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Monday, June 20, 2011
Retro Movie Round-Up: Star Trek V: The Final Frontier
I can still recall how excited I was to see Star Trek V: The Final Frontier when it opened in theaters 22 years ago. I'd been to a couple of local Star Trek conventions where the film was hyped up in every possible detail. I'd read the tie-in novelization for the film.

So it was that I eagerly lined up on opening day to see the film at a super-saver matinee price with a group of fellow Star Trek fans.

And ended up walking out of the theater the only one of us who semi-enjoyed the experience.

The merits of the film soon became something of great debate among us, with one friend using the logic that is the film "won" a Razzie award, it must be pretty terrible. And don't get me wrong here--there are a lot of flaws in Star Trek V. But close to 22 years later, I still don't think it's the worst movie ever made nor is it necessarily the weakest of all the Star Trek movie installments.

So, it was interesting to read recently that best-selling Trek author Keith R.A. DeCandido had taken a few moments to look at and reassess the film, making a couple of interesting points about the film. Chief among them was that the movie really felt like a third-season episode of classic Trek. After spending last summer re-watching season three on DVD, I have to admit I agree. While certain moments of the scenes around the campfire may be wince-inducing, there's still the sense of friendship and camaraderie between Kirk, Spock and McCoy that drove much of the original series. (OK, sure the whole marshmellon thing is absurd, but the novel explained it pretty well. McCoy basically pulled a Wikipedia edit on the Enterprise's computers to get Spock's goat...if they'd put a line of dialogue into the film along those lines it might not have been as terrible).

The film does have some fairly large ideas at its core, even if they're not all that well served (again, just like season three). Ever since The Motion Picture was enough of a hit to earn a second Trek film, Gene Roddenberry had wanted to explore the concept of the Enterprise crew going to find god. (It was either that or going back in time to the JFK assignation). However, other people were brought in and other plotlines pursued. So I can only imagine that when Gene heard that Shatner wanted to finally do his "let's go meet god" concept, he did backflips across the Paramount lot.

Into the search for god, we bring in a tie-in to one of the big three--namely Spock. The introduction of a Vulcan who embraces his emotional side and has the power to help people confront and release their inner pain who happens to be Spock's half brother is intriguing. And had the movie got their first choice of Sean Connery to play the role of Sybok, the film might have been more interesting. It's certainly possible that Connery could have come on board since this was the point of his career that he was accepting just about any role offered to him on the off chance that one out of every four projects might be good. I will say we ended up with Connery in a better role as Indy's dad in The Last Crusade, but I still can't help but wonder how me might have worked here as Sybok.

Instead, we get Laurence Luckinbill, who does a fairly good job with Sybok for most of the film. The story really glosses over exactly how Sybok has the power to connect with his patients and get them to release their pain. But given that Vulcans have semi-telepathic abilities, it's not hard to accept what happens. What is harder to accept is how easily everyone gives themselves over to Sybok and his leadership once said pain is released. Is part of the healing Sybok offers a mental command to follow him blindly and into the breach? Is it intended or it it unintended? And why does it seem to wear off so quickly in the last third of the film? And why are Spock and McCoy able to resist the lure to join the cause when so many of the Enterprise crew are not? (It also brings up the question of just how does Sybok convert the whole crew to his side? Surely there had to be someone besides Scotty who wasn't under his influence).

In many ways, the story is a standard Trek device of some leader comes along and tries to take over the ship coupled with Kirk debunking some myth of a god-like creature ruling over a society absolutely. Again, it fits in well with late second season Trek and all of season three. Kirk's question of "What does god need with a starship" fits in with his views on any number of other god-like creatures, beings or computers run amok that he encountered over the course of the original five year mission.

Of course, as a long time Trek fan I had to wonder if the Great Barrier we see in the film is the same one we saw twice in classic Trek or just something new. Somehow, I think it's more the latter.

Watching the movie again over the weekend, I was struck by how there was a lot of potential for the movie. And how the film falls short in a lot of places. Shatner has made no bones about the fact that Paramount slashed the film's budget and he was forced to heavily alter the final confrontation in Shak-a-ree. But I still don't see how having a half dozen rock monsters will help the final moments of the film, where it becomes little more than a rehash of "The Apple" with Kirk beating a god by using the ship's weapons on it. If this being was powerful enough that whoever imprisoned it there created the Great Barrier around it, surely it would take more than a photon torpedo or two to take it out. If the Enterprise had left the area, that might make more sense.

And then there's the whole Klingon subplot that does nothing to advance anything. It's all set-up to have a Warbird there for the final moments. There's a two-hour chase across space and yet no real battle. Again, if you don't need the Warbird there for the final moments, you could just drop all of this plotline and the movie wouldn't suffer much.

Also, I have to address the effects. ILM didn't do them and it shows. I recall sitting in the theater on opening day and thinking how terrible one particular shot of the Klingon ship at warp looked compared to previous Trek films and what was being down on TV with Next Generation. Blu-Ray and hi-def haven't made these flaws any less obvious.

I was reminded again of how good the Jerry Goldsmith score is, in spots. The music as Kirk climbs El Cap is a real highlight musically as is some of the music as the shuttle heads down to Sha-Ka-Ree. Unfortunately, at other moments it also recycles too much from other scores.

Star Trek V isn't a perfect movie. It's not the best of the Trek films. It wants to be something more than it is and it's a film that had potential. A lot of it goes unrealized and that's probably the most disappointing thing about the movie (well, beyond the special effects).


posted by Michael Hickerson at 6/20/2011 01:15:00 AM | |
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