Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)
June 21, 2020 1:20 PM - Subscribe

Captain Kirk and his crew must deal with Mr. Spock's long-lost half-brother who hijacks the Enterprise for an obsessive search for God at the center of the galaxy.

What does Memory Alpha need with a starship?:

- Co-Writer and Director William Shatner once remarked that he initially intended this movie to be written by thriller and fantasy author Eric Van Lustbader. "My biggest failure [in the making of the film] was I had read some books by Eric Van Lustbader, who had written some wonderful novels about an American in Japan and how out of place he felt. I thought, 'God, that'd be perfect for a Spock movie.' I went to see him and we walked the streets of New York pondering the plot of Star Trek," Shatner recalled. "He was a fan. I thought, 'God, I've got a bestselling author ready to do a Star Trek.' And then they couldn't agree on the novel rights. So I lost him and my movie was going downhill before it even started."

- The Final Frontier approximated Roddenberry's atheist worldview, and was reminiscent of his own 1975 unrealized movie script The God Thing, a reworked version of which became "In Thy Image" and then, reworked further, the script for The Motion Picture. Richard Arnold, who was working at Roddenberry's office at the time, was present when the first story outline of The Final Frontier was delivered to Roddenberry as an FYI, later explaining to Shatner why Roddenberry reacted as he did, "So when you came along, though it was years later, with very similar themes, Gene was really hurt. I think it hurt Gene's ego that you finally going to tell the story that he wanted to tell ten years earlier. You were about to succeed where he had failed. At the time, Gene's secretary, Susan was making matters worse by walking around the office stating things like 'I can't believe it! He stole your idea. Bill's an asshole. Bill's a bastard.' So that did not help, and additionally, I know there was a fairly legitimate concern on Gene's part that your sense of humor [in regard to the way the secondary cast was eventually portrayed in the movie] was a little different than had ever been visualized before." While Susan Sackett's reaction might be construed as personally motivated, she actually had, in all fairness, a point; Shatner himself has related how he had stumbled upon Roddenberry ten years earlier when the latter was busy writing The God Thing, and was on that occasion given a beat-for-beat summary of the story. Some of this may have nestled in Shatner's subconscious. Though Shatner had implied as much in his memoir, Arnold's remarks confirmed that Shatner had neither consulted nor communicated with Roddenberry even once, during the entire production of the movie.

- William Shatner's first outline for this film was entitled "An Act of Love" and, according to William Shatner's Star Trek Movie Memories, would have been a much darker tale and would have seen the first true falling out between Kirk and Spock and McCoy. Also, Spock and McCoy would also have joined with Sybok, leaving Kirk alone. This was changed when Nimoy absolutely refused to play that, stating that there was no chance whatsoever that Spock would ever turn on Kirk, especially after what Kirk risked and sacrificed for Spock in Star Trek III. Director Shatner talked to Nimoy, attempting to change his mind, but Nimoy was firm in believing that pain or no pain, brother or no brother, Spock would not betray Captain Kirk. Shatner eventually conceded and had the script adjusted. In the book, Shatner comments that he was aware there was no chance he could know Spock as well as Nimoy would and he certainly couldn't force Nimoy to play the part as written. According to Shatner, on the same day that Nimoy objected, DeForest Kelley also refused, believing that McCoy would not turn against Kirk either and Kelley was as adamant about it as Nimoy was. Shatner said that he didn't know and still doesn't know if changing the script was the right decision to make, but he also conceded that if someone else had come in and written a scenario where Kirk would turn against Spock and McCoy, he too, would "raise the roof" over it. Nevertheless, Shatner said he would still have loved to have seen and been able to play the original version of the scenario.

- Star Trek V has provoked controversy among fans. Many consider this movie to be the weakest Star Trek film ever made, although financially, the later Star Trek Nemesis performed even worse worldwide, though it was initially the number one film at the box-office on its first weekend of release and grossed a solid US$17 million. It ultimately earned over $52 million in the US and Canada plus over $17 million overseas. [1] It was not as successful as its predecessor, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, which had grossed US$109.7 million in North America alone.

