Warning: A general knowledge of Star Trek lingo is necessary for comprehending this review.
I realize that I’m courting controversy with this selection. The more virulent Trekkies, or Trekkers, or whatever, are certain to be aggrieved at any “Star Trek” movie appearing on a Bad Movie™ site. Others (“normal people”), bored to tears even hearing the words “Star Trek,” will refuse to read anything pertaining to this cultish sect. Still, I’m encouraged by a real life experience I had with this very film. When it came out theatrically, some friends and I went to see it on opening night. Needless to say, the theater was Nerd Central. As the film went along, I noticed that the movie, to be generous, sucked. Still, I held my tongue for fear of arousing the wrath of the hard-core Trekkies in the audience. Admittedly, that’s not a group known for their effective use of violence (or any other skill requiring physical aptitude). Nevertheless, I figured that in the hundreds they could well be dangerous, even to a normal person. Especially when their very reason for existing was being attacked.
Eventually, however, I noticed that even this Trekkie-intensive audience wasn’t exactly eating up the movie either. Emboldened by this, I took the opportunity to express my displeasure. Well into the picture, Sybok, a Leo Buescalia-type character, told another character that “I feel your pain.” Unable to take any more, I shouted out, “What about my pain?! I paid five bucks to see this!!” (Wow! Remember when movies were only five bucks? Or when the phrase “I feel your pain” was only said by annoying people in movies?) Amazingly, rather than being set upon by pointy-eared avengers, many in the audience laughed along in sympathy. Anyone who knows any Trekkies will be able to testify to how amazing such a statement is.
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier also provides devastating evidence in support of one of the great dark rumors of Trekdom. That being the contention of some of the original Star Trek cast members (particularly James “Scotty” Doohan and George “Sulu” Takai) that William Shatner, old James T. Kirk himself, is a colossal, arrogant jerk. Now it seems to me that this is partly sour grapes. After all, out of the original cast, only Shatner has gone on to a consistently successful acting career. While T. J. Hooker and Emergency 911 are hardly classics, they were successful starring shows for Shatner. One of the assertions made against him is that he’s been much less accessible to the Star Trek fans (via conventions and such), then say Doohan and Takai have.
Still, this might be explained by the fact that, with his ability to get non-Trek related acting jobs, Shatner never had to keep playing to the Trekkies. Certainly ol’ Scotty, or Mr. Sulu, or Lt. Uhura, is caught in the public’s mind in that one role, like a bug preserved in amber. They’re like those bands that travel around to various small fairs year in and year out, singing those same few songs over and over again (“Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. Now we’d like to perform a little tune you may remember…Eye of the Tiger!”). Still, it is noticeable that the same guys don’t slur Leonard “Spock” Nimoy. As a successful film director, Nimoy is the only Star Trek cast member other than Shatner to have had a particularly fruitful show biz career. The fact that he remains unsullied by similar charges lends credence to the rumors about Shatner.
And, as I have indicated, solid, even damning evidence is provided by this film. Nimoy enjoyed great success as the director of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (the “whale” one, most successful of the Star Trek movies). This allowed him the opportunity to helm the blockbuster Three Men and a Baby, which for years remained the most successful Hollywood comedy ever. Shatner decided that it was his turn to direct a movie, and refused to sign up for the fifth Star Trek film unless he was allowed to direct. So it came to be, with Shatner co-writing the film as well. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier proved to be a disaster, garnering the worst reviews of the series and one of the lowest box office takes as well. In fact, had it not followed the hugely successful Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, it almost certainly would have done worse, perhaps killing the film series. The studio, panicking, brought back Nicholas Myers, the guy who made Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn (the best of the Star Trek features) to do the next one.
Oddly, while writing the rough draft of this review, reader Robin Kalhorn of California wrote to suggest this very film for inclusion here. His commentary on the film’s faults proved to be eerily similar to my own take on it. As well, he provided this anecdote, shoring up the “Shatner’s Egomania” angle. Apparently, Shatner adopted a (surprise) flamboyant style as director, complete with exaggerated arm movements. Ignoring Nimoy’s advice to take it down a notch, Shatner’s body language eventually became so violent that he managed to dislodge his world-famous toupee, sending it winging through the air like some hairy divot. Unsurprisingly, the assembled extras broke out laughing. Shatner then retaliated by firing them! (Mr. Kalhorn also asserted that there was an earlier, even worse version of the film’s script. Apparently, Nimoy had to step in and suggest that it be rewritten, lest they all be laughed off the screen. If this is true, the mind boggles. Considering how poor the final script is, one can only wonder what the earlier versions were like.)
It’s somehow poetic that Shatner, who allowed his ego to run amok during the making of this film, should have delivered such a bomb. For the movie’s biggest problem is that the entire film is noticeably tilted towards his own character, James Kirk. Nimoy, on the other hand, took obvious pains in the films he directed to keep Spock merely part of the ensemble (admittedly, one of the more important parts). Yet, there’s no denying that this film was designed as a valentine to James T., and that the other characters, Spock and McCoy included, are merely around to back him up and admire him. In the end, Shatner remained mysteriously unhumbled by his disastrous directorial debut. For years to come, he continued to live in a fantasy world wherein he would be allowed to direct another Star Trek movie. This was a regular refrain during interviews with him, and never failed to send a chill up the spine of Trekkies everywhere.
Before we begin dissecting the film, I have a little editorial announcement for the film studios. To rent (or perhaps even buy) a video, and then be subjected to a commercial to buy more Star Trek crap before the film even starts, is incredibly annoying. If such garbage has to be attached to videos (a dubious proposition), at least put it at the end of the movie. A beginning title card could inform those so interested to “stay tuned for…”, while sparing those of us who aren’t. Thanks for your time. And now on to our show. We open on a desolate plain. Subtitles inform us that we’re on Nimbus III, “The Planet of Peace”, somewhere in the Neutral Zone.
