Captain Kirk himself, William Shatner, directs Star Trek’s
notorious fifth big screen adventure…
Starring: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, Laurence Luckinbill
Directed by: William Shatner / Written by: David Loughrey (Story by William Shatner, Harve Bennett & David Loughrey)
What’s it about?
Spock’s estranged half-brother, Sybok hijacks the U.S.S. Enterprise to go in search of the fabled planet Sha Ka Ree…
It’s generally looked upon as the weakest of the original crew’s big screen voyages, but is Star Trek V: The Final Frontier really all that bad? With the critical and commercial success of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home in 1986 and the franchise entering a new golden era with the launch of television series Star Trek: The Next Generation it would have been fair to say that the odds were already stacked against Star Trek V, in whatever form it would take. With Leonard Nimoy having helmed Star Treks III and IV it would be William Shatner’s turn in the director’s chair and although the results would be less successful with the production being hindered by budgetary woes and script and story issues, The Final Frontier does have its moments.
The story of The Final Frontier sees an undermanned and malfunctioning U.S.S. Enterprise despatched to Nimbus III – dubbed “The Planet of Galactic Peace” – where Spock’s long lost half-brother, Sybok (Laurence Luckinbill) has taken envoys of the Federation, Klingon and Romulan governments hostage. Using his Vulcan telepathy to ‘influence’ individuals into joining his cause, Sybok succeeds in commandeering the Enterprise and taking her crew on a voyage to the mythical planet ‘Sha Ka Ree’…where he believes God himself resides! Adding to the tension is the eager commander of a Klingon vessel out to prove himself (Captain Klaa, played by Todd Bryant) by relentlessly pursuing the Enterprise, in the hopes of engaging her captain in battle.
It all sounds a little hokey, but with the revelations of the film’s final act it all comes together like a fairly entertaining episode of 1960s Star Trek. Although the finished film lacks the complexity, nuance and real-world commentary writer/director Nicholas Meyer would infuse into Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, The Final Frontier is still an imaginative and fun science fiction adventure carried by the beloved characters of the original Star Trek, especially the central troika of Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock and Doctor McCoy and the performances by their respective actors William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley. Principal cast aside, one of the film’s biggest assets is guest star Laurence Luckinbill who brings both strength and passion to the role of Sybok, an outcast of Vulcan society who has shunned their traditions in repression of emotion and an adherence to logic above all else.
It’s been well documented that Shatner’s original vision for The Final Frontier was far more elaborate and, perhaps, daring than what eventually appeared on screen. Most notably, a diminished budget meant a finale in which Kirk was to be pursued by monstrous rock creatures (a sequence preserved in the pages of the DC Comics adaptation) would not be possible. There were also some major script changes, facilitated in part by concerns from Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley about how Spock and McCoy would be portrayed in the film, both particularly startled by an earlier draft of the story which had Spock and McCoy also falling under Sybok’s influence and turning on Kirk along with the rest of the Enterprise crew.
Some of Shatner’s concepts certainly work, particularly the concept of “the Planet of Galactic Peace” – a well-intentioned, yet failed experiment in co-operation between seemingly implacable enemies. The very notion of Sybok and his ‘crusade’ is also allegorical of religious extremism, an element watered down likely at the behest of Paramount Pictures but still has some presence in the completed version of the film. Working with Shatner and producer Harve Bennett on the problematic narrative, David Loughrey’s screenplay does a respectable job in focusing the disparate elements into a reasonably cohesive and entertaining adventure that gives all of the Star Trek crew moments to shine with strokes of humour that’s as enjoyable as some of The Voyage Home’s funniest moments.
One of the film’s biggest drawbacks is in its visual effects, which generally fall below the quality of previous instalments. With legendary effects house ILM stretched by their commitments on Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Ghostbusters II, the film’s visuals were undertaken by a smaller, less established effects company and lack the overall punch of what was seen in prior Star Trek films, made all the more noticeable by the inclusion of stock footage from The Voyage Home. It’s a shame because if ILM had been available it would have improved The Final Frontier, especially those sequences in which the Enterprise traverses the ‘Great Barrier’ where the effects work is adequate but clearly weaker and far less impressive than ILM’s work on Star Trek: The Motion Picture, a decade earlier! Luckily, the production design by The Next Generation’s Herman Zimmerman is decent with the trashy, decaying aesthetic of Nimbus III’s ‘Paradise City’ aiding greatly in the sort of gritty Western feel Shatner strived for. The bridge of the newly commissioned Enterprise-A is also a highlight, brightly lit and with advanced touch screen displays on show, it’s slightly reminiscent of the set of J.J. Abrams’ films as opposed to the subdued and submarine like styling Nicholas Meyer would employ for The Undiscovered Country. Jerry Goldsmith’s score also proves to be a successful component, mixing themes from Star Trek: The Motion Picture with new material to enrich key moments of excitement, awe and mystery.
In the end Star Trek V: The Final Frontier is by no means the strongest entry in the series, mainly due to disappointing special effects work and the dilution of the stronger themes William Shatner sought to explore. Yet, viewed with an appreciation for the original Star Trek series and affection for its cast of characters there’s a certain level of enjoyment to be had.
The role of Sybok was originally intended for Sean Connery, ‘Sha Ka Ree’ being derived from his name.