Star Trek V: Film Review

StarTrekVWhen a terrorist group take hostages on the so called ‘planet of galactic peace’, the Enterprise must respond to the threat posed by a religious mad man who believes he knows the location of the planet ‘ShaKaRee’ (Eden). Hijaking the Enterprise, the crew venture through the great barrier at the centre of the universe to meet their maker…

A parity clause in his contract meant that William Shatner would take up the option to direct the film. Sadly, this movie would prove to be the weakest of the original Star Trek movies and proved to be a huge disappointment at the box-office…

Shatner really aims high, reaching for an epic cinematic feel for the movie. His ambition is clear from the opening scene that tries to ape Lawrence of Arabia, with Sybok riding out of the desert. He also employs some lovely establishing shots in Yosemite. Shatner also tries for some immediacy by using a steadicam to show actors entering and leaving the turbo lifts. It’s a far artier and innovative effort than Nimoy employed, but you’ve got to wonder if Shatner was so focused on the filming of the movie that he lost sight of some other factors.

Let’s look at the plot. Unfortunately, it’s a pretty predictable Star Trek story, where the crew of the Enterprise find that an alien is pretending to be God to further its own nefarious ends. In fact, when one compares it to episodes of the Original Series, it’s very similar in terms of story structure to a truly terrible episode called ‘The Way to Eden’. I’ll elaborate.

Inspirational nutcase with loyal followers wants to visit mythical planet of Eden. CHECK.
Nutcases actually convince some crewmembers of their beliefs. CHECK.
One of the crew has a very personal relationship with one of the nut-jobs. CHECK.
Nutcase and henchmen take over the Enterprise. CHECK.
Nutter reaches Eden/alien planet and is killed. CHECK.

Much of the films humour comes at the expense of the characters. Sulu and Chekhov (helmsman and navigator) get lost whilst out hiking in an early sequence. Scotty declares that he ‘knows this ship like the back of my hand’ and then proceeds to knock himself out on a bulkhead. Both of these sequences are quite funny, but the humour comes at the expense of the characters and we are laughing at them rather than with them.

Clearly, there was pressure to introduce more humour after the success of Star Trek IV. Regrettably, the comedy here is too broad and gags are ‘constructed’ rather than coming from the characters situation. Star Trek should not be Police Academy.

Without ILM available for the visual effects, the production went to Brian Ferren. The results were nothing short of terrible. Instead of an optical composite, Ferren preferred rear projection techniques. His rather simple visual techniues included using chemicals, which were dropped into a large water tank to create swirls and other reactions in order to produce the ‘Great Barrier’ sequence.

Famously, the ending was to have featured giant rockmen, but in those pre-CGI days, the effect could not be achieved within budget. Instead, Kirk is chased by amorphous and unconvincing blobs of light. The film re-uses visual effects from previous movies because much of the newer material was very poor. Check out the shot below – it’s flat and lifeless. Clearly unfinished.


It’s a special effect Jim, but not as we know it.

So, is Star Trek V an unmitigated disaster with no redeeming features? No – that’d be Star Trek Nemesis. Star Trek V has some wonderful moments, my favourite of which is Kirk’s question to what would appear to be the almighty. His line delivery is perfect and this small exchange really sums up Star Treks credo nicely.

Deforest Kelley also gets to show his acting range with a touching scene showing him euthanizing his dying father. McCoy’s added torment that a ‘god damn cure’ was found shortly after is palpable.

Towards the end of the movie, McCoy ask’s somewhat rhetorically if God is really out there. Kirk replies: “Maybe he’s not out there. Maybe he’s in here—in the human heart.” Again, it’s a statement entirely in keeping with Star Trek, it’s a small sweet moment in the film that I really liked.

The musical score is one of the movies unmitigated triumphs. Goldsmith riffs on his theme from The Motion Picture and also creates some wonderful sequences such as the music that accompanies the exploration of the planet at the centre of the Universe.

Ultimately, the studo should have spent more money on the visual effects for this movie. To release it in a clearly unfinished state is laughable. The film is carried by some excellent acting, Laurence Luckinbill’s performance as Sybok is particularly good. However, there are some unforgivable sequences in the movie. Watching a fifty-something Uhura doing a fan-dance is akin to accidentally copping an eyeful as Grannie walks out of the shower.

The definition of sophomoric is ‘conceited and overconfident of knowledge but poorly informed and immature’. Unfortunately, that sums up the film nicely. The humour is particularly sophomoric (now that I know what that means).

This movie could easily have ended the Star Trek film franchise and I believe that only the spectacular popularity of The Next Generation allowed Star Trek VI to go ahead. Star Trek V is not a worthless picture, it just lacks the sophisticated technical and dramatic adeptness that the previous pictures had in abundance. The whole God narrative is a conceptual no-win scenario, which leaves the denouement of the film, and its amorphous lightning-shooting deity face all the more ridiculous.

Rating: 4/10


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