Star Trek V: The First Bad Star Trek Movie
Updated: Dec 21, 2018
Let’s talk ego! Put simply: ego is that part of all of us that creates a personal sense of self. It is how we define ourselves from the inside out. Some egos are bigger than others. Now let’s talk hubris! Here we have what is defined as an excessive amount of pride in one’s abilities and self, to a point where the only logical end result of the choices a person makes is failure. Ego and Hubris are keys to understanding the intended plot direction of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, as well as the people, and person, who guided it to theaters. After the resounding success of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, and the loose trilogy of films which it concluded, Star Trek as a film franchise was flying high. Despite the advancing age of its main cast and the outlandish, whale saving, plot of the fourth film, the franchise had never been more successful. Enter stage right: William Shatner. It must be stated plainly that Captain James Kirk couldn’t have been portrayed by anyone else. His combination of machismo, charm and winking overacting had already sealed his fate of being Kirk to millions of fans for all time. While Shatner had found success outside Star Trek, nothing had come close to Kirk. He was also known to be a bit of a jerk in real life. Shatner had witnessed his friend and co-star, Leonard Nimoy, successfully direct the two previous Star Trek films and felt it was his time to sit in the director’s chair. Now, where, by all accounts, Nimoy was a kind, generous man with a strength of character rarely seen in the film industry, Shatner was rather the opposite. His Trek co-stars had long complained about his camera-hogging, as well as his tendency to steal lines of dialogue or even whole scenes from them. While he was no longer the abrasive young thirtysomething actor with something to prove, the older, more mellow Shatner was still partial to grabbing the spotlight and mugging for the camera. It was Shatner’s hubris and ego that led he and Harve Bennett, producer of the previous three films, to pen a script patterned after a well-worn sci-fi trope: the search for god. Shatner’s Kirk had outsmarted his fair share of godlike beings up to this point, but never on a screen twenty feet tall! Production on the film was difficult, by all accounts. Paramount, remembering the overblown budget of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, had pinched every penny it could on each of the sequels. The Final Frontier was the first time where that cheapness really showed. This was largely due to the fact that the script had a larger than usual amount of set pieces and locations. Matters weren’t helped by the fact that Star Trek’s usual effects house, ILM, were booked solid with other projects when the film went into production, so another less advanced effects studio had to be utilized. Ultimately, what showed up on screen wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been, and what was bad was laughably so. The film has a cold open, something new for a Star Trek film. A mysterious figure rides out the haze of the sandstorm to bring indeterminate enlightenment to a destitute man with bad teeth. The mysterious figure is a Vulcan… a Vulcan who laughs! Roll credits...
We first see Captain James Kirk scaling the face of El Capitan in Yosemite, or distant shots of a professional climber standing (climbing) in for Shatner, rather. When we finally get a good look at Kirk, he’s in seventh heaven, glistening and elated. This is the Captain Kirk that William Shatner had always pictured. Yes, he falls off the rock face and is saved by Spock and his rocket boots, but he almost made it, and learned a lesson in friendship. We are, of course, expected to ignore the fact that Shatner, at this point, was fifty-seven years old and somewhat expanded about the midsection. The story progresses at a good clip, complete with rip roaring action scenes, wide-angle crane shots and murderous, satellite-killing Klingons. Uhura performs a ludicrous fan dance. Scotty whacks his head on a beam and is falls down like a dumb, fat guy. Sulu and Chekov don’t do much. Spock meets the mysterious Vulcan (Sybok) and recognizes him to be his half-brother. Kirk, Spock and McCoy get tossed in the brig, escape, confront (or don’t) their secret pain, and go meet the god at the center of the universe. This god turns out to be a lie who just wants off his planet, as Kirk deduces when he asks, “What does god need with a starship?” Bim, Bam, Boom, your friends are what make life worth living, end credits. The whole film really is a sloppy mess. Critics panned it, the promotional campaign was misguided, and the box office take didn’t match previous entries, and the next film was a much needed return to film franchise form. Years later, Shatner expressed a desire to go back and create a director’s cut with completed effects shots that the budget wouldn’t allow in 1988, but the studio wouldn’t bite and, maybe, that was for the best. No amount of tinkering would’ve turned this one into Blade Runner. That being said, Star Trek V isn’t without its fans or endearing qualities. It’s similar in tone and story to an original series episode. Attempts at portraying camaraderie between the three principal characters are largely successful (if goofy,) as are attempts at stylish spectacle, save for the generally sloppy space effects, which are several (big) steps below the work in previous films. The ego and hubris of William Shatner is primarily to blame for Star Trek V becoming the overblown mess it did, but he is also to blame for the film being an attempt at an old fashioned, rip-roaring adventure. It took a lot of nerve to throw together a film this ambitious within the confines of an established franchise, but it also took a lot of ego and hubris to believe that it couldn’t possibly crash and burn.