The planet’s grand title is obviously meant to be taken satirically, given the arid wasteland we’re beholding. We see Vixis, a Mad Max/Road Warrior-type desert scavenger. A mysterious shape appears off in the dust. Frightened, Vixis grabs a crude homemade rifle. Eventually, the shape becomes a man on horseback. The rider, Sybok, dismounts. Noting the gun, he states, “I thought weapons were forbidden on this planet.” (Plot point!) As Sybok approaches the frightened man, a “heartbeat” sound indicates that he’s established a mental bond with him (trust me on this). “Your pain runs deep,” the mystery man notes. Then he introduces the retarded psychological concept that lies at the heart of our story. He claims that each person carries one dark, secret pain. If that pain is brought forth, and resolved, the person is freed from this burden. They are then permanently changed for the better.
It turns out that Sybok’s special talent is to look inside each person and help them expose this “secret pain”. He does this for our pathetic plains dweller, who responds, “It’s as if a weight has been lifted from my heart!” (Wow, there’s an original line.) This idea, that we are all defined by one central, hidden painful event, is utterly ridiculous, not to mention insulting. I, for example, have led a relatively trauma-free life. And yet, according to this premise, I am as defined by my “hidden pain” as, say, a rape victim, or a concentration camp survivor. And, in typical Star Trek fashion, the regular characters who undergo this supposed “life-altering” emotional exposure will talk about how their entire existence has been changed, but show no signs of being any different than before.
Sybok asks Vixis to join his other followers on his Quest, seeking the “Ultimate Truth”. Said quest requires a Starship. Vixis points out that Nimbus III has no Starships, but Sybok ensures him that he has a plan to lure one there. Removing his hood, Sybok reveals his pointy ears. Dialog establishes that he’s a Vulcan (since Trekkies might take him for a Romulan). Then, to show that he’s not a regular Vulcan, he begins to laugh heartily. Cue credits.
We cut to Yosemite National Park, on Earth. We see a slim man (his face oddly not shown) barehandedly rock climbing up a gigantic cliff face. This goes on for about two straight minutes of screentime. Amazingly, when we finally get a look at his face, he turns out to be James Kirk. And somehow he’s instantly put on about forty pounds. Meanwhile, on the ground, Dr. McCoy (or “Bones” for the aficionado) watches nervously as Kirk ascends ever higher. In the film’s first example of much-too-broad “humor,” the muttering Bones complains that if this keeps up, he’ll start talking to himself. Ha ha! Get it? He is talking to himself! What a knee-slapper! Boy, and that Bones, huh? He’s always complaining about something!
Kirk receives a start when Spock appears next to him, hovering on jet-boots. Hmmm, it doesn’t seem too “logical” to startle a man clinging to a rock face some thousands of feet in the air, but what do I know? And how do those jet-boots work? Particularly the guidance system. How would you stabilize your posture? If you tilted your head the wrong way, wouldn’t you crash into the mountain? Not too surprisingly, Spock’s conversation distracts Kirk to the point where he slips off the rock face.
Spock, somehow controlling his miraculous jet-boots, dives down in pursuit. After some truly laughable bluescreen effects of Kirk and Spock “falling”, Spock manages to grab ahold of Kirk’s leg, mere inches before he hits the ground (uh, what happened to all the kinetic energy Kirk built up while falling? Why doesn’t his leg rip out of its socket when Spock grabs it?). Making the “jet-boot” idea even more untenable, we see that Spock is now hovering horizontal to the ground (?!). As McCoy runs up, Kirk wittily asks, “Mind if we drop in for dinner?” (Please, just shoot me now.)
These jet-boots, by the way, are another in a line of “Federation” inventions that make one appearance and then are never brought up again. Take, for example, the “Disaster” episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, which is set eighty years later in the “Trek” universe. The Enterprise has suffered from a catastrophic accident. As a result, Captain Picard has been stranded in a damaged turbo lift car. The question is whether he and his charges can escape before the car plummets down the shaft, killing them all. The wounded Picard ultimately must climb up the shaft’s maintenance ladder. The car plunges to its doom mere seconds later. Say, wouldn’t it have been handy if there were an emergency pair of jet-boots stationed in all turbo lift cars for just such an emergency? Needless to say, there aren’t.
We cut back to Nimrod, er, Nimbus III’s capitol, Paradise City. This is “ironic,” as the town is a dump. Normally, one would anticipate, from the appellation “Paradise City”, that it would be nice. Instead, the opposite is true. See how the difference between expectations and reality can be humorous? No? OK, maybe this isn’t the best example. Anyway, a mysterious, hooded character enters the town’s sleazy bar. This scene, I expect, is supposed to be a parody of the “Cantina Scene” from Star Wars (gee, that’s original). Maybe this would have seemed fresher had Star Trek V not come out twelve years (!) after Star Wars. Perhaps a hilarious reference to the “Odessa Stairway” sequence of 1925’s Battleship Potemkin will show up later.
The hooded figure turns out not to be Sybok (which we could already tell from body size, but which was supposed to be a surprise). Instead, she’s Caithlin Dar, the Romulan representative to the “neutral” planet of Nimbus III. Her Federation counterpoint is a weaselly loser named St. John Talbot. The Klingon government is represented by Korrd, a fat drunk. Apparently, the position of Nimbus III Ambassador is not a greatly sought-after position. Caithlin Dar helpfully supplies some (pointless) expository dialog regarding the history of Nimbus III (created as a half-assed symbol of “unity” among the three powers). An alarm sounds off as Sybok’s followers swarm the city. The town quickly (and boringly) falls to his forces. Taking the ambassadors hostage, Sybok reveals that their mutual presence is what brought him to Nimbus III.
