Sunday, December 30, 2012
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier
"Son, we are about the break the surly bonds of gravity, and punch the face of God."
- Homer Simpson
Star Trek V is the first Star Trek film that stands on the other side of one of the most significant divides in franchise history, although you'd never know it based on what's on screen. Star Trek 4 was produced and released in 1986, and Star Trek 5 was produced in the winter of 1988 and spring of 1989, with a release that summer. Star Trek: The Next Generation premiered on September 28, 1987, the first live-action television series set in the Trek universe since the cancellation of the original series, almost 20 years before, and the first featuring a completely new crew. So this film was created in a world in which Trek had finally, after multiple stops and starts, made its way back to the small screen, with a new crew and a new tone. And I mention all of this, not to make any connection with Star Trek 5, but to point out just how little this film cares about the fact that its crew is no longer the only kid on the block.
On the "Galactic Planet of Peace", which is called Nimbus III but which I am going to refer to as the GPP, a mysterious Vulcan named Sybok (Laurence Luckinbill) hatches a plan to bring a starship to the planet, and to him. The crew of the Enterprise (which is now the Enterprise-A) is currently on shore leave on Earth, the ship itself not yet in flying condition, but when they receive the distress call from the Federation regarding the ambassadors who live on the GPP (which Sybok has set up specifically to bring the cavalry to him), they saddle up and head out that way anyway. Sybok, who appears to have the power to turn people into followers of his through magic, hijacks the Enterprise and sets off towards his ultimate destination. We learn here that Sybok is, in fact, Spock's half brother on his father's side, and also that his destination is the mythical Sha Ka Ree (which is equated to the notion of Eden on Earth) planet near the center of the galaxy, through a "Barrier" which is supposedly impenetrable. The Enterprise passes through the Barrier and Kirk, Spock, McCoy and Sybok land on the planet and discover that the planet is inhabited by a being claiming to be God, but who turns out to simply be an alien who was imprisoned on the planet. Sybok, fully disillusioned by this reveal, sacrifices himself to help defeat the alien, and Spock and Kirk talk their way out of the threat of a Klingon ship that has also traveled to the planet for the express purpose of capturing Kirk and which I haven't mentioned yet because who cares.
I can say, without any exaggeration, that Star Trek 5 is one of the most singularly unpleasant film watching experiences I have ever had in my life, and I watched Moonraker not a few months ago. This is not a case like Star Trek 1, where the kernel of a decent idea periodically peeks through the fog of a movie that is mostly a misfire. Everything here is bad, from conception through execution, and the only thing capable of saving this film is to destroy every single copy of it and then salt the Earth where the ashes come to rest so nothing can grow of it ever again, with signs posted in a 50 mile radius that warn any potential travelers to stay clear of the spot. Every single thing that happens in this movie is aggressively terrible, and the only thing that stands between me and perhaps permanent insanity is that I have a venue here in which to catalog as many of these things that I can.
The film opens on the GPP, which from what I can gather was supposed to have been a planet where the Federation, the Klingons and the Romulans could come together and create a functioning society, but which infighting and bureaucracy have left a barren, mostly deserted wasteland. The idea that the three societies couldn't even come together to make something of this one planet is I guess a reasonable one considering the practical realities of the relations between the three groups, but it's also breathtakingly cynical. Star Trek is supposed to be a universe of hope and optimism and here, in its purest possible expression, is an indication that that is horseshit. Even as a non-fan, this bothers me.
Other than Star Trek 4, the Trek movies have thus far been pretty close to obsessed with the theme of aging, and with the notion that our crew is Getting Too Old For This Shit. The first time we meet any of our crew in this movie, it is a (very long) scene of Captain Kirk free-climbing El Capitan. This makes me kind of wish I hadn't already blown my quota of using the phrase "breathtakingly cynical."
Kirk, Spock and McCoy are out in Yosemite during their R&R time, and they have a little camp out, complete with a fire and a pot of beans and camp songs. And I mean, they actually fucking sing "Row Row Row Your Boat", or at least Shatner and Kelley do. I'm not a camping person but if I was, this scene might turn me off of the entire endeavor forever. It looks like whatever the anti-matter opposite of "fun" is, three old-ass men eating beans, singing shitty songs, and bickering.
From what I understand, James Doohan was actually the most anti-Shatner member of the cast, and there was perhaps some concern that he would refuse to appear in a film that Shatner directed. Scotty is given quite a bit to do in this film, because the Enterprise-A is nowhere close to flight-ready, so he's constantly being given scenes where he bitches about having to fix up the heap of shit that he's stuck with. This is almost certainly the bargain they cut with Doohan to get him to agree to the film, and if it makes the Federation seem like a bunch of amateurs (they just built this brand-new ship and it's a total rust bucket?) well, so be it.
The crew has to bring their shore leave to an abrupt end because the Federation forces the Enterprise to sail off to the GPP and find out what the hell is going on there. So the ship heads off once again with a skeleton crew (I don't think the Enterprise has flown with a full complement in any of the films so far) and in a state of bad disrepair. Their reasoning is that they need Kirk's experience to deal with the problem, and the obvious question is why don't they just put Kirk onboard some other ship, one that's battle ready and has a full crew onboard, but the answer to that question is "Hollywood bullshit" so whatever, fuck it.
