PG. Geez, Shatner and Paramount must have fought hard for that PG. I mean, it's not like Star Trek V is the one where they started getting wildly offensive. But like Kirk pointing out why God might not need a starship, I'd like to point out some things that might not be the most wholesome elements. Um, there's a three-breasted cat stripper. That's the first time I've written that...at least on this blog. Since there is a three-breasted cat stripper (second time), there must be a strip club for that stripper. Then there's a more than small amount of violence and peril. They mildly swear. Also, they questions and doubt the very existence of God. You know, PG?
DIRECTOR: William Shatner
Back in the halcyon days of AOL and my Compaq Presario 4160 (why do I remember this?), my error sound was William Shatner asking, "What does God need with a starship?" But even in those days, I knew that Star Trek V was only appreciated with a sense of irony. I was a Star Trek nut in those days. Now, I'm just a fan who really really likes it. But then, my bedroom was decorated in Star Trek stuff. I had multiple versions of the Enterprise in both toy and model form. But I distinctly remember, and this is a moment that I'm not proud of from both perspectives, that I was listing off the Star Trek movies in order. It could have been to someone or just for my own nerdy gratification. I tend to do the same thing with the James Bond movies. I remember thinking, "Weird. Star Trek V doesn't have a subtitle." It did. It's The Final Frontier. But most of Star Trek V was always forgettable. The only things I ever remember out of that movie, which I always watched less than the rest of them, was camping and God wanting a starship.
Star Trek V is not great. I think through the course of me writing this / you reading this (that's how this works), we're both going to discover the major faults of the movie. But Star Trek V is a low point in the franchise because of the many little mistakes throughout versus the travesty that a lot of people heap upon it. It's a very watchable movie that just isn't amazing. I'm actually really forgiving of Star Trek V after watching it because it might be the closest movie to wanting to be the original Star Trek. The original Trek was extremely lofty. It wanted to explore bigger ideas than just humans and aliens fighting in space. It was about big concepts and how to use allegory to tell those stories. One of the common threads within the original Trek (which I may or not be referring to as TOS for "The Original Series") was human's relationship with God. That's what Star Trek V is focused on...kind of. It is the A plot. Put that on the table. Sybok (who will get a pretty deep discussion at some point) is on the hunt for Sha-ka-ree. (I refuse to Google the spelling of this.) The thing is...Sybok is the bad guy. He's a sympathetic bad guy to be sure. I'd like to think that Shatner and his production team were really commenting simply on religious extremism versus his thoughts on the absurdity on trying to find God. Because the movie can be viewed both ways. Regardless on the stance of the movie, Sybok is a religious extremist. He pursues his quest for God through the use of violence. Sure, he says that he abhors violence, but he's constantly going into places with guns blazing. His capture (which I'm still not sure what's going on there) of the ambassadors seems like a commentary on Iran, but don't quote me on that because I only look smart. Then there's the brainwashing element. Shatner and company didn't really figure this out the way it should have been figured out. I keep guessing on how production meetings went for things, so I'm going to continue speculating in my normal fashion. I can imagine that one of the cool ideas that were floated around the table was that the big three; Kirk, Spock, and Bones; were going to have to go against the Enterprise crew. It's a fun idea. Lord knows that I would probably float that around too. They had their religious motif going throughout and thought that they were be cult like converts. But upon execution of this underproved idea really showed some weaknesses in the very concept of brainwashing.
For a good chunk of the film, we see characters we've known and loved for decades all of the sudden turn on Captain Kirk. They don't seem hateful, but they are trying to indoctrinate Kirk into the Sybok Society. What I instantly wanted to know is how Sybok did it. I mean, these characters have proven their mettle for so many stories. And this brainwashing happens fast. I mean, characters meet Sybok. They go into a room and they come out completely indoctrinated. Whatever he showed them had to almost be supernatural. But then we see it. In possibly one of the more meaningful elements of the film, we get to see Sybok try to brainwash Bones. Sybok shows you your biggest regret and gets you to forgive yourself. That's a cool idea...except that it doesn't work on Bones. It doesn't work on Spock either. Bones is at least tempted. Spock, it does nothing for. Shatner doesn't even posit the question for Kirk. If lame-o's Spock and Bones can handle it, of course it wouldn't work for Kirk. Why even try? (By the way, I would give the story so many extra credit points if Kirk was subjected to the brainwashing and it worked. Give him a flaw that actually affects his decision making.) What that says, unfortunately, is that the other characters aren't heroic. It also doesn't work on Scotty, but I feel like Sybok didn't really try with Scotty. Scotty is kind of a lovable buffoon in this one. (Also, Kelvinverse, how did we all forget that there was an Uhura / Scotty relationship? Is it more interesting to throw the relationship over to Spock?) This is pretty typical of Star Trek V. It has a good idea. Heck, it has two good ideas. But it doesn't really have time to execute them properly. The search for God is an interesting idea. Star Trek having toyed with it in the past deserves to tackle this idea straight on. Kirk, Spock, and Bones versus the Enterprise crew is also a pretty fantastic idea. But these ideas are muddled. A lot of the movie is getting Sybok to steal the Enterprise. Also, why does he need the Enterprise? It seems like a Federation starship would be the hardest to steal. He's already brainwashed a Klingon, so that seems like it would be easier. This movie alone has a Klingon rogue. He seems to be off the grid and is able to enter the nebula. That guy didn't even need brainwashing to enter the nebula. And this is all really indicative of the too much with too little. The movie felt it necessary to include the Klingons. The only movie in the franchise that doesn't address the Klingons up to this point is Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Does the franchise find it necessary to include the most recognizable alien from the franchise. I know that the Dr. Who (I know how I spelled it! That's how it is written to distinguish it from the BBC character) movies both had Daleks, but they were adaptations of Dalek based serials. Also, Terry Nation was in charge of them. The Klingon B / C plot really seems tacked on. That character is the least developed character in Star Trek history. He's literally there to kill Kirk for fun. I was bored and watched the behind the scenes of the Klingon crew. They had to make up their entire backstory because there was no story.
