Star Trek The Marathon: What Does God Need With A Starship?
Our Star Trek marathon warps on with a fifth film, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. Katey remains a total Trek noob and Josh is, as always, a huge nerd. Follow along with our entire marathon by going right here.
KATEY: It's been a long couple of days in mine and Josh's respective houses-- hours sitting on the couch, growing obese from inappropriate snack foods and practicing our Scotty impressions. We've been here so long, in fact, that people have started talking about a new Star Trek movie, apparently one you can go out and see in public, with other people.
"Hey Josh, how about we check out the new one? Popcorn's on me," I suggested, only to have him grab my neck in a pathetic attempt at a Vulcan nerve pinch and shout "No! More Shatner! Always more Shatner!" Before he had the chance to pull out a phaser I relented, and settled in for-- oh God-- another odd-numbered movie. By now I was well aware of the curse, and figured I was either in for some stupid philosophizing about God or some incoherent Klingons. Turns out, this movie has both. Oh boy...
JOSH: Damn the curse! Star Trek III was good! By the time this one's over, you'll wish we were back there, searching for Spock.
JOSH: Star Trek V is a movie directed and co-written by a man who believes people climb mountains because they want to hug them. I'm not kidding, William Shatner said exactly that during one of his interviews to promote the film. This movie is all Shatner's fault. He only agreed to do Star Trek IV on the condition that they'd let him direct Star Trek V. Unfortunately when IV ended Shatner's idea for the fifth movie involved sending the crew in search of god, and having them find the devil instead. That's right, Shatner wanted to make Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey. Everyone involved agreed this was a horrible idea, but Shatner refused to be swayed. The best they could do was Star Trek V, a movie in which the crew goes in search of God, but instead finds an alien hitchhiker. Because it works so well for the fourth movie, they've also gone out of their way to make it funny. Except in IV it worked in the flow of the story, here it just seems ridiculous and jokey. It's funny, but it's more like you're laughing at the movie than laughing with it. Because of that, the tone's all over the map. One minute the crew is engaging in prat falls, the next they're standing around looking super serious and spouting ridiculous meditations on the meaning of life. It's a mess.
KATEY: All this time I'd assumed Trekkies were like the few people still out there defending The Phantom Menace devoted to their master until the bitter end. But Josh, you've shown me the way-- there's a point at which even Trekkies give up, and that point seems the be the moment when everyone takes a ride on Spock's rocket boots (more on those later). It's bizarre both that no one seemed to notice this plot was essentially the same as the V'ger story in The Motion Picture, and that they couldn't figure out a way to incorporate comedy while also keeping the action believably high-stakes. They could have even kept the silly stuff, even Uhura as an exotic dancer, if the villain wasn't droning on and on about making connections with people's pain and finding God. Did we really need to see McCoy witness his father's death? I've been talking about how I want to know more about these characters, but seriously, enough is enough.
KATEY: I was going to bring this up a few movies ago, when Spock was revived on Vulcan and looked deeply into Kirk's eyes and said "Jim, your name is Jim." And during Voyage Home, when Kirk was catting around San Francisco, I briefly noted what was clearly Spock's seething jealousy. But now, after lines like "It's a mystery to me what draws us together" and "Please, Captain, not in front of the Klingons," it has to be said: Kirk and Spock are completely, totally in love with each other. McCoy too, but he's more of the wisecracking third wheel who keeps the other two from ripping off each others clothes. If there is any point to the plot of this movie-- and I'm not really convinced there is one-- it's as a gauntlet for Spock to prove his devotion to Kirk by killing his own brother. He does, of course, both killing off the most interesting villain we've had since Khan and allowing Kirk, McCoy and Spock to go sing together in the woods again-- surely the jumping off point for tons of erotically charged fan fiction.
Honestly, I liked the whole "hopelessly devoted to you" vibe between the three leads better when it was subtext. All the talk about the strong bond between them, and the ride together on Spock's rocket boots, just puts too fine a point on it. It's best not to mention what the other characters are put through-- Scotty banging his head in a goofy pratfall, Sulu getting lost in the woods, and poor Uhura, the exotic dancer (you'd think with the gray in her hair she'd finally get more respect!) At least Chekov made a pretty passable fake captain.
Star Trek V is clearly trying to continue the character focus from the first film, but Nimoy as a director had a much better understanding of the characters than Shatner does here, and let the deep friendships-- or hey, maybe more-- manifest themselves naturally as part of the plot. It's tempting to conflate the two actor-directors with their characters-- Spock understanding the natural logic of filmmaking and never saying more than necessary, compared to brash Kirk, who can't help making an entire movie about how everyone is in love with him.
