Thursday 7 May 2009

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)

Thursday 7 May 2009
Oh, God...

[SPOILERS] Widely regarded as the nadir of big-screen Trek (although Star Trek: Insurrection is very strong competition), The Final Frontier finds William Shatner sharing his captain's chair with the director's chair -- helming Trek V as part of the deal to reprise his role in The Voyage Home. Shatner's fingerprints are all over this movie (he stars, he directs, he developed the story), and it's little wonder he wasn't invited back. Star Trek V sold the least tickets at the box-office than any of the previous four films...

A brand new USS Enterprise (the first destroyed two movies ago) is being built, ready to be helmed by Kirk (gladly demoted to Captain at the end of Trek IV), whose crew are on shore leave while the Enterprise-A is tinkered with at Earth's Spacedock. Kirk (William Shatner), Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and McCoy (DeForest Kelly) are taking the opportunity to climb a mountain together and sing campfire ditties, before their downtime is rudely interrupted by news of a hostage crisis on Nimbus III...

In turns out that Spock's brother Sybok (Laurence Lickinbill) has captured Klingon, Romulan and Federation representatives, hoping to attract a starship his way for him to steal. Doubtless to say, the Enterprise-A is first on the scene and Sybok duly captures it, intending to travel to a mythical planet called Sha Ka Ree that supposedly lurks beyond a "Great Barrier" (the titular final frontier) that no starship has ever breached...

There are some good elements in Final Frontier; chiefly the idea that Spock's Vulcan brother has embraced emotion and uses the Vulcan mind-meld technique to share, ease and overcome a person's traumatic experiences. But the overriding idea behind Final Frontier (ultimately, a search for God) is a hoary chestnut of sci-fi, and one the film fails to breathe new life into -- with said God proving to be a malevolent alien entity posing as a deity. Naturally.

Admittedly, Shatner's original vision was tarnished by budget constrictions (not helped by the fact ILM were unavailable to work on the film), but it's difficult to see how Shatner's intention to have a rock-creature in the final showdown would have helped matters. Incidentally, the CGI rock-beast in 1999's Galaxy Quest should probably be considered a very subtle in-joke for Trekkies.

Trek V is home to a great many embarrassments for the series: Uhura's (Nichelle Nichols) un-sexy, half-naked dance-of-distraction to some halfwit guards; campfire chats about "explosive" beans; a rendition of "Row Row Row Your Boat"; and occasional slapstick (Scotty braining himself unconscious after claiming he knows "this ship like the back of my hand" -- doink!)

All that is rather frustrating for the movie, as there's certainly a kernel of a good storyline lurking somewhere in the rubble. Kirk's refusal to be treated by Sybok's mind-meld (claiming you need your pain) is an interesting little debate when his colleagues are having their psychological scars healed, Sybok himself is fairly interesting as a flipside-Spock, the search for the divine is definitely cliched but still quite engaging, and the notion of a renegade Klingon called Captain Klaa (Todd Bryant) tracking Kirk to kill him for fame and glory was entertaining enough.

The Final Frontier (while turning a profit at the box-office), received terrible press reviews, the bile of disappointed fans, and the condemnation of Trek's creator Gene Roddenberry himself, who labeled it "apocryphal at best" and was particularly irritated by the decision to give Spock a fully-Vulcan sibling. Shatner himself accepted the blame for a movie that would ordinarily have killed Star Trek's cinematic adventure, were it not for the fact the franchise's 25th anniversary was on the horizon...

Paramount Pictures
Budget: $28 million
107 minutes

Director: William Shatner
Writers: David Loughery (story by William Shatner, Harve Bennett & David Loughery)

Cast: William Shatner (Captain James T. Kirk), Leonard Nimoy (Spock), DeForest Kelly (Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy), George Takei (Hikaru Sulu), Walter Koenig (Pavel Chekov), Nichelle Nichols (Uhura), James Doohan (Montgomery "Scotty" Scott), David Warner (St. John Talbot), Laurence Lickinbill (Sybok), Todd Bryant (Captain Klaa), Spice Williams-Crosby (Vixis), Charles Cooper (General Korrd) & Cynthia Gouw (Caithlin Dar)