Sci-Fi Movie Month: "Star Trek V: The Final Frontier" Review

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The fifth feature film in the iconic sci-fi franchise, The Final Frontier features the original cast members from the previous four films, including William Shatner, who also serves as director for this installment. Set shortly after the events of Star Trek IV, the crew of the USS Enterprise-A prepares to confront a renegade Vulcan, Sybok, who is searching for God at the center of the galaxy.
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Sci-Fi Movie Month: "Star Trek V: The Final Frontier" Review

Rating: PG
Length: 107 minutes
Release Date: June 9, 1989
Directed by: William Shatner
Genre: Action/Adventure/Sci-Fi

A campfire rendition of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" among close friends Capt. Kirk (William Shatner), Spock (Leonard Nimoy), and Bones (DeForest Kelley) bookends "Star Trek V: The Final Frontier," and it is a fitting start and end to the film. The crew of the fabled Enterprise have been together now for decades and are familiar enough to spend their shore leave together camping, even after spending countless years in space with each other. They thoroughly enjoy their campfire that night, which is a good thing since the next day their shore leave gets abruptly cut short.

The powers that be at Starfleet command the crew to get back on their rickety old ship, which admittedly has seen better days, to rescue a set of hostages. A Vulcan by the name of Sybok (Laurence Luckinbill) has taken a human, a Klingon, and a Romulan hostage, threatening to upset the shaky peace between all three of these species. Ironically, he is trying to disturb the intergalactic peace on a planet called Nimbus III, which some refer to as the peace planet. This is a delicate and fairly complex situation that must be diffused as quickly as possible with no casualties. Unfortunately, Sybok turns out to be the half-brother of Spock, which further complicated the entire situation.

Once on Nimbus III, the crew realizes that Sybok took the hostages specifically to get the Enterprise onto the planet, so he could use it to go to the Great Barrier, which he believes to be the center of the universe and also Heaven. It turns out that Sybok is a preacher who believes in God and has amassed a large group of followers. He wants the starship so he can penetrate the barrier, allowing him to meet God and see Heaven for himself. Not everyone is convinced that it is Heaven beyond the barrier, including Kirk, who believes that his ship will be destroyed by the impact of the barrier no matter what lies on the other side. He fights mightily with Sybok for control of the ship, while also wrestling with his own fears about what might lie beyond the barrier.

Shatner had been in the captain's chair for each of the Star Trek movies up to that point, but in "Star Trek V: The Final Frontier," he also sits in the director's chair. After Nimoy had successfully directed the previous two films, it seemed only right to let Shatner have his chance to shine at the helm. Even with a reduced budget for special effects, Shatner does an admirable job tackling a very difficult issue. This is surprising, because his previous directorial efforts had been ten episodes of his 1980s TV cop series "T.J. Hooker," which didn't require the kind of epic scale or special effects that audiences had already grown to expect from a Star Trek film. Despite his lack of experience directing a project of this magnitude, Shatner manages the material and actors well.

Of course, all the credit for the onscreen camaraderie between the actors can't go to Shatner. These actors have worked together on 79 episodes of the original "Star Trek" television series and four previous movies. They are familiar with each other in a way that few groups of actors from such diverse backgrounds will ever manage. The opening campfire scene might be considered cheesy or forced in any other film, but when it is done with these actors portraying such iconic roles, it becomes a lesson in film intimacy. Though a film with a title like "The Final Frontier" sounds like it is going to be the last in the series, fans were lucky enough to see these characters and close friends banter with each other one last time two years later in "Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country."

Anytime a film takes on man's search for God or any deity, the material can be difficult to direct without offending someone or becoming too weighty and ponderous. The film manages to avoid these pitfalls, though it is still highly dramatic. Luckily, there are plenty of one-liners and jokes weaved into the script to balance the film out and give it a touch of levity. Part of this balance lies in Shatner's directing, but some of it is also due to the script by David Loughery, who was working on a story idea that was a collaboration between himself, Shatner, and one other person. This makes "Star Trek V: The Final Frontier" a truly collaborative effort with a high-minded premise that will please fans of the franchise.

Rating: 3 out of 5