalker, well not really) The rest of the story is of course well known by Trekkies.

Much has been said about this movie with the words disaster, garbage, and worst being tossed about quite a bit. Is this movie the worst of the bunch? Well yes it probably is but it also does have some positive aspects that I think have been overshadowed by the lesser quality of the whole. I actually found this a very frustrating movie because I think it had the basic elements to be entertaining but for every step forward it takes two steps back. The potential of many scenes is killed by lame attempts at action or humor. For example:

Starting off I found the prologue intriguing and the peaceful opening scenes of Kirk free climbing well done and well integrated with some beautiful music by Jerry Goldsmith. Then Spock shows up in a pair of ridiculous rocket boots it kills the mood at the same time as removing me from the Trek universe as I have known it for years. Silly rocket boots and Spock doing a Superman impression don’t fit Trek. Kirk should have made it to the top and enjoyed the view. End of scene. Fade out.

The rescue scene on Nimbus III is marred by some bad one-liners, a naked Uhura singing and doing a fan dance, and unbelievably dumb villains distracted by the naked dancing Uhura. Not smart film making and again not very Trek like. The escape attempt on the Enterprise as Kirk, Spock, and McCoy break out of the brig with Scotty’s help is fun to a point but once again the rocket boots make an appearance in what I believe is the sloppiest scene in any Trek ever as the escaping trio rocket up the turbo lift shaft passing floor after floor, some several times. I cannot help but cringe at the hack editing job and the total inattention to the size of the ship. Lame, lame, lame, this is Star Trek not the keystone cops. Pay attention to details unless you want to alienate your fan base. I have no issues with a story that tries something new but only if it stays plausibly within the rules of the established story universe and does not compromise the established characters.

More issues are an underdeveloped story that does not have a satisfactory resolution and Sybok as Spock’s half brother. The concept of an emotional Vulcan was interesting but why not just have him be a Vulcan that Spock once knew instead of a half brother? His ability to take away the pain of others is another interesting concept but it’s never explained or fleshed out in enough detail. The scene where Sybok tries to bring Kirk, Spock, and McCoy into the fold by freeing them from their pain comes off as very cheesy and it could have been a very powerful scene. The idea of the Great Barrier at the center of our galaxy that no ship has survived is so badly conceived and is brought to life in such an inept way as to be laughable.

All of this is a shame because if everyone had just paid attention to details and the screenplay had been given a few more revisions and some polish this could have been an interesting film. I like the fact Shatner shows the crew outside of Starfleet in a more casual environment and tries to explore their characters more and I also like the fact he tries to add a little more action but the attempts are too flawed. Unfortunately this movie stands as a monument on how not to make a good Trek movie.

The good:

The climbing scene until Spock shows up in his rocket boots.

Klaa has the best hair ever for a Klingon and the Klingon makeup is very well done.

The Klingon Troy Polamalu.

Laurence Luckinbill gives a very good performance as Sybok.

The special effect shots are bright and the details are crisp.

It’s nice and bright and the scale looks right.

Nice close up of the model.

Nice set design on the Klingon bridge. I love the centered corridor leading to the bridge.The not so good:

This seems to be the extent of the engineering section. Must’ve had a budget cut. Poor Scotty.

Even though the special effects are bright they lack a feeling of motion and depth and the optical effects are barely passable. The Great Barrier should not have looked like someone was blowing cigarette smoke at the screen.

Nothing great about this barrier.

WTF people WTF?

Good editing.

Shatner’s daughter appearing constantly in every bridge scene is annoying. Yes she’s pretty but stop coming up with lame reasons for her to be in every scene.

It’s the Melanie Shatner show!

Random thoughts and observations:

I know Shatner had many problems when making this, I would like to see how it would have turned out if he had more time and money, his direction is bumpy at times but showed promise. I still see no reason for the overall sloppiness and general disregard for continuity and details.

This is the only Trek movie that is structured like an episode from the original series with the prologue before the credits.

Who the hell are these people? Go stunt doubles!

Sybok’s hair gets noticeably shorter as the movie progresses.

Make sure to get your hair cut before seeing God.

The stones pop out of the ground…

…but then are clearly sitting on surface of the ground.

Suddenly the crew is joined by some guy with a cable sticking out of his back!

The original concept for the ending had Kirk being attacked by rock men after Spock and McCoy were beamed onboard the Enterprise. Like many things about this movie this concept was not very well thought out. They did however construct one rock man costume that is kind of fun in a cheesy kind of way. Footage of the rock man can be viewed here:  Rock Man.

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