- Year: 1989
- Director: William Shatner
- Series Rank: #12
- Year Rank: #107
- Oscar Nominations: none
- Nighthawk Nominations: none
- The Enterprise Crew: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, Walter Koenig
- Villain: Laurence Luckinbill, Todd Bryant
The Film: Star Trek IV had brought the ending that every Star Trek fan wanted: a new Enterprise, all set for new adventures with the original crew. Yes, there was a new crew on a new Enterprise on television, but we were still enjoying the original crew on film and we knew there would be time for the new crew to make its way to film after that show was done. So, we were off on new adventures, and where did it bring us? Right into Star Trek V: Plotholes.
That’s not the real subtitle, of course, but it easily could have been. Let’s begin with the start of the film. Actually, the start of the film is majestic – we get a strange opening with an intriguing Vulcan (possibly the villain?), then the credits come up (I was there on opening day with my closest friends and when that Jerry Goldsmith score came up, which had been adopted as the Star Trek theme thanks to the new show everyone went bonkers, as they did for each cast member as they appeared on the screen – in between the fourth and fifth films, I had moved into high school and serious love for Star Trek, partially because of the new show and my friends were right there with me – also, I could now get to a movie theater on my own and I had started to become really interested in film) and then there are those glorious shots of Yosemite (I was in California, so we all went nuts for these shots) and the griping of McCoy and the humor between Kirk and Spock, and well, then it all starts to go downhill.
So, we have an Enterprise that doesn’t work. Which makes no sense, since they had just sailed off on it at the end of the last film – did it break down after that and they had to haul it back? We have Uhura calling the crew back to the ship, but it takes them well into the night to get the friggin captain on board? Yes, you could say he didn’t have his communicator, but I don’t for a minute believe that Spock left his communicator on the ship. There is the planet of Nimbus III, the “planet of galactic peace”, except it’s actually in the Neutral Zone, which means for a Federation ship to go there, you have to break the treaty. And it seems like starships never go there, but if that’s the case, how did the new Romulan ambassador just arrive? Then, there of course, is the mystery of Sybok, the new Vulcan. Who he actually is isn’t a plothole, per se, but it is incredibly stupid and adds new backstory to a character that is unnecessary. Would Starfleet really send a broken down ship for a rescue just because it has the most experienced captain? They couldn’t have just put him on a different ship to take command of the situation? Why would that random beam have been there in a walkway for Scotty to walk into? Would the Klingons just happen to know the Starfleet emergency station and be monitoring it (especially since they don’t know that Kirk doesn’t have control of the ship) before Starfleet could? If they spent all that time walking along the planet to meet “God”, wouldn’t it have taken them a lot longer to get back to the shuttlecraft? Would they have spent the time moving Spock over to the Bird of Prey to save Kirk? None of these plotholes have good answers, although they do distract us somewhat from a rather shabby script.
I wrote in my review of the first film that there used to be a category at the Oscars for “Best Original Story”. This film came out at the same time that I was getting seriously interested in the Oscars (I would photocopy pages out of a book at the Chapman Library where my mom worked and start highlighting the films I had seen) and I learned about that category and it seemed to speak to this film. There is a fascinating original story in this film – the idea that there is a planet at the center of the galaxy where “God” exists. The “Great Barrier” that surrounds it is even reminiscent of the “Galactic Barrier” that the ship came up against in “Where No Man Has Gone Before”, the second pilot and the first episode with Kirk while the concept behind this episode is reminiscent of many of the more interesting ideas that the show liked to explore, especially in the third season where they came up with great ideas but didn’t tackle them very well. Even the idea of a renegade Vulcan who has embraced the passionate side of Vulcan’s history rather than the logic that now rules the race is a fascinating one. It’s just the script that was cobbled together with these ideas is lacking in almost every way. It adds backstory we don’t need. It gives the Vulcan strange powers that are never explained. It makes poor use of the Klingons, just in there for a couple of moments to provide a villain. The direction isn’t very good (not bad enough for the Razzie that Shatner won, nor should the film have won – that’s just the way the Razzies like to pick on disappointing big budget films with big names – I can list over 50 films from 1989 that I think are worse than this film, including all four of the other nominees), none of the acting is particularly good and it begins the trend towards making the Star Trek heroes into more of action heroes (there will be some very silly stuff with this in the next couple of films). Even the visual effects, which look good in the first half of the film, are a massive letdown at the end of the film (more even than we see, since the main sequences planned and even shot were eliminated because they looked so bad).
This film isn’t a complete disaster. The Yosemite scenes look amazing, there is some good humor along the way (in spite of the misplaced beam, that scene with Scotty is pretty funny) and Shatner, Nimoy and Kelley still have a good rapport with each other. It’s just that there was so much more that could have been done with this film, and instead it almost sank the franchise. Thankfully, it was now time for an even-numbered film and that would mean a rise in quality once again.