Monday, April 4, 2011

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

Release Date: June 9, 1989
Directed by William Shatner


The Enterprise, still under construction, is summoned out of spacedock to answer a hostage crisis on Nimbus III, the "planet of galactic peace." There, a wild-eyed Vulcan mystic named Sybok has kidnapped three dignitaries from the major powers of the Alpha Quadrant. Little do they know that the kidnapping is a ruse designed to attract a starship, which will be hijacked and taken on a cosmic sleigh ride to the center of the galaxy. What tricks will the crew of the Enterprise pull from their sleeves in order to stop Sybok?

The joke's on them... Uhura isn't wearing any sleeves!


Matthew: This movie suffers from two great writing problems - too many cooks spoiling the broth, and being undercooked in general. Shatner proposed an original story idea in having the Devil corrupt a charismatic holy man, and the Enterprise finding this being and defeating it. Roddenberry and the studio nixed this for varying reasons.Was it a bad idea? probably. Then, he proposed that this holy man (now corrupted by a phony demigod a la "Who Mourns for Adonais") would split our Big Three characters against each other. This was nixed by De Kelley and Leonard Nimoy, who protested that their characters would never betray Kirk. Was this a good idea? Probably - it would have added lots of tension and made their eventual reunion all the better. This sort of monkeying around with the story typifies Star Trek V. The other big problem is story ideas (polluted or not by tampering) that weren't well thought out or didn't have their problems worked out in rewrites. How did the Enterprise reach the center of the galaxy within the lifetimes of its crew? Why did half the crew surrender to the influence of Sybok, but not the big three? How and why did the Enterprise make it through the "Great Barrier" with nary a scratch or a sweat broken? Why didn't Spock reveal his familial relationship to Kirk before he had a gun pointed at Sybok? Problems like these (among others) could have been addressed with rewrites and revisions. Apparently, however, the writers' strike had shortened the development cycle of the script.

Kevin: I agree that the story definitely suffers from being pulled in too many directions, but I think there's only so far this story could have gone. On a fundamental level, setting up your story as the search for God limits your options and your outcomes. Either you prove God exists, which is intellectually unsatisfying, or you don't and it feels like you wasted your time narratively. The focus has to be a little attenuated. I think a lot (though certainly not all) of the exploration of Bajoran religion on DS9 was interesting, but the basic question of the divinity of the Prophets is not the central question of the show; watching Bajoran and Federation people struggle with that question is. Maybe had Sybok survived to deal with the fallout could have been more interesting. As for the internal logical questions, like why is it called a barrier at all? It provided no resistance of any kind. Or what was the dude on Nimbus digging for? Why would Sarek be offended at having a half-human child after choosing to marry a human? have to stop. I'll do this all day.

Matthew: Also in the "mokeying around" category is the broad, some would argue crass, humor present in the story. Shatner has said that he was pressured to add humor to what he viewed as a serious story. The nadir comes when Scotty whacks his head on a pole. Or was it Uhura's nude fan dance? Either way, it was kind of excruciating. Jokes about the Enterprise breaking down fell flat. At best, they lack explanation. At worst, they contradict and hurt the "characterization" of something that is beloved to fans of the franchise - the ship itself.

Kevin: The success of the humor of IV made the studio eager to do more, but they seemed to forget why the humor worked in that one. There was the obvious fish-out-of-water elements combined with some lovely, and above all organic moments is what made the humor sing. You can't do fish out of water on your own ship, and the humor otherwise came off as forced. I was still giving the movie the benefit of the doubt right up until Scotty hit his head. I was completely pulled out of the movie both as a Trekkie and as a moviegoer by that moment, and I never quite checked back in.

Matthew: On the plus side, our beloved characters get generally good scenes. No character is truly sullied by any of the silliness or inexplicability that abounds. Particularly good were the campfire scenes with the big three. These scenes really allowed the viewers to enjoy quiet moments with the characters who are so familiar to us. McCoy's scene with Sybok and his dying father was really terrific. It kind of makes things sadder when we think that we could have seen this sort of "secret pain" scene for some of our supporting cast, as well.

