STAR TREK V: THE FINAL FRONTIER - Collector's Edition (1989)
List price: $29.99
Street date: October 14, 2003
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STAR TREK V has always been brilliant contradiction for me. The film suffers from a lot of problems: a superficial Klingon subplot; a cheesy ending; gaps in logic; stodgy visual effects; oh, and Uhura’s electrocution hair. Yet it’s also been one of the most likely TREK tapes to find its way into the VCR over the years. There’s something endearing about THE FINAL FRONTIER, a charm that reaches beyond the cheap sets, some bad jokes, a disjointed ending, and the bad Klingons. Despite the common wisdom that STAR TREK V is the worst TREK movie, I’ve always had the slightest inclination to tell detractors appropriately, go climb a rock
STAR TREK V proves to be a challenging film—it’s a a lot harder to recognize its assets than to document its many failures, and let's face it, criticizing it is almost like kicking a sick horse. At the heart of Shatner’s opus is the seed of a really good idea: exploring the human search for spiritual meaning only to find that God is one of those pesky immortals glimpsed so often in the original series. Yet somehow when a giant face chases Kirk in this movie, audiences cringe; and when similar silliness occurs in the old episodes it is “classic” and “a product of its time.” In fact, STAR TREK V is a rather intellectual film, using the allegory of the different species to represent the different religions on Earth (well expounded when they all gaze at the sight of the God planet and utter the collective awe of their respective cultures). The quest for one’s creator is also the subject of another STAR TREK film, THE MOTION PICTURE; and spiritualism permeates most of THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK. So Shatner’s story doesn’t diverge from what’s already been established in the TREK universe and yet somehow people have always derided the idea.
Juxtaposing this cosmic search to the bonds between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy, STAR TREK V presents the best characterization of their relationship in any of the features. Who doesn’t love the campfire scenes and McCoy’s classic “I liked him better before he died!”? Mortality is quintessentially at issue here, with Kirk climbing El Capitan and McCoy scoffing every step. This film really shows the three characters working together as comrades and friends in way none of the other films do. Kirk is usually treated as the typical heroic figure but here Shatner imbues in him a thoughtfulness we haven’t seen before. The best scene in the movie is between Sybok and the triumvirate in the observation lounge, and Kirk demonstrates his leadership through the kind of intellectuality we’ve come to expect from Jean-Luc Picard and rarely see from the character in the feature films. When he tells Sybok, “I don’t want my pain taken away, I need my pain!” the film undoubtedly strikes gold.
The journey of these three characters is completely linked throughout the film, and in fact, they’re never apart. They camp, they get captured, they’re thrown in the brig, they face Sybok, they face God. The notions of family and brotherhood are very well treated and Kirk’s emotional admission about losing a brother is just a wonderful moment that you don’t get elsewhere. Kirk’s feelings for his son in II and III just don’t have the same significance as those for his friends, especially considering the trials they’ve all been through in the features. It’s in this final scene that the movie’s quest for God has really been a quest for ourselves and it’s beautifully executed with the Kirk, Spock, McCoy storyline.
Unfortunately, all these wonderful themes poke out from behind a sloppy production. There are all sorts of inconsistencies (like deck 52, 64, 52 again in the turbo shaft sequence), the Klingons are laughable, the visual effects are transparent, the set pieces are flimsy. There are certainly a number of problems in the script for this movie, but the highly-publicized tight budget didn’t help matters. Shatner had to abandon several scenes, including an entire ending sequence due to budgetary constraints. The last act desperately tries to be meaningful but completely falls apart after the photon torpedo (which the heroes are able to survive at point-blank range?) blasts the God hall—one of the least credible sets in any of the movies (please tell me why the sky would be claustrophobically pitch black)—to smithereens.
Could Shatner have remedied many of these problems with more money and some computer-generated magic? Possibly, but there would still be issues with the cartoonish Klingon subplot, questionable scientific accuracy, and clear production gaffes, and I don’t personally think adding a bunch of “rock men” chasing Kirk up the mountain would improve things one bit. In the end, STAR TREK V has a lot to say and really tries hard to say it, even accomplishing this feat from time to time. But its aspirations of grandiose storytelling just couldn’t match up against the budgetary restrictions of the studio and the inexperience of its director.
