One Trek Mind #25: The Trouble With Star Trek V
By Jordan Hoffman - April 25, 2012
The story of my courtship and love affair with Star Trek has been well documented in prior One Trek Mind columns. Your comments both here and on Facebook have shown me that I'm not alone in feeling that a love for this franchise is a significant and enriching part of life. However, even we heavy advocates are not always blind yes men. When our franchise stumbles, we're there to help it back on its path.
Probably the most notable deviation from the transwarp corridor of perfection is the 1989 feature film Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. Even its defenders will admit that, yeah, it coulda been a whole lot better, as you'll see below.
Last week I opened a bottle of kanar and held a symposium with three of my biggest Trekkie friends on the controversial topic of the William Shatner-directed Star Trek V. My guests included TV and film producer F.J. DeSanto, IGN movies editor Scott Collura and Mike Friedman, who can solve a Rubik's Cube in under two minutes.
Friedman: Star Trek V is only the second-worst Star Trek movie. Now, everybody fight!
Hoffman: Woah, slow down there. First, we all here?
DeSanto: Yes, but I am watching the Rock Man stuff that got cut on YouTube.
Hoffman: We'll get to that. But let's start with a broader question. Ultimately, Star Trek V is bad, yes or no?
DeSanto: Ultimately yes.
Collura: Ultimately no.
Friedman: Star Trek V is a bad Star Trek movie, but it's not necessarily a bad movie.
DeSanto: It's a good attempt at recapturing The Original Series. The tone, feel & themes. But it fails at that attempt.
Friedman: I'll agree with that, it has merit as an adventure story.
Collura: If you can beam out the fan dance and Chekov pretending there's a blizzard, you're inching towards not bad. "I need my pain" makes it worthwhile alone.
DeSanto: I like everything until Sybok comes onboard.
Hoffman: Let's talk about Sybok. There's something I never quite understood. Is he putting people "under a spell" or not? Cause if not, no way the crew of MY Enterprise will fall for his shenanigans.
Friedman: My understanding is that he has mind melded/brainwashed them.
DeSanto: Spell for sure, some Vulcan-Jedi maneuver. I think it suggests something potentially cool about Vulcans and what they are truly capable of if they want to.
Collura: Perhaps the stronger-willed the person, the more mind-melding required? So, bald guy on Nimbus III, not much brainwashing required.
Friedman: I never understood what the bald guy was supposed to be about. Why is he digging those holes?
Collura: He's looking for his Hills Have Eyes VHS.
Hoffman: Wait, hold up. If Sybok has them in some sort of mind-meld hold, how do they "snap out of it" so quickly?
DeSanto: He releases the hold?
Collura: Does it matter? It's like the transporter not working - a plot point that just gets us to the good character stuff for the main three.
DeSanto: I agree, Jordan. It's a bit of a sell-out, given the way the film is bookended. Sybok's abilities are not clearly defined. The impact is lost, it becomes fuzzy and annoying.
Collura: Fair enough -- the whole thing has problems in its last third.
Hoffman: I feel like they painted themselves a bit into a corner. Maybe I was naive, but I went into this film thinking I'd learn something about theology. . . but that is because I was dumb kid.
Collura: Well, the film does hint at God and theology and a belief system -- previously verboten for Trek.
DeSanto: I find it hard to believe after Star Trek IV the studio would allow them to make a movie about theology. Collura: Probably they let them do anything after that success?
DeSanto: I think Shatner wanted to explore those themes, and there's a compromise in there. For the first 20 minutes or so this film is a great new TV episode. Then. . .
Collura: I think it suffers from the first intro of Kirk/Spock by trying to emulate the humor from IV.
DeSanto: Honestly this movie, massive flaws notwithstanding, is the closest attempt at being pure Roddenberry - the entire Sybok arc.
Hoffman: I was watching clips again today - you can really see the seams in the action sequences, more than with other movies of its time, wouldn't you say? When the "gravity boots" boost Kirk, Spock and Bones up the center of the Enterprise, in some shots you can clearly see 3 doubles standing on a ledge.
Collura: It's awful. The gravity-boot fall at the start so blatantly cuts from exterior to soundstage. Obviously Shatner had a lot of problems getting the thing done, with the rock monsters getting cut and whatnot. Which, by the way, would've been very old-school TOS if it had been included.
Hoffman: I read that originally he wanted the ending to have Satanic demons (Heaven/Hell) but they made him change it to rock monsters. Then from 6 rock monsters to 1 rock monster. Then none.
Collura: Sounds like my Senior Prom.
Friedman: Even rock monsters would not have saved it. Rock lobsters maybe. But I still think Nemesis is worse.
Hoffman: What does B4 need with a Starship?
Collura: Data should've sang “Row Row Row Your Boat” at Riker's wedding.
DeSanto: Nemesis was at least well made.
Friedman: Nemesis is a well-made movie with no story. ST:V is a poorly-made movie with a story; it's just that the story makes little sense.
DeSanto: They're both flawed in that they try to do something different and fail miserably.
Hoffman: I think Star Trek: The Motion Picture also tried to do something different, and that really worked as a film.
DeSanto: TMP doesn't work at all.
Hoffman: Oh, no! TMP rules! I'll give you that it feels a little out of place with the tone and characters of Star Trek, but it is still terrific.
DeSanto: The worst payoff in the history of cinema.
