The year is 1989; 10 years after Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Rumor is, this is the final Star Trek movie. I’m 17 and I have a brainwave. I thought, for the tenth anniversary, I should see if my grandfather wanted to see the last Star Trek movie; a celebration since he had taken me a decade before. Together we journeyed back into the Final Frontier one more time. What’s funny in retrospect is that my grandfather and I would spend time together from 11:30pm until 1am many nights in my youth because he liked The Honeymooners and I liked Star Trek and they aired back to back every night. So off we went for that magical trip. How could I not love Star Trek V? People complain about it, but it’s one of the deepest of the Trek movies. They all had heart, but the bond between Kirk, Spock and McCoy has never been stronger. There are a million great lines, often punctuated by a look from Jim. But this movie is about us. Not a look at humanity as a whole, but each of us individually. Shatner didn’t give us an action packed movie, he gave us a thinking, feeling movie. I don’t love everything about it; the Nimbus III stuff is all dreadful, but the bond between the characters steals the show and I can turn a blind eye to all that other stuff.
By this movie, it’s pretty evident that McCoy just loves teasing Spock and their relationship has become playfully antagonistic. “I liked him better before he died!” I don’t love all the jibes, but I can relate to them as I have more than one friend with whom these playful teases happen regularly. McCoy even says “I insult him and he takes it as a compliment.” He knows full well how Spock will react to it. Kirk on the other hand expresses such a connection to his friends that he admits that he always knew he would not die if they are with him; he’d only die alone. Spock, that “emotionless” Vulcan, saves Kirk with that superb line “you were never alone” (paired with the hilarious line as Kirk goes to hug him: “please sir. Not in front of the Klingons.”) Scotty says he can’t come to see something with Uhura because Kirk asked him to get something done “and I’m not about to let him down.” When Spock is in the brig with Kirk, he’s told he betrayed everyone on the ship. Spock says, “worse. I betrayed you.” McCoy even defends Spock a few times during this scene and it’s evident how they feel about one another. These aren’t people who work together, these people are a family.
Are there mistakes? Sure. Physics is ignored as Kirk falls from the mountain as the jet-propelled Spock has a hard time catching up with him. When he does, somehow Spock is still facing down, but holding Jim off the ground… it’s a weird scene, but it is funny. My #1 worst mistake: Spock, Kirk and McCoy have to climb the turbolift shaft since the lift is out of commission. Spock runs off. When Kirk realizes he’s missing and asks where Spock is… he comes from above! You mean there was a way to get above without the long climb?? The thing is, it’s such a fun moment in the movie, you have to just laugh. And let’s not forget that the Enterprise is under repair when sent on this mission. My wife, who wasn’t watching but was in the room, asked: why not just give Jim another ship if it’s him they need? (I do think my wife is Vulcan!)
But who cares? The messages are too important to turn down. The bond of friendship is the “goal” of the story. But the other messages are no less important! Do you know how many times have I referred back to Kirk’s “I want my pain… I need my pain”? It’s not that I want to be hurt, but that we need to remember those moments to help us make better decisions in the future. It’s why failure is a good thing: we learn and grow. No person can achieve greatness without occasional failures and you don’t “wave them away with a magic wand”. You take them and forge a better future. As for the personal stuff, Kirk acknowledges that he “lost a brother once. I was lucky I got him back.” Spock too acknowledges that he is no longer the outcast; he has found his place and accepts imprisonment over freedom because he is loyal to his friends. (And what a great scene that is! “Stand back?!?!”) On the subject of Spock, it is interesting seeing his birth when his father says “So human” but after the last movie, that “pain” probably holds little sway over him namely because Sarek essentially told Spock he was wrong to doubt his son. Spock overcomes Sybok’s influence very quickly and I think it’s because of the events of the previous movie, which is a nice bit of probably unplanned continuity.
Meanwhile the “planet of galactic peace” again shows us the changes coming between the Romulans, Klingons and Federation. Nothing is locked in yet, but we are making progress. It’s been a long road. Peace always is. But with Spock’s help, a Klingon reestablishes his place and his honor and the Enterprise is even host to a small gathering, Klingons included. As for the main thrust of the story, that of finding God… well, Kirk may be right. That’s an internal thing and recognizing that is the only way to find peace. The story ends with Kirk, Spock and McCoy at Yosemite Park, where the movie began. I think if the whole movie took place there, I’d have loved it. The friendship carries the movie through any flaws people like to point out about it. Is it the best? No, but by God does it deliver some practical messages about life. And in the end, isn’t that what Star Trek is all about?
