“Damn it, Bones, you’re a doctor. You know that pain and guilt can’t be taken away with a wave of a magic wand. They’re the things we carry with us, the things that make us who we are. If we lose them, we lose ourselves. I don’t want my pain taken away! I need my pain!” exclaims Captain James T. Kirk to Dr. Leonard McCoy.
1986’s Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home was a critical and financial success (it also earned a franchise high four Academy Award nominations; a feat only matched by 2009’s Star Trek). Paramount would go ahead and green light another sequel, this time with William Shatner in the director’s chair. He had a particular vision for the fifth Star Trek film, one that wasn’t really shared by Gene Roddenberry or Paramount. The road to making the film was a bumpy one, and the film that emerged was one that a lot of critics like to crap on (as well as a great number of fans). I believe this film to be the most underrated of all Star Trek films (even more than 2002’s Star Trek: Nemesis). I was lucky enough to see this film on the big screen 10 years ago at the Two Boots Pioneer Theater as part of their “Star Trek Saturdays” retrospective.
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier picks up some time after the events of the previous film. The main crew of the Enterprise-A is on Earth for shore leave, except for Uhura and Scotty, who are on board the new Enterprise (Scotty is leading the repairs of the new ship). Meanwhile, an uprising led by a renegade Vulcan named Sybok occurs on the planet Nimbus III. Sybok takes the Federation, Klingon, and Romulan delegates hostage and issues an ultimatum to their governments. Kirk and his crew are recalled from shore leave, and are ordered to investigate the situation and rescue the hostages (despite the problems the Enterprise still has). The Klingons also send a ship for the hostages, although its commander is far more interested in defeating Kirk.
The returning cast (William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelly, James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, and Walter Koenig) are in fine form once again (Shatner’s performance is very strong in this film). The “guest stars” deliver the goods as well: Laurence Luckinbill (in an excellent performance as Sybok), David Warner (as Federation delegate St. John Talbot), Charles Cooper (as Klingon delegate General Korrd), Cynthia Gouw (as Romulan delegate Caithlin Darr), Rex Holman (as J’onn, one of Sybok’s followers), George Murdock (as God), Todd Bryant (as Klingon Captain Klaa), and Spice Williams (as Vixis, Klaa’s lieutenant). Shatner’s direction is quite good despite studio interference in the story and the budget. Shatner had a much stronger vision originally, but Paramount and producer Harve Bennett were nervous about it, fearing that it might be offensive to moviegoers. They forced him to tone it down while re-working the story (a lot of Shatner’s original elements still made into the final film). David Loughery was brought in to help re-shape the film’s storyline and write the screenplay. One of Paramount’s demands was that the film be humorous like the previous film, and they insisted on adding humor to scenes where there wasn’t any humor (although a lot of fans objected to the forced humor, I personally didn’t mind it).
Nilo Rodis-Jamero took over as costume designer and made wonderful, new additions to the costumes (Federation strike force uniforms, the various garments for the inhabitants of Nimbus III, etc.). Herman Zimmerman’s excellent production design consisted of new sets for the Klingon Bird of Prey, various areas of the Enterprise-A (including the bridge and the shuttlebay), and Paradise City on Nimbus III. Peter E. Berger’s editing was good but could’ve been better. The fight scenes could’ve used quicker cuts as well as Kirk’s fall from the mountain (which would’ve made the obviousness of the rear projection image less… obvious). The quicker cuts would’ve made for a better pace and hidden some visible wires. Then there’s that issue with the deck number repetition in the turboshaft escape sequence, which was just inexcusable.
Andrew Laszlo’s cinematography was excellent; I liked his use of shadows in the sequence where Sybok tries to make Kirk, Spock, and McCoy confront their hidden pain, and his use of gels to create an alien look to the desolate landscape on Sha’Ka’Ree was superb (and how could I not mention the scene where Uhura dances with giant feathers to distract Sybok’s lookout party on Nimbus III; the selective lighting for that scene was excellent). The makeup work by Jeff and Wes Dawn was terrific once again. Mark Mangini’s sound design was excellent, particularly in emphasizing Sybok’s powers when he helps people deal with their pain (the heartbeats were a nice touch). I must, of course, mention Bran Ferren’s special effects for this film. Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) was too busy to do most of the special effects (they were only able to do a little); they were working on films like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Ghostbusters II, and The Abyss. Bran Ferren couldn’t deliver the quality of special effects that had been done for previous Star Trek films, and this element of the film is the one that gets trashed the most (to be fair, there is a surrealness to the special effects, but I don’t think that was intended; I would’ve still liked for him to deliver special effects that were at least on par with the previous Star Trek films). The cutting of the film’s budget did partially factor into the hiring of Bran Ferren, but it was his inexperience in doing special effects for films like the Star Trek movies that led to the downgrade in quality.
One of the things I do need to address is the film’s teaser poster, which featured the tagline “Why are they putting seatbelts in theatres this summer?” I don’t understand what the marketing team at Paramount was thinking; the poster promises one kind of movie when the actual film is a much different kind of movie. And whose idea was it to release this film in the summer (a summer that became the first summer of sequels)? I digress… There is one particular continuity error I need to address (mainly because it’s NOT a continuity error). When Sybok is on the Enterprise, his hair is long and his clothes are a little shabby. When he goes down to Sha’Ka’Ree, his hair is shorter and his clothes are different. The reason there is no continuity error is because Sybok believed that he was going to meet God, so he cleaned himself up. I don’t understand why people didn’t understand this.
Finally, I must mention Jerry Goldsmith’s excellent score. He brings back a few motifs from 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture (including his Enterprise and Klingon motifs). He adds synthesizer work to the orchestra, particularly a synclavier (a lot of which is used to represent Sybok’s powers). A quest motif is also added, which is actually a variation of his family theme for Kirk, Spock, and McCoy (first introduced while Kirk is mountain climbing at the beginning). A variation of the family theme would be used by Goldsmith as a family motif for the Star Trek: The Next Generation films he would later score. Goldsmith’s score for Star Trek V is complex, mysterious, emotional, and adventurous; he scored the film as it should’ve been and as Shatner originally intended.
Star Trek V is still quite a good film. While it could’ve been better (had it not been for studio interference and the film being ahead of its time as far as special effects were concerned), it is not the turd that a lot of people make it out to be. Shatner was bold in trying to explore the theme of religious fanaticism in a Star Trek film, and I believe it struck a chord in people in terms of the parallel of Sybok and the televangelists of today (which probably put off a good number of people to the film). It’s a shame he hasn’t been allowed to create a director’s cut of the film; I would’ve loved to have seen the original climax he was forced to scrap (due to lack of money and the special effects technology that didn’t exist at the time to help him fully realize his vision).