Release Date: June 9th, 1989
Directed by: William Shatner
Written by: William Shatner, Harve Bennett, David Loughery
Based on: Star Trek by Gene Roddenberry
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, Laurence Luckinbill, David Warner
Paramount Pictures, 106 Minutes
“Damn it, Bones, you’re a doctor. You know that pain and guilt can’t be taken away with a wave of a magic wand. They’re the things we carry with us, the things that make us who we are. If we lose them, we lose ourselves. I don’t want my pain taken away! I need my pain!” – Captain James T. Kirk
There’s no bones about it (pun intended), Star Trek V: The Final Frontier is the worst Star Trek film featuring the original crew. I could argue that maybe Generations and Insurrection are worse but this is probably the worst film in the entire franchise. I actually liked Nemesis but I’ll get to the reasons why when I eventually review that one.
The problems with this film are immediately noticeable when it starts with a cold opening like its some procedural cop show on television. We also get an opening on a dusty, sand planet where things are visually obscured. It looks like one of a billion Mad Max ripoffs and a film with little to no budget. Well, the budget on this chapter was incredibly tight and caused some problems. In fact, William Shatner, who directed this chapter, claims that the film was to have a much larger, interesting and impressive ending but his hands were tied by the producers. In reality, this film was so bad and the producers dropped the ball that the franchise almost didn’t recover. Had Star Trek: The Next Generation not have been a hit, two years earlier, this film could have been Star Trek‘s swan song.
With all of its problems, do I dislike this film? Well, not really. In fact, it is still enjoyable and has some positives that I feel, outweigh the myriad of negatives.
For one, I’m huge on camaraderie in an ensemble cast and especially with crew members of Star Trek, regardless of movie, show, crew, actors, etc. The Final Frontier has some of the best scenes in the entire franchise in regards to camaraderie. All the stuff with Kirk, Spock and McCoy is absolute perfection and something that was the culmination of working so closely together for over two decades by the time this was made. I love the camping scenes but all their stuff working together on the ship to stop a mutiny was really good too.
The villain, Sybok, was a fresh and new antagonist for the crew to face. He was a Vulcan for one and he was also Spock’s half-brother. Sybok was on a spiritual pilgrimage to the center of the galaxy to find God. In order to do so, he had to create a scheme where he would be able to lure in a spaceship to his remote area of the galaxy. Once he acquired a ship, he could make his pilgrimage to God, “The Final Frontier”.
I thought Laurence Luckinbill was exceptional and very likable as Sybok. He had an interesting backstory that wasn’t explored nearly enough and ultimately, he wasn’t a bad guy and redeemed himself after realizing his foolishness. I really wish we would have gotten to see more of the Sybok character and that he wasn’t just a one off creation for this bad chapter in Trek history. Maybe there was a book on his character that I can read, as I read a lot of Star Trek books back in my preteen years. I never saw a Sybok book on the shelves though.
One cool thing about this movie, is that every crew member gets a moment. Scotty executes a sweet jail break, Uhura gets to perform a sexy dance and lure enemies into a trap, Chekov gets to play captain and trick the villain and Sulu gets to attempt a daring manual landing of the shuttle into the shuttle bay at blazing speed.
When it comes to the mountain of negatives, the most glaring is the budgetary constraints. The Enterprise hallways are very obviously the same sets used on The Next Generation. Also, the effects are pretty bad. God, for instance, looks like some hokey Doctor Who entity that Tom Baker’s Doctor would have sonic screwdrived into some electric prison. And no offense to classic Doctor Who, I loved the show’s effects in the context of what it was but The Final Frontier is a summer blockbuster that needed to compete with Batman, Ghostbusters II and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.
The fight choreography was also really bad but that probably falls on Shatner, who had Kirk duke it out more than he needed to and most of his “killer moves” are pretty ineffective blows in the real world. I’ve never seen a hulking thug get taken out with a hip toss or a standard neck flip. For a guy that used to frequent the WWE, Shatner couldn’t at least give us some Sweet Chin Music or the Cobra Clutch?
Additionally, I love Klingons but the Klingons in this chapter were really weak. I think the problem wasn’t the actors, both looked the part, but Klaa and Vixis didn’t get any sort of character development and didn’t have much else to do than play caricatures of what we saw with Christopher Lloyd’s Kruge in Star Trek III.
Lastly, the story is pretty terrible. I guess it is an interesting concept but it creates more questions than it can answer and there are a lot of plot holes and illogical situations.
I don’t think that Star Trek V: The Final Frontier is the abomination that many people try to make it out to be. It is a story that would have worked much better as a television episode, especially after the epics that were the first four movies. Plus, coming off of the Genesis Trilogy (parts II, III and IV) of films, anything following would have had its work cut out for it. Star Trek IV was a perfect movie and this coming right after it probably meant that it was doomed to fail in some regard. Luckily, we did get a Star Trek VI and that film was an incredible send off for the original crew.
Pairs well with: Other Star Trek films featuring the original cast but this will be the low point of any pairing.