I’m not going to kid myself, or even attempt to convince you good, Star Trek educated people that there aren’t any major, major problems with Star Trek V- The Final Frontier. Poor decisions were made, Shatners inexperience at major film direction was exposed, and even the basic art of story telling seemed to be ignored. I’m not going to make excuses for any of these things, however despite these short comings, I love Star Trek V, mainly for the absolute zero compromise the film makers showed.
Let’s look at the ambition of the film. The basic premise presents by far the most ambitious theme for not only a Star Trek film, but any cinematic outgoing. Kirk seeks out, finds and interacts with God.
I believe most studios and film makers would have thrown any suggestion of filming such a project out of the nearest window. Making such a film outside of a biblical frame was amazingly courageous. Rightly or wrongly I have personally always found Star Trek to be religiously neutral to say the least. It paints a picture of a future for humanity free from religious constraint. There are brief flirtations with religious reference throughout the original series but these are few and far between. Even the religion of Deep Space Nine was not only non terrestrial, but also not based upon worship of an intangible deity, but more the devotion to the prophecies and guidance of an actual spiritual/alien presence.
I loved the apocalyptic feel and look of nimbus III, The low tech bleakness was a fantastic contrast to the slick but malfunctioning Enterprise A. The opening scene of the film was beautifully acted summing up the desperation and futility of existence on the planet of galactic peace. This vulnerability mirrors how people in desperate situations today can be taken in by promises of pain being taken away, with or without a religious context. For someone like Sybok, such a planet would be rich pickings.
We delved further into the characters than ever before, even though we had previously seen how our crew faced death in Star Trek II, this time we got powerful insights into what shaped them into the people they were today (200 years in the future). Although we knew how conflicted Spock was about embracing his human half, seeing that the source of his pain was simply his birth, it showed that in many ways his pain had not only followed him through his life, but actually was his life itself. It was also refreshing to delve deeper into McCoys character. Up to this point, his basic role in the movies was providing light comic one liners and bickering with Spock. Even in Star Trek III when he was given the important task of carrying Spock’s chakra, it presented itself either in a comic way or simply imitating his friend. In “The Final Frontier” we saw a vulnerability in McCoy that we hadn’t really seen before.
Say what you like about Bones, he was always confident in his abilities as a healer. We had never really seen him make a wrong decision. To witness him not only taking the heart wrenching decision to end his own fathers suffering, but then to face the fact that had he waited he could have saved his life was extraordinary. It was a scene that really stuck with me, resonating with what’s in the news regarding assisted death today. The whole message of carrying pain fits neatly into my theory of Trek despising happiness (another blog post). In many ways Kirks message of needing his pain is supported by the sharers turning into weak willed zombies who will bow to the will of the nearest insane hippie.
Kirk was brilliant in this film. Everything I love about the character was present. Whilst all around him were either crumbling or succumbing to brainwashing, he remained strong and unshakable. Not since “This side of paradise” had we seen such strength in the character. Even in the face of the entity posing as God, his mischievous side shone through. Shatner directing Shatner seemed to bring out the best in himself.
These are all character ideas that come strongly through the ambitious plot concept, it seemed the only restriction placed upon this film was budget and naivety. Had it been made in the CGI world of modern cinema, a far different ending would have been presented. The effects in the whole film are undoubtedly a let down, even for the time, however I choose to not let this cloud the overall message of the film. Yes the details aren’t quite right to the modern Trekkie, the turbolift shaft scene and the whole concept and location of the “Great Barrier” for example, but there is heart in this film. The warm moments around the campfire (although a little hokey), are a fantastic portrayal of family, getting on each others nerves but not wanting to be without each other.
The closing statement of Kirk expressing that perhaps God could be more an expression of the human heart as opposed to being “out there” fits brilliantly into the star trek ethos. (Although a little insensitive given he was addressing a half Vulcan).
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