"What does God need with a starship?"

- Kirk, challenging "God"

"Please, captain. Not in front of the Klingons."

- Spock, refusing Kirk's hug

Poster's Log:

Rewatched this one last night, probably for the first time since it came out, and time has not improved it one whit. As with my recent rewatch of Star Trek: Nemesis, another notoriously not-good Trek movie, the rewatch was prompted by other media, in this case the Star Trek Online series of missions on Nimbus III (I've actually done them before, but there's enough there to justify a repeat), as well as wondering how much of it was influenced by the then-recent beginning of TNG (which we're currently doing a rewatch of) and just wondering if I might have had cause to reconsider it in the three decades-plus since its premiere.

And, yes, it really is that bad, even worse than the later movie. Nemesis, for all its faults, at least could be seen as a unified story, albeit one that wasn't written or told especially well. STV, on the other hand, was comprised of a number of different elements gleaned from throughout the franchise, and assembled with a lack of care or skill by William Shatner, who, apparently eager to prove that he was Leonard Nimoy's equal, insisted on writing and directing, and not doing a great job of either. If he did in fact lift the idea for the plot from Roddenberry (who, as Harlan Ellison noted, has only ever had one Trek story idea that was ever produced: the Enterprise goes out into space and finds God, and God is either insane, a child, or both), then the rest of the ideas are scraped together from a number of other franchise sources: the search for Eden by a charismatic cultish leader who takes over the ship from TOS' "The Way to Eden", the shambolic state of the ship (puzzling, since the E-A is really just another Constitution-class ship that was rechristened, although the bridge, which is new, had an excuse for still being semi-assembled) from TMP and STIII, the piercing of a galactic barrier from the second pilot, "Where No Man Has Gone Before", and the design of the bridge and the theme song both from TMP and TNG. The humor, I guess, was from whatever Shatner thought was funny.

But none of it really works together. The God idea, as noted, has been done too many times before in the franchise, even in Roddenberry's new project, TNG. Going to the galactic core not only takes too long but is basically impossible. Uhura is shown flying the shuttle in an aerial attack on Paradise; the next time we see her, she and the shuttle have both been captured unharmed with no indication of how that happened. The ship has nowhere near seventy-eight decks or however many they passed. Sybok's method of recruiting followers--basically doing speed-psychotherapy via mind-meld, although his version of mind-melds also makes the person's memories visible to anyone else standing around, I guess?--makes no sense, because just resolving my "secret pain" (the movie also assumes that everyone has something like that, which is, speaking in psychological terms, utter horseshit) wouldn't make me automatically desirous of doing whatever the therapist's wishes were regarding his crazy notions of religious archaeology; the only way it works is if Sybok was slipping in some mind control and it was rationalized by the recipient as sheer gratitude. And, finally, God is just not that impressive, sorry. We've seen Q, Trelane, Charles Evans, Apollo, the Organians, even Gary Mitchell and Elizabeth Dehner; eye-beams and a few quick changes don't really rate on that scale.

I think that the interesting thing to have done would have been to have had Sybok doing what was eventually done in TNG, and that's to look for "Eden" or whatever you want to call it as the origin planet for the ur-humanoid race of the galaxy, as shown in "The Chase", who may or may not have been the Preservers. Trek occasionally plays around the edges of the field of Deep Time, by mentioning the Preservers, the Iconians, and various other long-lost empires and beings whose accomplishments dwarfed those of the galaxy's acknowledged great powers, and there's quite a lot that Shatner could have done with that concept without coming close to exhausting it for the use of the various series. STO has done some things with that. It sure would have made for a better movie than Uhura doing a fan dance in the middle of the desert (where did she get the fans?) or Scotty running into a clearly-visible overhang.