JOSH: Star Trek V was made before our homophobic society decided men can no longer be friends unless they also make out on the side. It's unfair to hold it to that standard, just as all the Frodo and Sam are totally gay crap surrounding Lord of the Rings was unfair. Seriously, it's ok to care about someone without wanting to fuck them. Besides, Star Trek V is a joke and most of the stuff you're citing from it is also, a joke. A really, really bad joke.
Speaking of jokes, how about Kirk? This is a man who faced down Khan and saved the Earth multiple times over. But you put a gun to his head and he gives up his entire ship. Never has any Captain done so little to save his own vessel. The Kirk I know would have spit in the face of Sybock for even suggesting that he let him on board his ship. Ridiculous. Even more ridiculous is the willingness of the entire Enterprise crew to betray Kirk, after we've just spent four movies watching them follow him into hell and back out again. But thirty seconds with some pointy-eared new age guru and they're more than happy to say “fuck Kirk, let's go find god!” It's an insult to anyone who cares at all about any of these characters. “But they're brainwashed,” you say. Then why doesn't McCoy join the mutiny? Katey, I'm sure you'll say that he's Jim's boy toy, but I say because it's a bullshit script.
KATEY: I'm not here to argue the grand history of homosexual undertones in movies, except that you should all keep a close eye on Sal Mineo in Rebel Without a Cause. But I just want to add that Kirk and Spock being in love with each other is not a bad thing, and noticing that certainly doesn't make me homophobic. Given that Gene Roddenberry apparently intended to include gay characters in the utopian world of Star Trek, I'd imagine he'd be fine with imagining his two leads sharing a bond deeper than just friendship. See how I just struck back with my own Trek knowledge, Josh? You've created a monster!
JOSH: It's easy to be a kick-ass bad guy when your victims don't seem to try. That explains the success of Sybock, who stages the least opposed mutiny in the history of movies. I sort of like the idea of a Vulcan mystic who's able to take away people's pain, but I still don't get how that allows him to basically brainwash people, even though everyone insists he doesn't. Meanwhile, whatever he did to the crew is never actually reversed. The movie ends with everyone just going back to their jobs. I mean if you're Kirk, won't you be a little nervous the next time you expect Sulu to cover your back? Sybock succeeds only because he has no real opposition. He walks on screen and everyone gets out of his way. There's at least three or four times when Kirk or Spock could have easily stopped him, but they don't bother. The worst is the scene where Spock refuses to shoot him. Ok Spock, so you don't want to shoot your brother. I get that. So punch him, kick him, give him the goddamn Vulcan neck pinch or something. This Vulcan hippy doesn't deserve his success.
Even worse is the energy being they find hanging around at the center of the galaxy pretending to be god. You're an amorphous being of such great power that the only way to imprison you is to construct a gigantic barrier around the center of the galaxy, yet you're stopped by a little phaser fire and a couple of torpedoes? I mean this is a being which five minutes earlier was so powerful, so impressive, that everyone mistook him for God. A couple of gunshots and he drops dead. I expect more, even from a fake god, than that.
KATEY: I said before that Sybock had the potential to be a villain on par with Khan, and I meant it-- he's got the personal grudge, the gallery of minions and even the evil laugh down pat. But yes, his methods for taking over the Enterprise are ridiculous. I imagine when he pulled the "show me your pain" stunt on McCoy and Spock we were supposed to understand what a monster he was, but good Lord-- these are both soldiers who have survived all kinds of space misadventures. At least he didn't try that shit on Kirk. Then again, Kirk was able to bring Chekov over to his side even when Chekov was infected with Khan's earworm, and yet this time he basically just hangs out in the brig, secretly wondering what this Eden is all about anyway. And once we get there, and see that laser light show excuse for a god? And how he kind of turns into Sybock, but not really? If we shout Khan loud enough, will he come back?
JOSH: I'm with you. At least Kirk didn't fall for his bullshit. Actually his response to Sybock's attempt to brainwash him is one of the few smart things in this movie: “I need my pain!” That's pretty deep.
