Over the years, the tale has grown in the telling. Some called it one of the worst films of all time, others call it a box office catastrophe.
It killed the careers of the director, producer, the entire special effects company, and nearly ended the entire franchise right there and then. It is remembered merely as a vanity project gone horribly wrong. But ask yourself this. What does God need with a starship?
Can you answer it? Can you understand the question? To dismiss it out of hand is to dismiss the opportunity to think. Do not turn your brain off. To answer it, we need religion, politics, philosophy and the human condition.
It is an exploration not of space, but of existence.
These goals are accomplished, although how well accomplished is left as an exercise to the viewer. Superficially, Star Trek V is a mess. This is not an adventure story. This is a biting, vicious allegory of religious extremism.
Relevant now perhaps more than ever, as it shows startling parallels to the current war against Islamic State. What started out as an exploration of televangelism mutated into something else via the notoriously troubled production, and some of the allegory was lost.
But now, in the modern world, Star Trek V finally makes sense. This is not the film you were warned about. This is not a film where the Enterprise literally goes looking for God. This is one worth seeing for what it is, what it was meant to be, or at least what it has become. It is right wing.
When watched in the light that it was intended, it ceases to be a muddling and bizarre action adventure film and instead transcends those boundaries.
If you like your sci-fi to shine a light on the real world, to engage your brain and challenge your preconceptions, there is the argument to be made that Star Trek V is not only a worthy film, it is one of the most interesting science fiction films ever made.
Stop laughing. The undulating success of Star Trek means the franchise is hard to predict, even retrospectively. The late 80s should have seen a continuing strengthening of the franchise on the back of four consecutive hit movies, three consecutive critical hits, and a brand new television series.
In actuality, the late 80s nearly saw the death of the franchise. The Next Generation did not hit the ground running. After Star Trek stock had been so high in , saw it crashing back to Earth. So what better than to wheel out the original crew for another film?
That should fix everything, right? Well, problems emerged from the start.
A oneupmanship clause in the contracts of Nimoy and Shatner, broadly speaking, stated that whatever Nimoy got, Shatner would get as well and vice versa. The special effects problems were notorious. ILM reportedly demanded an extortionate amount of money, and Shatner was forced to look elsewhere.
Shatner was taken in by a practical yet ultimately mundane display of reflected lights in a cloud chamber and immediately hired Ferren, only for Associates and Ferren to collapse under the difficulty of such a big production. That Shatner demanded previews of the effects before commissioning them only added to the workload, and ultimately most of what they made was unusable.
The effects that did remain were either of exceedingly poor quality motion control work was shot at a reduced frame rate to save time , reused from previous films, or redone by others. The climax had to be butchered to account for the million-dollar rockman suit simply not working at all.
The disaster killed Associates and Ferren it was later acquired by Disney and repurposed for imagineering and Ferren himself left the movie business.
He was an accomplished TV director in his own right, if not quite the student of the art that Nimoy had been. He thoroughly knew the actors and characters and allowed them to get the best performance out of themselves, and he had quite the eye for set pieces.
This film is full of interesting and occasionally brilliant shots, although it should be noted they sometimes work better as still images rather than in motion. His storycrafting, too, was not at fault. His idea was dark, subversive, but literal.
The Enterprise encounters a hostage situation in the desert, engineered by a televangelist who believes God is speaking directly to him. They travel to Eden, only to find it resembles Hell.
As you can see, much of the original story found its way into the final film, but with less a focus on the religious extremism and the inherent hypocrisy of religious violence and more of a focus on action and slapstick.
To say Paramount hated the idea was an understatement. Everyone aside from Shatner despised the idea.
Very often the creative process relies on such conflict, and somehow the good ideas bubble up to the surface. It seems, therefore, that the filming script for Star Trek V was basically the first draft.
The comedy is probably the one aspect that stands out for its inappropriateness. The Final Frontier is easily the darkest of the six original films in its premise, yet the first third is basically a comedy. Not all of the comedy was a misfire. Nimoy plays Spock back at his deadpan best, even if not all the lines quite hit the mark, and his comedy moments are better than, say, Scottie hitting his head.
But there is a purpose to these scenes that is important. By showing Kirk, Spock and McCoy enjoying some time off we see that these are closer to their series selves than their movie selves.