There are films that you sit down and watch that take you back to a time when you remembered who you were when you watched them. There are films that you didn’t appreciate at the time when you watched them that you learn to love over time. There are films that give you a guttural, even primal reaction when you see them or talk about them later. This is not one of those films.
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier was released in 1989 and directed by William Shatner, Captain Kirk himself. I haven’t brought up the previous directors of these films with the exception of Star Trek IV because there really didn’t seem to be a need to but it will be relevant the more I dive deeper into this film because it seems to be all about Captain Kirk.
The film starts on a desert planet called Nimbus III which is in the Neutral Zone between the Klingons, Federation and Romulan territories. A lone figure on a horse (a horse!) is riding through the desert in slow motion towards an alien scavenger. The rider reveals himself to be a Vulcan, who immediately starts melding with the scavenger about his pain and turning him into a quivering, crying child. Then the mystery Vulcan starts to laugh, which is creepy, but anti-climactic.
The next scene is all about Kirk. Kirk is climbing a mountain on shore leave with Spock and McCoy. Spock confronts him while he is making his ascent and Kirk falls only to be caught by Spock at the last-minute in a scene that is cringe-worthy in its obvious use of green screen.
The next scene is such a blatant rip off of every other sci-fi film that I had to pause while watching to make sure I saw what I saw. There is a cantina filled with assorted aliens (Star Wars), a hooded figure walks in (Star Wars) and is directed to the back room, passing a feline dancer with three breasts (Total Recall).
The figure walks into a room where there is a drunk human and a drunk Klingon drinking and smoking (apparently they still smoke in the future) and she reveals herself to be Caithlin Dar, the Romulan ambassador assigned to the planet.
It seems that the Federation, Klingons and Romulans decided to make this planet a sort of experiment in seeing if these three cultures could get along. It doesn’t seem to be working according to the Federation ambassador and we are subjected to more exposition from Dar. (I am not a critic. I am not an actor. I am not an expert, but seriously, the actress playing Dar could not have given a more wooden performance if she were made out of oak. Listening to her speak in this movie is painful to my ears.)
So the mystery Vulcan has been collecting followers and they take over the city apparently because he is counting on someone from one of the three governments to send help.
Back on Earth, Chekov and Sulu are lost hiking in midday. Uhura and Scotty are on the Enterprise, which is in disrepair. They receive a priority message from Starfleet canceling shore leave as Kirk, Spock and McCoy are sitting around a campfire at night eating beans and talking about how Kirk is destined to die alone while they roast marshmallows and try to sing campfire songs before they go to sleep. Why they don’t contact the Captain of the ship first with a priority message is beyond me, but they don’t.
We are then confronted with the most laughable Klingons ever. Apparently, their captain likes to go sleeveless to show off his guns while he shoots at space garbage, which I had rewind and watch again, actually screamed when hit. Captain Klaa really wants someone to fight. When he receives the order to travel to Nimbus III, he decides to use it as an opportunity to confront a Federation vessel.
Get your tickets to the Gun Show!
Kirk returns to the bridge and the ship heads to Nimbus III after another scene designed to have Kirk eat up the scenery and have the bulk of the dialogue.
After viewing the hostage tape, Spock has a reaction to seeing the Vulcan and talks to Kirk and McCoy. Apparently, this Vulcan is a revolutionary because he rejected logic and embraced emotion. He was banished from Vulcan, never to return. The ship arrives and the scanners detect the klingons are on route as well and will be in weapons range in an hour.
For some reason that makes absolutely no sense given the fact that they have a skeleton crew and were ordered to assess the situation and avoid a confrontation, Kirk decides to mount a covert rescue mission with no preparations. After landing more than an hour away from the city, they decide to steal some horses (BTW, William Shatner loves horses, raises horses and every horse scene in this movie seems like an excuse for him to ride a horse.) I order for them to steal the horses, they need a distraction.
