Shiny Shelf

Star Trek: The Final Frontier

By Jim Smith on 30 March 2009

WARNING! Contains spoilers!

‘The Final Frontier’ is far more ambitious, in both content and production, than any ‘Star Trek’ film before it. The first three had been largely ship based (with the odd excursion onto a small ”exterior” sound-stage). The fourth had used its nature as a glorious time travel romp to shoot on the streets of San Francisco, which did perfectly well standing in for themselves. Here, though, for the first and only time in the cinema the series tries to represent two alien worlds through location shooting and throws in a glimpse of a future Earth for good measure.

The story that takes Kirk and co from Earth to Nimbus III to an unnamed planet behind a supposedly impenetrable cosmic barrier is an odd one, seeing Enterprise hijacked by Sybok a passionate Vulcan rebel (who also happens to be Spock’s half brother) who is looking for a ship to take him to meet, well, God.

There’s a place for this kind of story in ‘Star Trek’ and in its own idiosyncratic way ‘The Final Frontier’ adheres to Roddenberry’s humanistic, nay atheistic, principles. We see, in the way that Sybok uses his Vulcan abilities to mind-control familiar characters – Uhura, Chekov, Sulu – while offering them to free them of the secret pains of their lives, something of the ugly pull of those who offer a ’spiritual’ panacea to the troubled. Sybok is not a conscious con-man but his God is both a false one and implicitly the inspiration for many of the idols we have worshipped. Sybok’s ”God” is – as all Gods implicitly are – something shaped by him in his own image and not, as tradition might have it, the other way around.

When Kirk, faced with a being who claims to be the Almighty, refuses to lose his cool and demands, half-jokingly, for proof – proof that denies faith – he’s standing up, not just for his own ego, but for the human race. Its a neat companion to the moment, earlier in the film where Sybok offers to heal Kirk’s pain and Kirk refuses – ”I need my pain!” he insists. He knows who he is, has no regrets, and does not need artificial ’spirituality’ to offer him centre and strength.

These are big ideas and they’re bashing around in a film that, unfortunately, has had too little money spent on it and has a novice director. William Shatner’s direction is a mix of the hugely impressive and the awkwardly naive. There are some gorgeous set ups. Watch the pre-credits sequence or the walk from the shuttle-craft Gallieo to meet ”God” and tell me, hand on heart, that those aren’t beautifully photographed sequences. Then watch the turbolift chase and go ‘Ugh’.

David Loughery’s script has a more than usually high quotient of good jokes and quotable character lines and all the regular characters are well served here. Well, if you judge the regular characters to constitute Kirk, Spock and Bones. Which you really should, given that they’re the only ones in the opening titles of the original series and that there are are less than twenty episodes in the original run of ‘Star Trek’ that actually have all of the supposed ‘big seven’ regular characters in. The truth is is that ‘Star Trek’ was not an ensemble show. It was about Kirk, Spock and Bones.

And Kirk, Spock and Bones are well served here. In fact there’s an outstanding role for Deforest Kelley as we see, via flashback, Bones struggle with the question of euthanising his terminally ill Father. It’s a powerful scene and Kelley was never better, and never given better material to work with, in his twenty five years in ‘Trek’.

Warm, witty and with a solid point to make about how man creates God in his own image, ‘The Final Froniter’ doesn’t deliver on its potential, but ambition shouldn’t be considered a crime. It’s wrapped in one of Jerry Goldsmith’s best scores. ‘Star Trek’ both on television and in the cinema has been infinitely worse, and far less entertaining, than this.

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