Welcome to Reel Rewind, a monthly column in which I’ll take a look back at some of my favorite films, bringing along artists that I can’t get enough of. We’ll team up for some fun collaborations and bridge the gap between film appreciation and art. To commemorate Star Trek Into Darkness, Matt Ferguson and I are looking back at the original crew’s first 6 films. Energize!
Director: William Shatner
Writer(s): William Shatner, Harve Bennett, David Loughery
Region of Origin: U.S.
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
35mm, Color, 107 mins
Since the start of Star Trek’s leap to the big screen, the series has enjoyed changing it up each installment, delving into deep character drama, explorations into the unknown and even look into a theoretical future in which we’re doomed by our own negligence. True to form, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier couldn’t be more different from it’s direct predecessor, The Voyage Home. Whereas that film was arguably the most entertaining and accessible of the series’ installments, William Shatner’s directorial debut is a mix of philosophical contemplation and action that is admirably ambitious yet ultimately a bit flat. Attempting a possible answer to the God question, the film bites off a bit more than it can chew and ends up with a story that feels short sighted despite carrying sincere and good intentions.
The story is kicked off by a hostage situation on Nimbus III, the Planet of Galactic Peace, which is tucked away within the Neutral Zone. When a rogue Vulcan named Sybok takes diplomatic hostages, the Enterprise crew is forced to end their shore leave (in Yosemite National Park!) to handle the sudden crisis. Of course, things prove to be more complicated when it’s revealed that Sybok has a mysterious connection to someone on the crew and is really planning to lure the Enterprise with the purpose of hijacking it for a dangerous mission. With Sybok slowly gaining disciples due to his promises of spiritual healing, he’ll stop at nothing to truly go where no man has gone before. But is Sybok really a villain in all this or merely a soul in search of spiritual enlightenment? Add to this some trigger happy Klingons who are hot on the Enterprise’s tail and you’ve got a potential recipe for disaster.
With the story’s main conceit coming from Shatner’s self-described, repulsive fascination with televangelists, the film sets it’s sights on the possibility that a higher power may not be what we expect. Unfortunately, while the story has no shortage of big ideas or themes, a weak script, uneven pacing, stilted dialogue and an unconvincing villain are never too far from undoing anything it aspires to achieve. This is most apparent with the film’s main threat, Sybok. Though he’s played with the right amount of charisma and sincerity by actor Laurence Luckinbill, he’s just not written convincingly or threatening enough. I get that in the end the greatest threat is ignorance and fear of the unknown, but making matters worse is the way that he’s dismissed too easily and judged harshly for simply wanting more meaning in his life. It’s a contradiction that seems to go against everything that Trek stands for even though it raises some credible points. Don’t get me wrong, the story definitely asks the right questions, it just answers them with more finality to which their grandeur and scope deserve. Despite it’s flaws, the film is still ballsy for taking on such deep-seated ideas and using them to subvert expectations even if it isn’t done in the best way.
Thankfully for diehard Trek fans, the film has just enough character moments to help get through it’s uneven pace. More than any film so far, this one’s really about the Kirk/Spock/Bones dynamic. Taking account all that the three have been through so much together, the story finally sits them down with two complimenting campfire scenes to give them some great bonding time, helping to delve deep into their relationships and Kirk’s fear of dying alone. Where the film fares the best is when the trio are held captive in their own ship. Though the heroes seem to miss the easiest ways to escape their predicament, there’s still a bit of fun to be had when they get to sneak around the Enterprise aided by a bumbling Scotty, a pair of rocket boots and some priceless banter. It even culminates in the film’s best scene in which the three finally face Sybok by way of confronting their inner demons, rather than physical force. It makes for a touching scene which tests allegiances and evokes the best that Trek can offer.
In the end, the film is commendable for what it tries to achieve even if it isn’t completely satisfying. At the very least, it gets points for trying to tackle faith with it’s own perspective of the great unknown and a few visual stylistic flourishes (everything past the Great Barrier is pretty cool). Shatner’s mix of poetic exploration also feels slightly personal, making it’s hard to completely hate the film and what it has to say. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier definitely doesn’t deliver on the ideas that it promises, but then again, could anything like this ever truly do that? If you’re a completionist, you’ll find things to like here, but thank goodness this isn’t the end just yet.
Crome Rating: 3/5
So even though this is honestly my least favorite chapter of the series, the campfire scenes in the film are some of the best moments that Kirk, Spock and Bones get share. I love the idea of seeing men who’ve done and seen such extraordinary things just basking in the wonder of a beautiful starlit sky in Yosemite and Matt’s captured these wondrous moments in such a stunning way. He’s gotta be some sort of sorcerer for capturing the light in the way that he does. Even the poses he’s chosen for each character capture both the weariness and peace that Trek’s trinity carry with them; this is as good as it gets! Check out Matt’s website for more art, follow him on Twitter and read a bit about his process down below. Matt also did the art for the recently released Marvel Cinematic Universe: Phase One box set.
From Matt: I have always thought the much maligned Final Frontier is actually a pretty decent Trek film. I remember really enjoying the interaction between the central trio of Kirk, Bones and Spock when I was a kid and I always loved the campfire scene. So I thought this poster was a good opportunity for me to do my own version of that and of course add in “The Final Frontier” of the title in the starry night sky! The one question you have to ask yourself is… Why is Captain Kirk climbing the mountain??
See our entire Trek retrospective here: Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek III: The Search For Spock, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country and Star Trek (2009).