|Non-sensical and non-descript, just like the movie.
I'll be honest, I was kind of dreading this. Not only is The Final Frontier considered to be among the worst of the Star Trek movies, I also remember really not liking it. Interestingly enough though, having re-watched it now for this review, I found a lot more redeeming factors than I ever thought I would. But maybe me going in with the lowest of expectations really helped things along.
Don't get me wrong, this movie is in fact bad. But the main issue here is the story, which is convoluted, boring and honestly makes no sense at all. However, sandwiched in-between a lot of scenes that have straight up bad writing, is a lot of stuff that actually could make this movie worth watching for a Star Trek fan (at least if you've run out of other TOS content to watch). The jargon and banter between Kirk and Co are some of the best they've ever been and we get to see a lot more character development (by other crew members than Kirk) in this movie than in the first three (TMP, TWOK and TSFP).
But seriously, what is up with the story? The movie starts out with a scene of Kirk free climbing some mountain side while McCoy is on the ground, rightly being worried out of his mind about Kirk falling to his death any second. Spock shows up with his rocket shoes just before Kirk falls (arguably also being the cause of Kirk falling) and saves his life. I find that this initial scene epitomizes basically all the pro's and con's that this movie has. In itself it makes little sense and if it's going for realism (within the boundaries of the Star Trek Universe) it is laughable. I don't actually know what age Kirk is supposed to be but Shatner himself was almost 60 when this scene was shot, and while I'm not saying that no 60 year old ever could free climb that far up a vertical mountain side, to suggest that Kirk could is just not very believable (although still in-character that he'd definitely give it a try). Secondly we have Spocks rocket shoes which defy all physics and logic (pun intended), although I'll throw in a caveat for the possibility that they've invented/discovered some alien technology in the future that could work the way they do in this scene. At face value this scene is poorly thought out and realized.
But then, later on in the movie, we get to see that both these things - the rock climbing and the rocket shoes - come in handy again, so this entire scene was set up as a foreshadowing of sorts. Clumsily made so still far from perfect, but at least it gives the existence of the scene a bit of purpose. Also, within it is some decently written dialogue between the characters, allowing them to banter and bounce comments at each other just like we love to see Kirk, Spock and McCoy in action. So what is the end result of the scene? That this movie is going to be a mixed bag, and you need to go into it hoping for light hearted crew-fun, and not a smartly written, well-paced story.
In many ways this movie superficially resembles The Voyage Home this way, where the story takes incredible short-cuts to be able to tell you about a fun adventure of Kirk and his crew. The big difference is that The Voyage Home has the funny and clever dialogue fit in and lift the story, but in the Final Frontier the story and dialogue seem like they've been written by two very different people with two very different movies in mind (the story was in fact co-written by Shatner, Harve Bennett and David Loughery.
I've been trying to stave it off, but at this point I feel I need to go into the story before we move on;
After the rock climbing scene we are taken to the planet Nimbus III, also known as the Planet of Galactic Peace. Nimbus III is, pardon my French, a sandy s*it-hole, and being stationed here should be and is considered a demotion. In the bar of the "town" called Paradise is a dancing cat lady with three boobs that just feels so extremely 80's. Why a planet that seems to lack any basic infrastructure was chosen as the site to advance peace between the Federation, Klingon Empire and Romulan Empire is anyone's guess (no one had tactical advantage possibly). How they think it's going to happen without actually having any diplomats there to do the talking is also a mystery.
|Welcome to nothing.
I'm going to correct myself though, there are in fact three diplomats (one from each) and they get kidnapped by the main villain, of sorts, in this movie - an emotional Vulcan named Sybok, who also turns out to be Spocks half-brother (Spock seems to have mystery siblings all over the galaxy). Kirk and crew get called back from shore leave to take a barely functional Enterprise to rescue these three hostages. Kirk asks if there are no better ships and gets the answer that there are better ships but no better commander. So why not give Kirk one of the better ships? Anyway... they don't do that. On the way to the bridge Kirk comments that he needs a shower and Spock turn to him and says "yes".
Meanwhile, a random Klingon Bird of Prey discovers the Enterprise, their mission and the fact that Kirk is on the ship and decides to pursue them to kill Kirk for glory. It's ok if you completely forget about the Klingons because they barely fill any function in this movie at all.
Since the teleporters aren't working, Kirk and crew need to go down to the surface of Nimbus III in a shuttle to do the rescue and we get to see Uhura dance naked in the desert moonlight and Spock do a neck pinch on a horse. Kirk gets attacked by the cat lady from the bar and she has some absolutely astonishingly bad sound effects.
When Kirk is about to rescue the hostages it turns out the entire thing was just a ruse, the hostages were in on it with Sybok. What did they want? A starship, and the Enterprise will do. What are they going to do with it? Take it to Sha Ka Ree, or as it is called in Terran - Eden. That's right, Sybok is in fact certain he has found the location of Paradise and God itself.
|The actor does what he can with a character that needed a lot more work.
