My wife is already starting to ask when we get to the Chris Pine Star Trek films. We have a ways to go yet.
Instead we have arrived at the fifth film in our marathon, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, and a pattern has started to emerge. What these films seem to all have in common so far is that they might have made decent one hour episodes for the original series, but there is a lot of fluff being grafted on to them to turn them into two hour movies… though, Star Trek V ran only one hour and forty six minutes, so it has that going for it.
Going into this viewing I knew that this entry has been generally regarded as the worst of the films, so I fortified myself for some effort to get through it. But, as with much of what we have seen so far, it is neither as bad as I expected nor as good as one might hope.
Star Trek V is also unique in the series in being the one I don’t think I have ever watched all the way through. I am pretty sure I have caught bits of it on TV. I recall seeing the climax with the memorable Kirk quip at one point, but have no memory at all of the rest of it.
As with the previous three films, this one picks up pretty much immediately after the last one. I don’t know why they felt such a need for continuity. They could have just gone “five years later…” if only to cover for the actors, whom were all a decade older than they were when Star Trek: The Motion Picture was released.
But there we start, days after the last movie ended. Most of the bridge crew is on shore leave while Mister Scott is up on the new Enterprise, NCC-1701-A, trying to get it fit for service. Unfortunately, it appears to have been built by at GM Fremont plant, a location infamous for poor quality. This American Life did an episode about how it was so bad that GM and the UAW agreed to work with Toyota in order to try and fix it. (Telsas are now built there, so quality control problems are still an issue at that location.)
Anyway, I digress. The ship is a mess, things don’t work, there is a skeleton crew aboard, and Kirk, Spoke, McCoy, Checkov, and Sulu are all off on a wilderness hike when Star Fleet calls and needs them to run off on a mission… again. How many ships and crews does Star Fleet have?
The problem is on Nimbus III, a joint venture between the Klingons, Romulans, and the Federation in the neutral zone, a location that looks like the set for a Mad Max film, a feeling only enhanced by the ragged garb and thrown together weapons the locals are carrying.
On this planet we find Sybok, a Vulcan. He is rallying the various tribal factions into a single army through the sheer force of his charisma and being a really good listener. We learn later from Spock that Sybok has rejected Vulcan tradition, been cast out from the planet, and has been wandering the galaxy forming his own pseudo religion. Also, he is Spock’s half-brother, something the film felt the need to establish with a completely unnecessary flash back to his birth. I would have been more interested in an explanation about what Sarek, their shared father, was up to. Sarek is the ambassador to the Federation, a high status position, and having two wives, one of them human, was apparently no impediment to his career choice. Though, that is speculation. Maybe they just wanted him off Vulcan.
Anyway, Sybok captures the combined administrative outpost, making the Federation, Klingon, and Romulan representatives his prisoner… momentarily. He soon persuades them to join his cause. They send out a distress signal to lure a starship to come to their rescue.
And the first starship on the scene is the USS Enterprise, again half functional and under staffed, because the Federation has no other ships or competent officers available. They fall for Sybok’s trap, he takes over the ship, and has them set a course for the center of the galaxy where he proposes to find the garden of Eden and its various forms that seem to be a common origin story for the races involved.
Wasn’t there a space hippies episode of the original series that had a similar premise?
Meanwhile, a second ship shows up, filled with what I can only call the Jersey Shore version of Klingons, whose commander is keen to blow up a Federation ship, any Federation ship, so the lure of one commanded by the infamous Kirk. So they give chase and everybody crashes through the impenetrable great barrier that keeps people out of the center of the galaxy, which turns out to be super easy, barely an inconvenience.
Through, the go to God’s planet, which could also be a Mad Max set, or maybe a 40s western set, take a shuttle down, and meet up with God once he teleports them into an obvious sound stage. There God puts on his benevolent Olympian God face and asks Sybok, Kirk, Spock, and McCoy to take him on their starship out of this place where he has been imprisoned and out into the greater galaxy.
This is where we arrive at the “Why does God need a starship?” point of the show. It certainly does cast doubt on the omniscient and omnipresent aspects of the all mighty. Through various machinations the Klingon bird of pray attacks and dethrones God, everybody has a good end of episode chuckle, and Kirk, Spock, and McCoy go back to camping and singing, “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” The end.
Holy moly that was some bad Trek. It had all the goofiness of The Voyage Home with almost none of the entertainment value. Sybok’s secret power, the ability to release deep seated pain in people, reveals that McCoy assisted his father in his wish to die and that Uhuru has the hots for Scotty, so character development was that and Kirk liking to free climb and Spock having a half-brother that we’ll never speak of again. The rambling, incoherent story, in the tradition of the series, left out a lot of salient details, like how the pretend God managed to tell Sybok where to go or why Spock’s name ends in a “ck” while Sybok only gets a “k.”
Anyway, on the ranking scale, the only question is whether or not it was better or worse that Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The Final Frontier was so bad… but TMP was so boring. I am going to have to give TMP the nod based on coherence and special effects, but the gap between the two isn’t huge.
So my ranking for now stands as:
- Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
- Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
- Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
- Star Trek: The Motion Picture
- Star Trek: The Final Frontier
That gets us through five of the six original series films. We have Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country left to go. Can we end on a high note before we roll into The Next Generation films?