STAR TREK V: THE FINAL FRONTIER
With Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, star of the show William Shatner determined to follow Leonard Nimoys lead and made his directorial debut. Alas, the results were a disaster and The Final Frontier is universally regarded as the worst of the Star Trek films by fans. The problem it ran into was, well, the public perception of William Shatner. William Shatner, for right or for wrong, has a bad reputation in Star Trek fandom. To some extent, it seems that the perception of the character and of the actor have blurred into one and Shatner is regarded as the same would-be lothario that Captain Kirk was in the tv series something that Shatners various well-publicised affairs and the paternity suits launched against him has tended to bolster. By the time of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, Shatners fan image had evolved into that of sadly aging lecher a lot of jokes circulate in Star Trek fandom about Shatners no longer trim weight and his toupee. There are the accusations of being a bad actor, something there is ample proof of in much of his work outside of Star Trek. Then there were William Shatners various ventures into singing, including his notorious covers of Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds and Mr Tambourine Man, both of which were reissued and promoted as the musical equivalents of Golden Turkeys in the 1990s. There were Shatners various ventures as a writer the TekWar series of Cyberpunk adventures, which never amounted to more than an overall mediocrity, but which are reviled by Star Trek fans and frequently (and untrue it appears) regarded as being ghost written. (Shatner even set up a live webcam feed from his home so that people could see him working on his next book to dispel the rumours). And then there were Shatners Star Trek Memoirs books where he made the embarrassing discovery that many of the rest of the original Star Trek cast hated him. The characterisation of Shatner by Tim Allen in GalaxyQuest (1999) would seem to be spot on as far as fan perception of the man goes. Contrarily, Shatner, as he entered his sixties and seventies, managed to turn much of this towards his advantage. In recent years, supporting parts in films like Free Enterprise (1998), Miss Congeniality (2000), Showtime (2001) and several episodes of 3rd Rock from the Sun, show Shatner having developed a remarkable grasp of the public perception of him and starting to choose parts that deliberately play into the public perception of him as a bad ham and a sleaze, something that he played to absolute perfection as Denny Crane in tvs Boston Legal (2004-9), his single finest acting role.
It seemed to confirm the fan perceptions of Shatner as middle-aged lecher, egoist, bad actor and bad writer when he took on Star Trek V: The Final Frontier as director and it too collapsed into abject pretension. As director, Shatner tries to tap into the Star Trek espirit de corps that Leonard Nimoy had polished in the preceding entries. However, where Nimoy had a deft comic hand, Shatner overplays it. The scenes with Shatner, Nimoy and DeForest Kelley sitting around a campfire toasting marshmallows and singing Row, row, row, your boat, and the deadpan Spock not understanding the meaning of Life is but a dream are embarrassing. Again each of the regulars gets the opportunity to have a scene of their own, as Nimoy had established, but here the scenes are conducted with an awkward embarrassment Scotty has become a slapstick teddybear who says I know every inch of this ship and then promptly slams right into a bulkhead, while Sulu and Chekov have a silly scene fighting over getting lost in the wilderness. The worst of these pieces is Nichelle Nichols who is given a supposedly nude dance scene trying to distract natives on the desert planet. The scene seems so out of place as to defy belief, not the least problem of which being that Ms Nichols, who was then at the age of 56, seems to old to be doing such an act any longer.
Certainly, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier has some positive aspects. William Shatner returns to telling a dramatic story rather than, as with Leonard Nimoys films, a show loosely grouped around the comic pieces. Shatner proves a competent enough director, rooting the action amid darkly lit sets and using slick mobile camerawork, which gives The Final Frontier a harder edge in contrast to the spickly polished look of the other Star Trek films and tv series. There is a good opening scene with Lawrence Luckinbill appearing out of the windswept desert to heal farmer Michael Berryman. However, the effectiveness of the scene is wrecked by the laughability of the very next scene with William Shatner climbing El Capitane mountain in Yosemite Park and Leonard Nimoy acting as Spock Superman in jet boots waiting to catch him. The film goes downhill from there.
While Shatner keeps the middle of the film moving, he has poor choice of story. This unfortunately falls back on the creakiest of Star Trek cliches. Sybok is an uninteresting character and Lawrence Luckinbill gives a humdrum performance that lacks in any of the magnetic charisma the character is said to have. The film offers no credible explanation of how Sybok manages to take away the emotional pain he reveals or how he converts people to his side. Clearly the scriptwriters had no idea how something like this would be done and do the equivalent of a conjurers trick, letting it happen unseen offscreen with a dramatic wave of the hand. As storytelling goes, especially when the centre of the film is dependent on it, this simply does not work.
Worst is the journey to ShaKaRee to meet God. Star Trek frequently creates God-like characters Trelane, Apollo and Gary Mitchell in the classic series, VGer in Star Trek The Motion Picture and the appealing character of John de Lancies intergalactic trickster Q in the various modern series. [This has a number of similarities to the animated Star Trek episode The Magicks of Megas-Tu (1973), which had The Enterprise crew visiting the centre of the galaxy and encountering a race of aliens that were figures of The Devil throughout history]. On the other hand, the Star Trek movies have a bad habit of tossing up grandiose mind-stretching concepts resurrection from the dead, giant alien probes, the search for God and, unlike any of the tv series, offering banal and underwhelming treatment of such ideas. And what we end up with here is one of the shaggiest of Star Treks Shaggy God stories. In comparison to the build-up the idea of travelling to the centre of the galaxy to meet God the delivery is woefully underwhelming in the delivery. The effects work is poor with grainy matte lines around the ships. (It is sad when the best work in the film os stock footage from the previous entries). It slips into a woolly Star Trek happy ending Kirk succeeds in outsmarting the God-like creature, political tensions are resolved on a big warm fuzzy and Kirk and McCoy ponder about the meaning of it all We were wondering if Gods really out there, Kirk supposes to McCoy, Maybe Gods in here the human heart, McCoy replies.
The other Classic Star Trek films are: Star Trek The Motion Picture (1979), Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982), Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984), The Voyage Home: Star Trek IV (1986) and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991). Star Trek: Generations (1994), Star Trek: First Contact (1996), Star Trek: Insurrection (1998) and Star Trek: Nemesis (2002) are films based on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Star Trek (2009), Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013) and Star Trek: Beyond (2016) were reboots of the classic series, which recast the classic roles with new faces. The other Star Trek tv series are Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-94), Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1992-9), Star Trek: Voyager (1995-2001), Enterprise (2001-5) and the upcoming Star Trek: Discovery (2017 ).
William Shatners only other ventures as a director have been TekWar (1994), the first of four passable tv movies and later a tv series based upon his series of detective stories set in a Cyberpunk future, the reportedly extremely bad UFO/alien contact film Groom Lake (2002); and the Star Trek documentaries The Captains (2011) about the actors who played the captains in the various series and Get a Life! (2012) and Chaos on the Bridge (2014) about the chaotic early years of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Shatner also wrote and created the tv movie Fire Serpent (2007) about alien fire beings.