I recently rewatched Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. Why? I don’t know. Mostly nostalgia. And curiosity for what I would think of it today. (I had to do it five or six sittings.)
Folks...this movie is bad. I know there are people on Facebook who adore it and want to see a new cut with corrected visual effects. Alas, I am not one of those people.
I remember seeing it opening night with my high school pal Jonah Walker at the old Edgartown Town Hall, and our hearts just sank. It was perhaps fitting that the film froze and burned in the brig scene, and the screen went black for five minutes before coming back.
Star Trek IV had been so good, and The Next Generation had brought back Star Trek on a weekly basis, even though at that time (the end of season two) it was woefully uneven.
But this fercockt movie...sigh...
I remember enjoying it as a teen fan for the same reasons I rewatched it: 1) It’s still Star Trek, 2) it’s got the original cast, and 3) Jerry Goldsmith’s score.
But the jokes were stupid even to 15-year-old me, and when it was over, I remember Jonah and I saying something along the lines of, “Well I liked it fine, but I don’t think regular people will get it.”
And sure enough, bombs away—it was virtually gone from theaters by the time Batman stomped everything a few weeks later.
So it’s true the visual effects are terrible, and it was a fatal mistake for the filmmakers to turn to Bran Ferren rather than use the “C team” at ILM (which was I think the excuse they gave, they couldn’t get the primo guys at ILM).
But it’s really the story. Shatner wanted to do a movie about finding God—literally.
That’s such a dopey idea for any movie. Obviously, you’d be mixing theology and reality in a way that is sure to offend and disappoint massive parts of the audience! And especially in a Star Trek film, which always prized science...?
This is why the piano does not write the concerto!
So it got transformed into a story about finding a false God—so it’s already a letdown. Plus it’s really Sybok’s story (though I do like Laurence Luckinbill’s performance), our characters are just along for the ride.
Beyond that, it’s just full of so many storytelling mistakes. The characters act so stupidly, falling into traps and going on a mission with a broken ship (for no reason).
And the jokes! How could nobody say, “Guys, we’re shooting ourselves in the head here”? The humor in Star Trek IV came organically from the fish-out-of-water story. Here, it’s degrading our characters.
I can’t stand it. But I guess it’s not worth belaboring. The lesson is that the difference between something being really good and really bad...well, it can be way less than you think.
It usually comes down to somebody in charge (and I mean, one person) who has good taste—who will put his or her foot down and say, “No, we’re not doing that.”
For Star Trek, it’s pretty clear that without Nicholas Meyer and/or Leonard Nimoy on those first six movies, they were at sea.
So, there you go. This movie did at least lead to the all-time best letter in Starlog magazine: Why are they putting seatbelts in theaters this summer?
“To keep the audience from leaving!!”
Thanks, John Stanowski!