Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989) (part 2 of 13)
The movie starts off with a cloud of dust that resolves into the blighted landscape of Nimbus III, which a caption informs us is inside the famed Neutral Zone. A further caption elaborates that this is “The Planet of Galactic Peace”, and yes, the caption even includes the sarcastic quotes. Throughout the movie, Nimbus III is referred to periodically as “The Planet of Galactic Peace”, and every time someone says it, you can actually hear the Quotes of Bitter Contempt. Peace! Ptooey. Listen, sport, if God had meant for us to be peaceful, he wouldn’t have given us phaser rifles.
In the midst of this dolorous waste (the landscape, not the movie), a wretched, hairless man with bad teeth is twisting a waist-high, metal device into the ground. It’s not at all clear why. After seeing the movie a few times, I’ve decided he’s trying to dig for water, but really he could be burying doggy bones for all we know.
Bad Teeth Guy is distracted by a distant figure on horseback, galloping dramatically toward him, silhouetted in the dust. The editing cuts from the figure on horseback to Bad Teeth Guy staring at him, and back, in a way that effectively (and rather unfortunately) reproduces the scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail where the guards at Swamp Castle watch Lancelot run toward them for a good five minutes.
Bad Teeth Guy is played by Rex Holman, one of several original series actors who resurfaced in the Trek films. He’s actually pretty good here, given that he’s essentially playing a talking prop. Holman had previously played Morgan Earp in ”Spectre of the Gun” (The One with the O.K. Corral), and was a stalwart of TV westerns in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Star Trek V was his last movie. Wow, that’s the saddest sentence I’ve ever typed.
As we’ll soon discover, Bad Teeth Guy is the first of many characters in this movie who are given no story, no development, and no depth at all. He exists purely to give Sybok someone to talk to. In fact, as if to underline his irrelevance, he doesn’t even get a name. In the script and novelization, he’s called J’onn, but it’s never said in the movie, probably because Martian Manhunter thought the script was stupid and refused to sign off.
The newcomer’s horse runs toward the camera is slow motion, and for some reason it’s roaring like an enraged tauntaun. These roars conspire with the increasingly frantic background music to desperately try to infuse tension into a scene where characters we don’t know do things we don’t understand.
And in keeping with Star Trek’s Forehead of the Week policy, the horses on Nimbus III look just like Earth horses, except for a little horn above their eyes. Oh, and the horse’s coat and mane are dyed blue. A blue horse! Preposterous. Such a thing, if it did exist, would indeed be truly disturbing.
Bad Teeth Guy starts to get jittery and runs for his weapon, which is a pathetic little pellet gun. He nervously points it at the approaching rider. Look, dude, even if you kill the special guest star, chances are we’ll still have to endure two hours of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy acting like those aging uncles of yours who think it’s absolutely hilarious to regale you with ancient jokes at family reunions. So resistance is futile.
After having galloped across at least half the surface of the Planet of Manufactured Suspense, the ominous figure finally rides up to Bad Teeth Guy and stares down at him, remarking that he thought weapons were banned on this planet. Bad Teeth Guy says nothing, and the figure, who’s wearing a long robe with a big hood, dismounts and asks Bad Teeth Guy whether he would really kill him to defend a “field of empty holes.” Bad Teeth Guy replies, “All I have.” Hey, we finally found the Star Trek plot hole farm! And they must have had a bumper crop this year, too!
Here’s our first close look at the newcomer, and his big forehead, bushy eyebrows, and thick beard make him a dead ringer for Sean Connery circa Robin and Marian. As all Trek fans know, this is no accident: the role of Sybok was originally written with Sean Connery in mind, but of course he refused to have anything to do with it. At the time Star Trek V was filming, Connery had way better things to do.