Kevin: I was slightly less impressed by those scenes. It's not that they weren't good; it's just that they're not exactly novel. Nice interactions with the Big Three pretty much occur in every instance of the Original Series episodes or movies. I'd rather watch nice interactions in WOK or City on the Edge of Forever. That being said, the scene with McCoy's father was quite moving, and quite possibly the highlight of McCoy's character and DeForest Kelley's acting.

Matthew: On the whole, even with the trip to the center of the galaxy and our two big retcons (Sybok and the Great Barrier), this story doesn't sink to the depths of those that have destroyed or hampered continuity. I don't really have to pretend this doesn't exist in order to enjoy it or other Trek. I just kind of give myself a facepalm, knowing that the problems could have been solved with some minor edits and/or expository dialogue. The worse sin here is the relative dramatic inertness to the tale, which I think is caused by a dearth of Sybok scenes in which he converts the crew, and the fact that McCoy and Spock stayed loyal to Kirk. More conflict could have amped this story up and made it more exciting.

Kevin: I agree that the lack of a genuine conflict between the main three robs the climax of the film of some tension. Beyond that, the movie certainly suffers from some pacing problems. The scenes on Nimbus drag. The scenes on Sha Ka Ree drag. Without genuine tension either between the villain and the main characters of between the main characters, there's nothing really to propel the movie.


Matthew: The guest cast is really good. Laurence Luckinbill really fits the bill as a charismatic religious leader. There are no bones about the fact that he has the most heavy lifting to do in this plot. He is definitely capable of it - I think any problems with his character are problems in the script, not with his performance. Had he had two or three more conversion scenes - and had the conversions been based on persuasion and not mental powers, the role really could have sung. David Warner is good, as always. Spice Williams and Todd Bryant are good as our Klingon antagonists Vixis and Klaa. Some of the guest actors were just kind of there, but no one stuck out as bad. There was no Jar-Jar here - or Tyler Perry, for that matter.

Kevin: My main problem with Sybok is that he doesn't really seem very Vulcan. I agree it's a writing problem  most likely, but it's still a gap in the character. Neither in appearance or bearing does he really seem Vulcan, if only to demonstrate how un-Vulcan he is. I can't imagine him as a culturally conforming Vulcan, so the fact that he's not is not all that shocking. The Klingon scenes were pretty good. Again, any defects were more with the writing. I didn't understand why Klaa wanted to go after the Enterprise. He just...did.

Matthew: I think the assisted suicide scene was DeForest Kelley's finest acting performance in Star Trek. He really dramatized a controversial issue well, and made the emotion of the character feel real. Shatner and Nimoy kind of phoned it in, in my opinion. Nimoy in particular never really felt connected to Sybok. I think some stirred up emotion would have been nice to see. Shatner seemed like a caricature, not a character. I'm not saying that they were bad performances. I'm just saying they weren't as nuanced as their other work.

Kevin: I agree wholeheartedly on Kelley's performance. His grief and guilt are palpable. Sadly, I also agree with your other assessments. I'm again going to blame the writing. We know from repeated experience that both are capable of moving performances. There was just nothing there to bite into.

Production Values

Matthew: I think there was a lot to like from a set design and prop standpoint. I liked the model work on the shuttle bay and the shuttles. The full-sized shuttle props looked good, too, and were subsequently re-used in TNG. The Enterprise sets were all good. The bridge had a nice sleek, tan look that appeared to be a mid-way step between the old ship and the TNG bridge. The forward lounge was a great set, with nifty rear projection star fields out the windows. Even the brig, Jeffries tube/hallway, and turbolift looked good.

Kevin: There were some nice changes between the last scene of ST4 and this one. I didn't like that they did nothing to the corridors to differentiate them from the D. At least in TMP they were a different color. It was just a little jarring. I did like the lounge, and the rear projection looked way better there than it did on the bridge, probably because of the darker setting.

Matthew: The exterior space shots varied wildly in quality, from pretty decent (The Enterprise in front of the moon) to really pretty bad (most shots with the Enterprise and Klingon BOP). There were some ragged matte lines, and very little depth of field present in exterior space shots. The Great Barrier shots looked amateurish, and were easily surpassed by similar types of effects in TMP, ST2, and ST3. In fact, they were surpassed by several effects in Season 2 of TNG.

