The big-screen Star Trek franchise has been a mixed bag. The first, Star Trek – The Motion Picture (1979) was an over-produced snore. The second, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) was better, thanks to Ricardo Montalban’s campy villain and director Nicholas Meyer wisely placing the emphasis on fun.
Leonard Nimoy, making his directorial debut with Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984) took the serious route. The result was the lowest-grossing entry ($76 million) in the series.
Lesson learned, he tried a lighthearted approach on Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986) and racked up rave reviews and the highest take ($110 million) of any Star Trek to date.
William Shatner stewed. He reportedly refused to appear again as Kirk unless he also got his chance to play director. He got his wish with Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.
Shatner was determined to make a splash with his movie directorial debut – and he did. But probably not in the way he intended. With Shatner in command (not only does he star and direct, but the story was also his idea,) Kirk becomes the entire show.
We catch up with him on vacation. He’s climbing a cliff. Not just any cliff, mind you, but the world’s tallest; ‘El Capitan’ in Yosemite National Park. Spock, Bones, Chekhov and Sulu are on vacation too, but only Kirk is defying death on his holidays. What a man!
Called back to the Enterprise (and despite the budget here, it still looks like a flying waffle iron), Kirk embarks on a mission that really leans hard on his promise to “boldly go where no man has gone before” – he must rendezvous with God at the centre of the galaxy (that’s Heaven!).
A Vulcan renegade named Sybok (Laurence Luckinbill) is holding Kirk’s ship hostage. Sybok thinks the Enterprise can bust right through the Pearly Gates.
The trip gives Kirk and company time – way too much time – to consider the big who-and-what’s-out-there questions of existence. Not the stimulating kind you might find in the science fiction writing of Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison or Robert Heinlein, or in Stanley Kubrick’s classic film 2001: A Space Odyssey, though. Not content with making his actors look like shop dummies, Shatner makes them mouthpieces for dull gab that never stops.
Long story short; Heaven looks disappointingly like what it actually is, the California desert tinted red; the talking head on view resembles an angry Max Headroom more than God, Satan or the personification of man’s vanity; and the evil Klingons pursuing Kirk deliver more blather (in Klingon with English subtitles) than action.
There’s no telling how much of this film’s $32 million budget was spent on flattering lighting, slenderising costumes and cosmetic surgery, but what could have been a heartfelt valedictory to the Star Trek troops in the September of their light-years became instead a losing battle to keep grey hairs, crow’s feet and unsightly bulges at bay.
Bill Shatner and James Doohan suck in their guts so often you’ll fear they’ll hyperventilate, Leonard Nimoy (aged 58 like Shatner) appears even less expressive than usual buried under pounds of pancake makeup, DeForest Kelley is pushing seventy – he should know better.
There’s also Walter Koenig (Chekhov) and George Takei (Sulu) acting like bird-brained boy scouts and – wait for it – Nichelle Nichols (Uhura) doing a striptease for horny space creatures!!
Captain James T Kirk
Science Officer Spock
Dr Leonard “Bones” McCoy
Chief Engineer “Scotty” Scott
Communications Officer Uhura
St. John Talbot