Saturday, May 2, 2009

Review: Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

Directed by: William Shatner
Produced by: Harve Bennett
Screenplay by: David Loughery
Story by: William Shatner, Harve Bennett & David Loghery
Executive Producer: Ralph Winter
Cinematography by: Andrew Laszlo, A.S.C.
Production Designed by: Herman Zimmerman
Edited by: Peter E. Berger, A.C.E.
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Costumes by: Nilo Rodis-Jamero

Cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, Lawrence Luckinbill, James Doohan, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, David Warner, Charles Cooper, Cynthia Gouw, Todd Bryant, Spice Williams, George Murdock

1989 / 107min / Rated PG

The Enterprise is dispatched to Nimbus III, "the planet of Galactic Peace", where a radical group has taken hostage the representatives of the Federation, Klingon and Romulan Empires. But the hostages are only bait, and the Enterprise is captured by its leader, Sybok, who turns out to not only be Spock's brother, but is on a quest to the center of the galaxy where he hopes to find the planet Sha Ka Ree and God.

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier is probably the weakest of the Star Trek films, so much so that its events are not only not acknowledged by any other Star Trek production, but nearly sunk the franchise. The only reason a sixth film was approved was because of Star Trek's 25th anniversary two years later. If it's any indication of my opinion, it is the only Star Trek movie that is not part of my DVD collection.

The Final Frontier is, quite frankly, a mess. Its tone is all over the place. There are plenty of attempts to replicate the humor that made The Voyage Home such a success, but whereas that humor flowed naturally from the story, this humor did not and was at the expense of the characters. The characters hardest hit are Scotty and Uhura. The worst example is when Scotty hits his head on a beam after stating he "knows this ship like the back of his hand". Attempts at depicting the new Enterprise's malfunctions fall rather flat.

The less said about the camp fire scene the better.

The first hour of the film meanders, doing nothing but setup for what is to come next. It is essentially an extended first act, establishing the characters, bringing them together, and moving onto the main journey. All this setup is rather misleading, as the viewer is led to believe that this moving is about the hostages. But the hostages are merely a plot device, a means for the central antagonist to get his hands on the Enterprise before moving on to the real story.

While the prospect of Sybok, a Vulcan who has chosen to shed logic in favor of emotion, is rather interesting, and he is performed adeptly by Lawrence Luckinbill, the character is never given any room to grow or develop. He's determined to reach his destination and will go through any means to obtain that goal. Sybok also has the unique ability to help people "release their pain", a concept that is never explained. Once a person's pain is released, they simply fall in line behind Sybok, performing his every deed without question. This includes most of the crew of the Enterprise, who follow Sybok like mindless robots. The crew is not at their finest here.

There is also the threat of a Klingon captain who is determined to battle a Federation starship for glory and honor, and when he learns that it is Kirk and the Enterprise, he is willing to follow Kirk to the center of the galaxy to defeat him. Not only are the Klingons rather dull and uninteresting, they add nothing to the story.

Time is spent trying to build up the threat of the Great Barrier at the center of the galaxy. No ship or probe is said to have ever returned. And yet when we reach the barrier (funny how it takes the Enterprise only a matter of hours to reach the center of the galaxy) not only does the Enterprise easily pass through the barrier, but so does the Klingon ship.

The special effects are also rather bad. The ship effects are rather unconvincing, and the barrier itself looks like a pool of writers ink that was spilled on the film.

Performances are rather bland, particularly from the Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley. It's as though they both knew this was not a good script that would not make a good movie, and were merely going through the actions. Although, to his credit, DeForest Kelley gives an excellent performance during his "pain" scene in which he euthanizes his father. Kelley's performance is great here, but in the rest of the movie he seems rather uninterested.

William Shatner tries to compensate by infusing more energy, but unfortunately with him at the helm this time, there is no one to pull Shatner in. Shatner is uninhibited, giving a hammy and over-the-top performance that, while charismatic, is not very good.

To its credit, The Final Frontier has a rather ambitious goal; the discovery of God. It's so ambitious that the filmmakers walk themselves into an impossible corner. Either this "God" is a fake and some dangerous alien, or it is the real God. If they indeed decide to make this the real God, then the filmmakers have truly discovered the final frontier and the mission is over. Once you've discovered God, what else can you discover and being anywhere near as interesting?

Obviously, the filmmakers have to go with the dangerous alien. The fake god turns out to be rather dangerous, wanting the Enterprise so that he can leave his planet where he's been trapped for a long time. It's never explained when the alien says that Sybok created the planet and pictured this alien "god" in Sybok's own image, it's never fully explained and sounds like the writers don't know what to do with this situation.

Probably the film's one positive is Jerry Goldsmith's score. Back is Goldsmith's Enterprise theme first introduced in The Motion Picture, as well as his fun and very fitting theme for the Klingons, which is given much more time due to the Klingons presence throughout the movie. Goldsmith's secondary themes for the mountain climbing sequence as well as the trek to meet God are powerful. Goldsmith is probably best known for his action music, and his score for the action infuses suspense and thrills that are otherwise missing from the action itself.

While The Final Frontier tries to do more with the core characters then any other film, the attempts fall flat. An attempted romance between Scotty and Uhura comes out of no where, and not enough is done to explore the possibility of a Chekov and Sulu friendship. The best relationship, as always, is that of Kirk, Spock and McCoy who stick together from beginning to end. Their friendship is rather touching and poignant.

Despite a bungled attempt to pose questions on religion and faith, The Final Frontier is the least satisfying Star Trek film, and hopefully will stay that way, because anything worse would surely end the franchise for sure. I rarely watch The Final Frontier and avoid watching it as much as I can, and I would not recommend this movie if you're trying to introduce someone to the franchise. In fact, avoid it altogether.

1/2 (of 4)


Dave said...

New Frontier was a disappointment and is the one I like the least. I think part of the initial disappointment was increased because of the quality of Voyage Home.

Evie said...

This ranks alongside of #1 as my least favorite Trek film.