MOVIE REVIEW : ‘Star Trek V’: The Journey Mellows Out

Times Staff Writer

“Star Trek V: The Final Frontier” (citywide) is as much a spiritual odyssey as a space adventure, and it’s all the richer for it. It has high adventure, nifty special effects and much good humor, but it also has a wonderful resonance to it.

That’s because William Shatner, in a triple-threat assignment, as director and co-writer as well as actor, turns to full advantage the inescapable fact that the Star Trek family, after 23 years, is well into middle-age.

Shatner’s Capt. James Kirk and his colleagues have retained the reflexes and openness of youth but at the same time they possess the perspective that only the passage of time can bring. For all its intergalactic cliff-hanging, “Star Trek V” is a mellow experience, a contemplation of life’s possibilities and rewards in maturity, tinged with an awareness of mortality.

It is also a film without a villain in the usual sense of sci-fi adventure. The hooded, priestly-looking Sybok (Laurence Luckinbill, in a full-bodied, mesmerizing Shakespearean turn) may be mad, but he is surely not evil. He is a Vulcan, in fact the half-brother of Leonard Nimoy’s deadpan Spock. A lifelong rebel against the resolutely cool logic of his people, Sybok celebrates emotion and possesses the power to heal and to cast spells. His goal is to reach “the place from which creation springs,” a mythical, gaseous planet beyond the Great Barrier. In his impiety he wants “to meet God.”


To that end he plots to commandeer the Starship Enterprise. As it happens, the long-banished Sybok has turned up on the arid, desolate Nimbus III. Designated “The Planet of Galactic Peace” by the the peoples of three different planets, it has a colony, optimistically called Paradise, which has degenerated into a seedy frontier outpost, a haven for outcasts and a reflection of the failure of the Terran, Romulan and Klingon peoples to live in interplanetary harmony. Indeed, in Sybok’s pursuit of his dream the Klingon Captain Klaa (Todd Bryant) sees a chance to seize the Enterprise himself, which he declares would make him “the greatest warrior in the galaxy.”

Everything that Sybok stirs up allows writer David Loughery, in adapting a story he wrote with Shatner and producer Harve Bennett, to celebrate warm friendship and camaraderie in the face of danger, and eventually, the unknown. In embracing each other these seasoned, expert professional space travelers embrace us as well.

Never have we been made to feel so much a part of the Star Trek family, which includes, of course, DeForest Kelley’s Dr. Leonard (Bones) McCoy, James Doohan’s engineer Scotty, Walter Koenig’s navigator Chekov, Nichelle Nichols’ communications officer Uhura and George Takei’s helmsman Sulu. (Nichols gets to perform a fan dance that would do Sally Rand proud.) Along for the ride this time are space federation official David Warner and aliens Cynthia Gouw and Charles Cooper.

Bran Ferren and Michael L. Woods’ visual/special effects and Herman Zimmerman’s production design are at once dazzling and functional, while Jerry Goldsmith’s score soars and enthralls.


A special triumph for Zimmerman is his Paradise, half Sahara village and hell-hole of the Old West, undeniably reminiscent of the similar outpost in “Star Wars” but a success on its own terms as a work of eclectic, ramshackle Art Deco design. (Nice touch: someone has scrawled “Lost” next to the “Paradise” sign on its arched entrance.)

Shatner and his colleagues are clearly aware that at heart “Star Trek” is pretty square stuff, and they honor this quality with affection and just the right touch of tongue-in-cheekery. Without humor as well as wisdom, Sybok’s big moment of the truth would be hokey rather than affecting. The film’s loveliest scenes, however, are those which enclose it so gracefully near its beginning and at its end, with Kirk and McCoy sitting around a campfire, earnestly trying to teach the solemn Spock how to sing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.”


A Paramount presentation. Executive producer Ralph Winter. Producer Harve Bennett. Director William Shatner. Screenplay David Loughery; based on a story by Shatner, Bennett and Loughery. Based on “Star Trek” created by Gene Roddenberry. Camera Andrew Laszlo. Music Jerry Goldsmith. Production designer Herman Zimmerman. Costumes Nilo Rodis-Jamero. Co-producer Mel Efros. Associate producer Brooke Breton. Visual effects Bran Ferren. Special effects supervisor Michael L. Wood. Special make-up designer Kenny Myers. Klingon and Vulcan prosthetics by Richard Snell Make-Up Designs. Stunt coordinator Glenn R. Wilder. Film editor Peter Berger. With William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, David Warner, Laurence Luckinbill, Charles Cooper, Cynthia Gouw, Todd Bryant, Spice Williams.

Running time: 1 hour, 47 minutes.

MPAA-rated: PG (parental guidance suggested).