So. It comes to this. The disillusioned ex-Trekkie versus the worst Star Trek film of all time. You can debate Data ver 0.5, Nexuses and intelligent superprobes all you like, but very little can compete with the inanity that Star Trek V: The Final Frontier packaged in its nutty shell. Star Trek, the haven for bumblebees buzzing around port nacelles, deserved a spot in our Mutant Viewing fare, and there is no film less deserving of that honor. Nonetheless… it comes to this.
I’ve probably made my extensive Trek reviews a drawn-out confessional starring you as the priest, and me as the guy babbling about his demented childhood affectations for this franchise. Perhaps I should leave well enough alone, but this is a nerdy scab which will never quite heal, so long as I keep picking at it. You know that kid in school who’d peel off his scabs and then eat them? I’m sure there’s a metaphor in there for me.
From around 1987 to the dawn of my college years in 1994, I subscribed to the Church of Spock. There wasn’t this cool new scifi we have these days — your Battlestar Galacticas, your Farscapes, your Futuramas, your Fireflies, your Doctor Whos — in 1987 we had a choice of Trek or… well, there’s always the original Star Wars trilogy that begged for another run in the VCR. Luke, you’re my only hope, let’s make out, now you find out I’m your sister, let’s never talk about this again and go inflict war on fuzzy Ewoks.
I lived and breathed Trek like few others you would ever meet. No, I wasn’t the guy who’d wear the pointy ears to school and demand that everyone call me “Lieutenant”, but I was close. I had an entire bookshelf full of Trek novels, I played Trek computer games, I programmed Trek computer games, I went to conventions, bought a Klingon dagger which I kept hidden under my bed in fear of my parents ever finding out, I memorized technical schematics, I engaged (heh) in a Trek role-playing BBS game, I built Enterprises out of Legos, I knew all of the episodes by heart, and I dearly wished someone would beam me the heck out of my teenage years onto a really cool spaceship. I don’t know exactly when I stopped liking Star Trek, but college helped to enlarge my geeky world in new directions, including writing stupid movie reviews that no one read.
So even bad Trek was better than no Trek at all, and I’d worn thin our VHS copies of Star Treks 1-5 by the time The Undiscovered Country came out. I think we Trekkies all dearly wished that Trek 5 would’ve been something other than stinky poo, but for a diehard fan of the franchise, even stinky poo is accepted and defended to the bitter end. It confused audiences everywhere, who flocked to the Leonard Nimoy-directed Star Trek IV and then shunned an unfunny and un-fun romp to the “center of the galaxy”. William Shatner had no place directing part 5, no decent budget or special effects house to work with, and a clunker of a plot that deserved to die an early death in the scriptwriters’ room. The lion’s share of the blame rests on Shatner, who reportedly refused to play Kirk unless he was allowed to direct “the ultimate Trek film”, and he wrote a movie that centered around how Kirk was [pick your outdated expression: the bomb, all that, radical to the max]. It’s so bad that it’s a miracle The Final Frontier didn’t completely tank Trek movies after that.
It’s no secret that Trek creator Gene Roddenberry hated this movie and pronounced it “apocryphal” to the canon. To this day the events of the movie — including Spock’s half-brother — are largely ignored in other Trek material, buried in a Nevada landfill next to a billion Atari 2600 E.T. cartridges.
But I should probably shut up and get to the movie, taking the badness one meager teaspoon at a time, eh?
Craphole planet, aka “Nimbus III in the Neutral Zone” according to the subtitle. “The Planet of Galactic Peace”. Honestly? I’d rather go vacation at “The Planet of Galactic Bubble Wrap” if peace looks like this dried up oil field. The Neutral Zone was a swath of space between the three “classic series” Star Trek powers: The Federation (good guys), Klingons (bad guys that became good guys), and Romulans (PMSing elves). There’s actually a couple Neutral Zones in Trek lore, but… I’ll stop there.
A scraggly man is digging in the desert for water — or a plot (ba dum dum) — when he senses a horse approaching. Horses! Just what one expects when you come to a science fiction movie! Scraggly Guy grabs his junky rifle, which apparently fires pebbles of varying sizes, but the approaching man disarms him with some smooth talk. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Sybok, aka “Vulcan Jesus”. He knows your pain, and wants to give your pain a big ol’ hug. Sybok’s on his 51st Stompin’ Cross The Desert Tour in search for a few sun-maddened souls to follow him on his wacky crusade. I guess he’s scratching the bottom of the barrel with Scraggly Guy, if Scraggly Guy’s questionable dental plan is any clue.
The soundtrack cues up some heavy heartbeats, which signals that Sybok’s working his mental mojo. “Your pain runs deep,” Sybok says, and somewhere off camera Deanna Troi screeches, “Hey, that’s MY line!” Sybok talks about some “secret pain” that we all hold, and if it’s exposed then we become bright bouncy bunnies of joy. Gah. Double-gah. “Share your pain! Share your pain!” It’s like watching a bad group therapy session where they’ve run out of coffee and there’s only vanilla wafers left to munch on.
