Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, Laurence Luckinbill and William Shatner in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (or Shatner's Folly as it's sometimes known), is generally tied with Star Trek: The Motion Picture for least favorite of all the original cast Star Trek films. They're the origin of the belief that the odd-numbered Star Trek films are worse than the even-numbered ones. What's interesting about comparing Star Trek I to Star Trek V is that they're both bad for exactly the opposite reasons. The original film had great special effects but was too dark and serious without enough character interaction, while The Final Frontier has some pretty shoddy special effects and is too light in tone and actually features too much character interaction without enough substance behind it.
Following the success of Star Trek IV, which was directed by Leonard Nimoy, William Shatner was given his turn behind the camera. And although most of the blame for its failure was laid on his doorstep, to be fair he was hampered by studio interference and a stingy special effects budget. It isn't so much his direction that's poor, but rather his story idea and the script.
The idea behind the plot is rather grandiose. A Vulcan from Spock's past takes control of the refurbished Enterprise with the intention of taking it to the center of the galaxy where he believes they will meet God. There's also a subplot with a Klingon ship trying to track down the Enterprise, but it doesn't really go anywhere except to show up at the 11th hour and provide a too easy ending for it all.
While the best of Star Trek has always blended drama, action and a bit of humor; the balance is tipped too far in the humor direction here. Spock flying around on rocket boots (with some really bad special effects) is just silly. Scotty knocking himself out by walking into a low doorway is slapstick. And Spock, Kirk and McCoy singing "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" around a campfire is better not even mentioned. There are also too many unintentionally funny scenes, such as Uhura doing a naked fan dance to distract some guards (which reportedly the screenwriter only suggested as a joke, but was stunned when the producers leapt at the idea), and when the movie opens and you see a young, strong stuntman climbing a cliff face only for the camera to zoom in and reveal in closeup that it was supposed to be aging, overweight William Shatner. And Grandma Uhura flirting with Grandpa Scotty is just wrong on every level.
One of the great things about Wrath of Khan (the gold standard of Original Series movies) is that the characters are all playing their age. It plays a part of the story. Here though, when it is glarlingly more obvious how old they all are, it is never mentioned. Kirk is still running around trying to do the action stuff. Just why when they go down to try and free some hostages Kirk takes a frail looking McCoy and a not much better looking Spock, is never explained. These are all senior officers (and senior citizens), why are they still doing the grunt work?
The most bothersome plot element to me has always been the Great Barrier scene. God supposedly lives on a planet at the center of the Galaxy that is protected by the Great Barrier. Repeatedly we are told that no one can pass through the Great Barrier. People have tried, but no ship or probe has ever returned. It's built up as this massively dangerous thing to do, so by the time they get there you're thinking, "My god, how the hell are they going to get through that!" And then it turns out to be nothing more than a laser light show. The Enterprise sails right through without damage and so does the Klingon Bird of Prey.
Star Trek has never been afraid to confront serious ideas. Here they're dealing with the issue of God. A subject that has been debated by man since the dawn of time. Surely there's plenty to say about it. The best this script can do is have Kirk, when told by McCoy that he and Spock were just discussing whether God really is out there, glibly say, "Maybe he's not out there, Bones. Maybe he's in here," and then point to his chest.
Despite some fun moments Star Trek V really comes off as a parody of itself. Shatner has been lobbying to be allowed to do a director's cut of this movie with improved digital effects inserted. I don't suppose it could hurt, but unless he can also digitally insert a new script, I don't know how much it will help.
Photos © Copyright Paramount Pictures (1989)