Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989) / Sci Fi-Adventure
MPAA Rated: PG for some language and violence
Running Time: 106 min.
Cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, Laurence Luckinbill, James Doohan, George Takei, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, Todd Bryant, Charles Cooper, David Warner, Cynthia Gouw, Spice Williams, Rex Holman, George Murdock
Director: William Shatner
Screenplay: David Loughery
Review published April 14, 2005
Almost universally regarded as the worst of the Star Trek movies, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier would be William Shatner's chance to follow in Leonard Nimoy's footsteps by helping to craft a Star Trek story and also to direct it himself. There is a small contingent among Star Trek loyalists that maintain that this is an underrated movie, mostly because they feel that it is the one that most resembles the television series. Detractors are the flip side of the same coin, feeling like it should have been relegated to an episode of "Star Trek: The Next Generation", keeping the movies as the place for stories with more cinematic appeal. Personally, I don't agree with either assessment, as the search for God is definitely worthy of a major Star Trek event, and would make a wonderful and thought-provoking movie. Unfortunately, Shatner makes a great deal of rookie mistakes as the director, and what should have been the series' last hurrah ends up being the one many people have decided to just ignore.
Star Trek V starts off with the crew taking over the reins of new Enterprise starship, and their first impromptu mission requires them to travel to the near desolate planet of Nimbus III, where a rogue Vulcan known as Sybok (Luckinbill, Cocktail) has placed several key ambassadors as hostages in order to draw a starship to the planet. His plans are to hijack the ship and crew, taking them on an odyssey to the Great Barrier, a place that no other ship has successfully breached. His mission is to find the Higher Being that all life in the universe refers to as their God, whom he says has beckoned him to be the one to find out life's eternal mysteries. Is Sybok a madman or a visionary anointed with divine responsibilities?
Shatner (Star Trek II, Loaded Weapon 1) starts off on the wrong foot from the get-go, introducing a frivolous scene with an obvious stunt double scaling the stone walls of Yosemite's El Capitan. It's easy to see from Shatner's physique, he is not in anywhere near the shape to scale such a daunting face, but Shatner, who has always been accused of having an all-consuming ego, thinks he is. The scene only gets sillier, as Spock (Nimoy, Atlantis: The Lost Empire) appears in space age jet boots, which he uses to catch the falling captain in what would have been certain death. I'm at a loss to explain the physics of the boots, which keep the wearer levitating in the air despite the fact that he might be upside down. This is a dumb scene, but the film still manages to outdo itself by further venturing into the realm of schmaltz. A campfire scene emerges, having some fun at the expense of the Spock's logical stoicism, as McCoy (Kelley, Night of the Lepus) and Kirk perform a sing-a-long.
All at once, Shatner goes against the grain by showcasing the characters we've seen throughout the television series and four previous movies in a light we've never seen before. While the attempt at some jocularity is in keeping with the levity brought forth in Star Trek IV, where Shatner errs is in the characterizations. Shatner is no longer acting like Kirk, he's acting like Shatner, i.e. a loveable goof. The other characters also suffer from not being quite themselves, seeming more like parodies. It's just too late in the game to paint these characters as anything other than that we have already come to know, so when we see the flirtatious relationship between Uhura (Nichols, Surge of Power) and Scotty (Doohan, Star Trek Generations), all we can do is reject the notion as absurd. What the hell was Shatner thinking??
Shatner has been known to blame the reason why people were disenchanted with his film being due to the lack of a budget to make the ending he had wanted, but I have to say, the ending really didn't bother me all that much. There is a sense of awe involved in as they approach Shaka-Ri, and Shatner does build up the suspense sufficiently enough that it does hold your interest. The ending is a bit short, confusing, and anticlimactic, but not so bad that the movie would have been ruined, if it hadn't already been by this point.
The first film directed by Leonard Nimoy, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, barely even had him in it. Perhaps if Shatner were to try to emulate his comrade, he would have been wise to tone down his importance as well, as this one comes off as an unflattering vanity piece. With the balance out of whack in the personalities, Star Trek V never quite gels, despite some decent moments and interesting philosophical questions. Playing too fast and too loose, Shatner's Star Trek isn't quite Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek, and many hardcore fans (and even non-fans) reject this flawed entry. Star Trek VI would be the final film for the complete original crew, and like just about everyone else, the creators virtually ignored Star Trek V altogether. Watch it or don't, it really doesn't matter.
©2005 Vince Leo