Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

What to make of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier? Of all the Star Trek feature films, the fifth entry in the series is considered by most fans to be the weakest and least satisfying. Even though it was produced by Harve Bennett, who had saved the franchise with Star Trek II, its plot – a renegade Vulcan hijacks the starship Enterprise and takes it to the center of the galaxy on a quest to find God – is rather pretentious and its director, William Shatner, learned that success at directing episodes of “T.J. Hooker” did not ensure success in the making of a multi-million dollar film.

Star Trek V is set a short time after The Voyage Home. It is the 23rd Century, and although Capt. James T. Kirk (Shatner) and his loyal crew have been assigned to the new Enterprise-A, their new starship turned out to be a lemon. Nothing seems to be working properly, so while chief engineer Montgomery Scott (James Doohan) and the rest of the crew make critical repairs to the starship’s systems, Kirk, Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and Dr. “Bones” McCoy (DeForest Kelley) go down to Yosemite National Park for some R & R.

The ever-restless (and somewhat reckless) Kirk tries to free climb El Capitan, but has to be saved by his half-human, half-Vulcan first officer when he loses his grip and nearly falls to his death. Later, Kirk says to his friends that he was not afraid as he fell because he knew they were there. “I’ve always known I’ll die alone,” he reveals in one of the movie’s rare poignant moments.

But the idyllic campout is cut short when a shuttlecraft piloted by Cmdr. Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) lands nearby with bad news. Shore leave has been canceled and all officers are to report back to the Enterprise. Sure enough, no sooner does Kirk step inside the bridge than Admiral Bob Bennett (Harve Bennett in a cameo) informs the captain that a group of terrorists has taken over the planet Nimbus III, the “Planet of Galactic Peace.”

Ostensibly a first attempt at peaceful collaboration between the Federation, the Klingons and the Romulan Empire, Nimbus III has become a desolate dumping ground for the undesirables and unlucky of the three major powers. Kirk’s mission is to take the Enterprise to Nimbus III and mount a rescue mission as quickly as possible.

The terrorists, led by Sybok, a Vulcan renegade (Laurence Luckinbill), are holding three delegates from the three “owners” of Nimbus III hostage. Their goal: to lure a starship so that Sybok and his followers can go to the center of the galaxy in search of the mythical planet Sha-Ka-Ree, the planet from which all Creation emerged.

Kirk is shocked when he learns that Sybok is not only a Vulcan who rejects the suppression of all emotions and believes that God lives on Sha-Ka-Ree; he’s also Spock’s half-brother from his father Sarek’s first marriage to a Vulcan princess. Now Sybok has re-entered Spock’s life and hopes to enlist him into his cause…creating conflict within Spock’s heart, and causing tension between first officer and captain.

Not only does Kirk have to deal with a renegade Vulcan and the possible defection of a loyal friend, but a Klingon Bird of Prey – assigned to rescue the Klingon member of Nimbus III’s troika – is on the prowl. Commanded by a young and aggressive Klingon captain, the Bird-of-Prey chases the Enterprise into the radiation-rich center of the galaxy….

To give Shatner credit, there were many reasons for Star Trek V’s less-than-stellar performance at the box office. In the wake of Star Trek IV’s huge crossover success, producer Bennett had hoped that writer Nicholas Meyer would be available to write the screenplay for the fifth Trek film.

Unfortunately, Meyer wasn’t on hand at the time, so David Loughery was hired to pen the script based on a story by Bennett and Shatner. The hope was, as Walter Koenig (Cmdr. Pavel Chekov) told an audience at a Star Trek convention in 1989 (before the film was released) to recreate The Voyage Home’s mix of humor and adventure, with a meaningful message tacked on as well.

Making matters worse, the special effects by Brian Ferren and Associates are pretty cheap looking, and budgetary pressures watered down many of Shatner’s original concepts (including an opening scene that was the reverse of what would be Star Trek: First Contact’s opening shot).

As a result, fans largely denounced the over ambitious story and its low rent production values, Star Trek V. Even Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry gave it a seal of disapproval, saying that some of its storyline (the Sybok character, one supposes) was apocryphal.

Paramount has given this runt of the litter the Collector’s Edition treatment, bundling the film on one disc (with director Shatner providing commentary) with a second disc featuring behind-the-scenes features. If you’re a must-have-the-whole-set type of DVD collector, buy this one for the sake of completeness. Otherwise, skip it and wait for the Collector’s Edition of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.

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