You might want something a little stronger, like a cup of raktajino or some Romulan ale, for today’s film in our Star Trek Summer Rewatch. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier is a bit controversial amongst the Star Trek fandom. It’s a film that almost killed the franchise, according to some. It is William Shatner’s film directorial debut, having previously directed 10 episodes of his own TV series, T. J. Hooker. Today, I’m going to give you a bit of a rundown on the film’s history, as I feel it’s important to understand why this film didn’t land as well with audiences. And of course, I’ll highlight my likes and dislikes of the film too. But first, let’s watch the original trailer of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.
Now that we’ve seen that, let’s dig into the film’s history to learn why Star Trek V: The Final Frontier didn’t quite land the way the studio hoped.
I could go into in-depth detail about the behind-the-scenes controversy that gave Star Trek V a shaky start, but that’s why we have Memory Alpha. However, what I can do is give you six potential contributing factors to the film’s commercial failure. The first is that the 1988 writer’s strike forced the pre-production and shooting schedule to be shortened. This is why you pay your writers fairly, people. Additionally, Paramount wanted Star Trek V: The Final Frontier to be as comedic as Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Obviously, humor is subjective, but I don’t think Star Trek V quite stuck the landing in that respect.
Third, William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy had what was called “favored nation clauses” in their contracts, meaning what one got, the other got too. Because Leonard Nimoy directed Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, that meant that Shatner could request to direct a movie too. Therefore, the choice of director was made for the studio. Fourth, which might be the most surprising to modern viewers—Star Trek: The Next Generation was not having a warm reception among the fanbase. I guess there’s always been a certain segment of Trek fandom that’s a bit surly about change.
Effects Challenges and a Crowded Theater Marquee
The fifth potential contributing factor is the change in the effects production companies. While Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home’s special effects were handled by Industrial Light & Magic, they were unavailable for Star Trek V. Instead, effects were handled by Associates & Ferren. The results were not as good and even had a few unfinished special effects shots. Finally, the summer of 1989 was pretty crowded at the theater with big films for that year, particularly Batman, Lethal Weapon 2, Ghostbusters II, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. With films like that, that’s some pretty tough competition.
All that being said, it’s not just one thing that contributed to the commercial failure of the film, it’s many. Despite these things stacked against the film, I believe there are still some aspects of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier that are worthy of note. Let’s dig into those.
What Works: Interesting Questions
One of the most interesting aspects of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier is that it asks some very universal human questions. Is there a God? If so, who is God? What does God want with humanity? What is the function of pain in someone’s life? Does it serve for good or ill? Though we aren’t given an explicit explanation for each of these questions, it is the exploration of these ideas that I find fascinating. Plus, it asks another wonderful question—what does God need with a starship? Facts: he doesn’t. If you’re looking for a more philosophical sort of Star Trek story, consider firing up Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.
What Works: Gorgeous Score
Returning to Star Trek scoring is Jerry Goldsmith, who scored Star Trek: The Motion Picture. As I’ve said before, I don’t think Jerry Goldsmith has ever composed a bad score. Even so, his Star Trek work is exceptional. While Goldsmith revisits some of his classic themes for this score, he also creates new pieces for this film.
They tend to fall in line with his traditional work of big sweeping themes, majestic songs that truly make you feel like you’re flying through space, or trying to escape a wrathful alien that wants to play God. There are also some interesting pieces written for the club scenes in the film, that honestly give me a little bit of a Jabba’s Palace kind of vibe from Return of the Jedi. If you’re a fan of Jerry Goldsmith, or just interesting musical scores in general, definitely give Star Trek V: The Final Frontier a spin.
What Doesn’t Work: Needs More Information
What doesn’t work for me is that Star Trek V: The Final Frontier fails to give me one pertinent piece of information. Just what is Sybok doing? How is he able to “take away” people’s pain? Sure, if you know that Vulcans have certain telepathic capabilities then you can maybe string together the assumption that he’s using those abilities to somehow manipulate people’s minds to forget or move past the emotional burden of traumatic experiences or memories.
But none of that is explained explicitly in the film. It does lend itself to Sybok’s mystical nature. Especially when you consider that he’s been receiving visions from who he believes to be God. Even so, it bugged me that none of this was explained explicitly in the film. I had to go read the Sybok entry on Memory Alpha to confirm my suspicions. To me, that knocks the film down a few points, but as with anything, your mileage may vary.
While I don’t dislike Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, I can understand why this one didn’t land with the general audience. For me, the philosophical questions are enough to keep me coming back to this film. Also, with the reveal of Sybok in episode 1×07 of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, I was interested to revisit this film, as this is the only previous appearance of that character. I’m excited to see how Strange New Worlds will flesh Sybok out. Additionally, some of the humor in the film does work for me, even if it doesn’t stick the landing as well as Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. I am especially fond of Spock’s jet boots. Who doesn’t want jet boots?! I know I do.
What do you think of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier? Leave me a comment and let’s talk Trek.