Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

Year: 1989

Production: Paramount

Director: William Shatner

Starring: the lead players from the Star Trek tv series, along with Laurence Luckinbill

Screenwriter: David Loughery

Based on a story by William Shatner and Harve Bennett. Novelization (1989) by J.M. Dillard

107 minutes; Color


A visibly middle-aged, overweight crew enact a tepid melodrama in which the Enterprise is hijacked by a charismatic Vulcan healer, Sybok (Luckinbill), in search of God, who not unlike the Wizard of Oz proves fraudulent. (False gods are a Star Trek cliche in both tv and film incarnations). The film has many anticlimaxes, especially the effortless transit of the supposedly impermeable Great barrier, and is notable for embarrassingly Californian-style Vulcan therapy - "getting in touch with your own feelings". Shatner's direction has much in common with his acting. After mildly perking up with Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home , the film series here plunged again, almost fatally.

The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction

Given that Star Trek sequels II to IV are self-contained trilogy, it should hardly be surprising that this latest installment should complete the mirror pattern of the series by returning to the themes of the ambitious and awkward first film outing, Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979). Harlan Ellison once reported that Trek producer-creator Gene Roddenberry had only one story idea, in which the crew of the Enterprise meet God, and that conceit, which was buried in the first film, here comes embarrassingly to the fore. Unfortunately, The Final Frontier lacks not only the spectacular effects of the original film, but also its interesting and ambiguous approach to the question of godhood.

The heavy mysticism that has always been a part of the Vulcan segment of the Trek universe is embodied in the plot-motivating part of Spock's brother, Sybok (Luckinbill), who resembles a cross between Jesus Christ and Werner Erhard, as he hijacks the Enterprise on a quest to a distant planet for a rendezvous with God and takes the characters in flashbacks to the most traumatic periods of their lives. Particularly ridiculous is Kelley's big scene in which he euthanazes his aged father out of his misery, only to learn that "a few months later, they found a cure".

Throughout, the tone is unintentionally comic and makeshift. A fit, lithe figure seen in extreme longshot and close-ups of straining hands and feet, as he climbs a mountain without equipment, is revealed in an unconvincing turnaround shot to be the decidedly past-his-peak Shatner. The Great Barrier in the center of the galaxy is a sub-2001: A Space Odyssey swirling lavalight show, breached with ridiculous ease, which compares very badiy with the genuinely awesome encounter with V'ger in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. And "God", even if revealed as a fraud, is an especially unimaginative Santa Claus face in a pillar of light, who huffs and puffs like the Great and Powerful Oz until Captain Kirk puts his hand up to ask an awkward question the deity cannot answer. This reductionism is typical of the whole Star Trek cycle, from tv io the cinema and back to tv (via Star Trek - The Next Generation), whereby ideas of Stapledonian vastness are scaled down to a digestible formula. When Nigel Kneale suggested the Devil was a Martian in Quatermass and the Pit (Five Million Years to Earth) (1967), the treatment of the theme emphasized the millennial and awesome aspects of the concept. In Star Trek, nothing is ever truly alien or truly divine, and everything - Greek Gods, legendary gunslingers, Abraham Lincoin, galaxy-spanning amoebae, universe-threatening monsters - is dragged down to the status of guest star.

The Overlook Film Encyclopedia - Science Fiction

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