JOSH: Much like the script, the look of this film is bullshit. First let's take the planet they end up on at the end of the film. It's supposed to be Eden, yet when they walk off the shuttle and look around, they're in the middle of some godforsaken wasteland. How does the crew react? Excitement. Somehow standing in the middle of the Sahara affirms their faith in God's existence. Funny, I'd always pictured Eden as sort of a garden. Maybe that's why they call it the “Garden of Eden”. Worse, even the Enterprise doesn't look very good. The exterior shots are half-assed, the Klingon Bird of Prey looks like it was constructed from footage leftover from the previous two movies and Scotty's weight is becoming a serious, serious problem. I blame Shatner's complete inability as a director for all of it. Even Scotty's belly fat. I picture him feeding Doohan (whose hatred of Shatner is near legendary), hoagies in between takes, as his only means of keeping him cooperative. Love Shatner as an actor, I'm a fan, but this man should never, ever have been allowed behind the camera. The movie has no real style or substance to the way it looks, it just sits there on screen, as if it doesn't have to try because it's Star Trek.
KATEY: Is Scotty getting all that much heavier? I figured they were all gaining a little with age-- Shatner is not all that trim himself, mind you. But yes, the fact that they clearly saved on budget by filming in just one desert location really shows, even though apparently they originally intended to make use of the desert Eden by having Kirk chased by a rock monster. Rock monster! How cool would that have been. Instead we got a stupid looking villain, a stupid looking broken Enterprise, and something that can bring even Josh to hate on his beloved franchise. Boo, Shatner!
KATEY: It was nice to have the return of the big, grand score after the generic goofy music from Star Trek IV. And it never felt as bombastic as it has in previous outings, maybe because we were once again spared the triumphant return to the Enterprise. Forgive me if I'm wrong, but is this overture kind of a combination of James Horner's Wrath of Khan theme and the work Goldsmith was doing on The Motion Picture? As for the sound effects, there wasn't really much going on here-- not too much new technology or space battles or anything. It bugged me when they went before "God" and he claimed to be one voice with many faces-- one voice that just so happened to be the voice of an old, white man. Of course, we all saw how that God turned out in the end, so maybe my complaint was a little premature.
JOSH: I think you've just picked up on some hidden subtext. Instead of God, they found The Man. Figures. The Man ruins everything, though I don't feel comfortable blaming him for this listless score. To me it seemed like they just recycled the score from Star Trek: The Motion Picture but turned the volume down a notch or two. Pathetic. Everything in this movie feels recycled, why should the sound be any different.
KATEY: Has there been any suggestion previously that Scotty and Uhura were involved? Where did that come from?
JOSH:None really, but I'm chocking it all up to menopause. Uhura has clearly lost her fucking mind, which also explains why she's started stripping naked and forcing men to watch her wrinkly body engage in inappropriately sexual contortions.
KATEY: How does Kirk know he's going to die alone?
JOSH: Because Shatner co-wrote the script and he's full of shit.
KATEY: Does this mean we're friends with Klingons now?
JOSH: You'll get the answer to that question, in Star Trek VI. “The Undiscovered Country” is those ridges on Klingon heads.
JOSH: I'd forgotten just how crummy this movie was. It's definitely contender for worst Star Trek movie ever. Luckily, since we're stopping this marathon at 6, we won't have to sit through the other biggest Trek abortions, featuring The Next Generation cast. It fails on nearly ever level. The only place anything in this movie works at all, is in the opening at Yosemite. The scenery's great, the campfire lighting is fantastic, the little moments between Kirk, Spock and McCoy are a blast. Then they go into space and the whole thing goes splat. I really didn't need to see Uhura's palm fronds or find out what happens when Spock gives a horse the Vulcan neck pinch. The frustrating thing is that maybe there could have been something in the idea of the crew somehow going mutiny on Kirk. But this movie can't even properly explore that. It's all so half-assed. If Sulu, Chekov, and Uhura are going to betray Kirk, why not let us see what impact that has? How would that affect the Captain? It would seem, not at all. They never confront him and he pretends it never happens. That's good advice really. Katey, let's pretend this movie never happened.
KATEY: I'm not gonna lie, I still think Search for Spock is worse, mostly because the villain here is a little more reasonable and the Klingons seem less like, well, space Orcs. And while the overplay of the relationship between Spock, Kirk and McCoy definitely got on my nerves, the opening and closing camping scenes were fun for me as well, and a fairly realistic take on how so many years working together can create an unlikely friendship. If only they'd given a similar treatment to the rest of the crew, rather than using them as pawn's in a villain's stupid game. I'm not sure I'm ready to trash this one entirely, Josh-- at least I want a pair of Spock's rocket boots before we do. But yeah, moving on to the next one is probably the best we can do at this point.
What do you think of Star Trek V: The Undiscovered Country?
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