Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989) (part 3 of 13)

And so, Not-Connery’s not-Vulcan laughter takes us into the opening titles. As with all Star Trek movies (well, the first ten, anyway), the titles go on for way too long against a boring, slow-motion star field, though at least for this film they only use this tired format for the performer credits. They’re still using the 1980s Star Trek font—you know, the one with all the sharp edges you’re afraid you’ll cut yourself on—and music supervisor Jerry Goldsmith even went back and recycled his own theme from the first movie rather than coughing up something new, or reusing Leonard Rosenman’s (vaguely Christmas-y) theme from Star Trek IV.

Which means that the theme they’re using here is also the theme for Star Trek: The Next Generation, and that means I’m now nervously scanning the credits for Wil Wheaton’s name. Okay, so far so good. Whew. (Boy, remember how upset we all were that Wesley Crusher was almost completely cut out of Star Trek: Nemesis? When I saw him sitting there at Will and Deanna’s wedding, in his single, tiny remaining shot, I for one wanted to stand up and shout, “You missed one!”)

So, the titles are a snooze. Don’t worry, I’ll wake you up when something interesting happens. Unfortunately, that won’t be until Star Trek VI.

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After the actor credits, they switch to a landscape shot of mountains and cliffs framing a warm sunrise. You might be thinking this is a matte painting of some alien planet, but this movie is so cheap they actually went and shot on location instead.

A caption informs us we’re looking at “Yosemite National Park, Planet Earth.” Wait—”national” park? What “nation” would that be? I’m pretty sure that by Kirk’s time, Earth is unified and there aren’t any nations anymore.

Another caption pointlessly gives us a Stardate (trust me, you don’t need to know). Then it’s back to the opening credits, and Gene Roddenberry’s “executive consultant” credit. Considering that Roddenberry later labeled the events of Star Trek V as “apocryphal at best”, I really don’t think he did much actual consulting on this film.

The credits continue as a man laboriously climbs the forbidding face of El Capitan, the great big granite monolith in Yosemite Valley that apparently attracts all kinds of nuts who want to die horrible, splattering deaths—I mean, mountain climbers, it attracts lots of mountain climbers.

This particular suicidal idio—sorry, sorry, I mean, this particular mountain climber is struggling up the rock using nothing but rubber sneakers and bare hands covered in powdered sugar. After a while comes a close-up, and it turns out to be our hero, Captain James Tiberius Kirk. Man, I’d hate to see his insurance premiums.

Caption contributed by scootermark

”Spock will never find me up here! I’m the best hide-and-seek player ever!”

Hilariously, the music turns low and ominous just as the credit “Directed by William Shatner” appears. That’s three shades of awesome.

Cut to Dr. Leonard H. “Bones” McCoy at a campsite, using super-high-tech binoculars … of the future! to watch Kirk climb El Capitan. McCoy, of course, is sputtering and fretting like an old jalopy engine. He proclaims himself a “nervous wreck”, presumably because he expects Kirk to plummet to his death at any moment. Between this maiden-aunt dialogue and the cunning bandanna tied around his neck, I’m starting to suspect that McCoy might not be the butchest character in this movie.

Caption contributed by Albert

“Man, these new View-Masters really suck!”

Kirk, who’s a good two-thirds of the way up the face of the mountain, pauses to look around, emanating the pure joy he’s deriving from this pointless feat of strength and endurance. Although Shatner is not actually climbing El Capitan here, Star Trek V was supposedly one of the most physically grueling Trek films ever, and Shatner reportedly engaged in a training regimen that got him into peak physical condition. One of the few bright spots of Star Trek V is you won’t be seeing “Captain Tubby” in this movie.

Now, on the special features disc is an extended interview with William Shatner at the time he was filming this scene in Yosemite. In it, he comes up with all sorts of tortured explanations for why the movie kicks off with Kirk free climbing, which Shatner confesses is something that he’s personally never done. After drawing all sorts of comparisons between ascending a mountain and the ascent of mankind, and suggesting that the quartz that makes up the rock face is actually alive, he then gives this rather interesting theory of why mountain climbers do what they do:

Well, this scene sure got a lot more sexually charged.

Speaking of passionate affairs, Spock soon enters the scene. He has on a sweet pair of rocket boots, and he chooses this moment to zoom up on Kirk and startle the bejesus out of him. On the strength of this movie, I’m starting to wonder if T’Pol isn’t the only Vulcan secretly planning the annihilation of the human race, one clueless human at a time.

Kirk and Spock now launch into the first occurrence of this movie’s alarming quantity of TrekBanter™. You know the kind of painful, soul-crushing dialogue I’m talking about. No? Not quite sure what I mean? I think the following free sample should give you the idea:

Spock: Captain, I do not think you realize the gravity of your situation.

Hey hey hey calm down! Stop screaming! Relax, I have no desire to torture you any further. Shatner, on the other hand, I’d like to strap down and force him to listen to this movie’s dialogue on an endless loop until his liquefied brain oozes out of his ears like the beetle-thing in Star Trek II.