We might as well get into the religious subtext right now, so that we can scoot past it later, ok? Roddenberry eschewed higher religion for secular humanism, which is strongly reflected in Star Trek. Trek’s universe posits that religion became outdated once humankind (and alienkind) perfected their ways and bettered themselves while still making phasers and photon torpedoes out of habit and certainly not to wage war. Sure, there were some religious cultures encountered by the Enterprise, but mostly it was of the “vague mystical Native American” variety. Any culture that worshipped a god would see said god exposed as a giant supercomputer or Spock’s Brain in a box by the end of the episode. The Trek universe worships how groovy people have become, and that makes the coexistence of a higher deity difficult, if not impossible.
This naïve humanism caused issues with Trek writers, who needed flawed humanity for conflict, and instead were forced to come up with a billion hostile anomalies and alien societies that were askew and needed a good moral lecture by Picard to set things straight. In any case, it’s just not a franchise that deals well with religious issues, and to center an entire movie around a messianic figure who is on a quest for “God” goes against the grain of everything Roddenberry set up in the first place. Some people might watch this movie and go “Aha! This is a blow for atheism because it destroys your preconceived notions of God!” Some people might find Kirk’s final message of “God lives inside of us all” inspiring to the point of a Hallmark card. But, let’s face it, most of us will just roll our eyes, no matter where we may be in our spiritual journeys. Trek 5’s theological exploration is something that seems the result of a double-dog dare between Shatner and Shatner’s ego.
Back to the movie. Sorry, but that way we can just enjoy the upcoming moments of Spock singing. Or, not singing. Both of it is pretty bad.
The music tells us that Sybok’s cured Scraggly Guy of his depression – “It’s as if a weight has been lifted from my heart!” Sybok enlists him and tells him they need to get themselves some pimp wheels (a starship). That’s my attempt at being “down with the gangsters”. No starships are on or apparently visit Nimbus III, for no good reason other than to create false conflict later. It wouldn’t be the same movie if Sybok would’ve just hired a shuttle to jet his kooky ass across the galaxy, or a movie at all. Wouldn’t that have been awesome? No such luck. Really, if it wasn’t for this “no starships come here” line, the entire movie would fall apart. That’s the level of flim that is in the flimsy plot, my friends.
Sybok laughs, reveals his pointy ears — gasp, he’s a Vulcan! — which is supposed to be tremendously shocking, enough to bring goosebumps to your arm. For the uninformed, Vulcans are a Trek race that have the shining attribute of shoving all their emotions so deep inside that their outward demeanor resembles a Department of Motor Vehicles clerk. Spock was the only (half-)Vulcan who pulled off this act without coming across as an arrogant jerk, and half the time Bones was trying to spike his punch with arsenic anyway.
Questions: Why is Sybok on Nimbus III? How did he get there? Why did he go there? Answer: Shut up.
Then the titles launch at us to remind us that this movie isn’t only about horses and sharing pain. It’s about The Final Frontier! What could that be? I’m guessing Arby’s. Nobody really knows what’s in one of those restaurants.
The sun rises on Yosemite National Park (“Planet Earth”, the subtitles state, in case you’re thinking of the Yosemite on Planet Express), where KIRK — and by KIRK I mean “stunt double” — is being all butch and studly by climbing El Capitan with no safety gear and only a pair of jester’s pants as his ally. It’s only 3,000 feet to the top, which I’m sure presented no difficulty to a then-58-year-old Shatner. A mile away, Kirk’s wife “Bones” McCoy is watching him through a viewfinder and muttering to himself. We might attest this odd behavior to his trendy neckerchief. “I’m a nervous wreck… If I’m not careful, I might end up talking to myself.”
Ha. Get it? Ha. Because he’s already talking to himself! I thought that needed clarifying.
As Kirk pauses to lord over his dominance of nature, Spock rises from out of the blue wearing his Spock-Jets. Why does Spock come with Spock-Jets as this movie’s action figure accessory? The same reason that Sybok is on Nimbus III. Shut up.
Spock’s rash arrival and subsequent nitpicking (“You do not realize the gravity of your situation” “You must be one with the rock”) sends Kirk into a green screen nightmare of a freefall, which gets
Spock all giddy. “Hooray! I get to use my new toy!” He jets down there, grabs onto Kirk, and they both accelerate and plow into the forest floor at 189 mph. Or, they’re okay. I kind of blacked out there for a second. Anyone with a rudimentary understanding of physics might want to pause the movie to quibble over how Spock is able to stop Kirk’s fall while his jets are still angling them toward the ground, but we need to keep this truck rolling.
Back to Tatooine, er, Nimbus III. Sybok’s mighty army homeless people and one horse prepare to launch their assault on Mos Eisley, er, Paradise City. We cut to a hooded figure walking into an alien cantina of sorts, right as a group of weirdos discussing the Kessel Run make their exit. A cat-lady with three breasts (on loan from Total Recall) dances on the bar while the mighty spacemen of the future play a variant of pool that looks exactly like pool if the table was also the victim of a recent monsoon. The hooded figure walks into the back room and pulls back her hood to reveal yet another set of pointy ears. It’s Caithlin Dar, our Romulan hottie, and she’s there to make first contact with the grungy Human (St. John Talbot) and drunk Klingon (Gen. Korrd) at the table.
Fact Slightly Interesting Enough To Keep Me Going Here: David Warner, who plays Talbot here, came back for a much more substantial role as Chancellor Gorkon in Star Trek VI.