We cut to a Star Base, where the new Enterprise (the Enterprise “A”, for those keeping track) is being outfitted. The introduction of the Enterprise and its crew is always a “big” moment for the Trekkies. First, we catch up with engineer Scotty. His voiceover reveals that the new ship is having trouble with basic functions, like the automatic doors opening (“comedy” ahoy!). Next in our round up of second bananas (I’m all a’quiver!) is Lt. Uhura. Like Scotty, Uhura is noticeably more, uh, well-rounded than in the olden days.
As is Nature’s way, age has caused much of the cast to either balloon up (Scotty, Uhura, Kirk) or become raggedly emaciated (Spock, McCoy). Bones, in particular, now frighteningly thin and adorned with his newly signature cravat, looks like he could be played by actor Don Knotts should accident befall DeForrest Kelly. Hey, how about a new series spin-off: Star Trek: Three’s Company? Don Knotts would play the retired “Bones” McCoy, now manager of a Space Apartment Complex. Two humanoid females would be looking for a third roommate. But rules forbid species that can cross-reproduce from living together. So a hot-blooded, horny Romulan is disguised as a, uh, Arcturian, a species that asexually reproduces by cell-division. Hilarity ensues.
The Enterprise soon receives a “Red Alert” message from Star Fleet, regarding the Nimbus III situation. Scotty protests about the condition of the ship, as well as its “less than skeleton crew.” But of course (this is another regular Star Trek gambit) the Enterprise is the only available ship in the sector. We never do find out why Star Fleet has so few ships, and this problem continues decades into the “future” with Star Trek: The Next Generation. Only in the latter years of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, when the effects budgets got large enough, were we to see truly large fleets of Star Fleet ships. And since the Enterprise is apparently orbiting Earth (as Kirk is at Yosemite National Park), and since Earth is the Headquarters of Star Fleet, this means that Star Fleet keeps no fully functioning ships at its immediate disposal (?). Anyway, the crew goes off to collect Kirk and the boys from their vacation.
Meanwhile, we cut down to Commander Sulu and Chekhov, who are hiking in some woods. They get a call from Uhura to assemble “at the pre-arranged” coordinates for shuttlecraft pick-up. But they can’t, because they’re lost. Apparently, technology is so grand in the future that the “compass” has been abandoned. They don’t want to admit that they’re lost, so they pretend that they’re caught in a blizzard (?). This is “accomplished” by Chekhov making “whoosing” noises into the communicator (!!). Of course, Uhura is sitting on the Bridge, with a gigantic array of sensors at her disposal (which Sulu and Chekhov would know, making this bit even stupider). Uhura points out that it’s 70∫ in their area, dooming their “clever” ruse. Oh, I’m sorry. All this is supposed to be “humorous.” It must be almost as hard to tell that from reading about the scene as it actually is from watching it. Also, why wouldn’t Uhura just key in on their communicators and beam them up in the first place? Because then we wouldn’t get this hilarious sequence! HHHaaaaddddHahahaha!
Back to the Yosemite campsite. Kirk and the guys are sitting down to dinner, featuring McCoy’s family recipe beans. McCoy notes that they contain a “secret ingredient”. When Kirk wryly asks if he has any of the ingredient left, McCoy produces a bottle of whiskey (enough with the “comedy”! You’re killing me!). Kirk notes that “Bourbon and beans,” are an “explosive combination”, thus introducing the “fart joke” to the Star Trek universe. Then we are “treated” to a self-examining conversation among the Big Three characters. This is Nerdvana for Trekkies. Or would be if it were better written. The one important bit that’s revealed is that Kirk has “always known that I’ll die alone.” Actually, this was disproved (or ignored) when Kirk finally got whacked in Star Trek: Generations.
The appalling humor continues. Spock uses what appears to be a portable replicator (another gadget never seen again) to make “marshmellons.” Ha ha, he got the word wrong! (A Vulcan? After reading the term in the Federation Database?) Then the guys engage in a “sing-along”. They opt to sing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”, and to our horror proceed to do just that. Spock has trouble with the roundelay concept, resulting in more “mirth”. (Kill me!) Admittedly, this leads to the one genuinely funny gag in the movie (never let it be said I don’t give credit where it’s due). We cut to later in the evening, when the guys are laid out in their sleeping bags. Addressing Kirk, Spock finally mentions something that’s been bothering him. “Jim,” he notes, “Life is not a dream.” It’s entirely within character, and quite funny, that Spock would spend hours mulling over the literal truth of a kid’s song. I always remembered this line, probably because it’s the sole decent moment in this misbegotten film.
We cut out to space, where we come across an “ancient” Earth space probe. A Klingon Bird of Prey (warship) decloaks nearby. This is when the Klingons were still Bad Guys, more or less. They blow up the probe out of boredom. The ship’s Captain, Klaa, laments the lack of an actual enemy to fight. They then get word of the Nimbus III situation. Klaa figures that the Federation will also send a ship. He orders a course set for Nimbus III, explaining that he always wanted to engage a Federation ship. Back on earth, a shuttlecraft descends to pick up the sleeping Kirk, Spock and McCoy. In an “economical” move, the shuttlecraft is represented by a spotlight mounted on a crane (!). Oooo! Aaaaa! Wow, awesome.
