My BluRay Shelf: Is ‘Star Trek V: The Final Frontier’ as terrible as everyone says?

08.26.09 8 years ago 18 Comments

Paramount Home Video

Boy, when I drop the ball, I really drop the ball.

I didn’t mean to drag this series out as far as I did, especially since there’s more “Star Trek” movies coming to BluRay soon.  But Comic-Con hit, and then real life kept piling other obligations on, and there are things that have to get posted during the week, and I just kept finding excuses to push these articles aside.

Thing is, you guys have made it very clear to me that you’ve enjoyed these pieces.  At Comic-Con, I think Toshi got high-fived every ten minutes by people who walked up and told him how much they loved reading about his initiation into “Trek.”  The response has actually led me to make notes on something I’ll try to kickstart once we finish this “Star Trek” series.  Raising a nascent film nerd is a big responsibility, above and beyond all the regular responsibilities of parenthood.  More and more, I find myself retreating from fandom as I’ve known it for most of my adult life.  I know it’s not a popular or a political thing to say, but I feel like something’s gone really rancid in fandom, and in particular, it feels to me like something tipped so that it’s more about what people hate or what they can tear down, instead of what people love and what they get excited about.  Hanging out with my son reminds me of what I loved about fandom when I was growing up, the unbridled enthusiasm.  Even if I don’t love the same thing as someone else, I find myself energized by that sort of excitement, and I look to him to recharge my own battery these days.

So when I say that the screening of “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier” did not go well, please believe that we started it with the best of intentions.

[more after the jump]

By far the most maligned of all the films made with the original cast, it’s also the one film I’ve never bothered to revisit after my original viewing of it waaaaaaay back in 1989.  I just didn’t see any reason.  That first viewing was so vivid that it retroactively turned me off to everything else.  This was the moment where I just plain tuned out of “Star Trek,” and there are several things about my reaction to this movie that seeped into my thoughts about the series and the characters in general.  Unfair, perhaps, but “Star Trek V” casts a long shadow.

I can imagine the negotiations that took place before this film got made.  After all, Leonard Nimoy had directed the previous two films in the series to great acclaim, and had managed to turn that into a real directing career away from “Star Trek” as well.  That had to be eating at Shatner, and I’m guessing he saw this as his chance to assert his personality into the series in a major way and maybe even launch a new chapter in his career as well.  And his original ambitions for the film were grand, involving Sean Connery playing Sybok, the long-lost mad prophet half-brother of Spock and a full-fledged SF trip into Dante’s Inferno in the third act.  But this was the start of Paramount totally low-balling the “Star Trek” films, forcing them to shoot on repurposed sets for “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and re-using ILM shots rather than actually generating new work for the film, and constantly revising and cutting the budget repeatedly.

None of that would matter if the film worked as entertainment, though, and so when I sat down with Toshi, he was still so excited about the four films in the series we’d already watched that I crossed my fingers and hoped that the film would at least play for him.


It sort of blows my mind when Toshi asserts a critical voice at this point.  He is only four years old, after all.  This is a kid who not only specifically asked me to buy a copy of “Space Buddies,” but who has also watched said copy of “Space Buddies” more than once.  So on occasion, I would say that his taste allows for a whole lot of terrible right now, like most kids.  And that’s cool.  My job isn’t to tell him that he’s wrong… it’s to make sure that he understands what he’s watching, and that it’s age appropriate for him.  Beyond that, I don’t want him to be a mirror of me, so I work very hard to not cue him to react to something.

“Star Trek V” is the most blatant comedy of the series, and it’s broad hammy comedy, the sort that makes me gnash my teeth.  I’ve heard “Star Trek” fans defend this as a great film about the core relationships in the series, even if you don’t like the plot of the film, but I disagree.  This is, by far, the worst character writing involving the original cast for any of the feature films.  By far.  It sets up these giant bombshells for a few of the cast members (McCoy in particular), but in such an artificial context that I don’t buy any of it.  Worse, the film can’t decide on a tone.  “Star Trek IV” worked because it played the entire thing with a wink, but without undermining the stakes of the mission they were on, while this film lurches drunkenly from blatant buffoonery to life-and-death peril to supposed wonder and awe.  There’s something of an in-joke to the casting of Lawrence Luckinbill at Sybok (because if you can’t get Sean Connery, Lawrence Luckinbill is exactly who you should go to instead), since Luckinbill’s parents-in-law, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, were the owners of Desilu, the company that produced “Star Trek” in the first place, but that sort of in-joke is just one of the many indications that this film is too cutesy for its own good.  How about Captain Kirk climbing El Capitan at the start of the film?  Get it?  Captain Kirk?  El Capitan?  OH THE HILARITY!

I’ve also spoken to people who get really excited by the notion of the Enterprise crew coming face to face with God, and finding him to be little more than a deranged homicidal madman.  In theory, that could be interesting, but again… Shatner botches the execution with such ferocity that it almost feels like he was trying to end the series forever.  This isn’t just a bad movie… it’s aggressively, actively awful.  It plays like it’s mad at the audience for showing up.  And the big reveals regarding “God” are so ludicrous, so poorly staged and imagined and executed, that there is no kick to be had, even for the most fervent of athiests.

I watched the entire film this time around, but to my enormous surprise, Toshi did not.  About twenty-five minutes into the film, Toshi stood up and looked at me, his angry face firmly affixed.  “Daddy, this film gives me a BIIIIIG headache.”  He stormed out of the office before I could respond, and I had to bite back my peals of laughter until I knew he wouldn’t hear me.  I figured maybe he just needed a nap or a snack, and he’d come back to it at some point.  Later in the evening, when he asked if we could watch something together for a little while before his shower, I held up “Star Trek V” and asked if he wanted to finish it.

“No, Daddy! I tol’ you! That film makes my head get all mad.  I hate that one.”

Yes… that’s right.  My little “Trek” nerd… the kid who will rewatch the same episode of the “Star Trek” animated series four times in a row if I let him… actually told me to my face that he hates “Star Trek V.”

Enough said.

We’ll wrap this up this weekend with our attempt to bring Toshi back into the fold with “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country,” and then we’ll hopefully use this series as the launch for something ongoing and, if it is what I hope it will be, not just entertaining but also interactive.

If you’d like to look back at the earlier entries in this series, you can find them here:

The Introduction

“Star Trek: The Motion Picture”

“Star Trek: The Wrath Of Khan”

“Star Trek III: The Search For Spock”

“Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home”

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