In the paraphrased words of a great man, I’ve been sitting here sticking skittles up my nose trying to decide whether I hate Star Trek V or not. I know that it’s considered the ugly, pustule-blemished, ginger-pated stepchild of the Star Trek franchise, but I just can’t find the strength to hate it with the vitriol that all my other fellow geeks do. Maybe it’s my relative inexperience with the world of Trek. Maybe it’s my personal connection with the film’s villain, Sybok. Maybe, and probably, it’s the strange predilection I’ve had seemingly since birth to cateogrically think worse of that which everyone seems to enjoy. I guess it’s my subconscious way of making sure I’m a unique rebel…just like everyone else. In evidence of this, let’s just say that I own both Waterworld and the Postman, and think both are good movies. On the other hand, I enjoyed Treks II and IV, the darlings of the original series, along with other such popular no-no’s like the newest Trek. Whatever the case, I just can’t find a reason to hate Trek V and, what’s worse, I’m finding several reasons to like it.
For all of you diligent readers, tromp back to my post on the Wii, either in your browsers or in your memories, and remember the content and the tone of it. Got it? Good. Now substitute old-school gaming with old-school science fiction, and you’ll know my thoughts on the subject. Now, while I was alive and able to play things like the Atari 2600 in its heydey, I was nowhere near alive (my parents were in their teens) to enjoy the birth of sci-fi legends like Star Trek and Doctor Who. However, I did write my undergraduate thesis on the History and characteristics of classic Sci-Fi, so boo on you I know what I’m talking about.
You see, science fiction died in 1977. Well, not exactly died, but was overthrown by a scheming, bearded vizier and now adopts a small resistance force in the wooded copse beyond what was one its opulent castle. Gone were the peaceful days of King Sci-Fi’s reign, replaced with the loud and chaotic days brought along by the senseless dictator known as Space Opera. Since 1977, Science Fiction has gotten louder, dumber, and yet strangely more visually polished, as if to compensate for its utter dearth of depth. Before the Uprising, something like the Matrix would have been laughably simplistic, but afterward, it’s enough to write tomes It’s the end of sci-fi as we know it, and I don’t feel fine.
For those of you who know anything about movies, particularly science fiction ones, 1977 saw us blessed with Star Wars. Now, don’t get me wrong, Star Wars is a great movie, and I surely don’t blame it, or George Lucas, for causing the dumbening of sci-fi as a cromulant genre. The only problem was, and still is, that the fanbase that surrounded Star Wars (the first truly mass-marketable sci-fi movie ever made) held it up as such a shining example and canonized it to the level where it is now the gold standard by which sci-fi is judged.
And, just for the record, Star Wars is not Science Fiction. Star Wars is a Space Opera.
Let’s look at the tale of the tape, shall we?
In this corner, we have the thought-provoking, allegory-heavy, budget-light, campy, intellectual, niche-audience appealing scrapper named Sci-Fi. I tells ya, this kid’s been fighting all his life for credibility, and has a small (but loyal) following. Just wait til ya see his one-two punch where he implies that it was really man’s own folly all along, and the aliens are what we have truly become! He’s a wreckin’ machine!
And in this corner, the adreanaline-fueled, explosion-stuffed, dialogue-blunted, suckled at the teat of action movies and jammed into a space suit fighter known as Space Opera. His mother was Mary Shelley and his father was Michael Bay. If you can withstand the intial barrage of cacaphonous sounds, bright lights, and dizzying spectacles, you’re a stronger man than I!
This match has been going on for almost thirty years and, with current box-office dreck like Transformers 2 raking in the dough, it’s becoming pretty obvious that Sci-Fi is losing the battle. You’ll be lucky if you’ll even get a single well-done allegory or slightly respectable camp moment in the Science Fiction of the Future, and don’t even think of blasting some guy into space without having him get into some wire-fu EPIC BATTLEZ TO THE MAX. With a guy wearing half a Trojan factory worth of latex. Or hell, maybe everything will just be CG, who knows. Original Sci-Fi is being mocked by the very people who, without its campy, preachy roots, wouldn’t have the modern, overexposed, overdramaticized, over EPICKED version of sci-fi that exists today. Without Flash Gordon, there would be no Neo. Without William Hartnell, there would be no David Tennant. Most importantly, without William Shatner, there would be no Chris Pine and, more encompassingly, no Captain Kirk. Know your roots, kids. Now, what was I here to review…?
GET ON WITH IT!
Right. Sorry. But believe me, this all has something to do with Trek V, I promise.
