Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989) (part 10 of 13)
Meanwhile in sickbay, Uhura is assuring a just-awakened Scotty that Sybok isn’t a madman, he’s just “awakened feelings we’ve always been afraid to express”. And while she says this, she strokes Scotty’s cheek. And Scotty, who’s not mindzonked at all, strokes Uhura’s cheek in return. Yeesh, can we go back to the continuity errors and slapstick, please?
Sybok, meanwhile, is explaining to Kirk and Company how he doesn’t control minds, he simply frees them. McCoy asks how, and yeah, thanks for teeing that one up, Bones. Sybok says he makes people face their pain and draw strength from it, after which fear cannot stop them. To prove it, he prepares to mindzonk McCoy, and this time, we get to watch.
It involves McCoy’s dad (played by Bill Quinn, who was once Mary Richards’s dad, here in his last work) suddenly appearing out of thin air. This is apparently some sort of flashback, because McCoy’s dad is on his deathbed begging McCoy to end his suffering and “release” him. Ever play with a dog that’s really happy and bouncy one minute, and the next minute he’s ripping your arm off and using it as a chew toy? This movie’s shifts in tone are kind of like that.
Kirk and Spock watch McCoy as he inserts a blinking device into Dad’s bed, and Dad immediately dies. And it’s not really clear whether McCoy is simply reliving the memory, or if this is some sort of shared hallucination that Sybok is implanting into everyone’s minds.
But what’s really “poisoned your soul”, as Sybok doctorphils to McCoy, is not just that McCoy pulled the plug on his dad, but that a cure for his disease was found not long after. And how’s that working for you? Employing the Kirk Maneuver once again, Sybok urges McCoy to release his pain. This actually seems to work, and McCoy stares at Sybok in wonder as the Laughing Vulcan instantly forgets McCoy and walks over to Spock.
So Sybok’s method would seem to be (a) dredge up the subject’s most horrific, self-torturing memory, and (b) tell the subject not to feel so bad about it. Wow. Imagine if Freud had happened upon this technique! The 20th Century would have been a world of butterflies and roses. Where can I buy his book, again? Wait, let me get out my MasterCard. Oh, it’s a set of books? Even better!
Next up is Spock, and the flavor of hallucinatory snake-oil that Sybok has reserved for Spock turns out to be Spock’s own birth, in a cave [?] somewhere on Vulcan. The midwife has a fancy headdress, and is identified in the credits as a Vulcan high priestess. So… Vulcans give birth in caves using priestesses? For some reason, this seems very California to me. “Hey honey, instead of the underwater birth, let’s do the cave/priestess thing! I have the brochure right here!”
As usual per Hollywood films, Mom gives birth to a huge, month-old baby. But when the priestess hands li’l Spock to Sarek, Sarek grimaces and says, “So human.” He hands the baby back to the priestess, and adult Spock watches grimly.
I have to admit that even seeing this movie in the theater and hating all the rest of it, I was moved by this scene. I mean, c’mon. A character as noble as Spock, rejected by his father at the moment of his own birth? How can that not get to you? I’m even willing to buy that Spock remembers this himself, but even if you don’t, you can assume he was told about it afterwards and still find it moving. So, I’ve got nothing to say about this scene. Not that this will inhibit me from trashing the rest of the movie.
[Editor’s Note: Sorry, but to me, this flashback makes no sense at all. First of all, who actually remembers their own birth? Second of all, why would Sarek, who fell in love with a human woman, married a human woman, and had a baby with a human woman, be appalled that the baby came out looking human? And we’re talking about parents from two different species here. It’s not like he had a half-human baby just by accident.
This would have made a lot more sense if it were clearly the non-literal manifestation of Spock’s worst fears about what his father always thought of him. But I’m pretty sure that’s not what Shatner and the others intended. —Albert]
Kirk, aghast at what he’s just seen, accosts Sybok, who insists he’s done nothing but reveal who Spock and McCoy really are. Kirk, however, refuses to be zonked. McCoy encourages Kirk to try it, but Kirk won’t inhale. He barks that “pain and guilt can’t be removed with a wave of a magic wand,” which, yeah, is kind of true. Stop pointing out the plot holes, Kirk!