So the producers cast a faux Connery in the form of Laurence Luckinbill, a stage actor best known for one-man shows profiling larger-than-life characters like Ernest Hemingway, Teddy Roosevelt, Clarence Darrow, and Lyndon Johnson. (He’s also in a Charles Bronson movie, which means Ed will probably end up writing about him sooner or later.) In fact, Luckinbill takes a good stab at turning Star Trek V into a one-man show as well: He strides confidently through the movie with the air of a man who knows (a) that his character is the only one whose motivations make any sense at all, and (b) that the franchise regulars are trapped in a brain-meltingly stupid story that makes them all collectively suck ass.
Luckinbill’s other Trek connection is kind of cute: he’s the son-in-law of Lucille Ball, whose studio Desilu produced the original series (before the studio was bought by Paramount). So that’s nice. And he’s ten times better an actor than Desi Arnaz (Sr. or Jr.), which is even nicer.
To the accompaniment of a “heartbeat” sound effect, Not-Connery moves closer to Bad Teeth Guy and stares deep into his eyes. And just as I’m thinking that I really don’t want to see these dudes start making out, Bad Teeth Guy collapses to his knees, wailing in agony. Not-Connery says that Bad Teeth Guy’s pain “runs deep”, probably because there are no orthodontists on “The Planet of Galactic Peace”.
And if you share your pain in the next twenty minutes, we’ll send you this bonus cookbook, Cooking with Pain, absolutely free!
Bad Teeth Guy stops sobbing and looks up at Not-Connery in wonder. “Where did you get this power?” he asks.
“The power was within you,” Not-Connery not-explains. Bad Teeth Guy asks how he can repay Not-Connery for this “miracle”, and instead of telling him the truth, which is that Bad Teeth Guy’s credit card is already being billed in four easy installments of $39.99, Not-Connery asks his new friend to join his quest for “the ultimate knowledge”. Forty-two! Whoops, sorry, wrong franchise.
By this point, you may be starting to wonder what the heck any of this has to do with Kirk and the Gang, but Not-Connery hints at a possible answer: To find this supposed ultimate knowledge, they’ll need “a starship.” Hmm. Which starship do you think they’ll end up acquiring? Also: are we supposed to wonder, if he doesn’t have a starship, how Not-Connery got to Nimbus III in the first place, an isolated planet deep in the Neutral Zone? I’m guessing no.
Bad Teeth Guy is skeptical—there are no starships “on” Nimbus III. How can Not-Connery get one? So with no motivation whatsoever, Not-Connery pulls down his hood to reveal Spock ears. “You’re a Vulcan!” exclaims Bad Teeth Guy. Not-Connery nods, and still with no motivation, they both start laughing [!]. The effect of this exchange, which I am not sure our director Mr. Shatner fully intended, is: I am a Vulcan! I can therefore pull starships out of my ass! Ha ha ha ha!
Now, if I were Bad Teeth Guy (shudder), I would take this laughter as convincing evidence that Not-Connery is a Romulan, not a Vulcan. In fact, I’d think it would be pretty cut-and-dry. After all, as we’ll discover for ourselves later, there are no Vulcans on Nimbus III, but there are several Romulans. And Romulans and Vulcans look enough alike that in Next Generation, Spock is able to pose as a Romulan for a considerable period of time.
But the line “You’re a Vulcan” had to be inserted and confirmed so that Not-Connery’s subsequent laughter would be jarring to the audience. Hey, Vulcans don’t laugh! Something strange must be going on here. By golly, I’m definitely going to wait and see if this movie doesn’t suck, after all!
Side note: Phil Farrand, who wrote the very funny Nitpicker’s Guide series, while talking about the TNG episode ”Disaster”, made note of the children’s song the little girl suggests they sing when Picard and some kids are trapped in the turbolift. The song is called ”The Laughing Vulcan and His Dog”, and Farrand said the title naturally reminded him of this scene in Star Trek V—which doesn’t say much for Not-Connery’s new cringing sidekick.
What’s really funny is that Ron Moore, who wrote the teleplay for “Disaster” (and later re-imagined Battlestar Galactica), was asked about this at some point, and he denied he was thinking of Not-Connery and Bad Teeth Guy at the time. Sorry, Ron, there’s only one Laughing Vulcan, and that means you’ve totally dissed Bad Teeth Guy. No more plot holes for you!