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STAR TREK V:  THE FINAL FRONTIER
Special Collector's Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, David Warner, Laurence Luckinbill
Director:  William Shatner
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  Paramount
Features:  See Review
Length:  106 Minutes
Release Date:  October 14, 2003

“Spock, you never cease to amaze me.”

“Nor I myself.”

Film **

The bad news?  Every film series, by nature, has to have one that’s the least of the group, and in the case of the popular and lucrative Star Trek films, for me, that film is Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.  The good news?  Even though it’s my least favorite, it still isn’t really a bad movie by any stretch.  True, it may not mean a whole lot to folks who aren’t Trekkies, but you can say that about most of the pictures in the franchise.  And I happen to be a Trekkie, so for me, so much the better.

This is the only film in the series directed by William Shatner, who of course, still sat in the captain’s chair as James T. Kirk.  He faced the daunting task of following Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, which was a huge success and had also been directed by friend and co-star Leonard Nimoy.  V was also the first venture into completely fresh territory after II, III and IV worked together as a kind of trilogy unto itself.  There would be no direct story connection with what had preceded.

Shatner, who also co-conceived the story, wanted to tell a tale about the Enterprise going off in search of God but finding the devil instead.  It was an idea that not everyone involved in the Star Trek universe was enthused about.  Producer Harve Bennett, who had helped pilot the previous three films into big box office numbers and a huge return to glory for the franchise, actually wanted out of this picture because he didn’t think the story would work.  Creator Gene Roddenberry even had doubts, informing Shatner that he himself had tried to pen an “in search of God” episode and had abandoned it because it just didn’t make for good Star Trek fiction.

But Shatner’s passion won the day, though it could be argued that Harve and Gene were right in the end.  Though the concept offered a wealth of truly dramatic possibilities, it was a hard one to corral within the scope of Star Trek.  That, combined with Shatner’s extravagant imagination being limited by budget concerns, led to the end result of a film certainly with some entertainment value, but ultimately the most unsatisfying entry in the series.

With the new Enterprise still getting her bugs worked out and with most of the crew on shore leave, including Kirk, Spock (Nimoy) and Dr. McCoy (Kelley) enjoying a stint in Yosimite National Park, a distress call from the Federation leads them to the so-named “Planet of Intergalactic Peace” (really a ruined wasteland).  There, they meet up with a new nemesis, a renegade Vulcan named Sybok (Luckinbill).  Banished from his home world for his radical and emotional beliefs, he has commandeered a following of people who share his vision.  Now, he plans to take the Enterprise into the very center of the galaxy, across a barrier that has never been broken, in search of the answers to life, death and creation…in short, no less than God Himself.

It’s an intriguing storyline, but it gets marred in a few different ways.  Most notably, Shatner tried to keep up the level of humor that occurred naturally in the fish-out-of-water scenario of IV.  Here, it’s mostly forced and sometimes inappropriate.  Spock, who made us all laugh out loud with his “colorful metaphors” in the previous picture, now seems clownish as he sits bewildered by the lyrics to “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”.  The constant going for the funny bone seems contrived, and while I did chuckle a few times, I winced a lot more.

The humor is also a bizarre counterpoint to the serious nature of the story, which by rights, could have been the deepest and most involving of anything Star Trek had ever attempted.  It takes some of the wind from the sails before the journey is complete.  Then, at the end of the story, the whole concept of God had to be confronted in a way that would be plausible and final.  I think the writers opted for their best out, which wasn’t a particularly satisfying way to conclude so bold a quest.

There is also a lesser feeling of conflict in this film.  Sybok is the antagonist, but you can’t really call him a bad guy by any stretch of the imagination, especially once a secret about his past has been revealed.  There is the standard bit of Kirk and crew trying to get their ship back, but there’s nothing that makes you think life and death hangs in the balance.

There are some good moments, though, including a terrific sequence in which Sybok demonstrates his ability to help people reconcile with the pain of their pasts.  DeForest Kelley has a striking turn in his part as he faces an experience with his father that left him scarred.  We even get a glimpse into Spock’s past, though we don’t get a feel for the full scope the writers were going for (as referenced in the supplements).  These are scenes that bring us a little closer to a pair of our long time favorite characters, and they add substance to a movie that mostly struggles to find any.

As I said, this isn’t a bad film by any stretch of the imagination; merely a fair one.  Many of the aspects I’ve touched on didn’t help the movie’s status amongst the others in the franchise, but possibly one the hardest ones to overcome was simply that it ended up sandwiched between two of the best in the series.  Star Trek IV is probably the most well-loved across the board, while Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country was the first generation crew’s final hurrah, and my personal favorite.

Still, I have no problem with settling in and watching Star Trek V every now and then.  The world of Star Trek is such a vast and engrossing one that I find I can still get lost in it, even if it happens to be the least best film of the bunch.

Video ***1/2

Of the now five Special Edition re-issues of the Star Trek films, this one is the best looking so far.  The detail of Herman Zimmerman’s production design is striking from start to finish, from the dusty, bleak desert scenes to the vast beauty of Yosimite to the stellar out-of-this world space sequences that take our heroes where no man has gone before.  Colors are full and natural looking throughout, and the only minorly noticeable grain occurs during a couple of the darkest sequences.  The clarity and cleanness of the print is noteworthy; Paramount’s restoration efforts with this franchise are definitely worthwhile.

Audio ***1/2

Likewise, this is the best audio offering to date for the re-issues.  The 5.1 soundtrack is bold and dynamic, using both front and rear stages to great advantage during action scenes and depictions of space travel.  The .1 channel keeps the engines of the Enterprise humming along, and the smooth crossovers and discretion make for a busy sounding bridge.  Dialogue is clean and clear, and the big bangs, when they come, are potent.  Very nicely done.

Features ****

These Special Edition re-issues continue to be loaded.  Disc One features audio commentary by William Shatner and his daughter Liz Shatner, who also authored the book on her father’s experience making the movie.  It’s a mostly good listen, with a few blank spots, but overall, I enjoyed hearing what they had to say about the film.  Even better is the now common text commentary by Michael and Denise Okuda, co-authors of The Star Trek Encyclopedia.  It’s trivia, inside information and fun galore.

Disc Two contains everything else.  There are five featurettes under the banner “The Star Trek Universe”, which include a tribute to production designer Herman Zimmerman, an interview with William Shatner on the set of the movie, “cosmic thoughts” with scientists discussing the nature of the universe, an enjoyable retrospective interview with the actors who played the “Klingon couple” in the movie, and a look at Yosemite, one of the film’s locations, and the fact that it’s still a beautiful unspoiled piece of nature in the 23rd century.

The Production Featurettes start with  “The Journey”, a look back at the movie with cast and crew members including Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and Harve Bennett.  Also included is Harve Bennett’s original video pitch to the studio sales people, makeup tests, pre-visualization models, the original movie press conference, and the famous unused “rock man” footage that didn’t live up to Shatner’s expectations.

Rounding out are 4 deleted scenes, 2 trailers, 7 TV spots, galleries of storyboards and photos, and some fairly cool animated menu screens with sound.

Summary:

Star Trek V continues Paramount’s shining treatment of the franchise with another top quality double disc special edition release.  The supplements are a treat and the transfer is superb.  Now I get to count the days until Star Trek VI.