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Should I Watch..? 'Star Trek V: The Final Frontier' (1989)

Benjamin is a former volunteer DJ at his local hospital radio station. He has been reviewing films online since 2004.

Film's poster

Film's poster

What's the big deal?

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier is a science fiction film released in 1989 and is the fifth instalment of the Star Trek franchise inspired by Gene Roddenberry's iconic TV show. The film sees the newly-commissioned Enterprise-A hijacked by forces led by a fanatical rogue Vulcan on a quest to discover a fabled world at the centre of the galaxy. Directed by cast member William Shatner, the film also stars Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley and Laurence Luckinbill as well as the rest of the cast of the show. Despite a successful opening as well as Shatner's initial belief in the strength of the picture, the film received a largely negative reaction from critics and audiences alike. Its worldwide takings of just over $70 million would be the lowest of any Trek film until 2002 and the negative reaction was so great that it nearly killed the franchise for good.

Forgettable

What's it about?

Nimbus III is a remote desert world where prospective peace talks between the Federation, Klingons and Romulans are underway amid the chaotic rabble of Paradise City. However, a mysterious Vulcan named Sybok has recruited an army of loyal followers from the dusty plains and storms the city, taking negotiators hostage. In order to prevent the situation from spiralling into violence, Starfleet orders Kirk and the rest of his crew back from shore-leave on Earth on board the newly-commissioned Enterprise-A.

With the ship not exactly fully functional, Kirk heads to Nimbus III and prepares to lead an assault team onto the planet in order to free the hostages. But as Sybok's full plan slowly reveals itself, there is another danger lying in wait - the young and ambitious Klingon Captain Klaa sees Kirk as a valuable prize as well as a powerful foe to defeat in battle. As the Enterprise-A struggles to get its systems back on line, Klaa's Bird Of Prey prepares to strike...

Trailer

What's to like?

Seasoned Trekkers will be wondering how on Earth I can award a film as notoriously awful as The Final Frontier two stars. Indeed, I find myself wondering the same thing as times. But in truth, the film does manage to stumble on a couple of gems amid the sea of putrid filth. The model work in the film series was rarely better than here as both the new Enterprise and the Klingon ship look great on screen. Crucially, the sets on board have also had a facelift - this was probably in response to the recent success of the TV series Star Trek: The Next Generation. The Enterprise feels like an actual, working ship for the first time and is arguably the most believable aspect of the entire production.

Shatner, while not exactly stellar in the director's chair, did at least manage to cast a great actor as the baddie. Luckinbill's Sybok feels like a cross between a revolutionary mystic, an evangelist and a popularist politician - even though his backstory is dismissed with in one scene and his relationship with Spock felt needlessly convoluted. Although the material is nonsense even by Star Trek standards, Luckinbill gives a solid performance in an otherwise forgettable effort from the Trek team.

Luckinbill's turn as the possibly demented Sybok is one of the few memorable things about the film

Luckinbill's turn as the possibly demented Sybok is one of the few memorable things about the film

Fun Facts

  • Takei originally turned the role down, citing his long-standing feud with Shatner who later convinced him to sign on. Takei later said that despite their animosity, he "found working with Bill as a director to be surprisingly pleasant."
  • The NASA space probe destroyed by Klaa is actually the Pioneer 10 probe launched back in March, 1972.
  • Speaking of Klaa, his Bird-Of-Prey is called the Okrona - an obvious nod to linguist and Klingon language co-creator Marc Okrand. Sha-Ka-Ree, the mystical planet Sybok is heading toward, is actually named after the actor originally planned for the role of Sybok - Sean Connery.
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What's not to like?

Whoa boy, this is a hot steaming mess of a film. Ignoring the ludicrous nature of the plot, which is basically boiled down to "Kirk meets God", the film has none of the suspense of any previous instalment. Not only that but it leaves more questions than answers due to massive gaping gaps in its logic - for instance, what was the point of the supposedly impenetrable barrier at the centre of the galaxy? What purpose did the three negotiators on Nimbus III serve, other than luring the Enterprise out in the first place? And whose idea was it to have Nichols, who was 57 when the film was released, perform an erotic dance to distract some bad guys? This is Austin Powers type of stuff that is completely at odds with the semi-serious nature of Star Trek.

Despite the good work on the models, the effects are clunky with obvious blue-screen in evidence. This is never more apparent than at the ending when, in the possible presence of God no less, we are treated to an eye-watering lightshow with an old man's face superimposed. The film feels like one enormous disappointment - not just after the previous films (although Star Trek IV was a bit dodgy, if we're honest) but after the film's post-apocalyptic opening scenes that had more than a touch of Mad Max about them. It was a good hook to begin with but ultimately, the film descends into the exact sort of egomaniacal mess you'd expect from Shatner.

The comradery between Shatner, Kelley and Nimoy remains as strong as ever

The comradery between Shatner, Kelley and Nimoy remains as strong as ever

Should I watch it?

Unless you're a sponge for any bit of Star Trek, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier should be considered out-of-bounds for casual viewers. Further evidence that Star Wars is just better, the film is a boring and uninvolving bucket of ideas that had no hope of ever reaching their full potential. Only the production designers and Luckinbill emerge from the wreckage with any credit but this was so close to going into my Hall Of Shame, available from my profile page. So very close...

Great For: embarrassing Trekkers, Shatner's ego, Yosemite National Park which looks very pretty in the camping scenes

Not So Great For: religious debate, the Star Trek franchise, audiences expecting anything to make sense

What else should I watch?

The Final Frontier would become the undoubted low-point of the series, which was mercifully lifted by the much better Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Better effects and a much better story, the film would become a fitting epitaph for the original crew of the Enterprise who handed the reins over to the Next Gen crew thereafter.

Unfortunately, none of the Next Gen films proved that great either. Probably the best of the bunch is Star Trek: First Contact which finally sees the Borg on the big screen in an action-packed romp that feels more energetic than most Trek pictures. Ultimately, though, the series has always played second-fiddle to George Lucas and his ever-expanding space opera. The original Star Wars trilogy remains some of the most exciting and enjoyable sci-fi cinema the world has ever seen, despite more dodgy dialogue than a 70's porn film.

Main Cast

ActorRole

William Shatner

Capt. James T. Kirk

Leonard Nimoy

Spock

DeForest Kelley

Dr. Leonard McCoy

Laurence Luckinbill

Sybok

James Doohan

Montgomery Scott

George Takei

Hiraku Sulu

Nichelle Nichols

Uhuru

Walter Koenig

Pavel Chekov

Technical Info

*story by William Shatner, David Loughery & Harve Bennett, based on "Star Trek" created by Gene Roddenberry

DirectorWilliam Shatner

Screenplay

David Loughery *

Running Time

107 minutes

Release Date (UK)

20th October, 1989

Rating

PG

Genre

Adventure, Fantasy, Sci-Fi

Razzie Awards

Worst Picture, Worst Actor (Shatner), Worst Director

Razzie Award Nomiations

Worst Supporting Actor (Kelley), Worst Screenplay, Worst Film Of The Decade

© 2017 Benjamin Cox

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