If we lose our pain and guilt, he speechifies, we lose ourselves. “I don’t want my pain taken away!” he shouts, rising to a crescendo. “I need my pain!” Me too! Bring it on, movie! Ow ow ow! Oh, it hurts so good. (Alas, the Trek fan’s mantra.)
Uhura hails Sybok to tell him they’ve gotten to the Great Barrier. Sybok tells Spock and McCoy to follow him, but Spock refuses, saying Sybok doesn’t really know him. He says that in the years since Sybok bailed on him, Spock has found himself, and knows where he belongs. Kirk gives Sybok a smug “how do like them apples?” look.
McCoy, like the extraneous appendage he is in this movie, dithers a second and then hangs back as well. Kirk asks how they’ll get past the Great Barrier, and Sybok says that God gave him a vision, and is waiting for them on the other side. This merely convinces Kirk that Sybok is “mad”, so nicely done, dude.
Laurence Luckinbill actually plays this really well: Doubt crosses his face, and while looking at Kirk he asks himself, almost genuinely, “Am I?” Then, not with confidence but with visible faith, he answers himself with a smile: “We’ll see.” Not a lot of actors would have played it that way, so well done.
On the bridge, everybody stares anxiously at the lightning and clouds visualizer Sulu has pulled up on his iTunes. Oh, wait, that’s supposed to be the Great Barrier. Let’s see, we’ve got Sybok, Bad Teeth Guy, the ambassadors, Sulu, Chekov, and Uhura. Where’s Scotty? Strapped down in sickbay? Actually, he’s roaming free, since later on we’ll see him working on the transporters. But he’s not zonked, and he knows the ship’s been taken, so why doesn’t he lock down the bridge and try to regain control of the ship? Well, that’s easy: if the transporters aren’t working, he won’t be able to deliver all those presents.
Sybok insists the barrier is an illusion. Even better, dude—it’s a crappy special effect! To confirm this, Chekov says they have no instrument readings, and Sybok orders Sulu to proceed “full ahead!”
They fly through more really sucky “space storm” special effects—wow, I never thought I’d actually miss those beautiful, if endless, cloud shots from Star Trek I—and then, poof! Just like that, they’re through. Huh? Good god, when I mentioned the power of positive thinking in the cast summary, I was joking.
Are we seriously supposed to believe that the Lemonprise got through the Great Barrier—from which no other ships have ever returned—solely because the people on board were thinking happy thoughts? Because no other explanation is ever given. Which means the only reason no one else ever made it through the Barrier was because they were all a bunch of Debbie Downers.
The thing is, back in the brig, Kirk said no ship or probe had ever returned from trying to breach the Great Barrier. So this means that the probes sent into the Great Barrier must have been terrified as well. Given that, in the universe of Star Trek V, space probes squeal like little cartoon aliens, perhaps that’s not as unlikely as it sounds. (Wait, does that actually explain why Pioneer 10 screamed in pain when Klaa shot it?)
So the upshot is, this whole “being able to do impossible things by overcoming your fear” bit actually works. Wow. You know, I never mentioned this before, but I’ve always been really, really afraid of having ten million dollars. Like, petrified…
Well, maybe it takes practice.
(The novelization attempts to rectify this gaping plot hole by having Sybok tinker around with the deflector shields. Uh huh. That’s one of those “explanations” we’re better off without, like that old Doctor Who episode where an alien race steals the identities of a lot of humans because they all lost theirs “in an explosion”. Gotta watch out for those identity-destroying explosions, man.)
At the center of the Barrier is a blue planet with blue fumes drifting off it. This blue planet doesn’t seem to have a sun, so it’s just sort of… there. Oddly enough, there’s a sun visible from the surface, but we can’t see it from space. McCoy wonders if they’re dreaming, and Kirk muses, “If we are, then life really is a dream.” What I think he means by this is… actually, I got nothing.
Kirk’s eye falls on the plaque installed on the base of the ship’s wheel, which reads, “To boldly go where no man has gone before”, and a quick rendition of the Star Trek fanfare plays. Now, you could take that as a bit of super cheesy fanwank, but I’m being generous, so I’ll give Kirk credit for using this moment to realize that going to meet God at the center of the galaxy is the ultimate fulfillment of their mission.
It’s actually kind of annoying to find little bits that work at the heart of a really craptastic movie. Fortunately, I won’t have to wait long for the awfulness to start raining down in buckets again.