Talbot smokes (they still smoke in the Trek universe?), Korrd burps, and Dar wishes she could go back to making cheesy 80’s glam rock videos. She spouts out some dull exposition about the three governments trying to get along, but nobody else on or off screen cares. Alarms go off, Sybok’s revolution begins, and Talbot skeedaddles to make a quick cry for help (I always get a kick out of Korrd going right for the free booze in the chaos). It appears that Sybok’s horse has a tiny horn on its head, thus making it a space unicorn. With a fat mind-controlling elf riding it. Man, I do love me some Trek right now. Sybok captures the trio, glad that he got all three races — he in fact crows that this is the only place “in the galaxy” where this can happen — and that their governments will “stop at nothing” to get them back.
Pause. Excuse me? If you’ll pardon a few spoilers, Sybok’s grand plan involves obtaining one starship to take him to the center of the galaxy where he thinks God is for some reason. So why does he need all three major Trek factions up in arms over a political kidnapping to make this happen? He makes it sound as if the combination of the three races is crucial in his scheme, while in reality he only needs one side to send one ship to help. Actually, if all three governments had responded in force (none of them really do), Sybok would be overwhelmed with more ships, soldiers and weapons than he could overcome with his Free Pain seminar. I’m thinking this is an incredibly dumb plan, and it gets more implausible as we continue. Unpause.
Starbase (above Earth). We come back to the brand-new Enterprise-A, last seen doing the warp boogie in Star Trek IV. Yet according to Scotty’s voiceover log, the ship was half-heartedly slapped together, and even many of the doors don’t work right. Important Plot Point: the new Enterprise is crap. That’s a fun bone to throw to your starving Trek fanatics. I’d also like you to note that in the
Enterprise’s establishing shot, we fly by the Excelsior, also in the Starbase (this is important for later). Scotty is screwing a few things into a console on the bridge, as Uhura strolls in. The entire cast is showing their age, to be sure, but Doohan honestly looks like a plump New Jersey auto mechanic trying to look spiffy at a Christmas party with a white turtleneck and black vest. Some of his engineering crew are resting their feet up on the broken consoles, so we can assume that unions and teamsters still exist in this futuristic utopia.
There are many things to make you uncomfortable in Star Trek V, but here’s a doozy. This scene establishes a never-before-seen budding romance between Uhura and Scotty, culminating in some face-stroking and tender words. Millions of Trekkies everywhere cry out and are silenced.
A Red Alert goes off (sort of), and Starfleet orders the Enterprise to recall the senior crew. We’re also informed that this broken ship has no more than a skeleton crew, a fact which will certainly have no bearing on the rest of the film. Sulu and Chekov, great pilots and navigators they, are shown lost in the woods somewhere. Sulu, wearing a terrycloth bathrobe, fakes a “blizzard” when they’re recalled, but Uhura sees through their clever ruse by watching the Weather Channel and sends down the Enterprise’s minivan to pick them up.
Before we get off Earth entirely, we must endure the Campfire Scene between Spock, McCoy and Kirk. To sum it up so the voices in my head stop screaming: Spock eats alcoholic beans, Kirk makes a fart joke (“Bourbon and beans: an explosive combination”), McCoy is completely smashed, Kirk states that he’s invincible as long as he’s not alone (d’oh on that, says Star Trek Generations), Spock makes “marsh melons”, and… shudder… I can’t… I can’t do this. Hold me. Please.
For, they begin to sing “Row row row your boat” in a round. Shatner and Nimoy briefly attempted to prove their singing prowess back in the late 60’s to disastrous effects, and Kelly isn’t much better. To provide you with a clear level of the pain involved in watching beloved Trek idols caterwaul a children’s tune while looking like hungover rednecks is beyond what any person should bear. Spock tries to dissect the meaning of the song. Fortunately, Uhura arrives by shuttle and cancels their play date (Important Plot Point: the transporters aren’t working so well). Crimes are afoot, my dear Watson!
Because no Star Trek film is complete without a Klingon threat, we change locales to outer space, where one of the Pioneer probes is blown to itty bits by a Klingon punk rocker named Klaa. Klaa and his woman are flying free and bored, the Klingon high command apparently done issuing orders for the year. Klaa wants some action, or bloodworm stew, or whatever other gross alien trait the scriptwriters kept giving this boring race long after they became a bumpy joke. Blowing up the probe isn’t very satisfying, so Klaa is all giddy and giggles to hear about the Nimbus III hostage situation. He takes off in that direction, eager to engage a Federation starship. Nobody seems to think that he’s being impulsive here, and this is consistent with how I’ve seen Klingons act elsewhere — they just sort of do their own thing, growl about their honor, and get into fights about everything including who gets the used chewing gum found under the captain’s seat. How this civilization attained starflight is as bewildering to me as it is to Trek writers, I’m sure.
Standard “approaching Enterprise” montage. We’ve seen this a million times before.
But we haven’t seen the new Enterprise shuttle bay. Unlike the vast expanse of the shuttle bay in The Motion Picture, which could easily house all of Trek’s 5,000,000 episodes and Shatner’s spare toupees, this shuttle bay is a little… lacking. It’s basically a two-car garage, where only tiny shuttles the size of a compact car can park. It’s so underwhelming that a pair of Starfleet whiteshirts have to bring over a wooden staircase (!) so Kirk and company can step down from their vehicle. Star Trek V — they spared all expense in bringing you the best.