Uhura emerges (isn’t she the senior Bridge Officer on the Enterprise at this point? Would she really personally leave the ship to do a pickup, even of the senior staff?). She briefs them on the situation. She also finally notes (for continuity sake) that the Enterprise’s transporter system is non-operational. The transporters?! Non-operational?! Wouldn’t that be pretty much the first system to be installed on a Starship? Is it really credible that the half-built Enterprise is the only ship available? And would they really have done such a half-assed job on the Enterprise, which is the Flagship of the Federation Fleet?
Back aboard we see that practically none of the systems are working correctly. The turbo lifts, communications, even the control panels are glitchy. An Admiral appears on the Viewscreen, for a little expository dialog to “explain” why this ship is being sent out. It turns out that there are other ships in the quadrant, but none with “experienced” Captains. (Whatever that means.) Why not? You’re telling me that each quadrant has only one “experienced” Commanding Officer around?. Why aren’t there any on Earth, perhaps currently rotated to Administrative Duty? Why don’t they send Kirk on another ship? Again, is it even possible that there isn’t one functioning ship stationed at the Headquarters of a galactic Federation of, what, hundreds of planets?
Plus, everybody’s aware that the Klingons, who have Kirk as #1 on their “I Want His Head!” list, are likely to show up and cause trouble. So they choose to hand him over on a silver platter (or a non-functioning Starship). Finally, what’s the big deal with the Nimbus III Ambassadors anyway? From what we’ve seen, the whole deal appears to be a half-forgotten, decades old publicity stunt by the Major Powers on some worthless dustball of a planet. Even the Federation ended up posting an obvious loser as their Representative. So why the panic?
We take a quick trip back to Klaa’s ship. He’s informed that the Enterprise is going to Nimbus III. Klaa knows that if he can defeat the fabled James Kirk, he will be heralded as the greatest Warrior in the galaxy. Of course, this would hold true for any Klingon Captain. So there’d likely be dozens of warships heading for Nimbus III, all looking to take out Kirk. Luckily for him (and for apparently no other reason than it’s in the script), Klaa appears to be the only Klingon to bother taking advantage of the current situation.
Back on the Enterprise, we see a prime example of a bit “taken too far.” Kirk can’t even make a Captain’s Log entry, as the hand-held Log is malfunctioning. Er, isn’t that a self-contained instrument? Why would that not be working? I mean, why would the engines (and, presumably, the navigation controls) be the only systems on the ship that work? It’s seems pretty obvious where they’re going with this. Sybok (remember him?) said he needed a Starship. Obviously, they’re setting up the compromised systems and skeleton crew deals to help explain how it would be possible for a guy to steal a Starship. But how would Sybok know that a half-functioning ship would show up for him to commandeer? (Answer: he wouldn’t.) Anyway, we might as well roll with it, or we’ll never finish this thing.
The Enterprise Bridge Crew reviews reference materials as they travel to Nimbus III. Kordd, the fat drunk Klingon Ambassador, is revealed to have once been one of the Empire’s greatest strategists. Then they review a “tape” of the kidnapper’s demands. (Would the word “tape” still be used in this context four hundred years from now?) Spock is, for a Vulcan, visibly startled at the sight of Sybok. We cut to Spock standing in an unidentified room (I guess it could be Spock’s bedroom, although then the decor is rather strange). There’s no reason why this scene should take place here, other than to provide the audience with a cool looking room. Kirk and McCoy enter (why is the Chief Medical Officer included?). Spock tells them that Sybok might be someone he knew in his youth. There was a brilliant scholar on Vulcan in those days. However, he turned from the Vulcan doctrine of Logic, embracing Emotion instead. When he tried to get others to follow his beliefs, he was exiled. This rather short briefing accomplished, they head back to the Bridge (again, why did they leave it in the first place?).
The ship arrives at Nimbus III. Scotty reports that the transporters are still down (!). So there’s no way to beam the hostages up to the ship (again, how would Sybok know that this would be the case?). Spock then reports a sensor reading on Klaa’s Bird of Prey. It will be close enough to attack in about two hours. A shuttlecraft is used to descend to the planet surface, landing outside of Paradise City’s sensor range. Of course, being the Enterprise, pretty much the entire Senior Staff is on the Away Team. This includes the ship’s Captain, the First Officer, the ship’s Chief Navigator, it’s Communications Officer, the Chief Medical Officer, etc. In fact, apparently Chekhov is about the only Line Officer left aboard ship. One equivalent of a hand grenade and pretty near the entire Bridge Crew would be wiped out. (Hmm, maybe this explains the Federation’s lack of “experienced Captains”!)
We are also treated to a notably inept computer animation shot of the shuttlecraft. Apparently, they’re going to visit “Tron”. Meanwhile, “Captain” Chekhov parlays, via the Viewscreen, with Sybok. Outside Paradise City, the Away Team lands and disembarks. Spock notes that it’ll take over an hour to make it too the city on foot, which is too long. (Hey, what about those jet-boots?) Luckily, the team has landed right near a stable of horses (!). Gee, that’s handy, huh. Hmmm, I wonder if Shatner, who in real life owns a horse ranch, wrote in this scene so as to be able to display his horsemanship? Nah, like he’d be that vain! (Kirk, along with Captain Picard, also displays his horsemanship in Star Trek: Generations.)
Kirk comes up with a plan to distract the guards so that they can grab the horses. And let me state here, no, let me swear, that I am not making this next bit up. Kirk’s ingenious scheme is to have the grandmother-aged, portly Uhura distract the guys by performing a nude fan-dance (!!!), silhouetted against the planet’s moons. Uhm, wouldn’t even this request violate some Federation sexual harassment protocol? Really, this is the kind of thing where your mouth just drops open. The stable-guys, apparently consumed with lust (ugh!), are soon streaking out to the dune.