Good points: well, Klaa was probably the most metal representative ever of a very metal race, and Spice Williams (who has done a lot of stunt and double work in the franchise, and who married Denise Crosby's half-brother) as Vixis was impressive. Laurence Luckinbill has a ton of serious dramacred. And the camping trip was charming, and probably could have stayed if the film had gotten the major rewrite that it desperately needed, albeit with some of the more risible attempts at humor removed. (I have read the theory that the emphasis on "Life is but a dream" was a clue that the whole thing was indeed a bizarre dream; all I can say about that is that, yup, that sure is a theory.)
posted by Halloween Jack (18 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I saw this in the theater, I think. It was bad. All I really remember is Spock's flying boots and all those shots of Kirk, Spock and McCoy lined up. I can't even remember the rest, and don't want to.
posted by Catblack at 4:52 PM on June 21, 2020

I saw this in the theatre when I was 15 years old. I loved Trek, the last 3 films has been so good, particularly 4, I was pumped this movie. I wanted to like it so much that it caused serious cognitive dissonance, it had to be good …right? It must have been. Took me a while to sort out how trash it was.

I do still kind of like the idea of the failed 'planet of galactic peace' where the forgotten ambassadors are just drunk all the time. They do get along pretty well though even if the colonists don't, so it's not an entirely unsuccessful project. That kind of reality not living up to ideals would obviously later be explored in Deep Space Nine, to somewhat better effect.
posted by rodlymight at 5:39 PM on June 21, 2020 [1 favorite]

Once many years ago (early 90s?) I was at a convention (Visions, I think, a fan-run Chicago con mainly Doctor Who/British sf focused) where in the video room I watched a fan-made MST3K of Highlander II and of STV. They were hilarious, and I still fondly remember the little sing-song they did for Spock's entrance:
"Rocks, rocks, rocks, rocks,
Rocks, rocks, rocks, rocks,
And here comes Mr. Spock!"

STV is also responsible for the existence of Shatner Of The Mount by Fall On Your Sword which the DCTV crew used to play at DragonCon between panels sometimes, which is up there with "Taking the Hobbits to Isengard" in earwormishness.

That's about all I can say in this movie's favor. I don't think I've seen it since the initial release, and I don't think there's a force in this or any other universe that would bring me to do so.
posted by oh yeah! at 5:42 PM on June 21, 2020 [3 favorites]

Ooooh I needed a new earworm thank you oh yeah!! As for this movie- best watched when a child with your parents so you can have many inside jokes. "dad, not in front of the klingons" was a phrase spoken many times as a teenager in public. (nerd family) Cannot recommend watching this film as an adult unless under some sort of influence. I could say many things about the fan dance but won't, it makes me too mad.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 6:02 PM on June 21, 2020

I have a strong memory of this movie. I was a kid at a summer camp where I was miserable, and we'd gotten a chance to go into town to the movie theater to see it. It was a big deal just to sit in good A/C again. And to escape to a whole other universe was exactly what I needed. My only disappointment with the movie was that the crew wanted to go camping, of all things. But I was super impressed with El Capitan.

I had no idea that it was a terrible movie. Everything that was goofy and tacky and overdone when I rewatched this movie with a Rifftrax -- that was exactly what appealed to me as a child. It was also super scary and intense, and I choked up. I was probably the most moved of anybody who saw it. It's nice to remember being genuinely impressed at "What does God want with a starship?" That's the old sensawunda.
posted by Countess Elena at 6:41 PM on June 21, 2020 [1 favorite]

Everything that was goofy and tacky and overdone when I rewatched this movie with a Rifftrax -- that was exactly what appealed to me as a child.

I probably would have loved it as a child. My favorite movie as a kid, I mean the one that meant so much to me that it was used as a source of rewards when I went through speech therapy, was Chitty Chitty Bang Bang... which does not seem even a small fraction as enchanting as an adult. So, I totally get that. I would have been the kid with a marshmallow dispenser going around asking adults what God needs with a starship if it had come out fifteen or twenty years earlier.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:37 PM on June 21, 2020

I do still kind of like the idea of the failed 'planet of galactic peace' where the forgotten ambassadors are just drunk all the time. They do get along pretty well though even if the colonists don't, so it's not an entirely unsuccessful project. That kind of reality not living up to ideals would obviously later be explored in Deep Space Nine, to somewhat better effect.

