Jan 29, 2018
Recap Supplement: Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)
In 1989, William Shatner gave us the fifth entry in the Star Trek movie franchise. Given that it ended up on this site, you can pretty much guess how well that turned out. While the movie is bad (though oddly watchable in a strange way) the DVD releases for it are nothing short of superb. It’s not often a crappy movie gets not one but two solid special editions.
The first proper release (I don’t count the barebones disc, and neither should you) came out in 2003 as a two disc set, and recently we got another release of the film (leeching onto the recent success of the new movie) with some new extras as part of two huge collectors sets that divide the films between the original crew and the Next Generation crew. Sadly, only the Blu Ray versions contain the material from all the releases, but I’m industrious enough (to say nothing of stupid enough) to go out of my way to track down a standard definition copy of the new version in order to make this article as complete as possible.
Christ, the stuff I do for a laugh.
The article continues after these advertisements...
I recommend you read Mark Wilson’s excellent recap of the film here before venturing into this article.
First off, here are the special features from the 2003 edition.
Audio Commentary with William Shatner and Lisabeth Shatner:
Sadly, this one is a bit of a dud, as Bill sits in with his daughter who wrote an account of the making of the film through his eyes. There are several patches of silence, neither commentator seems overly thrilled to be there (though they are fun to listen to at times), and most of the stuff covered is also covered elsewhere on the DVD set. It has its moments, but generally you’re only going to be listening to it if you’re a big Trek fan, or a smartass doing a recap supplement.
Notable Notes from the Commentary:
Shatner mentions that the climbing stuff at the beginning represents the Star Trek philosophy of striving to get higher. Well, that’s how it comes across. I think he might have been high on something during this. He sure as hell was when he was making the movie. At least, that’s how I justify it. Otherwise, I’m left with calling somebody I enjoy immensely a complete idiot.
He was a bit worried at first that the DP would have his own vision of what the film should be, but happily they got along fine, or so it would seem. Anyone want to place a bet that the rest of the cast got to the DP and said “Look, whatever you do, don’t question him! Trust us; we’ve been working with the arrogant prick for twenty years now. Things will go much more smoothly, believe us.”?
The campfire scene is referred to as being the “perfect character scene” for the franchise. He mentions that this has been said many times, which makes me wonder if he’s referring to the number of times he’s tried to justify it. Hell, I can tolerate the scene to a point, but I don’t think it’s even in the top fifteen!
Bill doesn’t seem to have much of a problem with the fan dance, probably because he and Nichelle Nichols are in the same age bracket.
There’s also a text commentary from Denise and Michael Okuda, authors of the Star Trek Encyclopedia that is decent enough as far as trivia tracks go, but in general, this sort of feature doesn’t really do much for me. Watching the movie is enough without having to focus on pop-up trivia at the same time. Multitasking is really not one of the things I’m looking to do when I pop in a DVD.
The extras are divided into five sections: The Star Trek Universe, Production, Advertising, Production Gallery, and my personal favorite, Deleted Scenes.
The Star Trek Universe
Traditionally on these special editions, this is where the DVD producers really get their geek groove on. It’s just as well, since you can just stick to the regular production stuff if you prefer not being bombarded by the sort of geeky stuff that makes most casual fans such as myself drift off in search of something else to bide my time with.
There’s a nice batch of shorts here, with a good tribute to production designer Herman Zimmerman, an interesting piece on Trek and religion, an oddly endearing piece on the main Klingon and his girlfriend and what went into their characters, and a short bit on Yosemite. The real big thing in this section is a nice, long interview with William Shatner himself from 1988 during the making of the movie.
Yes, fifteen minutes of pure Shatnerian goodness. It was shot during the Yosemite shoot, so of course the BMOC is sitting on a rock with a gorgeous view behind him. He rambles about the plot, and talks about mountain climbing, and it’s pretty impressive when you consider that this is not Dennis Hopper speaking. Come to think of it, I’d give vital parts of my anatomy to see a conversation between Hopper and Shatner. I’ve seen his episode of Inside the Actors Studio, and believe me, even clean and sober, Hopper can bring the crazy.
Back to the interview. Shatner reaches a zenith of warped genius when he postulates that when on the mountain, the climber wants to “Envelop it within his body; he wants to make love to it.” My god, I don’t know how serious he is, but goddamn is he entertaining! Hell, crazy stuff like this is why I’m more of a William Shatner fan in general than a Star Trek fan.
