Star Trek V: The Final Frontier review
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier caused me some angst at the time of its release. As a young fan who only ever wanted to see Star Trek on the top, particularly since William Shatner was directing this time, I felt it was very disheartening that, upon its release, the film was receiving bad reviews in both the papers and even in readers’ comments in Starlog magazine (the last place in the world I would have ever expected to see anyone spew bile about a Star Trek movie!). Since I could only afford to see one film at the movies during the summer of 1989, I opted not to see The Final Frontier in the movie theatre, choosing to watch Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade there instead. In retrospect, I can honestly say I think it was a good choice, with Indy III proving to be my favorite film of that year.
The special effects in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier were not up to the standard we had gotten used to in the first four Star Trek features. Accomplishing the opticals required to make the starship Enterprise fly seemed a bit too difficult for Associates and Ferren, who were brought in to work on the film’s visual effects when Industrial Light & Magic turned out to be unavailable despite having worked on the last three films. This film also replaced computer graphics by Lee Cole (whose visual displays in the Trek films had been wonderful) with Okudagrams on regular TV screens. No longer present was the visual flavor I loved from the first three Star Trek films.
This film showcased not only bad effects but also a relatively unambitious plot. With The Final Frontier coming off the heels of the “Genesis Trilogy”, it was hard for it to come off as just another adventure at best.
The Final Frontier’s release wasn’t all doom and gloom for me, however. For one thing, I actually have something of a quasi-familial connection to this film. The exteriors of Paradise City and the desert world of Sha-Ka-Ree were shot near Trona Peaks, California, where my dad’s old Air Force roommate, Bill Surgett, just happened to be living at the time. Bill managed to get himself a job as an extra on the film, as one of Sybok’s followers, and even wrote a journal about his incredible five-day experience that had us beaming with pride.
Since its release, this film has grown in my heart, and my opinion of it has softened, as I have also noticed with the opinions of others. (By ‘softened’, I mean we look back and say, “Well… it’s not THAT bad.”) There are several reasons for this; years of nostalgia, the fact that this (thankfully) did not prove to be the original cast’s swansong, combined with the simple fact that other films have been made since then that have garnered even worse fan reactions, have all lifted The Final Frontier from the bottom of the barrel.
The themes of man’s quest to find God or deep spiritual meaning, which I admit were completely lost on me when the film first came out when I was a teenager, have become far more relatable as I’ve grown older and started to contemplate such things along with my mortality. Just as The Motion Picture could get us asking the question “Is this all that I am… Is there nothing more?” and pondering the meaning of existence, The Final Frontier can get us thinking about how we often don’t make the right choice in life… and that’s okay. Kirk says it best in his speech about how pain and guilt are part of our makeup as human beings, and to lose that is to lose ourselves, when Kirk says, “I don’t want my pain taken away! I NEED my pain!” Besides getting us to think about the human condition as well as spirituality, the story also leaves us with feelings of goodwill for the characters.
But while The Final Frontier may no longer hold the title of Worst Star Trek Film Ever Made, it does still qualify as the most poorly constructed. Ultimately, however, any upgrades in the visual effects and in editing can only complement the story for those who already appreciate it. It won’t solve any deficiencies in David Loughery’s script or change the minds of anyone who thinks this film is a low chapter in Star Trek’s history. Let’s face it, this is far from being the best Star Trek film.
On the other hand, although it may be the most poorly constructed Star Trek film, even its original theatrical cut is better than Beneath the Planet of the Apes, Superman IV, or Alien 3, any day. Besides, the aforementioned quasi-familial connection does make me a little biased in this film’s favour, even though I ultimately regard it as a fallen chapter.
A freelance writer, Douglas has several years experience writing newsletters, sales copy and movie reviews. He is also the author of the screenplays Supralight and Bloodstone: The Sorceress and the Warrior. His reviews of Star Trek films (as well as a DS9 retrospective) have been published on the TrekSphere website.