Spock, continuing his diabolical plan, proceeds to relentlessly distract Kirk with advice about not allowing himself to be distracted. The best part is that his scheme actually pays off: Kirk loses his footing and “hilariously” plummets thousands of feet off the rock face in a lousy blue-screen effect, heading toward a big, messy, juicy death. Which would, actually, have been a lot more interesting than falling under a bridge, his actual death two movies from now—but am I bitter? No, no, no, of course not.

Caption contributed by Albert

”Whoo! Check me out, Spock! I’m skating down the rock face! That’s how extreme I am!”

Spock evidently decides that the paperwork involved in reporting Kirk’s death isn’t worth it, so he dives after Kirk, rescuing him with mere inches to spare. McCoy runs up, and more TrekBanter ensues, this time with Kirk looking at McCoy upside down. Kirk says he thought he’d “drop in for dinner”, and I’m sorry to say there are plenty more painfully dumb jokes where that came from.

Caption contributed by scootermark

Shatner’s biggest embarrassment shooting Star Trek V was when the first day’s rushes came back, and he realized the camera had been upside down the whole time.

And then we thankfully shift back to events in progress on Nimbus III. We’re shown a settlement, which a caption informs us is named “Paradise City”.

Caption contributed by Albert

Which, as we all know from Postal, is the birthplace of Axl Rose.

Yet another hooded figure enters the cantina on Mos Eisl—sorry, I mean, Paradise City on Nimbus III. The figure moves through the ugly, dank tavern, passing brawling patrons, the fat female bartender, and the triple-breasted cat-woman stripper who’s dancing on the bar so mindlessly that it’s pretty clear she’s baked out of her tiny little mind. An obnoxious infomercial blares from a nearby wall-mounted TV.

So—and tell me if you think I’m wrong—but I think what Mr. Shatner is going for here is the idea that “Paradise City”, the centerpiece of the quote-unquote “Planet of Galactic Peace”, has fallen somewhat short of its founders’ aspirations and has become, ironically, a rather unpleasant and—what’s the word?—un-peaceful place to live. Let’s see if subsequent dialogue helps to confirm this subtle insinuation.

Caption contributed by Albert

Damn, M’Ress really hit the skids.

The new hooded figure enters a back room, where an unshaven, cigarette-smoking human and a fat, old, drunken Klingon are sitting at a bare wooden table. (Wait, I think I know this joke. The punch line is “Not with my phaser, you won’t!”, right?) The figure pulls back its hood to reveal a woman who introduces herself as Caithlin Dar.

The cigarette-smoking human, who is apparently the Federation High Commissioner of Artless Infodumps, informs her—I guess because she might not already know—that she’s the new Romulan ambassador to Nimbus III. In case you’re wondering, she’s wearing a funky headdress, so we never see her pointy ears. This won’t be the last time that transparent cost- and time-saving gestures intrude upon the plot.

Beardy McSmoker introduces himself as St. John Talbot, the Federation rep to, as he archly puts it, “the so-called ‘Planet of Galactic Peace’“, and then he introduces the Klingon as Commander Korrd.

Korrd: [belches]
Caithlin Dar: I expect that’s Klingon for “hello”.
Korrd: [shrugs]

Okay, as scintillating as this dialogue is, I’ll pause for a quick casting note. St. John Talbot is played by David Warner, a British actor who’s been in everything, but who’s best known to Trek fans as Gul Madred, the Cardassian who tortures Picard in ”Chain of Command” (The One with Four Lights), and as the ill-fated Klingon Chancellor Gorkon in Star Trek VI. But more importantly, he had a small role in The Concorde… Airport ‘79, making him our latest Repeat Offender.

Catihlin Dar is played by Cynthia Gouw, who had just won a Star Search modeling competition. But as beautiful as she is, her rich, throaty voice is her real gift, and she later became a successful TV and radio journalist. (Coincidentally, last month she blogged about the experience of making this movie.)

The actor playing Korrd is Charles Cooper, who had a long history on TV (including lots of Westerns) and who played another Klingon Chancellor, K’mpec, in two TNG episodes (he was the one poisoned by Duras and replaced by Gowron).

Happy now? Got that all squirreled away? Okay, moving on.

Mark "Scooter" Wilson

Mark is a history guy, a graphics guy, a guy for whom wryly cynical assessments of popular culture are the scallion cream cheese on the toasted everything bagel of life. He spends his time teaching modern history at Brooklyn College, pondering the ancient Romans at the CUNY Graduate Center, and conjuring maps and illustrations for ungrateful bankers at various Manhattan monoliths. Readers are welcome to guess at reasons why he’s nicknamed Scooter, with the proviso that all such submissions are guaranteed to be rather more interesting than the truth. Mark lives in the Midwood section of Brooklyn with a happy-go-lucky, flop-eared dog named Chiyo who is probably, at this very moment, waiting patiently for her walkies.

Multi-Part Article: Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)

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