Monday, May 26, 2014

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

Before I started my 'Trek Quest' this year, I believe I only saw three of the original ten Star Trek films. Two were from The Next Generation crew, and I only recall seeing one with the original series crew, and I saw it when I was but a child on my dad's junk of a traction-prone VCR in the early '90s. My only memory of it was the film ended with Kirk, Spock and McCoy singing "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" around a campfire. Turns out that film is the one I will be covering today, which is the 1989 release of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (trailer).

Since Leonard Nimoy directed the previous two films, William Shatner was adamant he receive a turn at the director's chair and so he was granted that opportunity here. Both return on screen to play the roles of Spock and Kirk, respectively. I mentioned how the film ended with Spock, Kirk and McCoy (DeForest Kelley) singing around the campfire, well that is how the movie starts off too, because the crew of the Enterprise is on shore leave at Yosemite National Park when it is abruptly cut short when trouble is amidst on the planet Nimbus III. A Vulcan known as Sybok (Laurence Luckinbill) is brainwashing the planet's inhabitants and his regime takes over the planet's only settlement known as Paradise. He takes human and Klingon hostages which prompts both species to send vessels to respond.

The Enterprises rescue attempt is foiled when it turns out the hostages are also brainwashed by Sybok. It ends up being a convenient plot device because there were extended periods I forgot about that being a factor, and then Sybok randomly goes on brainwashing sprees. Sybok demands and receives control of the Enterprise, and uses it to go to the fabled planet of Sha Ka Ree, where Sybok said he received a vision from god that he would find him there. I remember seeing Sybok's proclamation happen from out of nowhere right before they land on Sha Ka Ree, and being a little taken aback, thinking "OK, guess the film went into finding God mode with 20 minutes remaining." What they wind up discovering there is something quite different, and naturally it is out to destroy them. So the Enterprise crew must overcome this new threat and get the hell off Sha Ka Ree before it is too late.

Spoilers on the ending in this paragraph, so read at your own risk. Thinking on it now a couple of days after I saw it, the final scenes in The Final Frontier play out nearly identical to the final scenes from The Motion Picture, which is to say it could have went a lot better. Kirk, Spock, McCoy and Sybok come face to face with a presence representing some kind of god-like figure. After watching the behind the scenes features, it turns out Shatner wanted a group of rock men to chase them off the planet as the final big villain, but budget cuts forced them to improvise a giant hologram of a face representing some kind of 'god' that lured them there. The film jumps around a lot and tries to cover a lot of ground in under two hours. An extra ten minutes or so could have helped to flesh out some points and give a little breathing room.

I do like how this is the first Trek film not to go overboard with special effects. At least watching it in 2014 anyways I view it as a plus as all the previous films had certain showcase spots where they would dazzle some new CG or other special effects in your face they were now capable of, but now decades later comes across as laughable. Since about 80% of this film takes place at Yosemite Park and the desert themed planets of Nimbus III and Sha Ka Ree, it was a nice change of pace. Interviews with some of the crew members in the extra features comes as no surprise at them being disappointed with the lack of special effects and the disappointing quality of what special effects there were. I will give Paramount props again though for delivering another awesome HD transfer, with very little film grain or tearing being noticeable on my end.

I still think there is a good story buried somewhere in The Final Frontier. I still think Sybok's brainwashing abilities being a little too convenient of a plot device here, and as I said it just jumps around too fast, and the final act unfortunately crumbles to the ground. According to Shatner in the commentary and extra feature interviews, he lost a lot of battles with the studio and had to make a lot of unwanted changes to satisfy Paramount. I do like one of the central themes around this movie being Kirk, Spock and McCoy establishing their strong brother-like relationship, and there is a strong moment at the very end where the trio does wind up having their campfire sing-a-long in the film's closing shot.

For what it is worth, I am also glad this went back to being a more serious sci-fi flick, and not being a borderline comedy like The Voyage Home was, and went back to picking its spots for brief, but effective comedic timing instead. Do not get me wrong, I very much enjoyed IV and that overall tone was a great one time change of pace, but if that was how the franchise would have kept moving along I could see it evolving into hokey cheap laughs that take away and harm movies more than they help.

Like the previous four films I saw, this one is jam packed with extras. There is two and a half hours of behind the scenes extra features, and also two commentaries on top of it. A watched about 15 minutes each of the previously released commentary with William Shatner and his daughter Liz, and the new one featuring commentary from Mike & Denise Okuda, Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens and Daren Dochterman. If I had the time to watch both in their entirety I would because from the little I did watch, both provided interesting insight, especially Shatner with him going on about his battles with the studio executives.

A lot of the extras are carried over from previous DVD releases, of those I highly recommend checking out The Journey which is a half hour making of feature all about Shatner getting his turn at directing and going on about his forced cutback demands from the studio and how The Final Frontier wound up the way it did. They have an original 1989 press conference prior to the film's release, with the Enterprise crew in full wardrobe and I got a kick out of how some hardcore Trek fans must have snuck in as reporters and slipped in a couple serious Trek fan questions in the midst of a barrage of general PR questions. There is a great 19 minute piece honoring the career of Herman Zimmerman, the set designer for most of Star Trek's run on how he was inspired and how most of his set designs came to be which was a fascinating watch. Finally, check out Cosmic Thoughts which is a 13 minute look as the cast and crew speculate what lies beyond the stars and the role religion has played throughout the history of Star Trek. Aside from the commentary, the three new BluRay extras are not worth going out of your way to see. Of them, Star Trek Honors NASA is a decent 10 minute interview with various folks from NASA theorizing where a god-like planet would be, but is not essential viewing by any means.

Upon doing some research for this film, I was surprised to see it received as poorly as it was. Obviously it is a step down from Star Trek II & IV, but to see V win the Razzie for worst film of the year, with Shatner also taking home an additional two Razzies for worst actor & director seemed like cruel and unusual punishment. I am guessing there must have been a lot of serious Trek fans on that particular judges panel. While I would say The Final Frontier is a noticeable step down from The Voyage Home, I still think it is a couple steps up from The Motion Picture and there are enough redeemable aspects in here to not consider it a total wash and worth seeing at least once. You can see how it compares in my ratings for all of the Trek films I have watched this year thus far below.

Star Trek Film Ratings - Now updated by factoring hindsight and perspective! Only adjustments made here were knocking down ST I & III a half point each. I think I was a smidge too generous initially with those two.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture - 5.5/10
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn - 10/10
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock - 7.5/10
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home - 9/10
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier - 6.5/10

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