Apr 29, 2018
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989) (part 11 of 13)
The camera pans across the bridge slowly, watching the instruments come online. After a good thirty seconds of watching these instruments and their online-comingness, we get to Chekov, who informs us, “Instruments back online!” Superfluousness, thy name is Pavel.
He also says there’s an energy source coming from the planet, and—say it with me now!—it’s “like nothing I’ve ever seen before.” So many energy sources are described this way in the Trek universe, it must be its own category in the Federation database. Something like “Energy Sources—Unbeforeseen. (See: Misc.).”
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I thought Kirk, Spock, and (McCoy) were being held under guard in the observation lounge, but here they come strolling onto the bridge. But Sybok is more than happy to give Kirk his ship back, saying he knows Kirk will want to explore the planet anyway, but I’m guessing he tallied up in his head what the repair bills will be after the Lemonprise gets out of the shop.
Kirk decides to take himself, Spock, (McCoy), and Sybok down in a shuttlecraft. In the shuttle, they fly through blue cigarette fumes, then purple cigarette fumes, and then they finally see—well, I don’t know what it is, but it sure ain’t the surface of a planet. (It’s actually an electron microscope scan of a lobster claw, tinted purple.)
Spock says he’s no longer in control of the craft, and now comes more fuchsia-tinted footage, this time of what is obviously, and I mean obviously, a helicopter ride over the Mojave Desert. It’s fantastically fake, because the tinting is supersaturated. It’s like if you took a black and white picture of a landscape and soaked it in red food dye, and tried to say it’s Mars.
Sybok grins at the rest of them, while Kirk looks apprehensive. It’s also painfully obvious that DeForest Kelley has absolutely no idea what he’s supposed to be thinking at this moment. He starts to smile (well, I was zonked by Sybok), then he starts to frown (well, I did break free of the zonking, kind of), and then he starts to look nervous (well, I didn’t actually get any direction for this scene). It’s like watching a bowl of Jell-O try to figure out which way it wants to wiggle.
The shuttle lands on the surface of, well, let’s call it Planet Mauvejave, and really, this shot couldn’t look any phonier if it had been done with Colorforms.
Kirk opens a drawer to get a phaser, but Sybok places a hand on his shoulder, which talks him right out of it. Kirk will do anything for you if you touch his shoulder just right.
The four of them deshuttle and take a moment to line up in successive heroic profiles, because, you know, that’s whatcha do when visiting God. Sybok gushes that Mauvejave looks just as he knew it would, prompting a you-gotta-be-kidding-me furrowed-brow look from Kirk worthy of Jonathon Archer.
Up on the bridge, everybody is watching Star Trek V. They don’t even pretend they’re getting a mysterious transmission from the surface, or that the computer on the shuttlecraft is picking up the four of them walking across Mauvejave, or anything. It’s like the cast assembled on the bridge set to watch the rushes, and they filmed it and put it in the movie.
Uhura tries to get Scotty up to the bridge to watch the movie with her, but he’s busy trying to fix the transporters. And, of course, making a list of good girls and boys.
For some reason, God set the shuttle down in long-term parking, so the guys have quite a hike to get to the desert rock formation where the divine being has set up housekeeping. If this is Mill Wah Kee, AKA Eden, AKA the origin site for life in the galaxy, I wonder why everybody’s not surprised it’s all barren and sterile, rather than being verdant and fertile like the false paradise in “The Way to Eden”.
So we watch Kirk and Company picking their way across rocky slopes for a while, and then we watch everybody on the bridge watching Kirk and Company picking their way across rocky slopes. And in the theater, you could have watched the audience watching all of this. It’s like Shatner was getting paid by the eyeball.
Meanwhile, everybody’s ignoring the tactical screen at the back of the bridge, which is calmly displaying the Klingon ship that’s come to destroy them. The type on the screen says, rather blithely, “Recommend: Activation of Defense Systems.” Good advice, Mr. Computer!
Okay, so this is the same computer that sounds a ship-wide, earsplitting alarm if you try to fry a turkey with a phaser, but when an enemy ship comes within range, it buttons its lips and hums innocently to itself in a corner. Why not? You know, I bet the Lemonprise itself has been faking being broken this whole time, waiting malevolently for the right moment to sell out its human crew to the Klingons! Now that movie, I would see.
And by the way: How did the Klingon ship get past the Great Barrier? Do Klingons always think happy thoughts?
Sybok runs to the center of the desert valley within the rock formation, but there’s nothing there. The four of them look at each other for a while. Spock actually has the grace to look disappointed on Sybok’s behalf, which is a nice touch. Sybok desperately shouts at the sky that they have traveled far, adding, for some reason, “by starship!” Rather than by, say, catamaran? Now that would have been impressive.