He swings his comments back to the film by making a self deprecating joke, and going on with what he was talking about before things got philosophical. Things don’t stay normal for long, as he goes back into whatever twilight zone he seems to have a part time residence in, ending things with a long winded, full of himself speech about… Hell, I’m a college graduate with a pretty damn respectable IQ, and even I don’t have the first damn clue what he’s blathering on about. I’m sure after you take a few hits off a joint it’s some pretty deep shit.
Regardless, he restates his point in a slightly more coherent fashion, putting some emphasis on the story’s thematic elements, such as the many ways in which “the final frontier” can he interpreted. I said it was slightly more coherent, I didn’t say it made any damn sense.
This is one hell of a gem; vintage footage of a man who can still be likable even when getting high off of himself.
We get some make-up tests and pre-visualization models, as well as an odd pitch/pep talk from producer Harve Bennett to the Paramount marketing department. But I want to focus on the main feature in this section, “The Journey”.
This is the main part of the section, a 28 minute documentary on the making of the film. Refreshingly, most of the participants admit the film just didn’t quite work, though nobody goes so far as to say, “It was shit, we didn’t know whether to say ‘that’s a wrap’ at the end of filming or make a flushing noise.” Overall, it’s a solid yet sort of bland look at the film.
Most of the blandness comes from the fact that no detail is left undercooked. We get some idea of what went wrong, but nothing concrete ever comes out of this. Obviously there were money problems, and obviously there was studio meddling, but nothing is ever delved into very deeply.
Notable Notes from the Documentary:
Harve Bennett seems to think the film has held up over the years. I should also note that at his age, the mind does tend to slip somewhat.
I’d imagine the goofier stuff in the movie was from the studio hoping to build on the humor of the previous movie, since Shatner seems to get that Trek is at its best when dealing with serious topics in a serious manner but with amusing characters. Of course, I also once came up with a story featuring a giant killer grapefruit, so don’t go strictly by what I say.
As interesting as parts of the documentary are, I do have to admit they focus a little too much on the technical stuff. It’s to the point where it becomes blatantly obvious they didn’t want to have too many folks knocking the film.
Pretty much everyone is complementary to Shatner as a director. It also goes without saying that Leonard Nimoy is the only cast member who appears here, since DeForest Kelley was dead by this point, and the other four generally try to avoid Shatner like the plague.
ILM was unavailable when the movie was made, so the special effects house they went with was centered in New Jersey, and had never really done a large scale film like this.
The saga of the Rockmen is covered. Shatner’s original idea of Kirk battling ten rock monsters was scaled down to one, and in the end the one looked so bad that the idea was dropped completely. We get to see a bit of footage of the beast, and it looks about as cheesy as one would imagine it to look.
Shatner ends the documentary admitting he’s great at denial. Well, yeah, otherwise this film would have given him cause to go back to El Capitan and throw himself off the top.
We get some raw footage of the Rockman elsewhere in the section, as well as the film’s press conference. The Rockman footage is basically five and a half minutes of sketches, production stills, and some poor stuntman stumbling around in a goofy costume. It’s not the worst thing I’ve ever seen, but then again I’m a fan of cheesy monster movies, so I may not be the best judge.
As for the press conference, it’s really nothing too special. The press, cameras, the cast, the filmmakers. It’s a frigging press conference!
We get four deleted scenes here, totaling a little over four minutes. There’s not much worth noting here, but since I’m a professional…
First off is “Mount Rushmore”, which is little more than Sulu bitching that he should have gone to Yosemite, while the camera pans to Mount Rushmore revealing a fifth face carved into the rock, this one of a woman.
Next up is “Insults”, which takes place on Nimbus III as the three delegates talk. It boils down to the Klingon making lewd remarks towards the Romulan gal, while David Warner translates an alternate version in as bored a manner as possible, until Romulan Gal gets pissed off and tells the Klingon to go screw himself. Yep, that’s about it, and it’s also the highlight of the section.
“Behold Paradise” is Sybok and his followers approaching the city on Nimbus III. It runs 52 seconds… 52 seconds I will never get back. I wonder what I could have done with that time. I could have spun in my chair, very slowly gotten a drink, or taken a quick piss. Lots of stuff, really. What I’m trying to say is that nothing happens here.
