Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989) Director: William Shatner
“What does God need with a starship?”
Star Trek V is the most William Shatner-esque of the Star Trek movies. After Leonard Nimoy directed the two previous films, Shatner exercised his “favored nations” contractual clause to direct the next installment of Star Trek. And while initial ideas pitched for a film seemed compelling at the time (i.e. a cult leader in pursuit of a god was inspired by Shatner after watching a late night televangelist), the final product was over-written by studio executives and even the show’s initial creator Gene Roddenberry, himself an avowed atheist, was uncomfortable with the overtly religious themes. Sadly the finished project is a convoluted, poorly-paced, sloppy, downright awkward picture.
The opening is actually fairly compelling: on a planet called Nimbus III located in the “neutral zone” a scrappy man is digging holes trying to eek out a living as a horse rides up bearing a religious prophet of sorts. It is an ominous and compelling start to an otherwise confusing film. After the credits roll, The Enterprise crew are called back from shore leave in California in order to respond to an emergency situation. Much of the early film is focused on Kirk, Bones, and Spock on vacation in Yosemite. Despite their advanced age somehow Kirk is free-climbing El Capitan and they spend the evening awkwardly drinking around a campfire and singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” The tone is all over the place. Is it funny? Is it foreshadowing? At any rate, they are quickly called back to the Enterprise and whisked away to a desert planet called Nimbus III where a renegade Vulcan named Sybok (Laurence Luckinbill), who is later revealed to be Spock’s half-brother, takes control of the Enterprise with plans to breach the “Great Barrier.” There is a bizarre scene on Nimbus III where Uhura performs a feathery exotic dance number in order to distract a group of apparently sex-crazed guards. Anyway the Enterprise passes through the “Great Barrier” with barely any challenge and arrives at a strange planet where they meet a godlike being (its true nature is never explained) and he demands possession of their starship. Sybok, realizing he has led them to a dangerous being, sacrifices himself so the others can escape. The film closes with a scene of Kirk, Spock, and Bones singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” again in Yosemite.
There are many other goofy scenes I didn’t mention –including a moment in which Scotty accidentally runs into a wall knocking himself unconscious, as well as an unexplained religious power possessed by Sybok. Nevertheless, fans of Star Trek will still find some praiseworthy parts of the film. Despite being a mess of a production, there are some vague traces of intriguing ideas explored in this film. I heard a theory that the best way to view this film is to simply consider it all to be a vain dream of Captain Kirk while sleeping in Yosemite rather than as an actual adventure. Unfortunately, this interpretation is not enough for me. Star Trek V is a low point in the series –most of the movie either makes you laugh out loud at its ridiculousness or cringe on the edge of your seat at its awkwardness.