I remember looking over at my grandfather while watching the movie and found him sound asleep. And that was ok; he already knew the messages about family, friendships, loyalty and love; he lived them every day. And I knew he had no real interest in what was on the screen; he wasn’t a fan…. Well, not of Star Trek. He was a fan of his grandson and just being together was all that mattered to him. And you know what? Me too! I saw this movie two more times in the theater but it never beat that first time, celebrating 10 years since we saw the first movie together. It may not be logical to love this one so much, but I think we all know: Logic is the beginning of wisdom, not the end of it. My grandfather had already taught me that long before we ever got to the theater. ML
The view from across the pond:
Well, I can see why the fans think the odd-numbered Star Trek movies aren’t as good as the even-numbered ones, although I don’t think the difference is quite as marked as rumour would have us believe. The Final Frontier is a bunch of tired old sci-fi ideas cobbled together, but you could say something similar about any of the movies so far. In fact, I can only think of one truly original idea over the course of these five films, and that was a whale from the past being brought into the future to have a chat with a space probe, which is quite frankly a rubbish idea anyway, so originality isn’t everything. It has just taken me a bit by surprise. I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting from these movies, but it certainly wasn’t a run of television episodes stretched out to movie length with a few extra jokes and the main characters frequently saying how much they like each other. All of that is welcome, and it is progress from where we were with Trek in the 60s, but this is all oddly unambitious for a movie franchise. And I don’t count modern special effects as meaningful progress, sorry.
Let’s take a look at the mishmash of ideas that make up this film. We have Spock’s long-lost brother (yawn), turning out to be an emotional conspiracy theorist cult leader (most illogical). We have Sybok replaying much of the plot of The Wrath of Khan, capturing a damaged Enterprise. Considering how many scrapes Kirk has got out of in the past, I didn’t really buy that he would be able to do that and then hold the ship with a few unwashed for so long, although I loved the whole sequence of Scotty rescuing Kirk and Spock from confinement. OK, the wall he blasted through was amusingly thin, and the tunnels were nearly as big as the corridors, oh, and despite that Scotty still managed to knock himself out for the sake of a cheap joke, but yeah, it was fun. Not as fun, though, as the remarkable sight of William Shatner climbing a mountain. I must say that watching free climbing brings me out in a sweat, even if it is the absurd sight of a slightly rotund actor who is pushing 60 halfway up a sheer cliff face.
What else? Sybok tried to take away the pain that was locked away in the hearts of McCoy, Spock and Kirk. I could really have done without the flashbacks to the miserable past with McCoy euthanising his father and Spock being rejected by his father for being “so human”. I’m surprised he didn’t reject him for being ludicrously large for a newborn baby. I’m not surprised the poor woman was screaming, trying to squeeze out giant sumo Spock baby. But I was delighted when Kirk didn’t want to play Sybok’s game, saying that he wanted to keep his pain because he needs it, the closest point this movie came to having something interesting to say about the human condition.
Then we had the Klingons, which really added very little to the story other than a fairly lame sense of jeopardy, and interminable scenes with a subtitled made up sci-fi language just in case anyone was in any doubt that this is a MOVIE FOR NERDS!!! I can’t tell you how much I hate it when writers think that (a) subtitled aliens are cool, or (b) their viewers are so stupid that they won’t understand the convention of aliens speaking English in films. Finally, we had the crossing through an impenetrable barrier which turned out to be quite penetrable actually, and then yet another iteration of a false god in Star Trek. This one was particularly amusing, because he was so useless. Normally the only point to these god-like entities is their near-omnipotence, which provides an added frisson of fear and danger, but this “god” couldn’t even find a way off his own planet, and had to try to nick a spaceship. He was also killed very easily with a few shots fired by a starship. But I did really enjoy Kirk calling his bluff almost immediately, by asking one difficult question:
“What does God need with a starship?”
I suppose the problem I have with this movie is the same as I find in far too much sci-fi. It’s written to impress teenage boys, and that applies to every last detail of this one, from the rocket shoes to the slight edginess of a strip club in space. Just about everything I have discussed in this review is the sort of stuff that is designed to make teenage fans go “cool”, before returning to their book on how to speak Klingon. It’s not my world. The one big thing in its favour is that it never takes itself too seriously, and that makes this a watchable movie, but I had hoped for something a bit more than “watchable” from these six movies and haven’t really found it. One to go to change my mind. There had better be something worth discovering in that undiscovered country… RP