The Technical Side
For a collector’s edition DVD, the transfer of this film is just disappointing. I never saw the previous DVD release, but this print is rife with celluloid artifacts from the very first frames and throughout the rest of the picture. Couldn’t they have cleaned it up a little better?
This latest collector’s edition DVD has both an audio commentary with Shatner and his daughter Lisabeth, who documented the production of the film, and the now familiar Mike and Denise Okuda
text commentary. For all the controversy surrounding the film, Shatner’s commentary is really disappointing. He remarks that many scenes had to be got in just a single take due to time, and toward the end makes reference to various “battles” that he lost in the process. Shatner does muster some description of his underlying vision for the film, but he just doesn’t seem all that enthused to talk about it. Some of the more interesting segments come toward the middle of the film, when he recounts objections that both DeForest Kelley
and Leonard Nimoy
raised about their character arcs in the film.
Lisabeth’s role seems mostly to either reminisce about experiences with a distinct “you had to be there” flavor and to prompt her father to say something noteworthy about a particular shot from time to time, to which he usually says that he had “forgotten” about that. Shatner mentions several times that he was unable to accomplish what he envisioned, such as when he points out that the yeoman (his other daughter) in the first act takes his coat and then walks aimlessly around the bridge as part of a failed joke that there’s nowhere to hang a coat on the bridge of the Enterprise. There aren’t really any fireworks here, but it’s nonetheless a competent effort with enough behind the scenes details to make listening worth it, just not very entertaining.
The text commentary is mostly average, as usual, pointing out reused sets and getting in plenty of references to the other STAR TREK series, as well as poking fun at obvious continuity problems in the script. It’s hard listening to the running commentary and catching all these bits at the same time, so do yourself a favor and save this one for when you can watch the movie at full volume.
The Deleted Scenes
This DVD comes with four deleted scenes totaling about 4:17. All are rough cuts full of grain and have no accompanying explanation. The matte painting of an African-American female president’s head added to Mount Rushmore is intriguing and a long Klingon/Romulan ambassador conversation is quaint. You’ll be glad they took out the Spock’s Pain scene (Nimoy’s acting is painful to watch here) and there’s a rather indistinct desert scene with Sybok approaching Paradise City. None of these are really all that interesting and you’ll have to have listened to the commentary to have any clue about why they were filmed or why they were taken out.
THE STAR TREK UNIVERSE begins with a TRIBUTE TO HERMAN ZIMMERMAN, who got his start with the franchise on TNG and did the production design for this movie. Most of the nineteen minute documentary contains a new interview with Zimmerman and others with his colleagues who appropriately praise him. There are plenty of shots of Zimmerman working on location during the picture, but the interview hardly touches on the film at all, instead focusing on his career as a whole. It would’ve been nice to have Shatner talk about Zimmerman’s work on the film, but at least producer Harve Bennett
shows up to make a few references to the designer’s work on STAR TREK V.
Next is an ORIGINAL INTERVIEW with Shatner. Clocking in at fifteen minutes, this thing should’ve been cut down to 5:00, as the flannel-clad director talks about the Yosemite National Park sequences from atop a rock in the park. There is some good introspection here about the purpose behind the rock-climbing sequence but much like the movie, Shatner seems unable to articulate what is obviously an inspired idea in effective fashion. The interview has a tendency to ramble and repeat itself, and no effort was taken to cut out the muffled interviewer’s prompts (which we can’t discern) or even the camera man’s errant hand covering the lens one time! Shatner is either brilliant or insane when he starts talking about climbers “making love to the rock”; you can be the judge.
COSMIC THOUGHTS is a twelve minute affair with various notables (Ray Bradbury, Eugene Roddenbery, Jr., theologians, authors, activists et al) reflecting on the spiritual themes of the film and pretty much drawing out the underlying superb theme in an otherwise shoddy production. THAT KLINGON COUPLE provides a thirteen minute new joint interview with actors Todd Bryan
and Spice Williams
(‘Klaa’ and ‘Vixis’). The two recall their stint as the Klingons of the moment and genuinely seem undisturbed by the fact that their characters in the film are generally regarded poorly. The program does include a deleted scene explicating the two’s subtextual romance, but they talk over it so you can’t make heads nor tails of it. Why wasn’t this included in the deleted scenes gallery?