There we are treated to several shots of Uhura’s no-longer slim gams. Thus exposed, the guys are captured, leaving the way open for Kirk’s party to raid Paradise City. Kirk and his men are taken for the outpost guards, and allowed into the gate. There the charade falls through, and a firefight results. Sybok, hearing the shots, is horrified. He never intended violence to result from his little prank (not one of your great strategic thinkers, apparently). Kirk (by himself! Good way to protect your Captain) makes for the main building, affording him the opportunity to manfully handle various stuntguys. Meanwhile, in another “funny” bit, we see Spock disable a horse with his Vulcan Nerve-pinch. (Yuk yuk.)
Inside the stronghold, Kirk is attacked by a screeching Cat-woman (look, I’m just reporting this stuff). After an “intensive” struggle, Kirk lifts her up and tosses her (the wirework used to “throw” the Cat-woman here is really obvious). She lands in a bathtub type deal about five feet away and just floats there face down, apparently dead (?). Spock joins Kirk. They are pleased to see the Ambassadors enter the room. At least until the “hostages” pull weapons on them. Presumably, they’ve undergone Sybok’s “soul cleansing” ritual and are now his followers. Soon the entire Away Team has been captured, and are paraded through the city. Sybok, seeing them, runs over.
To Kirk’s shock, Sybok greets Spock as he would a close friend, although Spock maintains his distance. Spock refuses to join Sybok (as he had on Vulcan, during Sybok’s aborted revolution). Sybok replies he’ll take the Enterprise without him. Meanwhile, the Enterprise is tracking the rapidly approaching Bird of Prey when it cloaks, becoming invisible to their sensors. Chekhov (gee, good thing they left the, what, Fourth or Fifth in Command guy abroad), has few options. He orders Scotty to raise the shields, even though this will prevent the shuttlecraft from returning to the ship.
Said shuttlecraft, carrying Kirk’s main guys along with Sybok’s, is just then approaching the Enterprise. By the way, am I the only one who has trouble believing the Kirk would assist in bringing highjackers aboard the Enterprise, no matter what the situation? Chekhov, unaware of Kirk’s dilemma, radios the shuttlecraft regarding the cloaked Bird of Prey. Kirk insists to Sybok that he must be allowed to act, before either the shuttlecraft or the Enterprise is destroyed. Sybok, after being advised by his Klingon follower Korrd, reluctantly agrees.
Kirk radios unbelievably vague instructions to convey his intentions to the Enterprise, which Scotty miraculously interprets correctly. Kirk’s brilliant scheme involves forgoing the tractor beam, and flying directly into the shuttlebay manually at full speed (which will decrease the amount of time the shields need to be lowered). The shields are dropped. Sulu, piloting the shuttlecraft, punches it and crash-lands into the shuttle bay. Meanwhile, the Bird of Prey decloaks and fires on the Enterprise. Just in the nick of time (duh), the Enterprise goes into warp, eluding their pursuers.
Sybok and Kirk are the first to regain consciousness. Kirk attacks Sybok, who retaliates with the greater than human strength of a Vulcan. Again, the wire work used to portray Kirk being “thrown” around here is quite poor. Kirk loses the fight, but Sybok’s gun slides away, landing at Spock’s feet. When ordered to surrender, Sybok instead tells Spock that he’ll have to kill him. Spock refuses, even disobeying Kirk’s order to shoot, and Sybok regains control of the situation. Still, Spock refuses to join Sybok yet again, and elects to join Kirk and McCoy in the brig. Meanwhile, we see Scotty secretly observing these events. Sybok takes Uhura and Sulu off to the side and puts the whammy on them. In the brig, Kirk is flabbergasted at Spock’s refusal to defend his ship. Spock, painted into a corner, finally reveals the whole truth (as if you haven’t guessed): Sybok is (drumroll!)…Spock’s brother! (“Capt’in, the Warp ClichÃˆ-o-Meter is readin’ off the scale!”) Gee. Shock. A secret brother. Who’da thought?
Actually, Star Trek in the 1980’s was simply awash with secret and/or troublesome family members. Kirk finds out he has an unknown-to-him son in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn. Worf makes a similar discovery on Star Trek: The Next Generation. In fact, troublesome relatives were a staple element on ST: TNG. Data has a secret, evil brother, Lore, who threatens the Enterprise on a couple of occasions. The deceased Tasha Yar has a secret sister who betrays the Enterprise crew. The Tasha Yar that exists because of a Time Warp (don’t ask) is betrayed unto death by her own daughter. Riker has a run-in with his hated father. He also has to deal with a transporter created double of himself, in effect a secret twin brother. Troi’s mother manages to annoy everyone with frequent visits. Troi later finds out that she had a secret sister when her mother almost goes mad with guilt over the sister’s death as a child. Worf is embarrassed by his human foster-parents. After getting Borged, Picard goes home to France, reawakening his hostile relationship with his brother. They make peace, but Picard is later bummed out when his brother’s family dies a horrible death in a house fire.
And the worst example: Beverly Crusher had a not-secret son by the name of Wesley who managed to nauseate the entire audience of ST: TNG, year in and year out. The cherry on the sundae is when we learned that the obnoxious brat was meant to represent Mankind’s next step up the Evolutionary Ladder (!). Let me tell you, if they ever want to make a lot of money with a ST: TNG movie, it will feature Wesley’s slow, meaningless death, perhaps captured in a time-loop so that we can watch it over and over and over again.
With the help of Sulu and Uhura, Sybok quickly gains control of the Enterprise. Next, he bewitches Chekhov (again, why not take over the Captain of the ship?). Of course, as Uhura, Sulu and Chekhov aren’t The Big Three, we don’t bother wasting screentime with their “special pains” (even though I’ve been wasting time with my current “special pain” for about an hour now). Back in the brig, Kirk almost gets electrocuted while trying to escape. Spock takes this opportunity to inform him that the brig is escape proof. He knows because he was the guy that the designers used to test it. (Are there like only three dozen people in Star Fleet? Because these guys sure seem to get around.)
