Star Trek: Adventures on the Big Screen (Part 3)

Time for another installment, so here goes with…

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

Plot: Spock’s got a brother. Well, a half-brother really, called Sybok, who long ago rejected the Vulcan ideals of logic, and as a result became an outcast. Well, he’s back now, and he’s on a mission, Blues Brothers style. When he captures the Federation, Klingon, and Romulan ambassadors on the planet of Nimbus III, Kirk and the crew of the new Starship Enterprise-A are pressed back into service to come to the rescue. The ‘rescue’ goes slightly wrong, however, when Sybok seizes control of the Enterprise and puts it on course for the center of the galaxy where he and his followers believe they will find God. Yes. God.

Goofs: One big one: We know now (from Star Trek: Voyager) that it takes seventy years to travel 70,000 light years at high warp (or 1000 light years per year. But the Enterprise A, under Sybok’s command, can apparently travel the 22,400 light years from Nimbus III to the Galactic Center in a matter of days.

There’s more. Although not so much goofs, but interesting: Industrial Light and Magic couldn’t do the effects for the movie, so they had to get a little creative with sets and effects. Shots of the Enterprise in Spacedock were ILM shots repeated from The Voyage Home, and many interior shots of the Enterprise (most notably corridors and Sickbay) are actually the Enterprise-D from The Next Generation, which was shooting at the same time.

Thoughts: Where to start? OK – let’s get the biggie for me out of the way. This isn’t why I don’t like the movie, but it annoys me that the ‘logical’ result of Sybok’s rejection of logic is crazed religious fervour, as if belief in God is the opposite of a calm, measured, logical mind. It gets to me more somehow than anything that the Python lads did in Life Of Brian, and almost as much as the representation of God as a petulant child did in the Travolta/Newton-John schlock-fest that was Two Of A Kind. Anyway – let’s leave that one there.

The Final Frontier is simply a very weak story held together with the ‘battle of the brothers’ motif flowing through it. If Sybok had been at all likeable, maybe you would have cared. But somehow, the reaction of Spock (very much “he ain’t crazy, he’s my bruuthaaaaah” school of acting) is exposed by the fact that in every TOS episode and in every movie before this, in which references to Spock’s family are liberally scattered, there’s not a single mention of Sybok’s existence whatsoever. Not one. And as the entire movie hinges on the closeness of the relationship, it all comes together with a gigantic feeling of ‘meh…”

The directorial reins were passed from Spock to Shatner for this installment, and La Shatner also co-wrote the script. Thankfully, he returned to just acting like he was in charge, when we arrived at….

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

Plot: There’s a real danger of peace breaking out in the galaxy. Talks are afoot between the Federation and the Klingons, which might suit most people, but there are certain parties on both sides with vested interests in an all-out war. In an attempt to derail the peace process, Kirk and McCoy are framed for the murder of a Klingon Ambassador and sent to the penal colony at Rura Penthe, from which nobody escapes. With assistance from fellow inmates, Kirk and McCoy make it to the surface – a little too easily. It’s a set-up, but they manage to outwit their captors and beam up to the Enterprise. But is there time to get to the secret location of the peace accord before assassins strike?

Goofs: Only really three of note. One is a bit techy-Trekkie, in that the Excelsior has been supposedly charting gaseous anomalies in the Beta Quadrant. And we know subsequently (thank you, Voyager season seven) that the beta Quadrant would put the Excelsior some years away at high warp. The second goof is more an oversight, in that when standing on the surface of the ice-cold Rura Penthe, you don’t see any breath from their mouths. The third one is pretty much inexcusable though. She’s been in three series of Star Trek (79 episodes in all). She’s been in six movies. She shared American TV’s first ever inter-racial kiss with Kirk. So why oh why, in the name of all that’s Roddenberry, did they spell Uhura’s name wrong in the closing credits?

Thoughts: Keeping the pattern alive, this even-numbered movie has pace, action and plot twists in abundance. It manages to retain intrigue and suspense whilst bringing humour and creativity. It really does go to show what you can do with a properly good director in Nick Meyer, a well-crafted story, decent effects, and actors that know how to wring every drop of character out of their roles.

The scenes with the murder of the Klingon ambassador are well done, as is the investigation the crew undertake to clear Kirk and McCoy. Rura Penthe appears to be hard, but flimsy – it doesn’t look as bad as folk say, but then again it’s situated underground on an isolated planet where surface temperatures hover around minus thirty, so escape isn’t an option for most. And the race to Khitomer to prevent more murder adds more excitement and tension right up to the last.

This is the first movie where the crew of the Enterprise are split up – Sulu has been granted command of his own vessel, the Excelsior. It’s good that he gets to play such a key role in the plot, and indeed this setting was reused in an episode of Voyager, when Tuvok regressed back to his time service under Sulu (as a junior officer) whilst undergoing mental illness. Which makes two connections with later TV shows – we see an ancestor of Worf as the Klingon assigned to defend Kirk at the trial, played with ease by Michael Dorn.

As a farewell to the Original crew, The Undiscovered Country was a fitting place to stop. It’s my second favorite of the early movies, after Wrath of Khan. And it set the scene nicely for what was to come – but more of that in my next blog….

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