Directed by William Shatner
Written by David Loughery
It seemed a little far fetched to me that the Even-Odd Popularity would hold true. For those unfamiliar, it’s a theory that the even numbered Star Trek films are the best ones, while the off numbered ones are the worst. While I trust past film criticism and the opinion of those I trust, it just seems such a strange thing to hold true, yet here we are on the fifth film of the series and I would pretty much say it’s true. The Wrath of Khan and The Voyage Home have been my high points, while along with The Motion Picture and The Search for Spock, The Final Frontier ranks among the worst of the series. Of course, each might have their own reasons for turning out to be bad movies (see my previous reviews for my thoughts). In the case of The Final Frontier, I had a preconceived notion of the film being bad based on William Shatner taking his shot in the director’s chair. As an actor, his version of Captain Kirk has done absolutely nothing for me, so why would his vision of the series behind the camera be any different?
For the first time in the series, it feels as though this doesn’t necessarily pick up right where the last film left off. We find Kirk, Spock, et al. enjoying a vacation in beautiful Yosemite National Park (which is comforting to know maintains its natural beauty 300 years from now). But their shore leave is soon disrupted when word of a hostage situation on the planet Nimbus III comes. Kirk and company are dispatched to the designated peace planet to discover Spock’s long lost half-brother Sybok leading a cult of discarded people who are holding a Romulan, a Human, and a Klingon, in a grand scheme to search the universe for God. After drawing a Federation ship to the planet, Sybok commandeers it for his sensationalist purposes.
I would classify The Final Frontier as more of a disappointment than it was a complete dud because conceptually I think there is a potentially great Star Trek film in the script, but there are too many missteps and lack of control from Shatner as director to really bring the high concepts together in a meaningful way. A search for God? Spock’s long lost half-brother? A peace planet in the middle of the galaxy? I mean these are good ideas, and things I would be interested in exploring, but what we get out of these ideas in the film are all disappointing interpretations unfortunately. The film begins poorly as well with the camping sequence, which is ironically far too campy for my liking. Shody visual effects, corny heroism with Shatner free climbing El Capitan (because he’s the captain, get it!?), lame campfire camaraderie (to go along with the hopelessly lost Chekov and Sulu, and an awkward courting scene with Scotty and Uhura? It reeks of self-importance from Shatner, and childlike vision of who these characters are supposed to be.
I’ll start here talking about Sybok, Spock’s half brother. I don’t get it. He doesn’t make sense. As Spock’s half-brother, he has all Vulcan parents, unlike Spock’s human mother. This is an important detail because Sybok’s behavior is decidedly not Vulcan, as he often fails to follow logic. I like the idea of Spock discovering his brother is still out there, and for us discovering he even has a brother, but it feels shoehorned into this story of a cult leader searching for God. That doesn’t seem like something he would do as a Vulcan. Perhaps having his half-human side driving this exploration would make some sense, but I struggle to throw caution to the wind and trust that Sybok, as a Vulcan, would be driven to find the source of God in the universe. That’s a hard sell for me, even if his posse ends up looking like something out of Mad Max.
So what about the search for God itself? Well, it also doesn’t quite work for me simply based on the visual adventure. I’m going to continue to rag on Shatner here because it shows on screen that he doesn’t have the imaginative touch required to bring this concept to the screen with the technology of 1989. The visual effects look bad, especially when compared to the effects of the previous films. Add to that the ill-defined reveal of “God” himself. I might touch on some spoiler here, but I’m fine with this central power being some con-man, but it still doesn’t explain what truly happened to all the ships that came before the Enterprise. It still doesn’t explain he motives of this con-man. I get it’s not god, that’s fine. It’d be a little far fetched if it was, and I like the idea of searching for god, even if it turns out not to be him, but the version they encounter is just not that well defined, and as a result, not all that interesting either.
The cursory definition of Nimbus III as a peace planet is the least of my gripes, but it’s still a gripe. What went into developing this planet, and what’s more, what went into making Paradise City such a shithole if it’s supposed to be a peace planet/city? It seems like such a throwaway place, and perhaps that’s the point. While it stands for peace, how desolate it is just shows how little peace is really thought of. Also, Uhura’s only real moment is dancing naked upon a mountain top to bring the attention of the simple minded baddies. Pretty poor if you ask me. Poor all around, which is unfortunate with a series that seems to gain momentum only to continuously blow it. At this point, I am starting to feel the episodic nature of a film series based on a television series. Just as any TV series, you will have your good to great episode, you will have the average forgettable episodes, and you will have the truly awful ones you just decide to forget about all together. This is the last of those. Onto The Undiscovered Country in hopes that we get one more good to great episode with this original cast.