Now Sybok reveals his ultimate goal: He believes that he has found a way to reach a planet told of in Vulcan Mythology. On said planet can purportedly be found the very secrets of Life, the Universe, and Everything (yawn). This planet lies behind the Great Barrier (an impenetrable energy wall that no race has managed to breach), which itself lies at the “Center of the Galaxy”. Oddly, we’re informed that the ship will reach the Center of the Galaxy in only six hours. Now, I’m not enough of a Star Trek geek so as to know how the Federation Galaxy is laid out, but certainly it seems like a trip to the Center of the Milky Way Galaxy would take years, perhaps decades, not hours. For instance, in the TV series Star Trek: Voyager, a Starship is flung into another quadrant of the Galaxy. We are informed that at maximum warp it’ll take around eighty years before they reenter Federation space.
Anyway, the “soul cleansing” process must dull the mind. None of the converted Bridge Crew bothers to inform Sybok that the ship’s Chief Engineer is MIA. Scotty has soon blasted a wall out in the Brig, freeing Kirk, Spock and McCoy. This fails to set off an alarm of any sort, and Sybok only learns of the escape when he goes down to talk with his captives. This brings up a question I’ve always had about the Federation universe. It seems to me that half of the various plot complications that endanger the various crews could be halted by equipping the ships and stations (especially in areas like the Brig) with monitored video cameras.
Certainly it’s hard to believe that the Main Computer couldn’t keep video and audio records of everything said and done on the Ship. If personal “freedoms” are the issue, the Computer could be directed to keep all records secret under all but extraordinary circumstances. Then, if something like a murder occurs onboard, the Computer’s records could be accessed per procedure. And, since the Computer is so sophisticated, it could flag the Captain when it picks up conversations regarding illegal acts, like the planning of a mutiny (or an escape from the Brig). Amusingly, even the various Totalitarian foes of the Federation, like, say, the Romulans or the Cardassians, don’t have such systems. Of course, the main problem with such systems is that it would make writing plots for the various Star Trek shows almost impossible.
Scotty is ordered by Kirk to split off and work on the transporter system. In one of the film’s big “laugh” scenes, Scotty mutters to himself that he knows the ship like the back of his hand. Then he walks into an overhang and knocks himself out. Har har. That this example of outrageous stupidity is completely out of character is beside the point: It’s funny (well, not really, but you know…). Meanwhile, Kirk and McCoy start climbing up tens of decks via an unsafeguarded ladder (welcome to the future). Their goal is an emergency communications set-up located topside. That such equipment would be best scattered throughout the ship, and not just in one fairly inaccessible area, isn’t acknowledged. Meanwhile, Spock sneaks off on his own, unnoticed by Kirk and McCoy.
After ascending 13 floors (on a ladder!), Kirk finally notices that Spock is missing. At that exact moment, Spock floats down (down?) using (duh) the jet-boots we saw earlier in the movie (“Comedy!“). Kirk and McCoy climb aboard, but their combined weight causes them to sink. Right towards Sulu and some of Sybok’s men, who have been searching for them. In another improbable moment, Spock informs Kirk that if he turns up the rockets they can only ascend at super speed (Apparently there are two settings: Normal and Superdy-Duperdy Fast). While this is ludicrous, it provides for an “exciting” moment when the guys almost end up smashing into the ceiling (hey, how about a potentially fatal “ceiling fan” encounter, like in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory?).
They make it to the Forward Observation Room. This turns out to be the unidentified room where Spock briefed Kirk on Sybok. Hey, they built the set, so they might as well get some use out of it. They use the emergency radio (or whatever) to put out a distress call with their coordinates. Now the first thing I thought of is that the only ship known to be in the sector is the Klingon Bird of Prey that attacked them earlier. Sure enough, the Bird of Prey, pretending to be Star Fleet, answers Kirk’s call. They tell him that help is on the way. Instead, they set a course to intercept the Enterprise at the Great Barrier. Gee, too bad Star Fleet doesn’t have some kind of identification system to keep enemy ships from impersonating Star Fleet vessels. Or perhaps a “secured line” of some sort. Or a coded message system. Maybe they should look into that.
As soon as the message goes out Sybok enters. Hoping to gain Kirk’s willing assistance, he sends his men off. I guess Kirk (with Spock and McCoy right there) doesn’t grab the unprotected Sybok and end the situation because, you know, the Hero’s Code or something. After all, he promised to hear Sybok out. Meanwhile, in a classic “Scene We Didn’t Really Need to See”, Scotty wakes up in the sickbay. Uhura’s there, and explains that Sybok has put her in touch with her repressed feelings. Then the grandmotherly Uhura starts pawing the similarly aged and portly Scotty. Where this came from, well, you got me. And of course, Uhura’s now revealed attraction to Scotty goes unacknowledged in the next movie. Anyway, at least they cut away from this potential “make-out” scene before terminal nausea resulted in mass audience suicides.
Kirk asks Sybok how he managed to brainwash his crew. Sybok protests that he hasn’t. After going through the soul cleansing, they are free of fear, and join him voluntarily. (Which means that much of the senior crew is guilty of Mutiny and Treason. This is never dealt with). Sybok demonstrates his ability on McCoy, whose pain “is the deepest of all.” McCoy reenters the past, and somehow (don’t ask me) Spock and Kirk can see it too. McCoy relives the end of his father’s life. Terminally ill, his wizened father is in great pain. For some reason, current medical science can do nothing more to diminish his agony (What about drugs? And is this before “stasis”, the Federation version of suspended animation, was invented?). He wants to die, but taking him off life-support would violate McCoy’s oath and duties as a doctor.
