By the time we reached the stardate of 1989, a definite creaking sound was enimating from the bowels of the U.S.S. Enterprise. But it wasn’t so much the hull that was making all those distressed groaning sounds as it was the rapidly aging crew who was piloting it. After all, Star Trek first aired in 1966 and after 20 plus years of exploring paper maché planets and butting knobbly heads with the Klingons, the gang was starting to look pretty long in the tooth and never was this more evident in their fifth movie outing tellingly subtitled The Final Frontier.
Arguably saddled with the label of worst Trek movie ever, The Final Frontier has had decades of people scoffing as its cast “oldly” goes on a mission to seek out God himself – but compared to the dull drudge of the first feature and the shonky production values of Nemesis, is the penultimate voyage of the classic crew really that bad?
Taking a much needed vacation after their string of adventures that saw the Enterprise go up like a faulty oil rig, its science officer resurrected from the dead and the crew bring back sperm whales from extinction after a jaunt through time, Kirk, McCoy and Spock chill out in front of a campfire discussing the merits of sing-a-longs and marshmallows.
Meanwhile, on a renowned, dusty shit-hole known as Nimbus III, trouble is brewing when a renegade Vulcan known as Sybok stirs a rag tag group of settlers to his cause with his ability to leave people highly susceptible after removing their innermost pain with a mind melding. His plan is to lure a starship to the planet and hijack it in order to mount an expedition to find God – but not in a self help, reborn sort of way… no, Sybok wants to search for God in person whom he believes resides at the centre of the universe but one thing stops him from being the utterly nutty nut-ball he seems and that’s the fact that he’s Spock’s half brother.
As if on cue, Kirk & co arrive in a rebuilt Enterprise that has more kinks than a fetish convention with the aim of freeing the hostages but find themselves overwhelmed by the sheer strength of Sybok’s convictions forcing those of them who haven’t been hit with his empathic whammy to go on the run inside the ship as it speeds towards God’s home address. If things weren’t desperate enough, arrogant Klingon captain Klaa is cruising the quadrant in his cherried out warship looking for a fight like a ‘roided out street punk and when he gets word that the legendary Captain Kirk is in the area he makes a beeline to start some shit.
Can the crew take back the Enterprise in time before they literally meet their maker one way of the other?
If it wasn’t already evident from the title, this film was blatantly supposed to be the last outing for the original crew and all the farewell fan service is literally seeping from every pore the movie has and instead of going for a big finish, Part V feels more like a gradual winding down.
Wedging himself from the captain’s chair to the director’s chair in a possible attempt to show Leonard Nimoy that anything he could do Kirk could do better, William Shatner tries to meld the big weighty questions of the first film with the breezy tone of the fourth and instead churns out a movie that not only falls way short of it’s own lofty aims but also manages to fairly ridiculous for the entirety of it’s running time. In the first twenty minutes alone Uhura does a naked fan dance, Spock gives the Vulcan nerve pinch to a horse and Kirk hurls an alien cat stripper into a fish tank but not before Shatner, Nimoy and DeForest Kelly bicker about the lyrics of “Row Row Row Your Boat” and the cumulative effect all this willful goofiness is a film that contains not a single second of threat within its entire duration. Even the dialogue is made up of 50% quips (with the other half being laboured exposition) with the cast mugging their way through lines like “Give me all the power you can muster, mister!” and Shatner proves himself far less capable of helming a movie than he is pretending to command a spaceship – however, you get the feeling it’s not all entirely his fault. The noticeably shitty effects and sets hint at large budget cuts and the central plot to bother the almighty at home pretty much meant the movie was doomed from the start; and yet while all these aspects are worthy of derision (Rocket boots, Shatner? Really?), there’s actually one aspect of the not-so Final Frontier I’m willing to go to bat on.
Back in 1989, everyone criticised – and in many cases, openly mocked – the advancing years of the crew as they puffed and wheezed through their ramped down adventure and while it’s true that Kirk would probably look more at home snuggled in a Laz-e-boy than the captain’s chair, these days attitudes have changed a little. Now, we live in a time where someone like Liam Neeson can still throw hands at the age of 69, Linda Hamilton can still take out Terminators at 62 and Clint Eastwood can make movie like The Mule where he snuggles drugs and fuck hookers while pushing 90, so Kirk hot-footing it away from an angry deity doesn’t seem that much of an issue any more.
Also, taken as a farewell film, The Final Frontier’s lackadaisical attitude to putting its characters in any real danger is somewhat understandable as proceedings often feel more like a class reunion than the high-tension stakes of, say, The Wrath Of Kahn – but at least we get some classic, killer line readings out the Shat who seems deliberately aiming for high cheese and hits his targets with unerring accuracy.
Kirk’s rebuff of Sybock’s gifts – Lawrence Luckinbill, giving this crap all the gravitas he can muster – gives way to a typical speech laden with his particular talent for random word inflection (I don’t want my pain taken away! I need my pain!), but it’s his climatic questioning of the fake creature pretending to be God (big white beard and all) that truly stand out as he strides that gossamer thread that lays between absurd genius. I honestly believe the phrase “What does God need with a starship?” should be chiseled on the man’s headstone when he finally pops off to the great beyond.
So is Star Trek V truly as bad as you’ve heard? Well, yes it is; and it’s cheap looking and silly too – but ridiculous plot and paunchy heroes aside, it’s far easier to get into than the notoriously dull Star Trek: The Motion Picture and there’s also a genuine laugh or two in there somewhere even if they’re sometimes unintentional and often cringy.
Bad, but just short of God awful…