STAR TREK V: THE FINAL FRONTIER, troubled throughout its production history, opened a can of intergalactic whoop-a on itself with the advertising tag line “The Enterprise Is Back. This Time Have They Gone Too Far?” ‘Not far enough’ would be the phaser on Stun, as this voyage has a bad rep as the weakest entry in the series, with its 1989 release zapped by critical catcalls and doing poorly enough with audiences that producer Harve Bennett opined that it “nearly killed the franchise.”
Interrupting their shore leave in Yosemite (presumably not logged off and filled with condos or burned down and full of refugees by the 23rd century), Kirk and the Enterprise stalwarts are sent to planet Nimbus III to handle a hostage situation. Once there, they find the hostage grab is a ruse by ‘Sybok’ (Laurence Luckinbill), a renegade Vulcan who also happens to be the long-lost brother of Spock. Capturing them, the charismatic Sybok uses the Starship to reach a legendary planet beyond the barrier at the center of the galaxy, and there find the source of creation—confronting God, or a reasonable facsimile. The crew is mesmerized but Kirk remains skeptical. Meanwhile, Klingon’s are waiting to pounce.
Taking director reins after two go’s from Leonard Nimoy, William Shatner pilots this time. He conceived the story (nudged off his observing the un-Godly fraudulence of televangelists), then after much haggling with cast regulars and studio suitlings, David Loughery wrote the final script. The filming was dogged with issues like labor strikes, exhausting location temperatures in the Mohave Desert and problems with the special effects. It went 20% over budget, up to nearly $33,000,000. Withering write-ups and sudden crowd dispersal left it earning just $52,210,000 in the US (a whopping 75% less than what was assumed it would make), ranking 25th place that year, with perhaps another $11,00,000 abroad and through discs. The (aging) Federation was rocked on its ego.
The audacious idea of confronting the Ultimate Who is certainly okay, and had some theology-tweaking backdata in the old TV series. There are pretty location shots in Yosemite, some standard teasing banter between the (noticeably aging) regulars, a welcome return of Jerry Goldsmith tackling the score, energetic supporting nastiness from two actors playing Klingon’s and a first-rate performance from Luckinbill, who plays Sybok not as a bad guy but as a Problem Case, hopeful and non-violent, emotional but misled and maybe nutty. All to the good.
But there are bugs in the engine room that even Scotty couldn’t fix. The action scenes are lazy, and some of the physical stuff is laughable. It’s a toss-up as to whether the cast, at this point clocking ages from 51 to 68, is either game & cute or frail & deluded. Suspense is minimal, and despite the money spent, the sets look cheesy and the special effects are just plain lame—not Meteor-bad (few are) but several notches below what you expect from a big feature item. Hard to say what’s worse—Kirk, Spock and McCoy singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” (to the sound of people barfing in the theater) or Uhura’s sand dune fan-dance (Nichelle Nichols showing she can still vamp).
Among the ad campaign tie-ins was a marshmallow dispenser from Kraft, cued from a scene in the movie involving a humorous conversation about “marsh melons“. Also in the cast—need we even note the regulars?– are David Warner (prominently billed, then utterly wasted in a nothing part), Charles Cooper, Cynthia Gouw and Rex Holman. Shatner gave his niece Melanie a bit role as yeoman. The two scene-stealing Klingon’s are Todd Bryant and multi-disciplined stuntwoman Spice Williams-Crosby (married to Bing’s grandson). Their punchy scenes and the class-A job from Luckinbill are commendable enough to volunteer 106 minutes of your time, even if many of those going through the hourglass vanish into a black hole.