johnlink ranks STAR TREK V: THE FINAL FRONTIER (1989)

I didn’t know anything about this movie until I started watching it. I later learned that it is much-maligned, and that it’s considered a mess. As the credits started, I realized it was Directed by William Shatner (who had previously only directed episodes of TJ Hooker). This is yet another odd STAR TREK movie. What better way to follow up the one where they go back in time to save humpback whales, than to come back with this movie about the crew’s search for God?

I watched STAR TREK V: THE FINAL FRONTIER (1989) on 11.4.12. It was my first viewing of the film.

If you’re thinking this is going to be a neutral little article about the fourth sequel in an up-and-down science fiction series, well you’ve got another thing coming. THE FINAL FRONTIER is flawed, ill-paced, eye-rolling, egotistical, and poorly written. It is also fascinating to consider.

From the very first scene, as a Vulcan named Sybok (Laurence Luckinbill) assimilates a desert farmer into his growing clan, we can tell this is nothing like any other STAR TREK film. I was sure to see a new name as ‘Director’ and was somehow not surprised when Shatner’s name rolled up. In his first scene, he is scaling a mountain at Yosemite without ropes. Think any other director starts his movie with a 58-year-old free climbing? Yet, as the scene develops, it is more artistically shot than anything since some of Robert Wise’s set-ups in the 1979 original.

Shatner attacks direction the same way he attacks acting. It’s big and showy and there is some inherent skill to be discovered. Yet ego permeates every corner of what is going on, and the result isn’t as great as he thinks it is. He over-directs THE FINAL FRONTIER the same way he overacts the role of Kirk. And while both are memorable, the difference with THE FINAL FRONTIER is that Shatner didn’t quite get to make the movie he exactly wanted to (Paramount turned down his requests to do anniversary director’s cuts, and Shatner long found the ending problematic).

The basic plot, here, is that Sybok kidnaps the crew in order to go on a mission to find God. To get a sense of the building absurdity of the film, I actually went into the final scene having no idea whether or not this film was going to attempt to have Kirk and God meet. That’s the sort of level of ego at play here. This idea that God might just be well hidden on a planet in our galaxy doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibility. However, the feeling that the movie (and the series really) never earns that possibility is the major flaw in the film. Not that I’m here saying you can’t depict God on film, but there is a sort of reverence that a supposedly dramatic series seeks to maintain. STAR TREK just doesn’t need Kirk and Spock meeting God.

The questions this film asks about faith are relatively primitive, and the conversion of the crew throws away years of loyalty to Kirk. I was sure Sulu and Chekov and such were going to turn out to be brainwashed, instead they just buy into Sybok’s reasoning. the premise feels flawed. Maybe it is because I’m not religious myself, but the idea that the entire crew turns on Kirk like they do is just senseless.

With the fourth film being successful thanks, in part, to its more comedic elements, STAR TREK V tries to keep this going. The one-liners are fast and furious and only sometimes funny. The result, though, is a fun first half of this movie. All my complaints above really form after Sybok gets on the Enterprise. Everything leading up to that is enjoyable. I spent the first half of this movie thinking ‘Why does everyone hate this so much?’ I spent the second half of the film saying ‘Oh, that’s why.’

But Shatner really goes for it. We have some nice elevated shots, some great back-lit stuff, and some really unique camera set-ups. Oh, and the Uhura moon-dance sequence is absolutely the oddest moment of anything in this series. Hilarious and off-putting, sexy and disturbing.

This is the existential STAR TREK entry, and it doesn’t hit all of its marks. There are nice moments where the ‘new’ Enterprise doesn’t work because there is too much technology, and these old guys just want their ship back. There are good beats about friendship, family, and loyalty. On the other hand, there is an odd addiction to discussing the deeper meanings of the song ‘Row Row,Row Your Boat’.

The bottom line is that I appreciate what he Shatner was trying to do, but the script had him doomed from the start. Had he shot a better script, he certainly could have had a better result. He isn’t free of blame since he had a story credit, but I would have liked to have seen what a Shatner directed VOYAGE HOME would have looked like.

One left to go in this series. So far, the even number films have been solid and the odd number films have been, well, odd. So hopefully number six will provide some quality!







~ by johnlink00 on November 5, 2012.

One Response to “johnlink ranks STAR TREK V: THE FINAL FRONTIER (1989)”

  1. […] ST 5 link here […]

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