Hoffman: You take that back! TMP is gorgeous!
DeSanto: Yes it is gorgeous but, hell, edit it and give us a bad guy. V'ger is stupid.
Hoffman: Not as stupid as “What does God need with a Starship?”
DeSanto: Yes, I agree with that. But V'ger is, at best, a one-hour TV episode idea.
Collura: TMP under-serves the characters -- they're almost ciphers.
DeSanto: Sybok was at least a potentially interesting character.
Hoffman: Yes, back to Sybok and ST:V. Did you dislike ST:V when you first saw it? I remember really digging it at first and so did the audience. Kirk's line "...excuse me!" before he asked why God needed a Starship got a huge laugh. It wasn't until much later I recognized it didn't have the same quality as the other films.
DeSanto: I remember thinking "Oh man, something is wrong here," after they got Sybok in the ship. The second I heard ILM wasn’t involved I knew it wouldn’t be as good. By the time they get to God I was thinking "who allowed this?"
Collura: I think you guys are way, way too hard on the film.
Friedman: I think if you view it as a kind-of experiential, surreal adventure story, outside the framework of Trek canon, it kinda works.
Collura: It has a load of issues, for sure, but perhaps because I am so connected to those characters -- the trio -- I have come to really dig the stuff with them. I find that I click with this undercurrent of sadness in the film -- Kirk's "I'll die alone," Spock's rejection by his dad, and even the fact that these guys have no life beyond each other and the ship.
Hoffman: Any time spent w/ Kirk Spock and McCoy is welcome. . . .it's like pizza or sex or roasted “marshmellons;” it can only be *so* bad.
DeSanto: Yeah, I'd rather see the trio in a bad movie than not see them at all.
Hoffman: With the original cast, absolutely. But with the new cast, with JJ's cast, no way. If they can't get a good script together, I say leave it alone.
Collura: Put those versions of the characters in this movie, and does it work at all?
Hoffman: I don't think so. Not on Quinto/Pine. Not yet. Urban/Pine, maybe. . .but that may be because Urban reminds me so much of DeForest Kelley. And Pine slips into his Shatner well. But that could just be my emotional attachment to the original cast talking.
Friedman: Shatner/Nimoy/Kelley makes the movie, I think. Without them, the story is so weird and disjointed that I don't think it could succeed.
DeSanto: I don't think you can compare the two.
Hoffman: Let's talk about "canon." Does Nimbus III and the Planet of Galactic Peace even make sense? Doesn't it violate what is happening in Romulan/Klingon/Federation defense at the time?
Collura: Canon kinda goes out the window on this one.
Friedman: I never quite understood what Nimbus III was supposed to be about.
DeSanto: I thought they were negotiating peace, yeah?
Hoffman: Yeah, but, there's a casino on it. And David Warner is a drunk diplomat like Albert Finney in Under the Volcano.
Collura: That Romulan diplomat. . .more a refugee from a 1980s music video. And a cat lady -- who Kirk kills for no reason!
DeSanto: Cause she probably didn't sleep with him.
Collura: Kirk killing the cat lady is the equivalent to gunning down Patty Hearst in her SLF days.
Friedman: I thought it was supposed to be some neutral outpost for negotiations, but for some reason there's a bunch of filthy nomads living there who hang out at the bar.
Hoffman: Actually, I know the answer to Nimbus III - as it was recently given a full backstory in the Star Trek Vanguard book series. . . .which was very gratifying because it makes no sense in the movie.
Collura: That's what the books are for, right? Patching up the holes so we can all sleep better?
Hoffman: That and embarrassing our wives at airports. Okay, let's wrap this up. Give me ST:V's best and worst moment. Starting with Scott.
Collura: Best moment -- I need my pain, I want my pain! Worst - the fan dance, which I can only imagine bringing up in a pitch meeting today. "And then this 59 year old woman gets naked..."
Friedman: Best - "What does God need with a starship?" Worst - Sybok's decades-long evil laugh when he meets the hole-digging bald dude.
Hoffman: Mike, you like the God line because it is so silly, or you actually like it?
Friedman: Both. It's silly, but it's also a great Kirk moment. It's exactly what he'd do.
Collura: I love how he raises his hand. “Excuse me. . .”
Friedman: He raises his hand because he is Canadian and they're very polite.
Hoffman: Wait, so at that point, McCoy is 100% sold they are meeting God, right? Is Spock on board, too?
Collura: Honestly, I'm not clear on it, Jordan.
Friedman: It's never clear who is under the spell, and who is playing along.
Hoffman: F.J., your best and worst?
DeSanto: I would say my best and worst is Sybok. He has such wonderful potential but then is just a sucker. An emotional Vulcan, all that power, so much could be done.
Our chat then devolved into a rigorous discussion of two other films directed by William Shatner, Groom Lake and The Captains. Maybe I'll include that in the director's cut of this transcript. Obviously, no chat room is large enough to hold all Star Trek fans, but we'd love to hear your thoughts on the controversial topic of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. Let 'er rip in the comments below.
Jordan Hoffman is a freelance writer, critic and independent film producer living in New York City. He fell in love with Star Trek through TOS reruns just as TNG was getting ready to launch. On his BLOG, Jordan has reviewed all 727 Trek episodes and films, most of the comics and some of the novels. He has a funny story about the one time he met Leonard Nimoy. Click HERE to follow him on Twitter.
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