Uh, just a moment here. Isn’t the Federation largely built on the principles of Personal Autonomy and Cultural Relativism? Certainly some of the various cultures that are Federation members must allow euthanasia (not that I’m personally a proponent, but it’s hard for me to believe that this particular society would outlaw it). Anyway, McCoy finally pulls the plug, granting his father’s wish. But wait, there’s more. In a twist worthy of an O. Henry tale (had O. Henry been a simpleton), it turns out that shortly after terminating dear old dad a “cure” for his disease was developed. Whoops, bad timing. Anyway, now that Sybok has shared McCoy’s pain, he’s on the road to spiritual recovery.
Sybok turns to Kirk and Spock. Spock maintains that he himself has no secret pain (me either! Again, the idea that we’re defined by one central “bad” event is ridiculous in the extreme). Sybok challenges that assertion, and Spock submits to his procedure. Again, Kirk and now McCoy are witnesses. We see Spock’s birth. A Vulcan male, obviously Sarak, Spock’s father, is presented with his infant son. He grimaces as he beholds the baby (some Vulcan!). “So human,” he hisses. Well, gee, Sarak, maybe you should have “logically” considered that possibility when you married a human woman.
This scene, Sarak’s out of character reaction excepted, is actually kind of neat. As if the fact that as a Vulcan, Spock can remember a trauma from when he was about ten seconds old. It certainly adds shading to Spock’s lifelong quest to subdue his human half. Ultimately, though, it is out of character, and it is in this dumb flick, so it’s not quite the great moment it could have been under other circumstances. Oh, and I’m sure that Spock, who’s rather private about personal matters, is extra glad that Kirk and McCoy were there to witness his dirty laundry. Maybe he’ll go on Ricki Lake next (In fact, doesn’t TV Talk Show Host seems like Sybok’s natural job?).
Sybok now offers to do Kirk. Kirk, however, gives an emotional, hammy speech (well, he is Kirk!) about how he refuses to give up his pain over his past choices. These choices, right or wrong, are what make him who he is, define his humanity, yada yada yada. Of course, this also means that only Kirk is strong willed enough to reject Sybok’s powers. This is one more example of the film being built around the extraordinary heroism and wisdom of Kirk. With the Enterprise now approaching the Great Barrier, Sybok leaves for the Bridge. He tells Spock and McCoy to accompany him. To Sybok’s surprise, Spock refuses, stating that his place is with the Captain. Torn, McCoy takes strength from Spock’s refusal, and stays behind as well. Kirk reiterates that if they attempt to enter the Great Barrier the ship will be destroyed.
Sybok now reveals that he has had a vision from God, who waits on the other side. God has given Sybok instructions on how to get past the Barrier. Kirk is now convinced of Sybok’s madness. After all, “God”, and religion generally, have always been particularly suspect concepts in the Star Trek universe (probably because religion, by design, limits personal autonomy). This was especially true in the early days, when that universe was defined solely by Star Trek creator Gene Roddenbury. It is true that the present handlers of the universe, on Deep Space Nine and Voyager, are slightly more open about religion. But only when it is viewed as a cultural marker, like a society’s music or it’s secular traditions. Author Stephen Carter wrote that America’ s elite is hostile to any religious professions held more deeply than as a “hobby.” This remains, in fact, a central tenet of the Star Trek universe (which is why Christianity in its various permutations has magically ceased to exist by Kirk’s time).
In a rather anticlimactic moment, the Enterprise confronts the Great Barrier, and then pretty much just flies through it. Apparently, no one ever tried it before. Right on the other side (how big was the Barrier? How did they end up in just the right spot?) is the mythical planet that Sybok spoke of. Kirk, Spock and McCoy now join Sybok on the Bridge. Sybok returns control of the ship to Kirk, knowing that now that they’re there, Kirk’s explorer side will take over. Kirk calls for an Away Team (consisting of Kirk, Spock, McCoy and Sybok) to assemble, which will take a shuttlecraft down to the planet.
We cut to another lousy computer animated shot of the shuttlecraft, as it descends through the planet’s atmosphere. All aboard sense the presence of something on the planet, and wear Spielbergian expressions of “awe”. Spock then tells Kirk that some force has taken control of the shuttlecraft. The craft lands on a barren plain, and the crew disembarks. Everyone on the ship and off (except party pooper Kirk) reacts with awe at the sight of the planet (which frankly, isn’t that awesome). The Away Team heads off (where? Got me?) Meanwhile, we see Scottie diligently working on the transporters, which will undoubtedly be fixed just in the nick of time.
We waste some time hiking around the planet. Meanwhile, the Enterprise crew is so “rapt” up (my little joke) that no one notices when the sensors pick up Klaa’ s Bird of Prey (gee, maybe a siren or something would help). And why isn’t the Bird of Prey cloaked? Finally, the foursome on the planet seems to realize that they’re getting nowhere fast (something I figured out five minutes into the movie). They stop, and Sybok calls upon God to appear (actually, why would you have to yell to get God’s attention? Wouldn’t a conversational voice level do as well?). Just when it seems that nothing is going to happen, the sky is blighted and the ground is rent. Giant stone columns thrust up from the earth, creating a circle around our little group. Apparently, God likes to make a showy entrance.
