Monday, April 21, 2014

Film Review: STAR TREK V: THE FINAL FRONTIER (1989, William Shatner)

Stars: 3 of 5.
Running Time: 107 minutes.

Tag-line: "Why are they putting seatbelts in theaters this summer?"  [Why, indeed?!]
Notable Cast or Crew: William Shatner, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, Walter Koenig, David Warner (TITANIC, TRON, TIME BANDITS), Laurence Luckinbill (COCKTAIL, THE BOYS IN THE BAND), Spice-Williams Crosby (famed stuntwoman, THE LOST BOYS, FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, BATMAN & ROBIN).  Music by Jerry Goldsmith (ALIEN, POLTERGEIST, GREMLINS).
Best One-liner:  "Damn it, Spock!  God damn it!"

Though STAR TREK V: THE FINAL FRONTIER could easily be remembered as the STAR TREK movie where Spock zips around in roller-blade rocket boots or the STAR TREK movie where Uhura puts the moves on Scotty, it should mostly be remembered as the STAR TREK movie where Captain Kirk kills God.  Allow me to elaborate.

Leonard Nimoy helmed STAR TREKS III and IV, and apparently watching his fellow cast-mate take the Director's chair inspired William Shatner to take a stab at one himself.  Already a veteran director– of exactly 10 episodes of T.J. HOOKER, that is– Shatner steps into the role like many actors who find themselves directing for the first time:  with a combination of utter sincerity, greenhorn amateurism, and a tremendous attention to detail- where acting specifics are concerned.  As such, the story, too (co-written by Shatner) is incredibly ambitious, often naïve, and grandly metaphysical, like the work of a college student who just took Philosophy 101 and is bursting with ideas- some of them fresh, some groan-worthy. 

With all that in mind, I would now like to examine my five favorite elements of this much-maligned fifth STAR TREK film:

#1.  The go-go dancing, three-breasted cat-woman.  

It must be noted that portions of this film take place on a desert planet, a poor man's Tatooine or Arrakis, you know, one of those planets where everybody wears a burlap sack and nobody has any fun.

On this planet (Nimbus III), there is a dive bar– and you all know I'm a sucker for dive bars. 

Inside this dive bar (nay, on this dive bar's bar) a three-breasted cat-woman lazily go-go dances

as the patrons sip their drinks and pretend not to look, afraid that eye contact will result in a community-theater-quality version of "Memory,"

and indeed I am absolutely certain that they swiped that costume from the wardrobe department of a regional production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's CATS.

Now, though this three-breasted woman predates TOTAL RECALL (1990) and comes after VICIOUS LIPS (1986, yet another movie to feature a three-breasted alien), I'm going to go ahead and say that TOTAL RECALL remains the cultural touchstone we most widely associate with three-breasted alien women.  Therefore, I would like to analyze the spectrum of human interest, using a Venn diagram to demonstrate that STAR TREK V truly has something for everyone:

I learned how to make a Venn diagram in Microsoft Office just so I could show this to you.  I hope you appreciate it.

#2.  David Warner.

Seems like everywhere you go, David Warner's around there someplace. Whether he's rocking out to Vanilla Ice, disapproving of folk dancing on Billy Zane's behalf, giving Stacey Keach a hair transplant, offering Neve Campbell acting pointers, psychoanalyzing Sam Neill, hunting lovable vampires, or smarmin' it up in a purple suit.  Like a bad penny, he always turns up– but unlike a bad penny, he's capable of delivering an engaging, nuanced performance.  (How proud I am to have enriched the English language with the brilliance of that sentence.)

He doesn't have a whole lot to do here, and when we first meet him, he looks pretty hung over:

When we last see him, he's all buttoned up and having a fine time at a Klingon cocktail party:

so I guess we've been through some kind of a hero's journey with him. 

#3.  Uhura reveals her true feelings for Scotty.

It would take too long and wouldn't really be worth it to explain what's happening there, but suffice it to say, Spock's half-brother (Laurence Luckinbill) is sending hippie vibes all over the Enterprise and it's like all those episodes from the original series where every other week somebody known for no-nonsense professionalism (Spock, McCoy, etc.) suddenly lets their hair down and gets wacky for twenty minutes or so before coming to their senses.  I always liked those episodes– it was like STAR TREK was momentarily hijacked by a soap opera.

#4.  The aforementioned rocket boots.

Are they stupid?  Yes.

Are they out of place in a movie that spends most of its run-time tackling the nature of spirituality with a straight face?  Assuredly.

Are they implausibly put to use on a regular basis?  Indubitably.

Do I love them?  Of course I do.

#5.  William Shatner vs. God.

