THE BLACK SHEEP is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATH. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Dig in!
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)
Directed by William Shatner
“I still look past much of the plaguing problems and see its heart, see that it’s good, ambitious stuff.”
You probably need to know something before this article goes too far. I dig Star Trek. Always have. I remember watching Next Generation on syndication (big deal back in the day) and then growing to love the original cast after when the movies would play on cable. When I tried the original series, it felt too dated at the time, so I’m a reverse kinda fan. Next Generation was the TV series while Kirk and company always were the kings of the big screen. Their six movies never grew old even though their liver spots were. Just worked out that way.
Out of the six movies, there’s little doubt that Star Trek V: The Final Frontier is considered the worst of the canon. There’s really no room to dispute it. It has terrible special effects for a major studio release that are in desperate need of a facelift (though reports are Paramount refuses a director’s cut). The script isn’t particularly interesting. It has a goofy tone throughout (especially Kirk’s Go Climb a Rock shirt). It’s preachy, silly, just lazy crap at times. It feels like an over pretentious ode to Captain Kirk and all his manliness (though I’m really surprised he didn’t rip off his shirt and show that old man chest). He even had to show us all what kind of man he is by climbing a mountain at the start of the film, fall hundreds of feet to his almost death, then be so cool he has a campout with the boys and sings a song. Just silly. As a director, Shatner seemed determined to give himself the majority of the best shots and make himself look nearly absurdly macho. Can’t blame the guy. I probably would’ve too.
But you know what? I don’t get a shit. To me, Star Trek V remains an entertaining flick even with elephant sized zits and all. Even with all those complaints, I still look past much of the plaguing problems and see its heart, see that it’s good, ambitious stuff. Yeah, so maybe not the best, but it tries its damnedest to be grand and go somewhere no one ever has been before. The plot revolves around Spock’s long lost half-brother Sybok, who decides to go all terrorist and hijack the Enterprise and hold them hostage with a mission. Find God. Sybok doesn’t have to lob off heads though. No, no. Dude has some serious powers of persuasion and has everybody, minus Kirk, Spock, and Bones, on his side.
The result is a reflective movie. Kirk, and Star Trek in particular, always seemed Godless. Every time the crew would encounter a worshiping species, they’d attempt to “free” them. Show them the “right” way. The notion of loyalty and friendship always appeared, but faith rarely did. Even though God isn’t exactly what they expected and keeps them Godless by the time the credits roll, I still think the journey there works. It creates an awe inspiring moment that truly feels like they’re on a mission of discovery. Something that rarely happened. This Trek attempted to tell a singular tale and wanted to try something different.
At its best, Star Trek V has some great character moments, namely with the nerd holy trinity of Kirk, Spock and Bones. The opening camping scene, while cheesy and a little embarrassing, works well for the point it wants to make. These three are friends and always will be. Of course, we already know this from 25 some years of Trek at the time, but it only reaffirmed that they were the best trio perhaps in movie history. At its worst, it has Uhura dancing naked with palm leaves with two fake ass moons right behind her. Just terrible, creepy, cheap. The Klingon subplot is pretty worthless. It feels thrown in there so fans would be happy. Why not make them count a little more?
Even though I still find it entertaining, what sucks is what Star Trek V could have been. The budget had been slashed. Sean Connery was originally courted to play Sybock (instead, he starred in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and then Hunt for Red October. Maybe they should've waited until he chose Highlander 2). He would’ve added not only star power that Trek had never seen, but the budget wouldn’t have been an issue. Also, why the hell did Paramount give the director’s chair to Shatner? He’d only directed TJ Hooker episodes and probably had to one up Nimoy after two successful films in a row. But at least Spock could direct. The movie needed someone who could’ve given the theme of discovering God a more serious tone. Not that it needed to be dry as hell or without character, but the search for God carries a heavy weight that could have been much more fascinating and more successful if in more capable hands. You only play a captain, Shat. You aren't really one.
I doubt that Star Trek V will ever be a fan favorite, but if you plop down and watch it with an open mind, maybe you’ll find a little faith too. Or at least want some flying boots, whiskey, and marshmallows. I know I did.
Disagree? Buy the DVD and discover the f*cking black sheep for yourself.