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The 100

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier
Reviewed by Jeff DeLuzio
Rating: 7 Beans

tar Trek V: The Final Frontier

If you've already read my review of "Star Trek: Generations," you can skip the first two paragraphs, which reiterate my take on the "Trek' phenomenon. And, if you haven't seen "The Final Frontier," wish to see it, and don't want the ending spoiled, skip the final three.

Watching "Star Trek," for all but its most idolatrous fans, involves a trade-off. With the original series, you learned to accept no-budget aliens and no-holds-barred overacting, in return for occasionally intelligent scripting and (for the time) progressive casting. Shatner's acting didn't improve much in the films, but more money and fewer limitations permitted a more believable mise-en-scene; the planet surfaces no longer looked like styrofoam, and you didn't worry that someone was going to bump into the skyline. In the newer series, one wrote off the first season, and accepted the continuity errors and hopelessly humanoid aliens, in return for frequently intelligent scripting and impressive characterizations. In all versions, one accepts the flaws in return for the intriguing notion that humanity has a future, and a darn cool future at that.

I like the show. I still watch the odd episode of its various incarnations, and have been quoted in a Phil Ferrand book about "Trek," an honour which is either the epitome of cool or the height of geekiness. However, willing as I am to accept some obvious flaws in the series, I cannot totally abandon my critical sense when I watch. For that reason, I have to call a "Trek" bad cinema when it is obviously bad cinema.

Sadly, "Star Trek V" lives down to its reputation as the worst "Trek" film ever made, a fiasco even series creator Gene Roddenberry wrote off, with the claim that it "never happened." Intended as the final film with the original cast, the poor response, popular rumour has it, prompted the making of "Star Trek VI" as an apology.

The beginning's pretty good. We visit Yellowstone Park, shot so that, initially, it looks more like an alien landscape than many an Sf-movie planet. Kirk, Spock, and McCoy, camp together, and the longtime friends appear as what they are: three old fogeys, relaxing.

Meanwhile, on Nimbus, a planet far, far away, the plot develops. These scenes work fairly well, but, when you're watching a Space Western unfold on a desert planet settled by the riff-raff of the galaxy, complete with a seedy alien bar scene and a hokey samurai-robed mystic, you can't help but recall a certain other, more successful space-film.

The third element which appears are the film's official distractions, a renegade group of Klingons. Taking deep-space target practice, they shoot down the Pioneer 10 probe. That's sort of funny, I guess, especially as, in "Trek's" universe, the purpose of the probe's "alien-contact" plaque has long been accomplished.

Anyway, Pioneer explodes.

Then the picture falls to pieces.

Predictably, the Enterprise is the only ship they can find to intervene in the crisis developing on Nimbus. Right. Trek's "United Federation of Planets" has zillions of ships. The Romulan and the Klingon Empire are likewise well-stocked, and both also have stakes in the situation. The Enterprise is understaffed, and in need of repair. The transporter doesn't even work. But off it goes. I know the Enterprise has to get involved, but couldn't the writers think of a way to have its involvement make sense?

Now, about that transporter, a gizmo which can transform anything into energy and restructure it as matter, perfectly: as a plot device, it has always created more problems than it has solved. Anyone with such a device would be rather godlike. So, scriptwriters have always had to take it out of commission, in order to make an interesting plot possible. If a ship arrives at Nimbus, where some ambassadors are being held hostage, with a working transporter, all its crew would have to do is beam them up. End of film. So we have to believe, with an entire Star Fleet at their command, the government of the future would still prefer Kirk's "experience" to a ship which could solve the problem, painlessly, in two seconds. Please! "Suspension of disbelief" does not mean "anything goes."

Without the transporter, the crew must put on a ridiculous, ad hoc rescue attempt involving a horseback charge, a transparent ruse, and Uhura fan-dancing. Nice to see the Command Crew's token female gets to behave with such dignity.

Actually, she's not alone. Throughout this film, the principals act more like the motley crew of a bad comedy than the highly-trained crew of an interstellar flagship. In the middle of a jailbreak, on a heavily guarded, commandeered ship, Spock casually goes back to his quarters and picks up his anti-gravity boots, then nearly blasts himself, Kirk, and McCoy into the roof. Their cavorting more than occasionally recalls "The Three Stooges in Orbit." Scotty, for his part, knocks himself out by walking into a beam. Chekhov, who was second-in-command on another ship a few movies back, is relegated to the "space-chauffeur" role he had in the old TV show.

At one point, Spock could stop the hijacking of the Enterprise just by shooting someone, but the someone in question is his brother. Your average "Star Trek" nerd will immediately point out that a Spock-sibling violates established series continuity but, more importantly, it's out of character. Spock, a mostly-emotion-free Vulcan, has often behaved ruthlessly in order to save his ship. In the classic series, he was willing to sacrifice his father for the greater good. His refusal to pull the trigger, and his surrendering of the weapon, make absolutely no sense. Why make a series if you're not going to respect the characters and continuity to which the fans have developed a loyalty? "Money" really doesn't answer that. "Star Trek IV" made more than any other "Trek" film because, while no cinematic landmark, it had enough merit to draw out the non-Trekkers, and to bring out some fans more than once.

The brother in question, Sybok, a New-Age renegade Vulcan, has hijacked the ship because he has received a vision, a message from God. God lives, it turns out, in a planet at the centre of the Galaxy, behind the "Great Barrier."

Huh? In the series (ludicrously, I admit) there was an energy barrier at the edge of the galaxy. There's one in the centre now, too? One no one has gone through before?

Well, Sybok, misciting earth history by repeating that nonsense about Columbus' contemporaries thinking the world flat, insists that they can go through. Only their fear prevents them. And darnit, he's right! They go through a barrier which no one in the history of the galaxy has passed like it was made of margarine. It's that easy. Even the Klingon ship in pursuit manages. NO ONE's made it before, but it's that simple? It's known throughout the galaxy as the "Great Barrier," and it's THAT SIMPLE?

Perhaps the Force was with them.

At the centre is a planet, supposedly the "heaven" of various culture's religion. Everyone stares, blissed-out, at shots of a desert. Perhaps we're just supposed to imagine they're seeing whatever they imagine heaven to be. Who knows. But this vast expanse of wasteland impresses everyone so much, they don't notice the "Klingon Alert" light flashing and beeping. Glad to know you don't have to be among the best and brightest to travel the galaxy.

In any case, the plot all leads to naught. Sybok has been taken in by an evil alien posing as God, a being imprisoned on this planet, who was using Sybok to escape. Okay-- following visions is a risky thing, at best. Sometimes, if you build it, they don't come, and you end up looking like a damned stupid ass, or worse. I'll buy that as the "moral" of this particular Faerie Tale. But why, if getting a rescue ship to the planet is so easy, hasn't the psuedo-God tried it before? Why does a super-alien need a starship? (A question Kirk, with other words, actually asks-- but the viewers get no answer). Why were a bit of wrestling by Sybok and a few torpedoes from the ships able to dispatch a villain so powerful he needed a vast space-barrier to imprison him?

The epilogue of the film isn't bad: yet another send-off for the original cast. Kirk, Spock, and McCoy, settle back 'round the campfire, musing about higher reality, and their latest adventure with a man who sought a good thing and instead found a bad phony.

And people who wandered into this film can relate.

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