Now, Paradise City. Oh geez, Paradise City. You get me on the Enterprise and we're copacetic. The movie is pretty watchable, if not a bit of a bottle story. But the Paradise City stuff is so shoddy. The budget on Star Trek V is crap. Like, the movie looks really pretty in sections. It's those sections that are just based on cinematography. It looks a little film school, but I actually kind of like that. Shatner had aspirations for this movie and I applaud him for it. But the budget...gee whiz. The Enterprise just kind of shrinks into the nebula when it goes to warp. Paradise City is supposed to be this amazing getaway. The perfect resort to the super rich? (Also, whatever happened to not using currency in the 23rd Century?) There's this commercial playing INSIDE Paradise City that looks like it is run by a guy running a used car dealership. Honestly, it looks like something out of Mad Max. This is a side commentary, but the Star Trek films make the future look way less utopian than the TV show. It's odd how a cheap budget made everything look idea. But the movie makes the future look kind of terrible. I mentally group Star Trek V: The Final Frontier with Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. Both movies want to say something. But the budget really holds the movies back from becoming anything special. I think I got interrupted talking about Sybok and the search for God. As a pretty hardcore Catholic, it's kind of a bummer to see Star Trek go from "religion should be healthy" to "religion is pretty dumb and blinds people." Star Trek V never full on says that God is a myth. If I had to stay completely objective, it is that God isn't easy to find and it's what you think he is. But I can also read where the wind's blowing as well. Cynical Kirk who views the religious as insane is the good one. He never really thinks that they found God. He is always clear headed and can't be swayed by the zealots of Sybok. I want the Enterprise crew to look for God. I mentioned that earlier. But this is a story that needs to be nuanced. It needs to be challenging. It shouldn't be in an action movie. The movie paints these characters with wide brushes. I don't want the crew to be brainwashed. I want people struggling with what they are finding. I want people questioning their faith and beliefs. I want them examining their lives and regretting decisions. Faith is difficult and complex. Kirk should question his own atheism at times. The god of Sha-Ka-Ree is false, but that never raises bigger questions in Kirk's head. Maybe we don't really like Star Trek V because it never got deeper than it claimed to. It asks all these marvelous questions, but then provides really easy answers that don't mirror our real quest for answers.
Finally, I want to talk about Sybok. Spock's mythology is a hot mess. Because Spock is the center of Star Trek, there is always an attempt to get deeper into what makes Spock tick. I know that Star Trek: Discovery is bringing in a pre-TOS (I DID IT!) Spock to complicate his narrative even further. Discovery also brought in Michael Burnham into Spock's mythology to complicate it even more. This movie is supposed to be really important for Spock. Sybok is meant to be his brother. He stands for everything that Spock does not. I don't think Sybok gets ignored because Paramount wants people to forget Star Trek V. I mean, that's probably part of it. But Sybok doesn't really fit in the canon very well. Spock and Bones are completely shocked that Spock has a brother. They know Sarek really well. They spent time on Vulcan. Sybok is an example of us being told rather than shown the relationship. Like many of the ideas behind the movie, this is a cool concept that had no idea how to execute it. While Spock is the center of Star Trek, Sybok is borderline not-canon because no one ever mentions him again. It's an odd character to include. There are moments of sacrifice and growth with this character that are kind of met with a "who cares" attitude. His arc is inconsequential because none of our characters really move with Sybok, even Spock. He brings about this cool moment with McCoy, but that's one moment in time. That's about it. Sybok is played just fine, but there's nothing to him.
Oh, and there's Uhura's fan dance. I don't know what was going on there.
Regardless, Star Trek V is first and foremost a movie with great ideas, but terrible execution. The movie looks pretty at times and chincy in others. It's not as bad as you remember it, but that doesn't make it good either. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country is my favorite in the series, but it will be a while before I can get to it because of Oscar season.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.