More Enterprise-is-broken references, as Kirk and Kirk’s flannel shirt retake the bridge. Shatner’s daughter Lisabeth makes a cameo as his beehive-stricken yeoman (she also wrote an unintentionally hilarious making-of book called “Captain’s Log: William Shatner’s Personal Account of the Making of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier”). As a call comes in from Starfleet, Kirk decides that this would be the best time to start changing his clothes, which is all the more creepy since his daughter is helping him dress. He’s wearing a shirt with the inscription “Go climb a rock” on it. Even though they’re still near Earth, the call is all fuzzy and we’re reminded for the umpteenth time that the Enterprise is a heap of broken machines and dreams.
Starfleet (also known as “Bob” for this scene) tells Kirk about the Nimbus III situation. “The planet of galactic peace?” Kirk asks, to remind the viewers at home of this oh-so-ironic surname. Kirk asks if there are other ships that can deal with this, but Bob states that they’re all inexperienced and only Kirk’s Ego is sufficient for a piddly hostage crisis. A few thoughts: (1) Doesn’t Bob have hostage negotiation teams in the 23rd century? I never quite understood why Starfleet was about generalists who did a little of everything, but shied away from specialists. Also, (2) if the Enterprise is “a disaster”, why couldn’t Bob just move Kirk over to a ship that worked… oh, like the Excelsior we just saw a few scenes ago? Argh!
Nevertheless, Kirk doesn’t put up much of a fight at this insane order, or even request that Starfleet give him more crew or materials or a working toilet. It’s like if a major hostage crisis broke out today, and the President called up a trusted battleship captain to go handle it, even though the captain’s ship was in dry-dock, had four large holes in its side, was crewed by monkeys fresh out of Annapolis, and lacked even a functional rowboat to get anyone to shore. Kirk gives a short but pointless motivational speech, and McCoy does his usual “island of common sense in a sea of stupidity” rant. “If you ask me — and you haven’t — this is a terrible idea. We’re bound to bump into the Klingons!” he says. Well, of course you are. Klingons are to Star Trek films like T.J. was to Hooker. Nobody in any of these scenes seems unduly concerned about a Romulan response, however.
Kirk sits down and does a hurt puppy dog expression. “I miss my old chair,” he whines, and Spock raises a sympathetic eyebrow. Aww.
Back to Klaa’s Family Dreamtime Happy Hour Experience. Klaa’s incredibly ugly “first mate” tells them about the Enterprise leaving for Nimbus III. Because Starfleet doesn’t use encoded frequencies or anything. Klaa goes all orgasmic at the thought of beating Kirk. Dude, even Christopher Lloyd couldn’t best him with 1.21 jigawatts of awesomeness, so what chance do you, your crazy hair and your bare chest have?
Kirk tries to make a Captain’s Log, but even this little device — unconnected to the malfunctioning ship — goes berserk and lights up its “System Failure” feature. This light takes up a fourth of the device and has no other purpose in life, so I guess it’s fortunate we got to see it in action. Should any of them be concerned they’re now gallivanting about at faster-than-light speeds in a vehicle that can’t open doors properly? I keep expecting Chekov to suddenly swear and report that three decks, including laundry services, are now floating in upper Pluto orbit.
Exposition in the form of a slide show starts on the main screen. Korrd is pulled up for the benefit of Kirk to mention how brilliant he used to be, but the other two main hostages are skipped over in favor of the informative hostage tape. Dar mentions that they “willingly surrendered to the forces of the Galactic Army of Light.” Gah. Sybok? Seriously? That’s the sort of name an eight-year-old boy might give to his toy collection. Sybok demands a Federation starship — again, why not Klingon or Romulan? — and the camera does a close-up on Spock in a meaningful manner. “You look like you’ve just seen a ghost!” Kirk says, giving Spock the obvious opening line of “Vulcans do not believe in the incorporeal spirits of the deceased, you nitwit.” He doesn’t say that, of course, because that line belongs in a much better movie; instead, he goes with “Perhaps I have, Captain… perhaps I have.”
SPACE GHOST! AHHHH! EXIT THE THEATER IN AN ORDERLY FASHION!
Scene change to darkened quarters, where Spock is mulling about in the shadows. This is one of those weird TV/movie techniques where a conversation continues unabated with no real breaks in what’s being said, even though the location changes and time’s obviously passed. Does that make sense? I imagine that after Spock’s “perhaps I have” line, he just abruptly got up, went away, and Kirk and McCoy decided to follow after a short bathroom break or something. They’re in a room with all sorts of navy-type nautical stuff, including a giant wooden steering wheel overlooking a window. I know this is supposed to be decorative, but if the ship is in this bad of shape, I wouldn’t put it past the filmmakers to have this wheel be the auxiliary control for the Enterprise. Can’t you just see Kirk spinning it wildly while he laughs like a loon, the Enterprise flying about in loops?
Spock engages in a batch of half-truths about Sybok, telling Kirk (and us) about how smart Sybok is and how he rejected Vulcan logic for Hippie feelings. This was Bad, apparently. Well, enough of that important information! It’s time to go back to the bridge!
