Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (2 out of 5 stars)

Star Trek IV was a smash and Nimoy had created the story and directed the film. Trying to be a good friend, he diplomatically pointed out to a devastated William Shatner, whose ego was self-destructing, that the “favoured nations” clause in their contracts could be interpreted to mean that for each film Nimoy directed, Shatner could direct one too. With carte blanche from a happy studio sitting on a pile of Star Trek cash from the last three movies, Shatner set to work on The Final Frontier.

Unlike The Voyage Home, the Star Trek movie for people who didn’t like Star Trek, this was going to be for the fans. And unlike the last two installments, which had established the seven regulars as a gang of friends who work together to solve mutual problems, this film was going to go right back to the television series and focus on Kirk, Spock and McCoy, with odd bits and pieces for whichever other actors were hanging around. And although all of this was conceived in the shadow of the increasingly successful and well-regarded new show, no heed at all was paid to what was happening on Monday nights in syndication (apart from the re-use of some Enterprise corridor sets).

What was Shatner’s big idea? The one that Roddenberry had been dicking about with for ages, the Enterprise meeting God. Give us strength.

What’s good about this? Well, as director, Shatner’s shot-making isn’t half bad. Compared to the rather ordinary-looking Star Trek IV, the opening scenes on Nimbus III are splendid, and the Secret Pain scenes are very stylishly mounted. In fact, given the material the director has been handed, there aren’t any really serious mis-steps in the production, apart from a few ropey-looking effects. Then again, not all the casting comes off. They wanted Sean Connery to play Sybok, and the actor they got has nothing of his magisterial charisma. David Warner is fun but will be iconic next time round. As noted, almost none of the “second tier” regulars get much – and sometimes when they do, I rather wish they hadn’t, as more often than not they’re being demeaned, undermined or used for cheap gags. The Motion Picture theme (now much more associated with TNG) is back and in general Jerry Goldsmith’s music is pretty good, and Nimoy and Kelley are as fine as ever – in fact this is probably the best cinematic outing for McCoy.

But the rest of it? Structurally it’s a mess with tedious early scenes on Nimbus III and in Yosemite that go nowhere, it grinds to a halt in the middle with the fascinating but ultimately barely-relevant Face Your Pain segment, and the money runs out at the end so we conclude with a whimper rather than a bang. Far too many ideas are overfamiliar from previous outings and Shatner is so keen to rewrite the Kirk-is-old-now narrative established three movies ago that he shoots himself clambering up a sheer face of the aptly-named El Capitan. Lol. He doesn’t realise the gravity of his situation. Rofl.

Choppily edited, indifferently acted and tonally uncertain, with comedy beats that elicit more cringing than laughter, this muddle of a film staggers from mis-conceived scene to mis-conceived scene in ways that make me miss the sluggish but consistent Motion Picture. If it weren’t for the success of TNG I doubt there would have been a Star Trek VI, especially given that Shatner’s film barely made its money back. Reportedly, the director’s preferred two-hour cut was shorn of 15 minutes by studio suits and producer Harve Bennett, although time is still found for an interminable rendition of “Row Row Row Your Boat” round the old camp fire. Those scenes of “secret pain” are great (in writing, filming and acting) but they play as if ten minutes of a much better movie has been edited into the second act of this one. Those ten minutes earn both of the two stars I’m giving this very uninteresting film.

Trekaday 026: Time Squared, The Icarus Factor, Pen Pals, Q Who, Samaritan Snare, Up the Long Ladder
Trekaday 028: Manhunt, The Emissary, Peak Performance, Shades of Gray