You see, my major problem with Treks II, III, and IV was that, if you subtracted the iconic Trek characters, it would still be a good movie. Trek I, and especially Trek V, would fall flatter than a souffle in the elephant tap-dancing championships without Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and Co. In a way, the “Star Trek Trilogy” are, in my opinion, better movies, but not better Star Trek movies. The reasoning for this may be that the Trilogy is, well, just done too well, and when I think of classic Sci-fi, I think of things that aren’t done very well. It’s almost as if, in the visual mediums of TV and film, Sci-fi has to be bad to be good. Let’s face it, at its core Star Wars and Star Trek were pretty derivative, preachy, and not all that well done. But that’s why we like them. The taste was created, while Sci-fi was still a fringe genre, for an inherent bit of camp and cheesiness to truly make good Sci-fi. It had to be bad to be good, like how sometimes you want Macaroni with Velveeta instead of real cheese.
As such, I appreciate Star Trek V: The Final Frontier for what it is. It is campy. It is cheesy. It is classic Sci-fi created by a guy who truly knows a thing or two about classic sci-fi, and that man is the director and story-helper-guy of Trek V: the one and only William Shatner. I know I’ve kissed Shat’s butt a bit too much during these reviews, but the guy is just one of THOSE actors who can arrest a scene by simply eating chips in the background. He’s got IT, much like Sean Connery, and what’s more he knows a thing or two about Sci-fi. He knows what made Star Trek a hit, and he was going to bring the series back to its original essence, complete with a stirring rendition of the theme now made famous in Star Trek: TMP.
I found myself, at several parts of the movie, trying to make myself hate it. The opening scenes on “shore leave” are almost ridiculous at parts, and there are some scenes that are downright hammy and stuffed with Trek and Sci-fi cliche…but I just couldn’t bring myself to bite down on the jugular. Maybe I’m an outsider to Trekdom (and as such have not likened it to a religion), but I’m fully okay with Trek being silly at times, overacted at other times, and stingingly allegorical in others. Perhaps my outsider status helps me recognize Trek for what it truly is, and enjoy even the “bad” movies. Yes, the plot is downright ridiculous, yes it’s often overdone, yes we’ve seen quite a few of these things before but, as I said earlier, it’s the presence of the dynamic Trek cast that makes this movie something more than just another Sci-fi yarn, and it’s because of the cast’s supreme performance, even while singing around a campfire, that makes it a better Star Trek movie, if not a better movie overall.
As a final note, there have been some scathing accusations regarding Shatner’s ego on this project. It is believed that, as he directed it and helped develop the story, that this entire movie suffers because it is an homage to Shatner’s self-perceived wonderfulness.
Darn skippy it does!
Anyway, I really can’t see any merit in this accusation. If anything, this movie put more cracks in the near-invicible veneer Shatner was showing in the first movie. Kirk giggles, he pouts, he’s petulant, he’s even snarky to a being calling itself “God.” It not only makes Kirk’s character more human, but also more endearing than in the previous films. We saw glimpses of his softer side in Trek IV, and it was downright delicious to see a change from the dour mood of II and III with a light-hearted romp that showed more vulnerability for the crew than their old fish out of water trip in Trek IV. Being lost for words in another time period is one thing, but being lost for words in your own…that deepens a character. And while I’m at it, I’d just like to say that DeForrest Kelley made this movie for me as Dr. Bones McCoy, turning in what is probably the best performance of the entire movie. His wackiness is the lowest, almost nil besides playing nursemaid to Kirk, and the scene involving his father makes me really miss the late Mr. Kelley and pray that Karl Urban can continue to do the character justice.
I recommend Star Trek V: the Final Frontier, but only if you know what Sci-Fi really is and should be. If you’re looking for the Matrix, or Star Wars, or Transformers, go no further. If you love Sci-fi when it’s campy and cheesy, then bring your tent and your macaroni. Star Trek V has what Star Trek started out as, before the nerds declared it sacrosanct and overly EPICKED the plot and characters, and that essence makes for a darn entertaining movie, probably my new favorite over TMP, another Trek movie that got what it means to be Trek. Unfortunately, Trek V tanked at the Box Office, so join me next week as I wrap up my six movie mission and review the final movie to feature the entire original cast of Star Trek. This is the one, says fans, that they made because Trek V supposedly stank, and according to the fans this is a great note to go out on. Well, you sold me on Wrath of Khan, nerd masses, let’s see how you can sell me on Star Trek VI: the Undiscovered Country.
Until then, I tenderly remain,
To become ideal humans… we need to be hurt.
James T. Kirk, 2287:
You know that pain and guilt can’t be taken away with the wave of a magic wand. They’re the things we carry with us, the things that make us who we are. If we lose them, we lose ourselves. I don’t want my pain taken away! I need my pain!