Kirk hails the Lemonprise and says, “We have—” but trails off. Spock walks up to Sybok and says, “Perhaps—” but he, too, trails off. Huh? Is everybody forgetting how to use words now?
Suddenly, the ground starts rumbling, and the four of them look around in alarm. The nonexistent sun is blocked out, and everything turns really dark purple. Then the sky is abruptly deep black, and these weird rib-like rock formations start thrusting up out of the ground.
They now find themselves standing at the entrance to what looks like Stonehenge with osteoporosis. And the budget for this movie is totally not up for this, because the rocks in the medium shots are a different size and shape from the rocks in the longs shots, and the only thing that ties the shots together is that in both cases the rocks look like they were made from chewed paper and spit. Which, actually, is quite possible.
The four men walk to the center of Lamehenge, where a smoky column of smoke emerges from the ground. Suddenly, the smoke turns into a tremendous beam of light that surges into the sky and into space, passing dangerously close to the Lemonprise in orbit.
A voice emerges from the light beam, welcoming them. McCoy asks wonderingly if they’re hearing the voice of God, and it clarifies, “a voice.” You should hear my Cagney!
A lot of masks fly out of the light and towards the camera, indicating various ancient gods, until finally, a white-bearded Zeus-like face fills the screen, fuzzed out on the edges, and solarized, and really, really, really cheap. On the positive side, I’m sure it made the TNG effects guys feel a lot better about the work they were doing at the time.
Trivia tidbit: The effects for this sequence were supposed to be done by ILM, but they were booked solid with Ghostbusters II and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, so they were instead done on Shatner’s Commodore 64.
God, by the way, is played by George Murdock. He’s been in everything, and you’ll know him if you see him, but you might recognize him as Admiral Hanson from TNG, or Detective Scanlon, or maybe Dr. Salik. “Is this more what you expected?” God asks. Did I expect Admiral Hanson to turn out to be God? Um, no, not really.
Sybok asks, “Qual se’ tu?”—which is Italian for “Who art thou?”, and in fact is a reference to The Divine Comedy. So… Vulcans ask questions of God in Italian, then? Huh. Maybe only the laughing Vulcans do. (Actually, Spock asked the same of Sybok during their reunion back on Nimbus III. I have no idea why.) But in the passage that this comes from in Inferno (canto 32), the narrator is asking this question not of God, but of one of a thousand traitors immersed in ice water up to their necks in torment—specifically, the one that had complained about being stepped on! So that’s, wow, a really relevant reference.
Supposedly, Shatner’s original idea here was to continue with the Dante connection: the ground would open up, revealing the circles of hell, and a lot of rock monsters, and so on. But Paramount refused to pay for it. Man, if only they had, because I’m sure it would have been hilariously shitty.
God compliments Sybok on being the first to breach the barrier and find him. He then starts to display an unhealthy interest in this “starship” that Sybok mentioned, wondering if it could be a vessel to take his “wisdom” beyond the barrier.
Buzzkill Kirk pipes up with, okay, a perfectly reasonable question: “What does God need with a starship?” This is probably the most famous line from Star Trek V, probably because it completely unravels the central concept of the entire movie, and sets up the soul-crushing humiliation of its only interesting character.
God now angrily asks who “this creature” is, and Kirk is like, “Don’t you know?” Well, not all concepts of divinity include the idea of omniscience, but I’ll let that slide. When Kirk knows he’s right, he’s right, even if he has to screw around with everything until he is right. Kirk demands proof, so God uses flaming eye rays to zap Kirk in the chest, which causes a stuntman wearing Kirk’s wig to be yanked across Lamehenge on a big, really obvious wire.
On the bridge, Uhura and the ambassadors (oh, they were great, weren’t they? I have some of their early LPs on the Verve label) watch the movie with us, and gasp in dismay at the hideous production error.
Since Kirk already met a god who did pretty much the same thing (to Scotty, in ”Who Mourns for Adonais?”), we’re now sliding into more retread territory. We’re also looking at budget cuts again: Kirk was supposed to be menaced by one of a dozen rock monsters called up from a pit, but unfortunately, by the time they got around to filming this scene, all they had was a guy in a rubber suit into which people had blown cigarette smoke [!] so that the “rock” would be giving off “vapor”. (Ah, to be a stuntman in the good old days.) Then they filmed it and it looked so colossally godawful that they had to cut it out. And so they just had George Murdock shoot lightning from his eyes, which looks merely ordinarily godawful.