A blue beam of energy bursts from the ground, and the face of God appears (let’s be generous and suppose that this is supposed to reminds us of The Wizard of Oz). He praises Sybok for his tremendous effort, and asks how he managed to pierce the Great Barrier. Sybok tells Him about the Starship. God thinks about this and says that He will use this “Starship” to bring His wisdom back to the galaxy. This brings up a rather obvious point, which (of course) only Kirk seems to figure out. Addressing the All-Mighty, Kirk asks Him, “Why does God need a Starship?” (Are we to believe that not even Spock also thought of this? Spock?! Adding insult to injury, we see Spock standing behind Kirk. At Kirk’s inquiry, Spock lifts an eyebrow, as if to say, “Hey, good one!”) Angered (actually, I guess “wroth” would be the right word) at Kirk’s impudence, “God” proves his omnipotence by shooting out blue beams that knock Kirk onto his ass. Indeed, only the All Powerful Creator of the Universe could knock over a middle-aged fat guy like that. Kirk better shut up before he gets a Celestial Indian Burn.
At this, the jig is up. Everyone now realizes that this being isn’t God (although they all seem to have some pretty wishy-washy ideas of what God is, basically of the “God wouldn’t be mean!” school of theology). In fact, despite his knocking-over and clothes-singeing abilities, this “god” seems rather less powerful than many putative deities we’ve met in the Star Trek universe (“Q”, as an obvious example). This being can’t even seize control of the ship (as a number of others have done before him) unless it moves in closer. Sybok, obviously, is pretty bummed out by the whole not-God deal. His “god” even mocks him by appearing to him as Sybok, apparently implying that Sybok has a bit of an ego problem.
Repentant, Sybok uses his special powers, and “enters” the god, where he is seen wrestling with his alternate self. This is not only stupid, but a rip-off as well. Even I, not exactly a huge fan of the original series, recognize this exact image as coming from an episode of “Classic” Trek. Said episode ends with a guy choosing to wrangle for all Eternity with his hateful alternate universe self, in order to save the Enterprise, or the Universe, or whatever. I can only imagine how irksome it must have been for a real fan of the show to sit through this lame flick, only to be confronted with an ending ripped off from a twenty year old TV episode.
Kirk orders the Enterprise to fire on the “god”. This disrupts the being, but apparently kills Sybok in the process. Meanwhile, no one on the Bridge has yet noticed the sensor reading of the Bird of Prey (this is the finest crew in Star Fleet?). Making it to the shuttlecraft, they find it inoperative. Ominous signs indicate that their false god is slowly pulling himself back together. Kirk calls the Enterprise, and Scotty tells him that the transporters are functioning at partial power. He can pull up only two guys at a time. Kirk orders him to beam up Spock and McCoy immediately.
For no reason other than it was in the script, Scotty has walked away from the transporter controls as Spock and McCoy materialize. Before he can walk back to them, Klaa’s ship opens fire on the Enterprise. (Gee, maybe now they’ll notice it.) The disabled ship lying before him, Klaa demands Kirk as a prisoner. Spock informs him that Kirk is still on the planet (where the remarshaled energy being is starting to cause him some problems). Spock then turns to Klingon Ambassador Korrd, asking for his help (Korrd is nominally Klaa’s superior officer). Korrd replies that he is now just a drunken fool, but Spock tartly demands that he try (exactly why Korrd would try to save Klingon Enemy #1 James T. Kirk is left to our imaginations).
Down on the planet, the fully recharged energy being confronts Kirk, moments away from dealing him a painful death. But just then the Klingon Bird of Prey rises from behind a ridge (what in hell was it doing there?) and blasts the being to oblivion. Kirk expects that his death will now follow, but is beamed aboard instead. Guards take him to the Bridge, where to his amazement (and our apathy) he finds Korrd in command. Korrd not only releases Kirk, but gets Klaa to apologize to him (!!). I assume that after this humiliation, Klaa will ceremonially kill himself later.
But wait, the boring “surprises” aren’t over yet! For it turns out that the gunner that saved Kirk was (chair spinning moment)…Spock! Wow. That’s dumb. Why would you have a Federation Officer handle an alien weapons system when split-second timing was needed. Still, isn’t it cool? (C’mon, play along, would ya?) Apparently, Spock came aboard so that Kirk couldn’t die, as he wouldn’t be “alone” (Remember? Earlier in the movie? When…oh, forget it!). A tearful Kirk starts to hug Spock (?), leading to the immortal line, “Please, Captain. Not in front of the Klingons.”
The “plot” done with, we end with some personality moments. All the main characters, including the crew of the Bird of Prey, party together in the Forward Observation Room (man, they must have loved that set). Scotty and Uhura have a brief last scene, as do Sulu and Chekhov (following a female Klingon while staring at her ass. They “tail” her until she approaches her scowling Captain, then they “comically” swerve away. Apparently, “Tailhook” is forgotten in the future, but Benny Hill lives on). Then we go over to our main men. They have an obliquely emotional talk, discussing God, mourning Sybok, and ultimately acknowledging each other as family (pardon me, I must have a cinder in my eye).
Then, as if we haven’t been tortured enough, the movie still refuses to end. Instead, we cut back to Kirk, Spock and McCoy in Yosemite Park, resuming their shore leave. Spock has his Vulcan Harp (as featured in the original Star Trek series), and proceeds to play (duh) “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”. To our dismay, considering the known fact that Shatner and Nimoy are two of the worst singers ever to torture a tune (and DeForrest Kelly proves to be their woeful equal), they proceed to sing the song again, at greater length than before. The camera pulls back away from them. It’s like in the beginning of John Carpenter’s Halloween. Remember the prolog, when we discover that the murderer is six-year old Michael Myers, and the camera keeps pulling back, as if in horror? Luckily, the signature Star Trek theme arrives to drown out the singing. Thus ends a movie where no man should go again.