I can already tell what you're thinking– how can William Shatner fight himself?  Well, contrary to William Shatner's opinion, I do not believe that William Shatner is, in fact, God.  Let's get to the bottom of this:  **SPOILERS ABOUT THE NATURE OF THE UNIVERSE TO FOLLOW**

So Spock's half-brother leads the Enterprise and her crew to the center of the galaxy to meet the being who many Earthlings, Vulcans, etc. have worshipped as "God" or "The Creator" or what-have-you.  The journey has some nice theosophical moments– mostly silly, sure, but occasionally it stumbles upon the subversive or the profound.  Anyway, they get to God:

who can change forms, but appears most comfortable as a giant blue head with fake eyebrows and a cheap Santa Claus beard.

Spock's half-brother is pretty excited to meet his maker, but the rest of the gang is fairly doubtful.  Note that Spock and McCoy appear uncomfortable/slightly dazed, whereas Kirk is peacocking, arms akimbo, already trying to upstage God.  Well, hold on to that thought.

God wants to borrow their spaceship, which seems perfectly reasonable until the 'Shat steps up to the plate, ready to poke a deity-sized hole in this religious experience:
"Excuse me."

 "What does God need with a starship?"

Now, to be fair, God kinda reacts like the God of the Old Testament would and shoots 80s lightning out of his eyes to smite the 'Shat:

which is sort of one of the best things I've ever seen.  Also, note that Shatner lives, and is thus invulnerable to smiting (which also explains the longevity of his music career).

We then get a cutaway to the Enterprise bridge so that Uhura and David Warner and some characters we don't really care about get to react with concern:

And then, with the look of an amazingly pouty teenager, the 'Shat asks (rhetorically?) "Why is God angry?" while McCoy looks on in shocked amazement.

Anyway, Shatner calls an airstrike in on God

and the Enterprise zaps a space torpedo down below which blows God up real good.

 Now I know that the takeaway here is probably that this bearded spirit was a con-man energy creature of some variety (he's skeptically referred to as "God" in the end credits), but who's to say– in the STAR TREK universe, anyway– that through his galaxy-wide psychic influence, he wasn't the being worshipped as a deity by much of mankind?
So my point is this: Kirk and crew regroup and the 'Shat says, "Let's get out of here."

I feel as if this was a MAJOR missed opportunity for a God-related action movie one-liner.  I shall now conclude this review with my Top Ten blasphemous one-liners that would have worked better for Shatner in this scene than a bland "Let's get out of here":

X.  (pithily murmured)  Oh, for God's sake...
IX.  God damn... yourself!
VIII.  Thy will be done– I blew ya to kingdom come!
VII.  Damned... with torpedoes!
VI.  Oh, Thank God... NOT!
V.   I believe it was Voltaire who said, 'If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him'... and then blow his ass to Broadway!
IV.  Who's a holy ghost now?
III.  Now that's what I call an eye for an eye!
II.  Talk about a baptism by fire!
I.  Heavens to Betsy!

And that's about all there is to say about that.  Three stars!

–Sean Gill


Franco Macabro said...

I remember seeing this in theaters and being a bit shocked (as the christian that I was. I know a lot of people think this is the worst of the Star Treks, but I like it because of how funny it is, sure its about God and all that, which I thought was a pretty good concept (delivered in a cheesy manner for sure) but I also found it to be kind of light and funny...I guess as a counter measure to the heavy issues it was adressing.

Sean Gill said...


Yeah, I definitely enjoyed it much more than the popular consensus. I think the cheesiness and humor work in its favor- if it had taken itself too seriously with all the metaphysical posturing, it might have become dull, or worse.

Cannon said...

"You do not understand me, Captain. Sybok, also, is a son of Sarek."

"He's your BROTHER brother?! You made that up."

"I did not."

"You did too. Sybok-couldn't-possibly-be-your-brother-because-I-happen-to-know-for-a-fact-that-you-don't-have-a-brother!"

"Technically, you are correct. I do not have a brother."

"You see?!"

"I have a half-brother."

..."I've got to sit down." *sits down*

^^My favorite part. Well, that and...


"Yes, Spock?"

"Life is not a dream."

"Go to sleep, Spock."

"Yes Captain."

...Oh, and the scene where Kirk addresses a view-screen message from Starfleet Command while wearing a shirt that says, Go climb a rock.

Sean Gill said...


You're right, there's some great Spock/Kirk banter in this one, and all the outdoorsy stuff– campfire tales and roasted marshmallows and 'Go Climb a Rock' t-shirts- feels bizarre in a STAR TREK, and I welcome it wholeheartedly.