Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.
When a mysterious Vulcan called Sybok takes three diplomats hostage, Captain Kirk and his crew are sent to the ‘Planet of Galactic Peace’ to rescue them…
Regulars: Kirk is back to being ‘Captain Kirk’ for the first time since the TV series (or the animated series, I suppose). As the story begins, he’s on a rock-climbing holiday in Yosemite National Park. When Spock asks why he’s scaling a mountain, Kirk gives the standard ‘Because it’s there’ answer. Later on, he misses his old captain’s chair, not liking the new Enterprise’s version, and gets to shout down God. Spock is on the shore-leave holiday too, struggling to understand what the lyrics of Row, Row, Row Your Boat mean (though he later learns how to play the tune on a Vulcan lute). When the plot kicks into gear, he’s shocked to discover that the antagonist is Sybok, who shows Spock a vision of his own birth in an attempt to recruit him to the cause. Dr McCoy is on that holiday too – getting nervous as he watches Kirk traverse a rock face. It’s odd how rarely Bones gets to do any doctoring in these films; he acts more like Kirk’s consigliere. When Sybok tries to turn him, an emotional McCoy is shown a representation of his dying father. Scotty, meanwhile, is worried about the state of the new Enterprise (“She’s got a fine engine, but half the doors won’t open!”). He’s also seemingly developed a relationship with Uhura since the previous movie. At the start of the film, Sulu and Chekov are on a hiking trip, but are feeling embarrassed because they’ve got lost. Later on, Chekov gets to pretend to be the captain in an attempt to stall Sybok, while Uhura performs a bizarre dance routine to distract some bandits on Nimbus III. The two of them and Sulu then fall under Sybok’s spell.
Guests: David Warner – an actor who can do no wrong, if you ask me – plays Federation representative St John Talbot. He smokes, calls his Romulan counterpart ‘my dear’ a lot, and is fantastically louche. Sadly, though, after a few early scenes he spends most of the film standing around and taking no real part in the story. Laurence Luckibill plays Sybok (a ‘passionate Vulcan’, as McCoy describes him). It’s a good, charming performance of an interesting character: a man more deluded than evil. (The part was written with the hope of casting Sean Connery, according to the internet.)
* The atmospheric surface of Nimbus III – a cracked desert, sand in the air, a rotting tree and a bald man drilling for water. All very Mad Max 2. Sybok riding into shot is a lovely image. Paradise City, which we see later, is just as good. It feels like a textured, decaying frontier town.
* Spock, wearing anti-gravity boots, coolly levitating up to Kirk as the latter climbs the mountain.
* Kirk loosing his grip and falling of the mountain, and Spock nose-diving down to catch him.
* Chekov blowing on the communicator to try to trick Uhura into thinking he and Sulu are trapped in a storm.
* Kirk, Spock and McCoy’s fireside chat, meal and singsong.
* There’s a splendid long take as Kirk, Spock, McCoy and Uhura’s shuttle comes to rest in a docking bay, they get off and have a chat with Scotty, and the three men get into a lift to continue the scene.
* The Enterprise’s observation deck with its sailing ship’s wheel.
* “Hold your horse,” Spock says to Kirk when he asks him a question *while they’re riding horses*.
* A triple-breasted nightclub dancer attacks Kirk so he throws her into a liquid pool table.
* The reveal that the hostages are in on the deception.
* Kirk is pleading with Sybok not to force their shuttlecraft onto the Enterprise because some Klingons are nearby and may attack. “In order for this craft to enter the landing bay, Enterprise must lower the shields and activate the tractor beam. To get us inside and re-raise the shields will take…” He looks to Spock, who deadpans, “Exactly 15.5 seconds.” “An eternity,” Kirk says, not missing a beat.
* Emergency landing plan B. (“B, as in barricade.”)
* Spock refusing – or perhaps being unable – to shoot Sybok.
* The revelation that Sybok is Spock’s brother, which comes during a terrific scene between Spock, Kirk and McCoy while they’re locked in a cell. Plot, character, conflict and comedy all happening at the same time.
* Kirk, Spock and McCoy deciphering some Morse code coming through their cell’s wall. Kirk: “That’s an S… a T… A… N… er, D. End of word. New word: B… A… erm…” Spock: “C.K.” McCoy: “Back.” All: “Stand back!” The wall then explodes.
* “I know this ship like the back of my hand…” Even if you’d never seen this film you could probably guess the punchline.
* Kirk and McCoy laboriously climbing a very tall ladder. Spock leaves them to it, then floats into view on his anti-gravity boots.
* “Well, don’t just stand there,” says Kirk, striding off the bridge to head to the planet. “God’s a busy man.”
* “Excuse me, I’d just like to ask a question,” says Kirk when the being they’ve found at the centre of the universe is pontificating. “What does God need with a starship?” (McCoy: “Jim, you don’t ask for the Almighty’s ID!”)
* Kirk is stranded on the planet with ‘God’ closing in on him… when a Klingon Bird-of-Prey shows up to save him.
* Kirk goes to hug Spock. “Please, Captain, not in front of the Klingons.”
TV tie-in: There was no mention of Spock having a brother when his parents, Sarek and Amanda, first appeared in Star Trek. They showed up in an episode of the original TV show called Journey to Babel, which I rewatched alongside The Final Frontier. It includes political intrigue, moral dilemmas and generation-gap drama.
Review: Much maligned, this is more enjoyable than its reputation suggests. There’s great comic chemistry between Kirk, Spock and McCoy, while good fun is mined from the Enterprise being new and untested. William Shatner, directing Star Trek for the only time, also gives us some fantastic images and sequences – the ‘visions’ scene is especially well staged, as is all the stuff filmed on location. But the movie rarely feels ‘epic’, some special effects are on the dodgy side, there’s a lacklustre final act, and the dull Klingon threat feels arbitrarily bolted on to the main story. The most interesting thing about the movie might be its moral complexity. Kirk gets the key line when Sybok attempts to ‘turn’ him by purging him of any negativity. “I don’t want my pain taken away,” he says. “I need my pain.” Sybok and his followers are literally searching for heavenly serenity, but are therefore believing in a lie. Kirk knows the necessity of living in the real (flawed) world. In this way, whether intentionally or not, the film is quietly subversive.
Seven ‘Go climb a rock’ T-shirts out of 10.