Kevin: It's my understanding that ILM was busy on Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, so they went with a different effects house, and sadly it shows. Based on some of the special features, it looks like they got overwhelmed by the sheer number and just didn't have the experience working with the models. Especially for the BOP, we know it can look WAY better on screen, and having watched ST3 recently, it's painfully obvious. The problem for me is that, especially the depth of field problem, is that it pulls me out of the moment. I'm aware I'm watching the movie, not watching the objects on the screen.

Matthew: The planet sets were hit and miss. The bar wasn't terrific, nor were the aliens in the bar for that matter. The village looked pretty good, though, especially for having been cobbled together out of extra elements by production designer Herman Zimmerman.

Kevin: The planets looked too much like each other. Some of the shots on the cliffs on Sha Ka Ree were nice. But the sameness was a little distracting. The same colors on the two planets and the blue-green wash on the Enterprise for all the shots inside the barrier gave the movie a very limited and not entirely pleasant palette. In the plus column, everything at Yosemite looked awesome. The trick of building a wall in a parking lot near El Capitan to simulate Shatner on the mountain was particularly well achieved.


Matthew: Basically, it sounds to me like we have average acting and production, and serious writing problems. That makes it a 2 in my book. This movie had some kernels of good stuff in it. It was just bogged down by a dramatic arc that didn't quite work (since it was sabotaged by the actors on the one hand and the studio on another), some lame comedy, and some massive logic holes. Had the main three been allowed to splinter, and had a stronger point been made about god (such as the point in "Who Mourns for Adonais"), this could have been a pretty good story. But although it is a failure, I don't think it's the utter disaster that people make it out to be. I'm not going to say it's one I break out often for casual viewing, but I don't grind my teeth through the entire thing when I do watch it (unlike certain other films whose names rhyme with "Schmemesis"...). I think it's comparable to a 2-parter that falls a little flat, like "Descent" or something. If you added some pratfalls and nude dances to "Descent," I think you'd end up with something a bit like this. OK, maybe I'd go so far as to say crossing "Descent" with "Let He Who Is Without Sin..."

Kevin: You never think you're gonna say certain things until you say them, and for me, that sentence is "William Shatner lacked confidence." He lacked the experience to know what to stick to his guns on and how to do so. I don't know if Nimoy had more directorial experience, or people were more responsive to his cold Vulcan stare, but both Nimoy's outings, even adjusting for more solid writing, fare better than Shatner's. Was his original story a gem? Probably not, but it was least more engaging and more complete than the Frankensteined-story we ended up with.. Still, on the strength of McCoy's scene with his father alone, this film is salvaged from a 1. It is the failure of well-intentioned people actually making an actual effort. Like Matt said, I don't have to pretend this never happened to enjoy the rest of Star Trek. I only have to pretend it never happened to extol the virtues of Star Trek to my non-Trek friends. This gets a 2 from me, for a total of 4.



  1. Btw Mathew the USS Harry Truman is an air craft carrier but it is a Nimitz Class and would not be completed until the early 1990's. So you need to find another ship to model the lounge after.

  2. I agree that this is the weakest of the first six films, but I think it is better than any of TNG films.

    I have major problems with all of the Picard outings. I enjoy "Nemesis" the most, which seems to put me in a minority to say the least.

  3. I'm sorry, I try to be open minded about other opinions, but everything after your first comma is demonstrably, objectively incorrect.

    Generations has flaws and First Contact causes subsequent structural problems for the Borg, but both are massively more entertaining and cohesively plotted and staged than STV. I found Insurrection to be as good as a mid-level two-parter in the series, and found it moderately more entertaining than STV, but I would at least entertain an argument about comparing the two.

    But seriously, how could you like Nemesis more than anything, including smallpox? It's boring, continuity destroying, and at points, outright hostile to the entire franchise.

    1. I think Kevin is being a tad hyperbolic here. Nemesis is more on the level of a dysentery, or maybe at worst diptheria.