I think finally seeing Prometheus a few solar cycles back got me thinking about movies depicting the human quest to meet our maker.
Naturally, this brings me to the most-reviled of Gene Roddenberry’s stepchildren (aside from Enterprise), Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.
Why is it hated so? There are many reasons often offered up for this: Shatner can’t direct (but was promised an outing after Nimoy directed the previous two films), an too-human yet full-blooded Vulcan brother is invented for Spock seemingly out of nowhere, the special effects are nothing special, and it was generally a massive let-down coming on the heels of the much-beloved cinematic heights of the cycle comprising Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.
A cable movie channel has been rerunning the Trek movies, and recently I stopped in my channel surfing to see that Star Trek V was on — and like the proverbial starship wreck, I couldn’t stop watching. It was actually fun to watch it again after so much time, and it occurred to me that there are some bright spots in this void of sci-fi cinema.
1. The cast is good. Capt. Klaa and his sexy first “mate” Vixis are pretty much cardboard Klingons, but they have fun with their parts and the pantomime villains are a relief from all the Empire’s political intrigue in The Next Generation that would come into being around the same time the film was released and that would follow in the next movie, The Undiscovered Country. David Warner, who would go on to play the Klingon chancellor in that next movie, always lends class to any production (even Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze).
Laurence Luckinbill steals the show as Sybok, a Vulcan who embraces his emotions, something that would be explored later in Enterprise and very few other avenues. As absurd as it is, it’s delightful fun, and he brings to mind roguish Trek characters like Harry Mudd, Cyrano Jones, and “the outrageous” Okona — an element missing from other Trek movies.
Some trivia: He’s the son-in-law of TV icons Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, who founded original Trek production company Desilu Studios. Some more: Todd Bryant, who played the Klingon captain, would go on to have a prolific stunt career and doubled for Ron Perlman in Star Trek Nemesis. Spice Williams, who played Vixis, also has a prolific stunt career, much of it in the Trek TV universe. And Charles Cooper, who played the drunken Klingon diplomat Korrd, would be better and more justly remembered for playing the Klingon chancellor K’mpec in several memorable episodes of The Next Generation.
2. The whole ensemble is utilized. The preceding movie, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, also did this, and probably did it 10 times better, but in Star Trek V, the Enterprise bridge crew got to do a lot of interesting things rather than just open hailing frequencies and press buttons. As good as the “Genesis cycle” of ST II-IV is, it’s nice to have the old crew back in action doing Federation-y things, like hostage rescue missions and jaunts to the center of the galaxy, again. And Uhura dances naked in the desert. Final Frontier, indeed.
3. It’s funny. “Excuse me … What does God need with a starship?”
4. It’s actually a rather decent space adventure flick. While there are a few moldy stock scenes of the Klingon Bird of Prey (a sad practice that inexplicably continued into the Next Generation-era movies) in Star Trek V, there are also some exciting new model shots (near the end of an era for that art form) and some admirable special effects. Sure, the final encounter with “God” didn’t get filmed as scripted, with an exciting gargoyle chase that I still want to see realized in some future special edition. But we get to see a lot of the Star Trek universe and the “new” Enterprise-A itself that hadn’t been realized on screen before. (Even if they did turn the awesome bridge into a living room.) And it leaves you wanting more, which isn’t always a bad thing.
5. It actually leads rather nicely into Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. It opens and closes with the diplomatic corps of the Federation and Klingon and Romulan empires trying to find peace, and that exploration of detente is what drives the crew’s next and final adventure together.
So, what do you think? Am I totally off starbase here? Let me have it!
Originally published June 21, 2012.