A GREEN FUTURE? rounds out the STU featurettes with remarks from a Native American activist, a park ranger at Yosemite, and some of the figures from other featurettes. It’s nine minutes long and centers on the idea of showing that Yosemite is alive and well in the 23rd century. There’s nothing very surprising here and it could’ve been rolled into another program.
The next major section is PRODUCTION, which begins with the completely worthless HARVE BENNETT’S PITCH. This was supposedly the producer’s video pitch to the Paramount sales team regarding the movie. Bennett is just ad libbing and stumbling here, looking hardly believable when he proclaims the movie better than STAR TREK IV. This just reeks of digging up whatever garbage they could to fill out the 4-hour bonus material sticker on the product’s front cover. Other painful segments in this area include the MAKE-UP TESTS and PRE-VISUALIZATION TESTS, which have some interesting footage but ultimately are hard to watch. The make-up test feature is just a string of several alien tests and some of the principals with no sound and it takes ten minutes to get through it. The latter shows some of the early model tests for eventual FX shots and you really get a feeling of “no wonder the effects are so horrible” by watching this.
Buried in here is the single best part of the entire extra feature line-up, a thirty-minute all-encompassing documentary called THE JOURNEY. This includes new interviews with all the major players: Shatner, Bennett, screenwriter David Loughery, producer Ralph Winter, Nimoy et al. We get a pretty good take on the project as a whole, beginning with story development and the problems Shatner and Bennett encountered in this stage, all the way through a nice retelling from Shatner about how the budget simply ran out when it came time for the “rock man” finale sequence. Just about everybody is pretty honest here, more so than anywhere else on the DVD, about the fact that the movie just didn’t accomplish what they wanted it to. Shatner blatantly states that the one rock man suit they finally had made was flat out embarrassing and the ending—which he had envisioned as a transmogrification of the surface of Sha Ka Ree into a scene from Dante’s INFERNO—had to be abandoned. There’s also some great behind the scenes footage on creating the rock climbing illusion for the picture’s opening, which was accomplished quite well with a fake wall in a parking lot at Yosemite. David Loughery sort of apologizes for Uhura’s sing and dance routine by saying it was an offhand joke that the limitations of the production necessitated turning into an actual scene in the film.
ROCKMAN IN THE RAW reveals just how lucky we are that the original ending was scrapped. As Shatner and the others admitted, the suit just didn’t work and this test footage with completely silly music is great to see from a fan perspective. One can only imagine that with computer technology, perhaps Shatner’s INFERNO idea could’ve been rendered on this DVD, but it most certainly couldn’t have been done with this lame $350,000 suit.
It goes from bad to worse with a recording of the press conference conducted for the film on the last day of principal photography. Much like the movie, the event is pretty unorganized, the producers are dressed horribly, and the actors stumble over their words during an awkward introduction. Shatner sticks around and talks about the film for about ten minutes and you’re left feeling that this project just couldn’t do anything right.
The ARCHIVES offer a musically orchestrated photo gallery full of behind the scenes stills from the picture, which is set to music and actually a nice little bonus. The storyboard gallery, however, requires manual navigating and it’s just not really worth it. These have become a necessity on any DVD but they’re not very exciting. The ADVERTISING for the film is also included—two trailers and a horde of television spots. Again, nothing very interesting here but completists can be happy.
After nearly fifteen years, STAR TREK V has largely come to be thought of as an “unfinished” film. With this collector’s edition DVD, I think we can safely say that it is now a finished, and forever flawed entry in the TREK mythos. The DVD tries to make up for a mediocre film with a plethora of features but aside from one good documentary, a couple ok programs, and some deleted scenes, most of the material is about as good as the film itself and looks like it had some of the same budgetary management problems. William Shatner’s heart was in the right place and THE FINAL FRONTIER shines through with a few moments of greatness. Perhaps its largest problem was in being overambitious. The film manages to make a few profound statements but much like Shatner’s archival interview, it’s overwhelmed by delusions of grandeur and just unable to execute the way we all would have liked. But you know what? I think I’ll go pop it in the player right now. It’s still one of the most fun films in the series to watch.