Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, was released on June 9th, 1989. I remember that because I was fifteen years old, sick as a dog, and imprisoned abroad in Australia where, at least at that ancient time in human history, blockbuster films (not that this was one) came out three or so months in Australia after they were released in the United States, so while I was able to enjoy a viewing of Glory, the dramatic recreation of a real life group of African Americans that served in there American Civil War, I did not get to see films like Tim Burton’s Batman or, yeah, ST:V. Among other things going on with me at the time (my first taste of the chronic depression that would gobble up much of my life for the next several decades) this was a source of anxiety. Ever since I was little Star Trek films had generally come out within a week or two of my birthday and we’d go as a family. This would potentially be the first ST film we didn’t get to see in the theater, would be forced to watch on VHS months later, and I just wasn’t having it.
Our planned return would be a few weeks before school started, sometime in late August, and somehow we got back just in time to find there would be a final viewing at one theater at one of the malls in Bend, Oregon. My parents, knowing how important it was for me, and how it had always been a family tradition, packed us all in the car and we started the forty or so minute trek over. God was I excited! Not only was I back in the states, reunited with my to be high school sweetheart and lifelong friend, but I was about to continue onward and upward toward the final frontier!
On hundred and six minutes I walked out of the theater with a bad taste in my mouth. No wonder I was about to boldly go in a deep, suicidal depression: the film was shit. No, it wasn’t just shit—shit makes good fertilizer. Besides a scene or two, everything about the movie was terrible. In the years since I’ve often asked myself it was my state of my, state of mind skewing how we can perceive different things at different points in our lives, but no, I’ve now watched the film a minimum of fifteen times and it continues to be an amazingly poorly written and disgustingly un-Star Trek-like in tone, character, and well, fucking near everything. It was the first Star Trek film I hated and I’ll sometimes throw it on just to make sure.
Star Trek Evangelists can stop reading now.
As fans know, the third and fourth films staring actors from Classic Trek (I prefer that to ST:TOS or “The Old Show”—which I’ve always found a bit demeaning) were directed by Leonard Nimoy. While ST-III:The Search for Spock, didn’t have the same appeal as ST-II:The Wrath of Khan, it was fairly well done film that lead Nimoy onto his second and largely popular Star Trek directing experience: ST-IV: The Voyage Home (or as laymen call it, “The one about the whales”). Given Nimoy’s success the studio was willing to give a chance to the lead, William Shatner, a.k.a. Captain James T. Kirk, and with that the shittiest Star Trek movie ever to be love-hated was born.
One could argue that the reason it sucks was William Shatner himself. Now, don’t get me wrong, I like the guy. Hell, though Spock was my primary fictional childhood role model, I still idolized William Shatner’s portrayal or the ideological, brave, and testosterone filled space swashbuckler. I recall the first time I saw him, sometime in the 2000’s, at a Star Trek convention in Seattle that my then partner and I snuck into; I didn’t know he was there but in peaking around a door there, sitting plain as day, was Captain Kirk! Despite my viewing experience lasting an entire five seconds I spent the rest of my evening entirely star struck (had I only known Nimoy was sitting just to his right—something I didn’t learn until later that evening on the local news). Anyway, so yeah, I like Shatner, but he’s Shatner. What do I mean by that? I mean I saw him speak at a convention not long after Nimoy died, and in true fashion he was selling a book he’s just pulled out of his ass—sorry—I meant, “written”—about his life long friendship with Nimoy. It was, to put mildly, mildly disgusting. And that, in sometimes beat around the bush kind of way, is my way of saying Shatner can be a bit out of touch. Like that one time he didn’t realize the world is a small, fragile place for us all—despite being the lead actor on a program discussing that theme for over fifty years. Yeah, I’ve sometimes wondered if Shatner is on the spectrum. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But it doesn’t make for a good movie.
Let me share a concrete example in the form of, “I’m William Shatner, and my dick is bigger than everyone else’s.”
I adored Classic Trek as a youngling. Anytime it was on TV I’d stop everything and watch it. By the time ’89 rolled around I’d more than likely seen every episode of the original series in excess of twenty times. There was something about it that fascinated me and catapulted my imagination and passion for logic and science. Star Trek made me dream of a world where you had a group of people you were close to, who you could count on in life and death situations, and who had similar beliefs about a positive future for all humanity. That was Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek and it was part of my soul. But—and let’s be honest—it wasn’t really part of William Shatner’s world view as an actor of debuting director. The Final Frontier isn’t really about “The” Final Frontier, but about William Shatner demonstrating how he, as Kirk, can kick God’s ass to heaven and back while at the same time finding a way to demean every other beloved Star Trek character including the most iconic star of the series: The starship Enterprise.
