In my last blog entry I reviewed ‘Star Trek‘ (2009) and demonstrated that there is more to the film than I and most Star Trek fans initially thought. After writing this entry I began to think about the other films in the ‘Original Film Series’ and how there are aspects of these films that are often overlooked. So I decided to go where ‘No Man Has Gone Before’ I am going to do something that not even William Shatner or Gene Roddenberry could do. I am going to defend Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989).
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier is debatable as the worst of the Star Trek films and by all accounts it is quite bad, but it’s bad in a very ambitious way that one has to admire for at least attempting to find God in Star Trek. The effects are by far the worst of any Star Trek film and the story is not without its flaws. Flying into the center of the galaxy to find God may sound like a good idea on paper but is very difficult to pull off and was ultimately a compromised film. While the film was not successful as a Star Trek film or any film for that matter there is still something interesting going on in this film.
For me there are two aspects that set Star Trek apart from any other Science Fiction Series and have made sure it has endured for almost fifty years.The first is the willingness to take on grand ideas, the second is in the surrogate family of the crew. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier taps into both of these concepts.
Star Trek at its best and at its worst is when it is tackling grand ideas that cannot be contained within a simple story. These are ideas that pertain to destiny, asking what it means to be human and how to maintain a sense of morality in a dehumanizing universe. As Stephen Fry pointed out Star Trek is Nietzschean in concept as man is always trapped between his intellect and his instincts. Kirk, Spock and McCoy are the definition of this in their dynamic. McCoy represents Kirk’s emotional core and Spock represents his intellect and Kirk always has to try to balance these two aspects in order to maintain his humanity. This idea was also addressed throughout The Next Generation in that whenever they had diplomatic missions the problems were either that the Aliens were too intellectual and cold-hearted or they were too instinctual and aggressive such as the Klingon Empire story arcs. So at the core of Star Trek are ideas about humanity and this is more important to the legacy of Star Trek than visual effects and plot contrivances. Star Trek V tackles ideas that are grand that they get muddled in the translation to the screen while this leaves us with a deeply flawed film we have a film that is very passionate about these ideas and deserves credit for attempting to be more than the sum of its parts.
What this film really has going for it and what makes it indefinably Star Trek is that this is the first film in the series which brings us back to the family dynamic of The Enterprise Crew and gives us a film that focuses on the bond of Kirk, Spock and McCoy. While Star Trek III and IV began to tap into the emotional connection between these characters and gave plenty of room for great character moments for all of the crew this was the first and only film that returns to the trio and bookended by the family bond that these three characters shared in the Original series but got lost amongst the film series. The camping sequences while as corny as they are, give the audience a glimpse of how far these characters have come and how close they now are after twenty-three years where their mortality is now bearing down upon them. This is also one of the few Star Trek films where we get to see Starfleet Officers off duty. What makes these scenes so good and yet so cringe worthy in their dorkiness is that they are not the cool kids chasing women anymore. They are like the ‘Dorkie Dads’ on their annual fishing trip. These scenes are oddly charming in this way. They return to classic Star Trek while also showing that they have grown and changed. This serves to remind us that they are not just a crew they are a family unit.
TONE OF THE ORIGINAL SERIES
While Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is undeniably brilliant and returns one of the great series villains that no other Star Trek film has ever been able to surpass Star Trek has never about the villain of the week it was always about ideas and the family of characters. Therefore Star Trek V with its bad effects grand ideas and a focus on the relationship of Kirk, Spock and McCoy may actually be closer to the concept of The Original Series than any of the other films. This does not mean that it is a better film than any of the films that surround but perhaps we have been too hard on this flawed but ambitious entry in the Star Trek film series.
Director: JJ Abrams
Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Bruce Greenwood, Leonard Nimoy and Simon Pegg
2009, 127 Minutes
Re-evaluating The Reboot
‘Star Trek’ (2009) is a film that is unique to Star Trek. Not only due to a new cast and new creative control but the most striking and jarring aspect is that ‘Star Trek’ did not feel like it was made for Star Trek fans. I had mixed feelings about this incarnation. I felt there was too much glossing over of story details and that there were too many contrived plot devices for one film. There was ‘Red-Matter’, the ‘Kobayashi Maru’, ‘Spock Prime’, there was also Scottty’s warp flight transport from the other side of the alpha quadrant (may be an exaggeration) and a truly bizarre coincidence that most mainstream cinema-goers had no problem with.
Until recently I considered each of these plot points to be only plot points that were there to move the film forward to rewrite the history of Star Trek while never providing any real meaning or adding anything to the characters. I thought they just wanted to get the ‘Kobayashi Maru’ test out of the way as a reference point to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. This was a metaphor for Kirk’s inability to face his own mortality and finally facing his personal ‘Kobayashi Maru’ thirty years later. Kirk’s mortality was addressed in each film that followed Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and gave the Captain Kirk helmed films a gravitas that was sorely lacking in the Captain Picard films. This is why the ‘Kobayashi Maru’ is so integral to Kirk’s character and to the Star Trek film series. This event defined the latter day Kirk that we find in the film series. In ‘Star Trek’ (2009) I felt that they did not get to the point of the ‘Kobayashi Maru’ beyond some explanatory dialogue, some references to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and setting up a conflict between Kirk and Spock. I thought it was a shallow and contrived usage of such an important part of Star Trek history.
‘Kobayashi Maru’ as used in the 2009 film became clear during a recent revisit. The ‘Kobayashi Maru’ was integral to Spock’s story arc and ties Kirk and Spock together on a deeper level than realized. The point of the test according to Spock is “Not to win, but to face fear and accept the possibility of death”. The No-Win situation of the ‘Kobayashi Maru’ becomes the real life test of Spock through the second act where he has to face death and mortality. He witnesses his mother’s death and the destruction of his home world leaving his people at the mercy of ‘The Federation’. Spock’s response to this is to lash out in aggression towards Kirk and abandon him to a barren ice planet.
Looking at the ‘Kobayashi Maru’ from the perspective of Spock not only makes this a better film but also strengthens and adds further depth to the usage of The ‘Kobashi Maru’ in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. This is because Spock faces his personal Kobayashi Maru at the hands of Nero and with the destruction of Vulcan while Kirk’s personal ‘Kobayashi Maru’ is in the loss of Spock.
While the film is flawed and there are some contrivances the character moments of Spock, Kirk and the ‘Kobayashi Maru’ are not the contrived plot devices I once thought. Despite the flaws of the story telling devices, there is more depth to ‘Star Trek’ (2009) than you may have initially thought. The ‘Kobayashi Maru’ was and still is one of the most important character moments in the Star Trek film series.