They decide that the best distraction that they can come up with is to have (at this point in time) 57-year-old Nichelle Nichols (Uhura) do a naked fan dance in order to attract the guys away.
After securing the horses and making their way into the city, Kirk and his crew attack and Kirk is ambushed by the stripper, whom he defeats. Due to their poor planning, they are captured and the presented with the mystery Vulcan, who is named Sybok.
Sybok lured them there because he needed a starship. With the Klingon ship still bearing down on them, Kirk decides to try to crash the shuttle into the cargo bay. While attempting to fight off Sybok, Spock raises a weapon and aims it. Kirk calls for Spock to shoot him, but he refuses and they are re-captured.
After they are taken to the brig, Kirk confronts Spock about his refusal to fire and Spock reveals that Sybok is his half-brother.
(Keep one thing in mind if you decide to watch this movie, Kirk talks a lot. There does not seem to be one moment in this film where Kirk does not have something to say, whether it’s necessary or not.)
After Sybok converts everyone except Scotty, he announces that he is taking the Enterprise into the Great Barrier in the center of the galaxy in order to find a mythical planet called Shaka-Ree and the being that lives on it. In other words, Sybok kidnapped people, brainwashed them and took over a starship in order to fly to heaven and see God.
After locating the barrier, the Enterprise easily enters it. This barrier exists in the center of the universe and apparently cannot be breached, cannot be entered and everyone avoided somehow took less that two minutes to breach by not one but two ships. Especially since Scotty has been reduced to a moron.
Kirk, Spock, McCoy and Sybok fly down to the surface in a shuttlecraft. They are confronted with a bright light and a voice that claims to be that of God. Everyone stands there in awe as “God” calls for them to bring the ship closer. Kirk then asks the question everyone, especially Sybok should have been asking beforehand.
The “God” entity attacks Kirk and instead of them running back to the shuttlecraft, they keep asking it questions.
Sybok stands there looking at them with a stupid look on his face until he decides to, without prompting, sacrifice himself by jumping into the light spire.
Turns out that, of course, this isn’t God but a prisoner trapped on a prison planet who is trying to escape. This leads me to ask: Why is there a prisoner on a prison planet in the middle of the galaxy and no one knows about it?
Kirk, Spock and McCoy run back to the shuttle finally, but the entity disables it. Think about that. It needs a ship to escape from the planet. There is a ship on the planet and instead of taking it, it disables its only chance of escape. Scotty manages to fix the transporter enough to be able to beam Spock and McCoy aboard before the Enterprise is attacked by the Klingon ship. Klaa demands that Kirk be sent over to him and he will spare the rest of the crew.
In one of the more impressive uses of a plot point, they realize that they have a Klingon general on board and Spock shames him into confronting his junior officer; something that could have happened in the previous encounter they had with this exact same Kilngon ship. Kirk is escaping from the entity by, you guessed it, climbing a mountain and he reaches the summit only to be confronted by the entity on one side and the Klingon ship on the other. He heroically stands his ground and waits for death to take him until the Klingons shoot at the entity and beam Kirk aboard.
Seems the Klingon general finally grew a pair and took command of the Klingon ship from Captain Klaa to rescue Kirk. Klaa apologizes to Kirk and everyone goes over to the Enterprise to have drinks. They are still orbiting a hostile planet behind a massive energy barrier in the center of the galaxy, but instead of getting out of harms way, they decide to throw a cocktail party
Once the finally leave, Kirk McCoy and Spock finish their camping trip, sit around the campfire and sing “Row Row Row Your Boat”. Yeah, they ended on that.
If you’re a fan of Captain Kirk, you will definitely enjoy this movie because it is all about Kirk. Every other character in this movie seems inept in comparison and every conflict apparently needs Kirk’s direct input to be resolved. Spock and McCoy have been relegated to straight men and the villains are uninspired and cartoonish. This was not one of my favorite Star Trek films at the time that it came out and I have only watched it sporadically in the over 20 years since it was released and only for completion sake.