Reflecting back in STV, Nimbus III is probably the best thing the movie had going for it as an original element. And one can't go wrong with anything involving David Warner playing a burnt out cynical diplomat.

The entire movie is a failure and I have little sympathy for Shat and his ego. But when my brother and I discuss the movies, we can't help always falling into discussions about what could have been tweaked to at least make STV not awful. One of the main things is what to do with Sybok being Spock's brother. Even if he had been a foster brother, that would have been enough to make it not totally goofy. Just things like that.

The scene where Bones turns off his father's life support is some good acting from Kelley.
posted by Fukiyama at 8:40 PM on June 21, 2020 [3 favorites]

I saw this in the theater, I think. It was bad. All I really remember is Spock's flying boots and all those shots of Kirk, Spock and McCoy lined up. I can't even remember the rest, and don't want to.
posted by Catblack at 4:52 PM on June 21

Spock's flying boots got a big huge laugh around these parts. A family member had (or maybe still has for that matter) that exact same model of downhill ski boot. I don't think the prop master did anything to disguise them or alter them in any way shape or form. I don't recall the brand or the model off the top of my head, but I'm sure I could get the information quite easily.
posted by sardonyx at 8:53 PM on June 21, 2020

I think there was a Teamsters strike that impacted the production?
posted by Chrysostom at 9:02 PM on June 21, 2020 [1 favorite]

I still have my official Kraft marshmallow dispenser around somewhere.
posted by mogget at 9:55 PM on June 21, 2020 [3 favorites]

Is this the one where Uhura does a fan dance?....
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:37 AM on June 22, 2020

posted by Chrysostom at 8:56 AM on June 22, 2020

I'm a little over ten years younger than Halloween Jack, which puts me juuuuust a hair too old to have been unreservedly charmed/impressed when I saw it in the theater, but just young enough that I remember enjoying the experience…yet worrying that the franchise was veering too much in the direction of mass appeal (perhaps influenced by the huge success of The Voyage Home), considering all the childish humor and the presence of Klingons for no real story reason. Part of why I enjoyed The Undiscovered Country so much was that it redeemed the franchise not only w/r/t not sucking, but it demonstrated that maturity, that avoidance of the lowest common denominator.

Subsequent rewatches of TFF on VHS (pre-Undiscovered Country) tended to happen after a marathon of II/III/IV when I didn't quite want it to end. You realize in a hurry that everything about this film (including, I believe, the actual film itself) looks and feels astonishingly cheap by comparison to II/III/IV.

Now in weak defense of TFF, I'll say
- it's got an engrossing opening sequence
- Luckinbill's acting is great throughout, even when he becomes Asshole-God
- the aforementioned McCoy scene is dynamite, and has got to be that character's most powerful scene (maybe tied with his speech to comatose Spock in III)
- Nimbus III, as mentioned above, is a cool concept
- and one thing I don't know if anybody else has addressed directly, which is that when it comes to developing the relationship between the three leads… did any other single TOS episode/film do it better? And not just the camping scenes, either. Now obviously, you can't beat Wrath of Khan for Kirk/Spock stuff, and Search for Spock did good stuff with Spock/McCoy, but the combined relationship is treated here with some real weight. This is why I would consider TFF required viewing for anyone interested in the TOS-era cast even though it sucks overall. (It's interesting to read about Shatner's original plan to mess with their relationship! The mind boggles.)
- and it's still not as bad as Into Darkness.

But yeah, Nemesis is better—barely.

I didn't learn that the marshmallow dispenser was an actual purchasable item until many years later, which is fortunate, because that single fact might have tainted whatever trace of fondness this film managed to retain for me over the years.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 9:04 AM on June 22, 2020 [3 favorites]

when it comes to developing the relationship between the three leads… did any other single TOS episode/film do it better?

