Mar 23, 2012

[Movies] Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)

Success is a mixed bag of tricks, really. On the one hand, you get a lot of praise and recognition for a job well done. On the other hand, expectations are raised and any future projects require you to at least match but preferably exceed your past endeavors. And that's a fairly difficult standard to live up to, especially since how people perceive your creative output can often be very different from how you see it. And even as the content creator, the whims of the people take precedence.

The Star Trek movie franchise reflects this rather well, and perhaps this explains the perceived "curse" related to the pattern around the quality of the movies. Then supposed rule of thumb is that the odd-numbered movies tend to be worse than the even-numbered ones, and maybe it's not because they're actually bad but more like the others were much better in comparison. Thus you get a natural cycle of "good" and "bad" which just follows the flow of elevated happiness with one movie and a sharp comparative shift in the next one.

Not that I can fully defend this movie versus all the others. Even I have my fair share of issues with the core plot of this movie and their silly little search for God, but what else can you do,  eh?

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier is a 1989 science fiction movie directed by one of the principal actors, William Shatner. The screenplay for the movie was written by David Loughery and is naturally the fifth movie in the original movie franchise.

William Shatner
William Shatner (Image via
The faithful crew of the Enterprise - now the USS Enterprise A since the previous one had been destroyed during the events of The Search for Spock - actually have the liberty to enjoy some shore leave time on Earth while the final build work on the ship is completed. Kirk (William Shatner) indulges in some rock climbing as part of a camping trip together with Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelly). Sulu (George Takei) and Chekov (Walter Koenig) are also camping, although with some navigational issues involved. But their shore leave is cut short once Startfleet Command orders them to take the not-yet-finished Enterprise to Nimbus III to assess the situation involving three ambassadors who had been taken hostage.

As the Enterprise zooms off in rescue of the ambassadors, a nearby Klingon Bird of Prey under the command of Captain Klaa decides to pursue the Enterprise given the lack of other worthy sport in the area. At Nimbus III, it is revealed that the hostage situation was all part of an elaborate plot by a Vulcan named Sybok (Laurence Luckinbill), whose true goal was to snag a Federation vessel for his own purposes. Sybok also possess unique telepathic abilities that allow him to exert influence on others to do his bidding. Plus he turns out to be Spock's half-brother.

Now reading my two-paragraph summary of the plot, even I can't help but wonder what the heck was going on in this movie during the writing phase. As much as I understand the various story elements that have gone into the screenplay, when put all together it becomes quite the jumbled up mess. And the final goal - which can't be considered a spoiler anymore - of trying to find GOD. That's just nuts. The story behind this movie gives the TOS episode Spock's Brain a run for its money.

To be fair, I really enjoyed the initial moments in the movie involving the shore leave time in general. While having Kirk climb a mountain now seems just a little less ridiculous than Tom Cruise doing the same thing in Mission Impossible, the rest of the conversations and the bonding around the campfire really had that feeling of old friends just hanging out together. And given how long the Star Trek franchise had been going on, these felt like genuinely nice moments for both the fans and perhaps the stars themselves.

But beyond that, the movie becomes a bit hard to stomach. Sybok as a villain just seems like a madman but not an overly scary one and the Klingons just felt like an excuse to have ship-to-ship combat in an otherwise droll movie. Given the Klingons were just bored and selected a target almost at random, they totally could have been removed from the story with little to no consequence other than making it even more boring.

And thus we go back and back and back again to Sybok. Without a worthy opponent, instead we have the crew pitting themselves against some random guy who sort of has mind control powers and yet not. He's able to manipulate folks to do his bidding here and there and yet not Kirk since, well, he's Kirk. And the final scene with the quirky god-like figure just felt wrong and thus the resolution felt rather forced.

I'm not quite sure what final frontier this movie truly reached other than getting Spock to potentially sing "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" around a campfire.

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier is definitely one of the less enjoyable Star Trek movies out there. Many argue it was the worst, but I think the first movie was still a smidge worse than this one. The again, having what was essentially a religious cult lead the charge in this movie, it's a close call. Either way, I rate the movie a barely passable 1.5 excuses to use the jet boots out of a possible 5, but only because I have a soft spot for old people hiking.

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