They’re at Nimbus III. Transporters don’t work — Sybok seriously lucked out at getting the only Federation starship this broken to respond to him — and a Klingon vessel is on its way. Kirk shrugs, says to hell with it, and they leave the planet to the Klingons and their working transporters. Or, they don’t. Stupid mind fantasies of mine. They have 1.9 hours to mount a rescue, and away we go in a crappy shuttle effects shot!
To give the rescue squad some time, Chekov calls Sybok and pretends to be the captain. This is only to provide us with more V’s-pronounced-as-W’s humor. “You are in wiolation of Neutral Zone treaty!” Ha. Ha. “Your threats amuse me, Captain Chekov,” Sybok sneers. “What threats do you have in mind?” Is this guy so dense or what? How about a photon torpedo up your Vulcan butt, followed by a transporter beam locking on to the only Vulcan source on the planet and beaming him into the system’s sun? Oh, that’s right, Sybok somehow knows that he’s facing a gimped opponent. Sybok tells Chekov and his first officer to beam down, and Chekov is all like, “Oh, sure, that’s not the dumbest thing I’ve heard today, Mr. Hostage Taker.”
For reasons of stealthiness, the A-Team lands far away from the city instead of on top of Sybok’s bar and grill. Unfortunately, it’s too far to walk there in time… but fortunately, Kirk spies some horsies! What’s up with this movie and horses? The A-Team must distract the horses’ guardians somehow… and seeing as how they’re not going to spring for some cheap phasers-on-stun fighting right now, we engage in the most notorious moment of Trek movie lore.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it’s Uhura’s time to shine. After years of having some metal earplug sticking out of her head and repeating “Hailing frequencies open, Captain” so often she mutters it nonstop in her sleep, Uhura is given a chance to prove she’s more than some telephone operator in a miniskirt. So, no more skirt! Or anything else. A naked senior citizen Uhura croons while doing a palm branch “fan dance” on the top of a sand dune. Dude. Uhura. Naked. Why? WHYYYYY? This scene implodes under the weight of its horrific implications – Kirk assumes there’s no other way to get his horses than demand that one of his female crew members strip and do a sleazy dance for the all-male guards, and Uhura is more than happy to oblige. Not to mention their gross assumption that all of these guys are not family men and would willingly lunge at the first semi-nude apparition that appears in the desert.
I would give anything to know what Nichelle Nichols said when she read that moment in the script. I bet it sounded something like “Duck that!” and a firm slap upside the head to Mr. Shatner for even writing it.
End result: they got their horses and an essential member of the bridge officers will no longer be taken seriously by any of crew from this moment onwards. “Be one with the horse!” Kirk voice-overs to Spock as they ride into town.
They waltz into town screaming that the Federation is right behind them. Again, this isn’t a Mad Max or Braveheart setting — science fiction isn’t typically scared of a ten-foot wall and a measly gate. Why does the Galactic Army of Light (GAL, for short) consider this a safe refuge when a massive starship is orbiting right above their heads? Spock does a scan for the hostages, telling Kirk to “hold your horse, Captain.” Har-de-har-har. They begin their attack on the town.
Sybok, still conversing with Chekov for the past hour or so, hears the phaser shots and goes nuts. He seems genuinely surprised that the good guys are actually fighting, so I guess he thought he was in the Picard era, where the Federation would much prefer to talk you to death before ever taking action. Sorry, bud, this is Kirk’s Wild Ride, and we’re all just passengers hanging on by our fingernails. To recap: Sybok’s plan assumed that a Federation ship would come, reach them first, not transport any of them away, willingly beam down the two highest-ranking members of the crew into a hostage situation, and no rescue teams would be launched. What world does this guy live in? The Planet of Galactic Pipe Dreams?
Kirk goes judo-chop on a few guys, and a standard chaotic action sequence unfolds. Spock gets a nifty moment by performing the Vulcan nerve pinch on a horse (heh). The bad guys open up with a homemade gatling minigun (!) and an Enterprise red shirt gets chewed up. Kirk goes into the bar and is attacked by catwoman, complete with catty sound effects. He throws her into the wet pool table, and that is that. Water > Cat. Spock and Kirk find the hostages, who — in a completely surprising move that in no way we could see coming — draw their weapons and demand that the Enterprise crew surrender. Well played, Sybok. Well played.
Spock and Sybok meet at last, and while emotional Vulcan is happy, repressed feelings Vulcan is a bit put off and tries to arrest Sybok. Wonder why? Sibling rivalry? Oops, I gave away the big secret! Bad Justin. I know I haven’t mentioned Scraggly Guy in a while, but apparently he’s become Sybok’s Number One, so you often see him shadowing the loony Vulcan around, his mouth constantly hanging open like a corpse retrieved from a fire. Close your trap, buddy. Flies and all that.
Once he hears that Sybok wants to jack the Enterprise, Kirk does the head-slappingly stupid move of announcing that he’s the real captain. Great move, there. That’s like Bruce Willis not only willingly turning himself over to Alan Rickman, but then going the extra distance and helping the terrorists search for some extra guns. All of the hundred-plus GAL extras throw a party on the spot.
