Star Trek V: Why Can’t I Give It A Break?


After 30 years, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier is still polarizing fans. Can another look back change minds?

Let me set the stage. It’s sometime in the year 2009, post-financial crisis, looming recession, and twenty years after the release of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. My career of teaching dance classes has dwindled as people save their money for more important things in such austere times. I’m practically squatting in a house owned by my family until I get back on my feet (spoilers: I did), and I was likely experiencing some kind of undiagnosed mental health episode.

Then I saw a movie called View from the Top. It’s a 2003 romantic comedy starring Academy Award winner Gwyneth Paltrow, featuring comedic genius Mike Myers in one of his most forgettable roles.

The movie is about a naive young woman who wants a better life. She leaves her job at Big Lots to become the best flight attendant who ever attended flights, and along the way she makes friends, bests rivals, overcomes hardship and finally she falls in love.

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It’s an objectively mediocre movie at best. It got horrible reviews. For an actress who had already won an Oscar, it was a bad career move. But in 2009 a story about someone overcoming the big, bad world to find success is what I needed to see, and I enjoyed that movie for a hot minute. Or two.

My point is: I’m in no place to shame or to judge why anyone likes what they like. I, just like other humans on this world, am capable of having moments of questionable taste. So how is it that I can like a movie like View from the Top, but after *thirty* years, I still cannot bring myself to give Star Trek V: The Final Frontier a break?

Inevitable Comparisons

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home was a brilliant film. It pleased Star Trek fans and non-Trekkers alike, giving us a great story where our band of friends are as out of place in mid-80’s San Francisco as humpback whales would be on a Klingon warbird. The movie subverted expectations of what a sci-fi franchise could do, and it succeeded.

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier on the other hand?

First of all, it has some great ideas. Sybok, Spock’s half-brother in a family that seems to grow with mysterious new siblings every few decades, is a mystical man capable of healing people of their emotional trauma. I could have used him in 2009, that’s for sure. Okay, so maybe this is the movie’s best idea, but it’s great. The scenes where Spock and McCoy relive their painful memories are incredible.

The problem with Star Trek V, though, is that it’s a tonal roller coaster. Fine, The Voyage Home was a bunch of fun, and everyone had a chuckle, but what we get in The Final Frontier is a mishmash of comedic tropes gone way wrong.

Whether we are seeing Sulu (a helmsman who navigates through space) and Chekov get lost in the woods and fake a snow storm, or see Uhura seduce a bunch of men with her seductive fan dance… actually that was cool. Go Nichelle Nichols. Or Scotty bump his head on a ship he knows like the back of his hand. Or Captain Kirk’s “Go climb a rock” t-shirt. The humor here is degrading Starfleet officers we’ve spent years believing are capable individuals, and then suddenly they are made into jokes.

I’m so embarrassed for these two.

It’s difficult to take the emotional trauma that Sybok is allegedly able to heal seriously when the movie is constantly bombarding you with cute moments. It goes from cute to drop dead serious so many times, that it’s confusing to determine what the filmmakers (ahem… Shatner) wanted the audience to feel.

I don’t mind some levity in a film with some heavier story elements, but consistency is key, and this film lacks it.

So back to my question:

How can I like a movie like View from the Top where almost everything about the movie is a by the numbers rom-com, its humor tepid at best or downright crude on occasion, and features an objectively successful and esteemed actress like Gwyneth Paltrow doing some of the worst acting ever?

And then there is The Final Frontier.

I guess, for me, it comes down to the fact that both The Voyage Home and The Undiscovered Country aced their grasp of tone. Each of those features different proportions of humor and seriousness, but they execute their proportions perfectly for what the story requires.

The Final Frontier is somewhere in the middle, stuck between films that are better, that prove that Star Trek can be better because it was better. Star Trek had already raised and exceeded our expectations, and that is why it’s so difficult for me to give The Final Frontier a break.

I can give View from the Top breaks all day long because… who cares? Maybe I thought Gwyneth was over-rated, maybe I took it at face value, maybe the movie wasn’t ambitious enough to ask me as a viewer to derive anything but the bare minimum.

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But Star Trek was ambitious. Star Trek was more than face value. Star Trek challenged me. Star Trek wasn’t overrated. Except The Final Frontier, which had more of a view from the bottom.