Not that I can remember. As far as McCoy scenes go, another one that I'd add for consideration for Best McCoy scene is in the TOS episode "The Empath", when the Vians are going to take one of the remaining crew to torture as part of their test of Gem and, by extension, her people; Spock volunteers himself as the logical choice, but McCoy sneaks up on him and hits him with a hypospray of something to knock Spock out so that he can take Spock's place. When McCoy is next seen, he's just physically and mentally shattered.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:57 AM on June 22, 2020

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you test footage of one of the rockmen that Shatner wanted to have Kirk fight at the end of this movie. He'd planned for several giant rockmen but then for budget reasons that became one rockman and then they couldn't make that work so it was curtains for Rocky. Too bad, because judging by the test footage they were really onto something awesomely goofy there and if it had been the ending this movie might be remembered as some kind of campy delight instead of just a really weird misfire. It's got plenty of clunky stuff, and some truly ghastly moments like the fan dance, but there's enough here that works that I feel like it could have been saved. It kind of cruises along like a decent Star Trek movie, then it goes fucking nuts for a minute, then it goes back to being a Trek movie.

Shatner takes a lot of crap for this movie, but I feel like some blame has to go to the editor, Peter E. Berger. He did a few other Trek movies, some of them good (The Voyage Home) and some of them kind of cruddy (Insurrection). I get the feeling he was a real journeyman type, just trying to get the movie made to the director's satisfaction and not doing much to shape a picture himself. That could work out when he had a solid script and a director who knew what he was doing, but he wasn't a guy who could take something flawed but interesting and turn it into a masterpiece. (Or maybe Shatner wouldn't let him cut stuff like the fan dance. That's not hard to imagine.)
posted by Ursula Hitler at 2:49 AM on June 23, 2020 [4 favorites]

"I mean the one that meant so much to me that it was used as a source of rewards when I went through speech therapy, was Chitty Chitty Bang Bang... which does not seem even a small fraction as enchanting as an adult."

Aha! We're almost exactly the same age. CCBB was my favorite movie as a very young kid, too. But the Child Catcher is my personal example of childhood nightmare fuel.

What a disappointment this Star Trek movie was. I remember being genuinely angry at it right from the beginning. I never watched it again after the theatrical release and I remember nothing about it other than the beginning. Even after reading this post and thread.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:15 AM on June 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

I have little good to say about this movie; it is bad for many, many reasons. That being said, it has two moments I do like:

KIRK: Excuse me. ...I'd just like to ask a question. ...What does God need with a starship?
GOD: Bring the ship closer.
KIRK: I said ...'What does God need with a starship?'
McCOY: Jim, what are you doing?
KIRK: I'm asking a question.
GOD: Who is this creature?
KIRK: Who am I? Don't you know? Aren't you God?
SYBOK: He ...has his doubts.
GOD: You doubt me?
KIRK: I seek proof.
McCOY: Jim, you don't ask the Almighty for his I.D.

And the scene where Sybok tries to take away Kirk's pain, only for him to point out that his mistakes, regrets, and pain are part of making him who he is.

That's it.
posted by nubs at 7:50 AM on August 24, 2021

Finally watched this after 30+ years of being a Trek fan, and I was very surprised to find some honest-to-god Philip K. Dick vibes in the Sybok scenes. And Luckinbill was legitimately great.

But there's just so much that's bad... tons of plot holes, the fan dance, really shoddy effects. The music is often good but frequently overbearing. New bridge set is great but several other sets are really cheap-looking. Some of the lighting + photography is nice, especially in the long scene with Sybok/Kirk/Spock/McCoy - but then there's the silly purple filter on the god planet.

But honestly, all things considered, I think I would rate this about on par with STIII. Maybe I'm too forgiving of weird messes though :).
posted by equalpants at 7:31 PM on February 13

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