On board Captain Chekov’s Enterprise, Scotty is monitoring the approaching Bird of Prey, and Chekov orders shields to be raised. I’m surprised they didn’t announce that shields had failed, and Scotty would have to wrap up the Enterprise in protective tin foil or something. For an engineer, Scotty certainly spends a lot of time away from the engines, I’ve noticed.
Chekov informs the Galileo (Kirk’s shuttle) about the situation and tells them to go back and hide on the planet. Sybok and only a handful of followers — so few as to be easily overcome, if Kirk would stop his head-jerking overacting to do so — orders the shuttle to stay on course and get on the ship, even though doing so will endanger the Enterprise. I love Sybok’s genius mind. I’d love even more to get him and Khan in the same room, and then come back five minutes later to witness Khan picking bits of Sybok out of his teeth. Kirk calls Enterprise and tells them to expect “Emergency Landing Plan… B”. The pause is in no way suspicious. Of course, Chekov, Spock, Sulu, Scotty, Uhura and whatshisname have no idea what Kirk is talking about, but Kirk is no longer existing in the same reality as the rest of them. In his mind, he’s on a galloping horse, shouting “Geronimo!” and waving a lasso at a naughty, naked Klingon.
“B,” Kirk says. “As in ‘barricade’.” Why this makes sense to Scotty, I have no idea, but Scotty instantly grasps the plan. “Barricade” in Starfleet lingo means “A crash and burn stop”. It’s in all the novels. As Sybok freaks out yet again, Sulu gets points for snarking that it’s his “first attempt” in no effort to calm anybody. Long story short: they make a quick crash landing, the Klingons don’t get to cowardly assassinate Kirk, and the garage is totally ruined. The Enterprise jumps into warp and Sybok’s other 89 followers are left behind to rot. Nice guy, Sybok.
You’d think that after a massive crash landing by the shuttle, the bay would be swarming with… well, anyone… but it’s quiet. Too, too quiet. Sybok recovers faster than Kirk and gets his gun, but they start tussling in the near-darkness outside the shuttle. Spock gets the gun, but refuses to fire it at Sybok. Kirk’s screaming “Shoot him!”, which makes sense considering this guy is a terrorist, hostage taker and responsible for at least one Enterprise crew member’s death. Spock’s “feelings” get the best of him, however. You think Spock might’ve tried to find a phaser after the crash or gone with a Vulcan nerve pinch, but he just stands there like a lump on a log. Kirk, Spock and McCoy are sent to the brig; Kirk is pissed.
Sulu and Uhura are kept behind, for brainwashing, lobotomy and reprogramming. “Don’t be afraid,” Dar says, her hair sticking up into a point about two feet above her head. Sister, you’re being led by a Vulcan who looks like a Grateful Dead groupie. I’m terrified. I guess this means the end of Sulu and Uhura being interesting characters for the rest of the film.
Above the bay, in a control booth, Scotty sees the hijacking in progress and begins to verrrrry slowly move away. Scotty, hit the alarm! Call the bridge! Go to your engine room and shove a dozen phasers in the arms of your coworkers and declare that they’re now enlisted into Scotty’s Army of Darkness! Pathetic.
In the brig, Kirk is in the middle of a full-fledged snit. Belaying Trek tradition of clean talk, he’s cursing up a storm and threatening to beat Spock into the ground. McCoy offers to hold him down (heh). “Why Spock why?” Kirk says, hands flailing independently of his mouth. Spock then lowers the bombshell: Sybok is his half-brother. Trekkies around the world go “hur?” and begin to furiously flip through thousands of pages of source material to see if there’s any evidence for this new factoid. There is not. “You made that up,” Kirk says. No, YOU made that up, Shatner. Sybok’s mother was a Vulcan “princess”, apparently, so Sybok is a bonafide prince and can marry Princess Vespa once he rescues her from Dark Helmet.
Stupid nitpicking side note: all of this half-brother stuff seems news to McCoy as well, even though in Star Trek III he played host to all of Spock’s memories for a great length of time. Shouldn’t he remember this?
Stupid observation: Kirk sits on a seat in the brig with a label “Do not use while in stardock.” What does being in stardock have anything to do with a seat? [Reader Justin B. sent this in: “That seat is a toilet, with the lid down. Presumably it just vents to the exterior, so you wouldn’t want to use it in an enclosed space. Why it isn’t connected to temporary services when in dock is the question.”]
Sybok takes the bridge, and Chekov is up next for mind-muddling. This whole plot element is deliberately vague — Sybok “frees” people he meets from their deepest ONE inner source of pain, and then they suddenly become glowingly happy zombie followers… why? Does he use this moment of weakness to overcome their will, or are they just so blissful that they’re willing to turn their back on decades of experience and memories to act contrary to themselves?
Back in the brig, Kirk is failing to escape while Spock oh-so-modestly mentions that he was a test guinea pig for Starfleet’s design of the room. How does one get into that line of work?
This is an odd hijacking — Sybok doesn’t have nearly enough crew to be anywhere else than the bridge, so the rest of the crew is presumably free to continue on with their jobs. Yet no-one is trying to retake the ship, nor is anyone really alarmed about all this. Did Sybok free everyone of their pain while we weren’t looking? Even with a skeleton crew, that’d take a little while, I’d imagine. Sybok starts in on a dull speech to the ship (“My ancestors made love with their hearts,” he says. Okay, ew. How does that work?) and eventually gets around to the point that he’s taking them across the great barrier to the center of the galaxy to get to “Sha Ka Re”, aka God’s Crib. Legend says that “Sha Ka Re” refers to “Sean Connery”, who Shatner wanted for the role of Sybok. I think it’s better to focus your attention on the question of why Sybok thinks the center of the galaxy is where God is (why not another galaxy?).