Last of all is “Spock’s Pain”. Now, granted, I am inclined right now to say, “Fuck your pain, big ears. What about mine?” but since we’ve started a new year…
It’s a minute-long clip showing Spock reacting to Sybok leaving however long ago it was, indicating that this is his real pain. And I can honestly say this fails to work on two entirely separate levels. First off, I’d say that finding out your dad acted vaguely dickish when you were born is a bit worse than your half-brother leaving home. Though to be honest, neither one really qualifies as “pain”, per se. Disappointing, sure, but I’m also disappointed when the Lakers don’t beat the Celtics in the finals. “Pain” would be when the Pistons swept them in ’89.
Second, the way this is shot is monumentally misguided, as Sybok in the flashback looks the same as he does in the rest of the film, and Spock pretends to be regressing into childhood by raising his voice a few octaves. It’s pretty goddamn embarrassing.
Needless to say, there’s usually a very good reason deleted scenes are deleted.
The rest of the second disc consists of storyboards, a photo gallery set to the film soundtrack, and some trailers and TV spots. The only real notable thing to be found is the odd fact that, just going by his voice, it would seem someone slipped the voiceover guy in the trailers some caffeine pills, or at the very least his underwear is too tight.
Now, let’s get to the new stuff.
Audio Commentary with Michael and Denise Okuda, Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens and Daren Dochterman:
Needless to say, if you’re not a hardcore Trek geek, you have no clue who the hell these people are, and even if you do, there’s an excellent chance you don’t care, given the circumstances under which you are listening to them.
To be fair, the Okudas put together the text commentaries on the earlier special editions and wrote a Trek encyclopedia, and the Stevens have written some of the more entertaining Trek novels, and Dochterman… I don’t know. He might just be a hardcore fan, or he could be an alien from another world. I just don’t know.
Needless to say, this commentary is not for the lackadaisical in attitude towards Trek. Which does nothing to explain my presence here today.
Notable Notes from the Commentary:
Overall, it’s a fairly laid back, entertaining, easy listening piece, though the voices aren’t exactly diverse enough to where you can tell who’s speaking at any given time.
Garfield (I think) starts off by calling the film “the challenging Trek movie”, which I can’t find it in me to disagree with. Some talk is thrown in concerning production problems with the first scene. The tree was delivered to the wrong location, the stunt rider was late, the dog ate Shatner’s toupee… Basically, this is the most appreciative commentary for this film you are likely to find. Hell, even Shatner doesn’t wax as enthusiastic over this film as the commentators here do. Granted, they don’t go all Jack Perkins with it, but they still do their best to polish this turd.
Each commentator plays to their strengths. The Okudas deliver trivia, the authors are a bit more scholarly in their assessment of matters, and the other guy… I don’t know.
Budgetary constraints are blamed for much of the film’s problems (in all fairness, this is pretty spot on), including the loss of a rather neat opening shot that would have been interesting.
There’s some seriously geeky stuff about Romulans during the Paradise City scene.
The campfire scene is described as the “heart and soul” of the movie. But most people who watch it would describe it as the colon.
The film is the subject of some critical remarks from the commentators (they’re geeky, not insane), but it all comes around to production problems, or they simply write stuff off as a means to telling the story and never the fact that it’s just a really stupid movie.
The fan dance originated as a joke made by co-writer David Loughery during a writing session. To be fair, some shots are taken at the scene, but they mostly wonder where the palm tree fronds came from. You know, as opposed to wondering who the hell thought anyone other than Nichelle Nichols’ husband would want to see her do a “sexy” dance at this point in her life.
It’s remarked that the cat lady scene is better off not mentioned. It could be the author talking here, or maybe the trivia guy. Or, it could be… I don’t know.
The track has a bit of a split personality. It’s fun when the group is discussing story elements or taking shots at it, but every now and then the track goes technical, and my interest level turns to other things like the weather… or whether I should have rigatoni for dinner or linguine… or how much longer I’ll have to listen to boring technical bullshit that even the commentators most likely don’t really care about.
A great deal is made about the problems in having pretty much the entire crew turn on Kirk. I cannot find it in me to disagree.
In the end, the commentary answers all the questions nobody ever asked, for a very good reason.
The rest of the supplements range from insufferably nerdy (a short piece on Nimbus III) to nice (James Doohan getting a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame) to self congratulatory (a Trek tribute to NASA). All are quite disposable, much like the movie itself.
Overall, I’d say that if you have the first special edition, you can hang onto it. If you have only the barebones disc, you probably weren’t going to get the two-disc set anyhow, and if you have no copy of this film at all, well, you’re twenty dollars richer.