Our reviews of Star Trek: The Original Motion Picture Collection (published October 19th, 2009) and Star Trek: The Original Motion Picture Collection (Blu-Ray) (published May 18th, 2009) are also available.
"All I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by."
Is there much left to be said about Star Trek V: The Final Frontier? I don't believe so. Everyone already knows about the odd-numbered curse, Shatner's directing, the lost ending, the poor box office receipts, and the lackluster reviews. Taking that into account, I won't rehash its sordid history…much.
What may or may not be of news to you is the story behind the release of this Collector's Edition DVD. Covered in detail on the disc itself is the tale of the failed ending to the film, but what's only briefly mentioned is the fact that Shatner tried to get extra money to clean up the movie for the disc. Seeing how Star Trek: The Motion Picture on DVD benefited from a little makeover, Shatner wanted a second chance with his baby. He wanted some money from Paramount to clean up the effects and possibly rework the ending, to try and create the ending he originally envisioned.
Fans were highly enthusiastic for this possibility. Could Trek V, the undoubted worst movie of the ten, be made better? Was there any hope? Unfortunately, we'll never know. Paramount refused to give Shatner any money, so the film appears on DVD as it always has. I know I speak for many when I say I would have loved to have given Shatner a second chance.
Facts of the Case
On Nimbus III, the planet of galactic peace, a man has amassed an army. This man, a renegade Vulcan named Sybok, has abandoned his home planet's philosophy of logic over emotion. He embraces his emotions, which has given him the gift to ease other's pain. By doing this, Sybok has created a legion of followers, ready to do his bidding.
Nimbus III is the only place in the galaxy where one will find ambassadors from the Federation, the Klingon Empire, and the Romulan Empire. Knowing this unique fact, Sybok attacks the city where the ambassadors reside and quickly takes them hostage.
On Earth, the majority of the crew of the USS Enterprise is on shore leave: Kirk, Spock, and McCoy are camping in Yosemite while Sulu and Chekov are hiking near Mt. Rushmore. Alas, Scotty and Uhura do not have the luxury of a vacation as they're seeing to repairs on the new Enterprise, a ship "put together by monkeys," according to the Chief Engineer.
Word soon reaches the Federation of the brazen attack on Nimbus III, and Kirk and crew are recalled and sent to the planet to obtain the release of the hostages. But Sybok is exceptionally cunning and brilliant and has foreseen this eventuality. In fact, he has counted upon it, for he wants to steal a starship to get off the planet. For all of his life, Sybok has dreamt of finding the elusive Sha Ka Ri, or Eden as it's known in Earth lore. Sha Ka Ri, the mystical home of God.
Sybok's plan works perfectly, and he and his army are able to quickly repel Kirk's rescue force and ultimately hijack the Enterprise. With his plan unfolding almost perfectly, Sybok takes the Enterprise to the center of the galaxy where he believes he will find Sha Ka Ri. Can Kirk find a way to regain control of his ship or will Sybok succeed in fulfilling his lifelong quest?
Star Trek V is truly one of the most interesting stories in the Trek universe, and, as such, there's so much that one could talk about. But, then again, you probably know more than you realize, so I'll save the stories for another day. Instead, I'm just going to delve into a few general topics about why Trek V fails for me, a Trekkie.
The odd thing about Trek V is that it almost works for me. Through the escape from the Klingons at Nimbus III, I always find myself enjoying the movie. Then the journey to Sha Ka Ri begins, and the movie begins to drift and lose focus. It never quite gels and it ruins the rather credible and solid buildup. Over the years, I've tried to pinpoint what exactly goes wrong, yet I've never been able to put my finger on it. I'm sure you have your own theories out there, so I'll continue with other pressing issues.
Perhaps the greatest injustice in this film is the misrepresentation of the trinity: Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. Every single time I watch this movie, I grind my teeth at the awkward mischaracterizations. They are just wrong, and it's perfectly encapsulated in the opening Yosemite sequence: the forced banter of Kirk and Spock on El Capitan, McCoy talking to himself, and everyone singing campfire songs. It's just patently wrong! It's meant to be a moment of bonding and growth, but it feels more like a betrayal. It's clearly obvious the intention of the scene—which Shatner calls "a perfect Star Trek character piece"—but it misses its mark, terribly so. The people sitting around that campfire may look like Kirk, Spock, and McCoy, but they are not the individuals we've known for the past twenty years.
This next flaw has a clearly detailed history, and it is petty but it is troublesome. Trek V is greatly hindered by its terrible special effects. After the first four movies and the impressive effects from ILM, Trek V has every failure conceivable: lousy matte shots, matte lines, obvious stunt wires, obvious bluescreen work, and more. Instead of helping facilitate the story and immersing you in the Trek universe, the special effects jolt you from the fantasy and remind you that this is all fake, a movie. It's terribly jarring, and it categorically adds to the failure of the film.