A major point of Trek contention — as if any fan could really limit themselves to just one in this movie — is that the great barrier was previously established as a limiting force field of some kind that enshells the Milky Way galaxy. Not the center core. I do not care, of course.
Kirk and Spock hear some tapping and give us a crash course in Morse Code. S-T-A-N-D B-A-C-K. Boom. Scotty blows a hole in the wall and busts them out. It’s payback time, of a very limited quantity! Scotty tells them to go up a turboshaft to the steering wheel room, where they can phone Starfleet for help (I can imagine how that conversation will go: “Bob, I know you said I was the best and only chance you got, but we need a plan B now. B as in ‘Crap I suck!'”). Scotty then walks away, talking to himself, and knocks himself out cold on a low overhang. Feel free to do a rimshot.
Alarms finally go off, but unfortunately they’re on the Enterprise-D, according to the hallways. Picard sends Worf down to rip limbs off the terrorists until they resemble Monty Python’s Black Knight. Kirk and McCoy begin climbing up the turboshaft, but Spock is all “heck no, bro!” and leaves to go get his Spock-Jets. The terrorists find Scotty, and Sulu orders them to get him to sickbay. Scraggly Guy looks at his hefty frame and wonders how this will happen without a forklift.
A thought. Turboshafts hold turbolifts (aka “elevators”). Why do they need to climb at all? Just press the button and accept the free ride. Or are the lifts broken now, too?
Spock — who exited the turboshaft at the very bottom — now descends from above Kirk wearing his novelty booties. I don’t even want to think of the logistics involved in that. He offers the other two a ride, but Spock-Jets do not bear the weight of three senior citizens who are packing a little extra around the midriff. Although Kirk and McCoy are each standing on one of Spock’s boots for support, there’s an interesting shot of all six legs dangling in open air. They start to sink, terrorists come into the tunnel, and Spock uses his emergency rockets to send them up, up and away! Please ignore that they pass level 52 twice.
The trio use a hidden radio to call for help on an open frequency. They believe it when a female voice claiming to be “Starfleet control” acknowledges them, but without any way to confirm this, why would Kirk be spilling all the juicy details?
Yeah, it’s the Klingons. Stupid Kirk.
You might just want to fast-forward over this next scene. Sybok comes in and catches Kirk doing the verbal nasty. Sybok chides them for not wanting to throw their ship into the deadly barrier of certain death, claiming that they fear the unknown. I’m sorry, Sybok, but if it’s pretty common knowledge that the barrier is not good for ships, then it’s been tested already. It’s known. It’s a bottle of poison with a skull and crossbones saying, “Don’t drink me.” Will you please stop lecturing us? Sybok says he wants Kirk’s “respect”. Yeah. Okay.
Stupid nitpicking observation: Sybok’s three random terrorists have been on the ship for a while now. Why haven’t they ditched their rock-shooting air rifles for face-melting phasers yet?
Scotty awakes in sickbay with Uhura pawing him like a dog in heat. Shudder. Move on, move on!
Sybok begins to work his mind-mojo on the trio. The effect of the scene melting into the characters’ memories is fairly well done. McCoy reveals his “deepest pain” — he pulled the plug on his father’s disease and killed him, only to find out that a cure was discovered shortly thereafter. Euthanasia bad. Sybok hugs him and McCoy converts to Sybok’s team. Spock’s memory is that of his father calling him “so human” as a baby. I like that Spock can remember actual words from a few
minutes after his birth. Yes, it’s a “daddy never loved me” moment. Kirk — ever the stud — refuses to have this hippie psychiatrist pull up his pain, possibly because his pain is currently in progress in the making of this film. Spock and McCoy stand by their captain nonetheless.
Sybok reveals that he got a vision from God about this Sha Ka Re thing. Considering the light of later developments, are we to assume that a super-alien could mentally reach past the great barrier to touch someone thousands of light years
The Enterprise goes into the great barrier, which is bound to disappoint considering how much people in this movie have built it up to be a great threat. It’s kind of a bubbly lava lamp. Left alone in the steering wheel room, Kirk and company don’t worry about planning another escape or anything. This hijacking is so freaking lame. Despite the suspenseful music, everyone makes it just fine, and surprise surprise, there’s a planet there. Sha Ka Re!
“Is this a dream?” McCoy says. “If so, then life’s a dream,” Kirk replies, forcing our minds to recall the horrid singing incident. He then touches a plaque that bears the inscription “To boldly go where no man has gone before”. I don’t know about you, but I’m stuffed to the brim of inspiration.
Kirk decides to finally leave his wheel behind, and enters the bridge, firing a phaser madly at the enemy, the screams of the vanquished fading into nothingness under the weight of his righteous roar of revenge. Darn it, I so wish that’s what had happened. He’s a meek bunny rabbit now, and Sybok turns the ship over to him. Kirk’s next course of action is to immediately go down to the planet in the remaining shuttlecraft. Why he doesn’t wait for the transporters to be fixed first (oh, dramatic suspense later on) or doesn’t turn the ship around and report back to Starfleet that the barrier is nothing more than a light show is beyond me. He’s Kirk! He must go!
