Warp Factor Trek

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With Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home becoming the greatest box-office success of the Star Trek film franchise up to that point (the film was released in 1986, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the franchise), Paramount set out to make a fifth film in the series. When William Shatner had signed on to Star Trek IV, he and Leonard Nimoy had signed a “favored nations” clause, which now allowed Shatner to direct the upcoming fifth film. The question that faced the production was: Would Star Trek V be as serious as the first three films in the franchise, or would it be a more lighthearted adventure like The Voyage Home? Paramount was keen on the latter, and this film ended up as, at best, a mixed bag.

Let’s face it – Star Trek V: The Final Frontier is a rather jumbled mess. Many fans consider it one of the worst, if not the worst, of all the Star Trek films. But I believe there are certainly worse films in the franchise, and I love this movie for a variety of reasons.

Intimate and humorous

Kirk, McCoy, and Spock bonding over a campfire (Paramount)

One way the movie appeals to me is how it portrays the characters of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. These three characters represent the best of what Star Trek has to offer fans and the general viewing public. The film triumphs with their characters’ development by prominently showcasing the triumvirate.

A powerful and dramatic scene occurs between McCoy and Sybok, which explores the usually light-hearted doctor’s unresolved grief about the long, painful death of his father, David. The scene is a showcase for DeForest Kelley and generates awesome character development. 

Visions involving the backstories of McCoy and Spock (Paramount)

During the same segment, we also learn more about the roots of tension between Spock and his father, Sarek. The scene shows a very dismissive, ashamed father reacting towards his half-human son, declaring moments after Spock’s birth that he is “so human.” No other Star Trek episode or film since has touched on this aspect of Spock’s character, which warrants further exploration. Hopefully, this relationship will be probed in Strange New Worlds.

I also love that this movie gives our friends a chance to share more humor, which is highlighted in the screenplay by David Loughery. It works, for the most part. Three scenes immediately come to mind. 

The first is when Kirk, Spock, and McCoy shuttle to the Enterprise from Yosemite National Park. While they share old authors’ quotes, McCoy asks Spock, “Then how come you don’t know ‘Row, Row, Row Your Boat’?” Near the end of the film, Spock tells Kirk – just before Kirk hugs him for his rescue from Sha-Ka-Ree: “Please captain, not in front of the Klingons.” Scotty gets a great moment, too. The scene has him mumbling, “I know this ship like the back of my hand,” but then he bangs his head on a bulkhead and is knocked unconscious. It gets a chuckle out of me every time.

The unconscious Scotty (Paramount)

What about the crew?

Unfortunately, Sulu, Uhura, Chekov, and Scotty (funny scene aside) are mostly shoved to the background while the triumvirate control the story. One awkward subplot hints strongly at a romance between Scotty and Uhura. It feels forced and simply does not work. While Nichelle Nichols and James Doohan share a genuine chemistry as actors and friends (at this point, they had worked together for over two decades), this forced romance had never been suggested before and thus comes awkwardly out of nowhere.

The characters of Chekov and Sulu fare even worse. Their “scenes” only provide a sense of “let’s have the whole cast here,” and they aren’t given much opportunity to contribute. Chekov does get a moment of being in temporary command of the Enterprise during the raid on Paradise City, but their other appearances are so slight that the two could easily have been written out completely.

Sulu and Chekov (Paramount)

A missed opportunity

It turns out that Spock has a “black sheep” brother who has accepted his emotional side. Something fascinating could have been developed here. Spock, who has fought these impulses, versus the brother who has become a demonstrative zealot. Instead, Sybok is portrayed only as a one-dimensional character villain who is only there to advance a weak climax to the movie. The entire journey to find Sha-Ka-Ree is proven to be all for naught, as “God” is really just an alien entity who wants to escape his planet by commandeering the Enterprise.

Not-so-special effects

There is one criticism of the film about which I do agree with most fans; the very less-than-stellar visual effects. The normally dazzling effects wizards from Industrial Light & Magic were not available due to their commitment to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. So instead, we have Associates and Ferren creating the main visual effects. This marked the first time a Star Trek production was overseen on both coasts of the United States. The visual effects are decent – for what they could accomplish – but they are certainly not up to ILM standards. That said, the Great Barrier is a great visual effect, which was created by filming colored dyes and ultraviolet lights in a cloud tank.

The Great Barrier dwarfs the Enterprise (Paramount)

A decent Trek

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier premiered on 9 June 1989, roughly six months before I was born. Despite winning the opening weekend, this film did not do as well as previous entries in the franchise. In the first real summer of blockbusters, films like Batman, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and Ghostbusters II were the big box office draws. There was talk that the less-than-expected box office returns may have killed the franchise despite the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation airing at the same time. I don’t think that’s the case.

Rating: 4/5

When I was a kid, I only saw this film once, and I didn’t like it – the way many fans still feel today. Despite the average visual effects and the lack of secondary character developments, the friendships between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy are celebrated, and I do enjoy most of the story. Looking back on it as an adult, I can say that The Final Frontier is actually a decent entry in the Star Trek film series.

1 thought on “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier in Review

  1. I wonder how old the nay sayer were? When Star Trek was cancelled, my TV viewing almost stopped and the only thing I watched regularly were sports. As an original TREKKER, the scene that disturbed me the most was when Scotty was knocked out hitting his head on one of the cross beams. And as for the affection between Scotty and Uhura not being evident, I did not get that impression. What a lot of people did not know, Shatner wanted to have real rockmen but to do that would have greatly increased the cost of production. What a lot of people do not know, rockmen have been portrayed before, back in the 1940s in the Flash Gordon serials, and they were quite good! I could go on but enough is enough; Live Long and Prosper!!

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