Here are a few examples:
Sulu, who’s spent his entire life navigating the galaxy, gets lost in Yosemite national park with Chekov. What? He doesn’t have a map? GPS doesn’t exist in the future? He forgot how to use the sun, the biggest star in the sky, to help him identify north? Speaking of north, he doesn’t have a compass? And for fucks sake, he’s in a world famous park surrounded by huge, readily visible mountains and cliffs, he can’t use those for navigation?
Uhura’s strip tease was just demeaning. All the guys do guy things but Shatner has her shoved back into a cliche to get a cheap laugh—but it doesn’t even do that. And quite frankly, the camera angles, music, dance routine, and everything about it made her look geriatric and plastic (which is nothing like Nichelle Nichols!). It was only near the actress’s passing that I learn how musically talented she was, which only highlights my point that Shatner really had to go out of his way to make her look the way she did. Don’t get me started on how she hits on Scotty after succumbing to Spock’s half-brother’s hippie rock and crystals brainwashing bullshit.
Spock suddenly has a half brother? He’s got freudian daddy issues? He’s now an action hero who can only keep off with Kirk because he has rocket boots? And he can knock out a horse with a nerve pinch? Please!
Scotty, who everyone knows is the most competent engineer in the history of Star Fleet, suddenly can’t unstop a plugged up toilet. He, “knows this ship like the back of my hand,” then runs head first into the ship, knocking himself out. Always portrayed as the hard working, uncountable, trustworthy blue collar worker, Shatner portrays him as a baboon who’s chief success is using explosive to intentionally destroy those parts of the Enterprise he hasn’t already go to pot.
The Enterprise, instead of being the proud flagship of the United Federation of Planets, is now an old jalopy that can’t barely cross the street without a tire flying off. She has always been a trustworthy character yet not only does Shatner rip away this beloved aspect of her glory, the model was filmed so badly and cheaply that unlike the other films where there was a suspension of disbelief, Shatner had it filmed to look like it was exactly what it was: a plastic model sitting on a table with a darkened background.
I could go on to other characters, but you get the point. While Kirk is nearly always portrayed as a viral, masculine presence, even when he falls from El Capitain, everyone who supports him and his mission to explore space and beyond is a barely competent nimrod. It was IMHO insulting to Star Trek fans everywhere.
The “bad” guys who, alone, aren’t interesting enough to make a movie, so three have been added: a bunch of plastic looking Klingons that look like they’ve spent too much time going between the gym and a plastic surgeon, Spock’s half-brother who doesn’t feel he needs to conform to the mold of (then) cannon nor be in the least bit interesting, and a lonely space sociopath waiting to gobble up starships that cross the great barrier at the center of the galaxy.
By the way, that “great barrier”, one of the main plot devices in the film? It was introduced in the second Classic Trek pilot episode and it was a mysterious energy field surrounding our galaxy, not one hiding something in the middle of it. Non-Trekkers may think this is knit picking, but it’s important as it demonstrates a number of things. One, Shatner really had to go out of his way to get such of a fundamental fact of the fictional universe he inhabited wrong. Two, it pulled serious fans out of the movie and into the bitterness of their empty popcorn tubs. And third, lazy writing.
And speaking of lazy writing, when did they try making every Trek movie into a comedy? Oh yeah, that all happened with Star Trek IV: The One About The Whales. That film, for those who have seen it, is comical, action packed, serious, and yes, “woke”. It literally brought so much attention to the nearly extinct blue whale that the entire world turned around and said, “Enough of that shit!” As a result it’s no longer an endangered species. That’s good film in action. And what’s also makes good story telling is this idea of being able to engage the audience with serious and often critical ideas about ourselves while making us laugh. ST-IV is replete with lines that continue to bring laughs to new viewers (I won’t go into them, you can find them all online). Unfortunately, Shatner tried again and again to recreate that success, each “joke” falling flatter than the last. Sitting in the theater I sometimes felt so embarrassed for the cast I wanted to hide behind my seat.
Don’t get me started on six titted cat strippers in another ridonculous looking space bar. Actually I should say “Star Trek Space Bar” because if there’s something Star Trek always seems to create as if from the perspective of a 12 year old male nerd wearing thick glasses and an ink protector, it’s a bar (well, they did get it right with Guinan’s bar in the latest ST incarnation Picard). Star War? Yeah, they got the idea of what a real life dive (with aliens) (might) look(s) like. Shatner simply shouldn’t have tried.
Last but certainly not least: marshmellons. What the fuck is a “marshmellon”? Even when I try to type “marshmellon” autocorrect is fighting me the whole way. What the hell, Shatner? What the hell?