?Since its release in 1989, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier has consistently been referred to as the worst of the Trek motion pictures. Here’s the thing though…it really isn’t as terrible as you may have heard. Don’t get me wrong; by no means does it rank anywhere remotely close to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan or Star Trek: First Contact in terms of entertainment value. But ultimately the flick is one overblown episode that perfectly captures the spirit of the original series, even if it is beset by budgetary problems, blatant studio interference and moments of misguided self-indulgence that feel more like contractual requirements from the actors involved than scripted scenes meant to propel the story along (i.e. horses, Uhura’s fan dance, Kirk’s prominently featured “go climb a rock” shirt, etc). Unfortunately, the movie’s good moments are overshadowed by the bad. Thus its terrible reputation.
For those of you who have stayed away from this sci-fi epic, here’s a recap: Spock has a half-brother named Sybok who is sorta a hippie yet kinda cool. Dude hijacks the Enterprise and becomes determined to take it to God’s home planet. Trouble ensues. Oh yeah, and Uhura repeatedly tries to get laid. The whole affair is a disjointed mess and quite lovable if you can overcome its numerous flaws (and it’s still way more coherent than the abhorrent Star Trek: Insurrection). But exactly why is it so awful? And, for that matter, what (if any) strengths does it possess? Truly going into the final frontier, today’s Daily List will sort out the five best and five worst things about Star Trek V.
5) Captain Kirk Is Climbing a Mountain, Why Is He Climbing a Mountain?
One of the greatest things about Star Trek V didn’t even happen on screen. I am of course talking about this behind-the-scenes featurette in which William Shatner explains why Captain Kirk is tackling Yosemite’s El Capitan Mountain. When New York-based comedy music act Fall on Your Sword discovered this celebration of pomposity, they remixed it into the above video and single, “Shatner of the Mount.” What follows is the best Trek-related musical moment since Shatner belted out “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” Even if you think that the movie is cinematic dogshit, you can’t argue with how catchy the track is. Sadly, Fall on Your Sword couldn’t profit from their original song because of the various legal issues surrounding an official release. So instead they re-recorded the tune with their own vocals and released another video, this time with a guy in a rock costume cavorting about. It’s still hilarious, just slightly less so.
4) Shatner’s Direction
Although Star Trek V is clearly a troubled film, William Shatner’s directing is actually often solid. Seriously. From action scenes (the Nimbus III fight is a taut sequence that doubles as a rare example of a Trek ground battle) to the dramatic soliloquies (see McCoy’s entry on the flip side of this list); Shatner demonstrated credible skills as director in the flick. What makes this even more impressive is that the Shat had only previously helmed a few episodes of T.J. Hooker. Much has been made about how the film was artistically compromised by Paramount higher-ups. If he was allowed to follow through on his original vision, perhaps the film wouldn’t be considered the Trek equivalent of Howard the Duck. Which itself is an unfairly maligned movie, but that’s a Daily List for another day…
3) Jerry Goldsmith’s Score
Returning to Trek for the first time since scoring Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Jerry Goldsmith gave The Final Frontier a soundtrack packed with sweeping drama and excitement that almost seems out of place given the schizophrenic final version of the film. Here’s an experiment that will prove how powerful Goldsmith’s score actually is. Listen to the above track and close your eyes. See? For a minute there you forgot that there’s a scene in which an elderly woman tries to seduce a bunch of Road Warrior wannabees by doing an erotic dance with the 23rd century equivalent of a Swiffer.
2) Laurence Luckinbill as Sybok
Originally, producers hoped to secure Sean Connery for the role for Spock’s never-before-mentioned half-brother. When that didn’t come to pass, stage and screen actor Laurence Luckinbill was cast instead. Sybok is a divisive character amongst Trekkies, yet pretty much everyone can agree that Luckinbill’s performance as a sort of intergalactic Jim Jones was one of the best things about Star Trek V. By portraying Sybok as a fanatically determined man as opposed to just plain evil, Luckinbill gave complexity to what could have been a one-note character. His dubiously noble mission to help the Enterprise crew release their pain and believe in something greater than themselves ultimately cost him his life, but not before stirring up some religious debate in the final frontier and amongst viewers. Plus, it’s nice to see a Vulcan in touch with his emotions.
