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Riddled with problems but still worth watching
on 1 June 2013
So Spock has a half-brother who looks like a pointy-eared Saddam Hussein, who manages to attract and then hijack a sad excuse for the Enterprise, all in an attempt to penetrate the Great Barrier (which has apparently moved from the edge of the galaxy to the exact center) and find the universal God. That's pretty much the plot of this movie in a nutshell. While Star Trek V: The Final Frontier does have its good moments, particularly in terms of the interplay between Kirk, Spock, and Bones, most Trekkies and movie-goers in general agree that this is without a doubt the worst of the six films featuring the original crew. Even Gene Roddenberry was critical of various parts of this film.
You could hardly ask for a more disappointing opening for a Star Trek film, as we watch a mysterious rider come upon a desert hole farmer (yeah, I said hole farmer) and release the man's pain. That pointy-eared stranger is Sybok, the half-brother Spock has never bothered to mention. One can only imagine the shame Sarek would feel (if Vulcans didn't bury their emotions) over this son, a renegade whose rejection of logic and embrace of emotions led to his expulsion from Vulcan. If nothing else, we now know that Spock was by no means the black sheep of his family. Following a vision of Shakaree, the legendary Vulcan "heaven," Sybok puts together a small army on the Neutral Zone planet of Nimbus III and takes the tri-partite council of Klingon, Romulan, and Terran ambassadors hostage, all in an effort to bring a starship into orbit. That starship is, of course, the new Enterprise, which has been dispatched by Starfleet despite the fact it has less than a skeleton crew - and almost nothing on the ship is actually working (despite Scotty's best efforts).
Possible spoilers ahead as I talk about some of the problems with this movie. First and foremost, Sybok's group of ragamuffin settlers is able to take control of the Enterprise with ridiculous ease. Even some of Kirk's crew prove to be incredibly weak-willed in the face of Sybok's power. If some weirdo came along and somehow freed me from my deepest and most personal pain, I would say Thanks, Dude but I would not devote myself to following this guru's every command. I really expected more from the likes of Sulu and Uhura here (I can forgive Chekov, given his traumatizing experience at the hands of Khan). And the Klingon ambassador, the once-illustrious master strategist Korrd - sure he's a drunken outcast now, but there's no way a fierce Klingon warrior like Korrd should go all sappy in the face of Sybok's mental manipulations. Only Captain Kirk refuses any attempt by Sybok to brainwash him, delivering a classic "I need my pain" speech in the process. I know some people were moved by the scene in which McCoy's deepest pain is identified and released, but I found it uncomfortable to watch and could only wonder why Kirk stood there and let it happen in the first place. I also have to ask what the heck happened to that beautiful new Enterprise ship we saw at the end of Star Trek IV. For one thing, the bridge has been completely redesigned, and I refuse to believe that any self-respecting crew of Starfleet technicians would have ever let this ship out of the dock given its almost infinite number of problems. At the start of the film, the crew is on shore leave because they had to pull this dysfunctional ship back into dry dock for a vast retinue of repairs. It also bothered me when Spock said he had no emotions, as that isn't strictly true - Vulcans choose to bury their emotions, but those feelings are still there far below the surface.
Even though I pretty much worship the ground William Shatner walks on, you have to pin some of the blame for this film's problems on him, as he directed the film and co-wrote the story alongside David Loughery and Harve Bennett (who also appears in the film as the Starfleet Chief of Staff). On the other hand, Shatner wasn't really able to make the film he wanted to make - especially in terms of the ending, which is rather anticlimactic in its final form - because Paramount would not give him the money to make it all happen. The production wasn't well-served by the special effects team, either. With ILM wrapped up in other projects, the production team turned to another group that really wasn't up to this kind of major task. It wasn't just the lack of money that prevented Shatner from giving the film the big ending he wanted - the special effects that were actually done for that ending were too crappy to even use.
In retrospect, it seems that no one had full control over this movie. Even as the director and co-writer, Shatner wasn't even able to prevent Sybok being portrayed as Spock's half-brother. Still, despite all the negatives to this film, it's still well worth watching. I'll take a three-star Star Trek film over many a four-star film any day, and there are a few really good scenes and quotable moments, such as the camping trip scenes with Kirk, Spock, and Bones and Spock's "not in front of the Klingons" quip. Undeniably, though, this really is the one Star Trek film you can skip or choose not to revisit, as it disappointing in a number of ways and adds very little to the overall Star Trek story arc.