On the way back to the Enterprise in the shuttle, the Klingons on the Bird of Prey show up (bet you had forgotten about them already) and threaten to kill them. Kirk outsmarts them and Spock briefly gets a chance to kill Sybok. He chooses not to and when Kirk has an anger fit at him he reveals that Sybok is his brother, but to a Vulcan princess mother. He tells Kirk that Sybok was exiled from Vulcan for his beliefs, but a few scenes later when they talk about Sha Ka Ree he exclaims that trying to find it was the reason Sybok left Vulcan. They get put in the brig but Scotty jail breaks them out of there.
As they try to sneak to regain control of the ship there is a genuinely hilarious scene where Scotty gets captured by knocking himself unconscious on a bulk head - it's so unexpected and silly.
Apparently Eden is located inside something called the Great Barrier from which nothing has ever come out of after entering. Kirk isn't too keen on taking the Enterprise in there, but Sybok has a way of talking people into doing what he wants. He gets all of Kirks crew on his side by allowing them to face their biggest fears and take strength from it. He immediately reminded me of a televangelist in the way he does it, which probably is a good thing since that is where Shatner drew his inspiration. Even though Spock and McCoy go through with Syboks "treatment" they decide to stay with Kirk. Kirk refuses to face his fears and tells Sybok;
"I don't want my pain taken away! I need my pain!"
Which I think really says a lot about Kirk.
The scene where McCoy and Spock get to face their inner fears has potential to be interesting. McCoy feels a lot of pain about letting his ailing father die too soon and Spock feels pain about Sarek thinking he is too human. It's not a scene that makes a lot of sense though, because even though we know Spock struggles a lot with his humanity, even Spock must know that whatever Sarek thinks about humans he still chose to marry and have a child with one. The way the scene plays it out it seems like Sarek really dislikes humans, which clearly isn't the case.
|In fact, Sarek and Amanda is one of the better written love stories in Star Trek.
The scene as a whole isn't well designed either, as it's not entirely clear what exactly happens. Are they seeing visions? Can other people see what they see? It is hinted that they can, but how does that work?
When Kirk finds out that Sybok is searching for God he tells him that he is mad. "Am I?" Sybok asks, with a great and telling expression on his face. The actor for Sybok, Laurence Luckinbill, really nails it there.
They go into the Great Barrier without any trouble and find a planet. Sybok hands over the control to Enterprise back to Kirk saying that now that they are here he is convinced that Kirk wants to explore the planet too. He's not wrong. "If we are going to do it, we're doing it by the book" Kirk says, only to say "Ok, we'll play it your way" to Sybok the scene after. The people still on board are watching the people on the planet on the view screen from a camera angle they couldn't possibly achieve.
We never get an explanation to how Sybok figured out God would be at this specific place, but they do find something. At first they think it actually is God, but Kirk (of course) starts to question it and when it responds malevolently they realize it's just some alien creature trying to use them to leave the Great Barrier. Sybok sacrifices himself by throwing himself at the alien, thus saving the others although I have no idea how that works. It also makes you wonder what happened to every other ship that entered this area. What should be the great climax and raison d'être for this movie is over and dealt with in a matter of minutes and it feels absolutely pointless.
|A lot of work must've gone into that beard.
But! We mustn't forget about the Klingons! They show up, having pursued the Enterprise all the way into the Great Barrier and...!... Get talked into not attacking by the diplomat Klingon from Nimbus III who is on Enterprise. So... the Klingon presence filled zero real purpose and fizzled out into nothing, just as pretty much everything else in this story line.
The story is incomprehensible and uninteresting, and the story isn't the only problem with this movie. The special effects are among the ugliest I've seen (though not Jaws: The Revenge ugly) and definitely worse than all of the previous movies. There is a scene of the shuttle craft where I genuinely cringed. We are far from the majestic beauty and storytelling from The Motion Picture here.
But if you try to ignore what the movie is trying to tell you, and you really should, there are quite a few really fun and delightful scenes with Kirk and Co just being everything that made TOS so much fun to watch. In many ways it nails some of the same joyfulness of The Voyage Home, but without the interesting and clever framework to hold it together.
And there you have it - overall this movie deserves all the bad reviews it has gotten. But, I'll be honest, even though the story is bad it's still not as boring as The Search For Spock and this movie also has a lot more fun scenes between the crew than that movie has. So in the end I've actually got to say that this isn't the worst Star Trek movie and not even the worst of the first five. I can't say I recommend watching it, but it does have some redeeming factors to it and it ended up being less horrible than I had expected. It's might not be praise but it's something.
Thoughts had when watching this movie;
- Wait a minute, didn't Sybok have long hair just now? And when they land on the God-planet he suddenly has short hair.
Images from IMDB.com, memory-alpha.fandom.com, tor.com, laymansbible.wordpress.com.