Continuing with the petty theme, I've always hated the brig escape scene. First, Scotty is not so dumb as to walk into an obviously low-hanging support beam. This is another clear example of the mischaracterization of our friends. Next, how does Spock get his jet boots? How does he get up the ship faster than Kirk and Bones? If he has a better, faster route, why didn't they all go that way? Lastly, the obvious discrepancy in the deck numbering is horrendous. There are three massive problems here: (1) There are not eighty decks on the Enterprise; (2) The deck numbering system has always been that deck one is on the top of the ship, the bridge; and (3) There are continuity errors (e.g., they go past level fifty-two twice). It's all just a lazy and terribly conceived and edited scene.
I could take the higher road here and not mention the fan dance, but where's the fun in that? Dear, sweet Nichelle Nichols, I'm sorry to say, but contrary to Shatner's declaration that you "have great gams," I did not enjoy your dance on Nimbus III. You may have always "wanted to play to a captive audience," but I dearly wish I was not one of its members. There's just something unnerving about a 56-year-old woman trying to be slinky and sexy onscreen. I'm sorry to have to say that. You tried, but your little routine is a huge joke in Trekdom.
This is but the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the problems with this film. Even though it is the weakest of them all, I will declare that it does hold one of my favorite scenes of all: the escape from Nimbus III. When Kirk and company are on the shuttle and the Klingon is about to attack, I love his bold Plan B. The best part, however, is Chekov's closing line, "Warp speed now!" followed by the Enterprise moving away from the path of the photon torpedo at the last moment. I love that scene.
This second release of Trek V is the latest in the Collector's Edition series from Paramount, and I must admit that this is probably the most feature-rich disc of the bunch. But, before I tackle that, I need to address the transfers. The original disc sported a mediocre, non-anamorphic print. It was decidedly lacking, and it showed its age more than other movies released at that time. With great hope, fans dreamed of a cleaner print, but knew full well that Paramount did little to the video on the double-dip. Holding true to form, this transfer, albeit now an anamorphic print, is a bad as its predecessor. The video is quite disturbing at the opening, with tons of dirt and grain, poor colors, and weak detail. Things do get better as you go along: colors become more realistic, the dirt mostly goes away, and detail comes alive. But, still, the video is lacking and should be far better for this medium. It could be the masters are in sad shape, but Paramount should still work to treat its flagship franchise a bit better. And, a bit better are the audio tracks, which appear to be a straight copy from the first release. Still not a top-of-the-line transfer, the audio has clear dialogue, adequate use of the bass channel, and effective if sparing use of the surrounds.
The true prize on this release is the extremely healthy dose of supplements. I was surprised at the depth and diversity on the discs, going far beyond what I had expected. Though still lacking in a few areas, Trek V has the best extras of any Trek movie on the market. Here's a quick overview of what you'll find:
• Audio Commentary with William Shatner and Liz
Shatner—After a rather nice commentary with Shatner and Nimoy on Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, I expected
Bill to be very up to the challenge and have a ton of information to share on
"his" movie. Unfortunately, I think Bill is getting up there in age
and has forgotten much of what happened. Liz, because she wrote a book based on
her dad's work on the movie, often appears to know more than Bill. I did learn
quite a few interesting things on this track, but it lacks the punch you'd
expect from a man like William Shatner.
The next ten items are all featurettes:
• Herman Zimmerman: A Tribute (19 minutes)—As the title
implies, this is a tribute to the inspired work of production designer/art
director Herman Zimmerman. It's his unique vision that has molded Trek since
Trek V and The Next Generation.
Rounding out the bonus materials are:
• Deleted Scenes (4 minutes)—Here are four scenes that add
a little back into the movie. As I explained above, there is still more material
that wasn't included here…which always annoys me to no end.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
People love to call Trek V Shatner's ego trip. He only agreed to appear in Trek IV if he could direct Trek V, and he got his wish. People around the world blame the failure of this movie on Shatner while Shatner places the blame on Paramount and their tight budget. Who is to blame? Is it one or the other? Is there more to it than this? For what it's worth, they are both to blame and more. Shatner is a man with a huge ego, and Paramount has always been cheap on Trek. Combine those together and it's a concoction destined for disaster. Still, there was a possibility that this film could have worked. It truly would have been fascinating to see if Shatner could have done something more with this film today if he had been given some additional funding. But, we'll never know, and Trek V will forever be known as a great failure, cementing the dreaded odd-numbered curse.
I come back to the original claim that you are fully versed in the history of this film. I'm under the belief that there is little I can do to sway you in your appreciation or disdain for this film, and I don't deny you your stance, as I can see it both ways. But, I must make a recommendation to you all as to what, if anything, you should do in regards to the disc. The saving grace on this release is the plethora of bonus items. Though not all perfect, I found that they combined to paint the most complete picture of a Trek film yet. For that, this disc is recommended, but only as a rental. Casual fans can enjoy learning more about this film, if but only once. Serious fans, I know you'll be out there buying the discs—as I certainly would have—but it's hard to give a full buy verdict. With such a weak video transfer, there's little reason to upgrade from the previous release if you only intend to watch the movie. As such, I stand by my rental recommendation.
Paramount is hereby found guilty of greed. For their refusal to assist in a makeover of this maligned film, they are sentenced to six months on Nimbus III.
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier is hereby found guilty of misrepresentation. By not being true to its characters, this film is sentenced to serve six months in the officer exchange program under Captain Klaa.
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Scales of Justice
• Audio Commentary with William Shatner and Liz Shatner
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