DIRECTOR: Nicholas Meyer
May Contain Spoilers!
I can remember seeing this in the March of 1992 like it was yesterday. The trailers pushed this as the last hurrah of the classic crew and Sulu was now captain of the U.S.S. Excelsior! By Star Trek VI it was about time for the crew retire with Shatner and Nimoy both into their 60’s and hardly capable of leaping around strange new worlds or seducing alien women as they once did. Well, plausibly so anyway.
1991 was the 25th Anniversary year of Star Trek, which is now into its 46th year, with today actually being the shows 46th Anniversary, Gene Roddenberry had passed away in the October, just two months before this film was released and this was The Final Frontier for this crew in its entirety. Star Trek: The Next Generation was entering its Fifth Season, and the batten had defiantly been passed on to Patrick Stewart and his crew, leaving the ageing originals to be put out to pasture.
The theme of age catching up with you is the theme which runs through this film, with the more austere and rebellious pensioners sent out on one last mission to simply babysit the Klingon Chancellor to Earth, after one of the Klingon moons goes all Chernobyl and blows up, devastating their home world’s atmosphere. The Chernobyl metaphor works throughout as the Klingons are and have clearly always been the Russians of the Star Trek Universe.
1991 also saw the end of the Cold War, as this film played on that in order to explain the peace between the Klingons and the Federation which exists during the The Next Generation era, set 78 years later. This plays out more like a political thriller than the usual adventures which you might have come to expect, but this is director, Nicholas Meyer all over, back in the director’s chair after Star Trek II and co-writing The Voyage Home, he has the midas touch when it comes to Star Trek.
He adds a classical flavour to the franchise, with laidels of naval and Shakespearean references which some would argue is too much, but it does become self referencing as Chang (Christopher Plummer) quotes him to death! So, the babysitting mission turns sour when the Enterprise supposedly opens fire on the Klingon ship and two Enterprise crew members beam aboard and murder the Chancellor.
Kirk (William Shatner) and McCoy (the late DeForrest Kelly) stand trial for the assassination and Spock (Leonard Nimoy) leads the Enterprise against orders to prove their innocence and find the true culprits, whilst the Federation is now embroiled in an intergalactic crisis which could end with all out war or a lasting peace.
Some have described this as “Murder She Wrote in space” but I would disagree. Yes, the murder mystery may not be the tightest drama ever written and the plot if filled with contrivances and plot holes, but this is Star Trek! Meyer manages to maintain the action, fun and narrative weight along with the metaphorical issues which make Star Trek great. This is about the issues of political change and that fact political leaders who promote peace between warring nations often end up dead, and often by their OWN side.
It takes the events of Chernobyl and how much of an impact that the disaster had on and effected the long-awaited political change in the Soviet Union. But as a film, it also plays into the political thriller buzz of the time, with the first run of Jack Ryan movies doing the rounds at the time, to name a few. Star Trek, at it’s best, is great Sci-Fi which is allegorical in nature, and Trek has always been the up there with greats at doing this.
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier probably would have been just that, the last one, if the producers hadn’t taken one last shot at finishing the franchise in the Anniversary year and thank god that they did. But the lower budget did begin to show here, as whilst the visual effects were great, the sets weren’t so much, harking back to redressing mentality of a TV show.
Almost all the Enterprise sets were redressed from The Next Generation, with Ten Forward being used twice! Let alone the glaringly obvious Engine Room and Transporter. The Gulag of Rura Penthe sets were variable too, with some clearly shot on a second-rate sound stage to a real Icelandic glacier.
So, Kirk and McCoy are sent to the gulag and Spock rescues them, but not before the pair are helped to escape by a Shape-shifter, generally manifesting in for form of supermodel, Iman. She ends up changing into a copy of Kirk for the pair to fight each other which is a well conceived scene, which harks back to Season’s Three’s “Whom The God’s Destroy” (Geeky moment!). Once back on the Enterprise, they race to the Peace Conference to prevent any more assassinations, but must do battle with a Klingon Bird Of Prey commanded by Plummer’s, General Chang, who I find to be a decent enough adversary for Kirk.
He has a nailed on eye patch and thinks of himself as a Shaksperian hero/villain. So the plot is pretty straight forward for the genre, but there is more complexity here than may at first come to mind. Our heroes spend the first half of the film being bigoted and racist towards the Klingons, only to come around to the error of their ways by the end, which is a noble character arch, surely. It’s nice to see that even our heroes can miss the point of what they have been doing for teh past 25 years up to this point and I personally applaud the writing of this film.
The production design lets this film down, but so did the special effects in Gojira (1954), but I still gave that 10 out of 10 for the same reason as I have here. This is a noble effort to both finish off the classic Star Trek franchise and tell a proper Science Fiction story and it works. Maybe I’m being harsh on the sets and maybe they did the best with money that they had but redressing everything, and in some cases so blatantly, was a bit annoying. Though visually and tonally, this is Star Trek at it’s very best.
This is still slightly below Star Trek II, but there’s no doubt that Nicholas Meyer is the man when it comes to Trek, (Listen up, J.J.!) with a thorough understanding of what it’s all about and who the characters are. But one thing which I will not forgive, is the sign off at the end. Cringeworthy!