To be fair to the upcoming hokey special effects, there really wasn’t anywhere they could take this movie at this point without disappointing. There’s no great conflict now, so either one is coming or the climax of the movie is a tepid landing on the California desert. Or both. As the foursome marvel over this paradise planet that’s no more than rocks and dirt — I know the budget was tight, but couldn’t they have sprung for a trip to a redwood forest or something? — I can’t help but point out the obvious dirt road that runs through the middle of the landscape. Kirk gives Sybok a look like, “Wow. So unimpressed here. I’ve literally made planets nicer than this.”
On the bridge, everyone is so entranced with the vision of rocks that no one notices the screen that informs them about the oncoming Klingon warship.
Kirk starts to call the Enterprise, but he doesn’t really say anything until the shot cuts away from him. Okay, pointless. The lights dim and MORE rocks jut out of the ground. Time to meet “God”! If curiosity is just overwhelming you now, let me put your mind at ease: “God” is pretty much just a floating head in light. He has the bonus ability of being able to shoot laser beams with his eyes., which comes into play when Kirk questions why “God” needs a spaceship. Good question. Another one is, why does Shatner need a plot?
Spock and Kirk get a chest-full of wrath. Sybok’s a bit slow, but eventually he figures out that this isn’t really God. It’s an imprisoned nutjob! The alien transforms himself into Sybok’s likeness, and Sybok’s mind finally snaps. “I couldn’t help notice your pain,” Sybok says to the alien, then launches into a mind-meld with it. Sybok, we never knew ye. Kirk orders the ship to fire a torpedo at the alien, and they run away.
The alien isn’t dead, but Sybok surely is. “Thanks for killing my brother in vain,” Spock mutters under his breath (or so I imagine). Kirk, Spock and McCoy jog back to the shuttle, which is now parked far closer to the alien’s position than their previous hike suggested. They can’t take off, so Kirk calls Scotty for a little transporter action. I never liked how so many Trek plots seemed to build suspense over whether or not someone would be transported in time, but here we go again! Scotty can only beam up two, so Kirk orders the other two to go. Right then, the Bird of Prey that no one decided to notice fires on the Enterprise and magically hits the transporter. Kirk! KIIIIIIIRRRRRRKKK! He starts running away from the grumpy alien.
The Klingons demand surrender, and Spock asks General Korrd to help out. “Damn you sir, you WILL try,” Spock growls. Go, Spock!
More running away from the magical light show. I am so ready for all this to be over. Right as Kirk is about to be sizzled, the Bird of Prey rises from beneath a cliff (!) and fires on the disembodied face. Bye-bye. Kirk’s beamed on board, but apparently Korrd had a talking-to with his underling, and the Klingons are now little pussycats. In a parody of how a dad might make his son apologize for doing wrong, Korrd makes Klaa kiss and make up. Not literally, of course. I cannot believe that any of the Klingons would willingly give up Kirk like this, but there you go.
As if the weirdness of this scene couldn’t get any more pointless, Korrd reveals that Spock was the gunner. A-ha!, the audience was supposed to go.
With mere seconds to spare, Spock tells Korrd to convince Klaa to go from attacker to helper. Korrd agrees, spends some time talking to Klaa, and orders Klaa to beam him and Spock (why?) onto their ship. They then fly down to the planet, underneath a rock formation, and Spock mans the weapons. Spock kills the alien, then trains his guns on Kirk (!). Kirk’s beamed up, and Spock just waits in his chair until Korrd is ready to spring the big surprise. Seriously, that’s how that all had to go. Whaaaa?
Kirk goes in for a hug, and Spock says, “Please, Captain, not in front of the Klingons.” So… later on then? Hugs in my quarters?
Party scene. All of the races and people involved are drinking it up. The humans seem quite friendly with the Klingons, even though the events of the previous and subsequent movies suggest extreme loathing on both parties’ behalves. Talbot is putting the moves on Dar, who’s wearing a very slinky dress for the occasion. The butch female Klingon walks in, with Sulu and Chekov stalking her no more than two feet behind her, but they veer off when Klaa glowers at them. Komedy!
Let’s get this done. Kirk, Spock and McCoy do a little theological speculation (“[God’s] right here,” Kirk thumps his chest. So, Kirk is God? Figures.). Spock’s a little broken up about his brother’s death, you know, but Kirk turns that little statement around to talk about himself once more. Shut up, Kirk!
A movie this crappy needs a suitable coda, so here we are back on Earth, finishing up shore leave. Spock plays his harp — Row, Row, Row Your Boat — and they start singing. Touching. Peace, I’m out.
Why is Sybok on Nimbus III? How did he get there? Why did he go there?
Daddy, what’s Vietnam?
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Love this review because it truly was a horrible movie. Your description of the beginning cracked me up – “A scraggly man is digging in the desert for water — or a plot” Ha! Ha! How true. The scary thing is it just got worse from there. Thanks for the laughs.
Excellent and profoundly appropriate review. It brings back so many bad and confusing memories. I can’t help wondering how many of the actors left this off of their acting resumes.