On the GPP, Sybok has the representatives of the three groups (Federation, Klingon, Romulan) held hostage, so the Enterprise crew pulls off a "siege the base" type maneuver. The thing here that is most notable is that this film manages to surpass Octopussy's "Bond in a clown suit" scene in terms of something that happens that is so upsetting you wish desperately that you could unsee it. Our good guys need to divert part of Sybok's forces to their location in order to break some of Sybok's numbers advantage, so they.....oh God. So they......they have Uhura do, like, a burlesque dance in the moonlight, to which the troops are drawn like moths to a candle. And she is singing, too (well, a professional singer is singing for her). Look. Okay. Look. I think Nichelle Nichols is a sexy lady, I do. But she was 56 when this movie was filmed. A 56 year old woman, doing a burlesque dance. This is, to put it bluntly, granny porn, and it is so upsetting, and I feel so bad for Nichols, but I mostly feel bad for me, because I have seen this happen and I can never go back to a time in my life before I saw this thing.
Here is a sentence that I will type so I can start to forget, and can move to the next bullet point. Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh..........................................................
Okay. Sybok is played by Laurence Luckinbill; so far in the film series, his role is probably the second biggest for a guest star to date, right after the Montalban. Who the fuck is Laurence Luckinbill? Exactly. Supposedly this role was offered to Sean Connery (who chose the 3rd Indiana Jones flick instead) which is why the planet at the end is called "Sha Ka Ree". HAHAHAHAHAHA! Seriously though, Luckinbill sucks. Sybok is supposed to be some massively famous Vulcan, having left behind the whole "logic" thing to let his emotions control him, but not an ounce of that comes through in his dishwater dull performance. And here's the real kick in the nuts - the Federation representative on the GPP that he takes hostage is played by David Warner. Now, Warner isn't a big star or anything, but he's famous enough, and he has a history of playing outsized bad guys, and he could have been swapped in for Luckinbill so easily with a significant uptick in quality for the character. God. Fuck you, Shatner.
Sybok turns people into followers by, I wish I was making this up, identifying with their "pain" and I guess eliminating it. For example, he turns McCoy (although it doesn't stick) by showing him the memory of his dying father, who McCoy helped to euthanize when he was dying of some incurable illness, but later it turned out that the illness could easily be cured. I think. I lost the thread a bit here. Anyway, he shows McCoy this scene, and then "takes away" McCoy's pain, and then McCoy is another one of his followers. The "I'm OK, You're OK" bullshittery of this is so far off the charts it's immeasurable. This is a film that posits that one of those Scientology Audits is not only real, but basically wizardry that can instantly cure a person.
So Sybok has used his powers on the three representatives on the GPP, and then he uses it on Uhura and Sulu and Chekov, and they all immediately abandon their responsibilities and let Sybok take over the Enterprise in order to fly it to Sha Ka Ree. He puts Kirk, Spock and McCoy in the brig and they pull off some sort of jailbreak with Scotty's help which isn't remotely interesting and is not worth talking about except that it includes a "joke" where Scotty says that he knows the ship like the back of his hand and then immediately knocks his own dumb ass out by running into a low-hanging beam, hilarious, and then Sybok pulls the Auditing trick with McCoy and Spock, but it doesn't work, but the Enterprise is at the magic planet anyway so it doesn't matter.
So they're at the planet, and everyone is curious what's down there, so they immediately basically forget that Sybok has taken them all hostage and is pretty much a war criminal, and they accompany him down to the surface, which I guess makes some logical sense (I mean, I'd be curious too) but is the sort of thing that can only happen if you completely forget that this is a show that is, at its heart, about a military organization. Kirk, Spock, McCoy and Sybok go down to the planet.
Sybok is absolutely overwhelmed by awe at the surroundings on this planet. He is overwhelmed by this:
And, okay, it turns out that this isn't Eden after all (quelle surprise) but seriously, why is Sybok so excited about looking at that shithole? This movie is cheap beyond cheap. The effects, what little there are of them, look like complete shit, and the vistas are all just the ugliest, outskirts-of-L.A. desert that you will ever have the misfortune to see. I'm sure this wasn't a very expensive movie but it looks even cheaper than that, like all the money went into craft services and then when it came time to film it everyone threw up their hands and dragged their cameras out into the parking lot.
So they meet the being who lives on this planet, who resembles the white-bearded, Judeo-Christian conception of God, but who everyone immediately figures out is just some alien asshole because he asks for a spaceship and keeps shooting people with lightning that shoots out of his eyes, which is probably not the sort of thing that God would do, at least on the first date. And then Sybok wrestles him, and the Klingons show up, and Spock is on the Klingon ship, and they shoot the alien, and they have a party, and this movie is over, the end, I quit.
(I'll be back for 6. I like 6, at least I hope I still do. I am broken, but not defeated.)