Directed by William Shatner… If those four words don’t lift your skirt, you should probably check that you have a pulse. Shatner may have become a jokey self-parody in recent years, but you don’t get to do that without first establishing a strong, charismatic persona that people just can’t ignore. But in 1989, Shatner was yet to shat-ner the bed completely with over saturation of, and over reliance on, his quirks. So when I saw his name pop up on the opening titles of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, I was all of a sudden a lot more interest in what this movie might throw my way.
They’re looking for God, people. Yep, God. That is the kind of hubris that I want from Shatner. Similar to every instalment so far, they begin Frontier as the old, almost put out to pasture crew of an antique ship. Also similar to every other instalment, some contrivance occurs making them the only crew and antique ship up to the mission at hand. You see, Spock’s half-brother, Sybock has built a ragtag group of apostles and taken some other people hostage so he can hijack the star ship sent to save them. Once he has a star ship, he’ll use it to fly to the planet where he thinks creation began. But none of that really matters. What matters is Shatner, Nimoy and everyone else getting to ham their way through philosophical debates, physical set pieces and general absurdery.
The Final Frontier had a tough job. Coming off the triple punch of Wrath of Kahn, The Search for Spock and The Voyage Home, it would be a tough ask for any movie to follow that saga. And unfortunately, this isn’t up to the job. Shatner definitely brings a sense of fun that I didn’t see in the movies leading up to this, but it just misses the mark in too many ways. Also, the effects, never a strong suit in the Trek series, may be even more on the nose than usual. When they finally meet “God”, it looks like the same effects for Oz, before he’s found out behind the curtain. Impressive in 1939, not so much half a century later.
Five movies in, I really do wonder how necessary the regulars are. Like all the others before (besides The Voyage Home), The Final Frontier cruises along nicely when concerned with the core trio, Kirk, Spock and McCoy. Whenever we stop down to give Chekov, Uhura, Sulu or Scotty something to do, it feels like the movie jamming on the brakes. But I think Star Trek V: The Final Frontier was really summed up perfectly by George “Sulu” Takei, who said the biggest challenge of the film, “was learning to ride horses”. I think there’s something in that for all of us. Don’t you?