1) McCoy’s Tragic Past
It’s time to pull out the big guns. Tucked away in the middle of the movie is a bombshell moment that gives Dr. McCoy some massive character development by exploring the reason he went into medicine in the first place. Watch the above clip and marvel at DeForest Kelley’s heartbreaking performance as he recounts how he helped his father end his life… and the regret that came with taking such an action. It would be unreasonable for me to say that one brief scene redeems an entire movie, but this one comes close. Certainly it should be enough to make you consider re-evaluating the flick. That said, let the trashing commence.
Hit the jump for a look at the five worst things about Star Trek V.
5) Rockman Woes
Amongst the myriad woes that beset the production of Star Trek V was an ever-shrinking budget. One of the casualties to all of the financial corner-cutting was the decision to eliminate a fight sequence that would have had Kirk squaring off against a rock creature during his visit to Sha Ka Ree. The monster was a delightfully cheesy creation that conjured up visions of the Gorn and other classic Trek foes. Given that Star Trek V is essentially a long episode anyways (just check out Jack Marshall’s Star Trek: Phase II “In Thy Image” fan edit for proof), having a Styrofoam creature for Kirk to fight would have been oddly fitting. Of course maybe I’m just biased because I really really want a figure of old Rocky here.
4) Sybok Being Spock’s Half-Brother
In case you forgot, everyone knows everyone else in outer space. This is true mainly in the Star Wars universe, but Trek lore got in on the act as well when it was revealed that Sybok was Spock’s half-brother. This is a bullshit bit of contrivance designed to explain why Spock wouldn’t kill his fellow Vulcan once he got up to shenanigans aboard the Enterprise. But Sybok could have just have easily been Spock’s childhood best friend, which would have eliminated the contempt for the audience that the used concept has. On the flipside, there as those — such as the fan whose work you see above — who feel the story arc would have had a hell of a lot more weight if Sybok was Spock’s full brother. Apples and oranges I think, but we can all agree that the half-brother thing is a load of space bullshit.
3) Caithlan Dar
?Better known as the woman Trekkies masturbated to for the better part of 1990, this chick was one of the Nimbus III peace talk representatives/Sybok groupies whose completely pointless scenes slow the pacing of the film to a crawl. According to the folks at Trek fan site Memory Alpha, her Romulan ears were covered so that the production didn’t have to pay for the expense of having prosthetic ears made for actress Cynthia Gouw. Apparently Paramount had no problem shelling out dough for cock-inspired hairdos though.
2) Campfire Sing Along
Scotty banging his head is the most pointed to example of bad comedy in Star Trek V. Unfortunately, it is not the worst moment of misguided humor in the flick. That dubious distinction goes to the Yosemite camp fire singalong in which Kirk and McCoy attempt to explain the concept of singing “Row Row Row Your Boat” to Spock. What is meant to be a frothy and playful sequence between the three core characters from the original Trek series instead comes off as embarrassing at best and pathetically forced at worst. Insert pithy comment about how life is but a dream but sadly this scene was real here.
1) Uhura’s Fan Dance
You know that scene in Sex in the City 2 when Samantha is running around an Abu Dhabi marketplace screaming about how she loves sex and Carrie, Miranda and Charlotte are mortified? Umm, me neither. The point here is that no one wants to see menopausal women flaunting their withering sexuality in extreme and embarrassing ways. If they did, they’d buy a copy of Mae West’s Sextette. Nevertheless, audiences were forced to watch Uhura shake her moneymaker with a jaw-dropping fan dance that defies logic during the otherwise excellent Nimbus III fight sequence. Between this scene and her sad attempt to seduce Scotty later in the film there seemed to be a real push to make Uhura the Enterprise’s chief vixen. Instead, this all just kind of made everyone feel that special kind of sad reserved for when your single fortysomething aunt shows up to Thanksgiving tarted up like a whore and reeking of Jameson.
Chris Cummins is a pop culture writer and Archie comics historian who has contributed to The Robot's Voice, Den of Geek US, Philebrity, Geekadelphia, Uproxx, and Unicorn Booty. He is the co-producer and co-host of Nerd Nite Philadelphia, and is regularly involved in producing and hosting New York Super Week events. In 2014, Chris began Sci-Fi Explosion, a mix of live performance, trivia and funny clips celebrating the weirdest in science fiction that regularly travels around the United States. He wrote the introductions to the compilations Archie's Favorite Comics From The Vault and (with Paul Castiglia) Archie's Favorite High School Stories. You can find Chris on Twitter at @bionicbigfoot and @scifiexplosion.