In Defense of Star Trek V

Before The Next Generation movies came along and fucked Star Trek in the ass (and I’m talking multiple, no clean up, anal creampies), there was Star Trek V sitting there like a rotten tooth, sending critics and fans alike howling naked through the heather, clutching a dead rabbit to their breast, and lamenting the collapse of a franchise.

Star Trek V is the movie that started the whole “odd number star trek movies suck” urban myth. I say myth because The Motion Picture is, really, very awesome. Anyone who had watched the old show got The Motion Picture. It was just a long episode. A really long episode.

We all thought Star Trek III was a terrible kick in the nuts, but it’s more of a pulled punch. An innocent fuck-up. And, once you look beyond Spock growing up and finger-banging with Kirstie Alley’s ugly replacement, Star Trek III is actually loads of fun. The crew steals, then destroys the Enterprise, and it’s the last great battle with the Klingons (Star Trek VI doesn’t count because the Klingons were humanized, and the battle with General Chang is really a fight against a galaxy-wide conspiracy largely run by humans and Romulans).

As the mid-point in a trilogy (which it is), Star Trek III is perfect. Seriously – Watch Star Trek II, III, and then IV and take them as a stand-alone story arc within the movie franchise. Back to back, they run like one long movie.

Star Trek V, though, was an embarrassment that left all of us cold and feeling betrayed.

But… Let’s stop for a moment and think about this. The great downfall of the Star Trek movies is that we — you, and you, and you, and I — expect A-A-A-A-Action! That’s what defined the universally abysmal TNG movies and, slowly, infected the TOS movies.

Luckily, that infection was held at bay for the first five movies. There are spurts of it here and there but, in the end, the TOS movies managed to hold onto the cliff’s edge of respectability. We get The Motion Picture, which, as I said, is just a looooong motherfucking episode of TOS. (Or, more accurately, an outtake from Star Trek Phase II – the failed 70’s series.) Then we get the transition to more accessible action movies with Wrath of Khan. Space Seed Part 2 combined with Aliens-era action…but, you know, it was still fucking awesome. Rock my boxers awesome. We get an old enemy, we still get good Star Trek moments, and the action is tempered by long, human scenes addressing the theme of the TOS movies – our aging crew and their battle with destiny. They’re getting old, they know it, they regret it, and yet they get dragged back into the fray to save the universe one…last…time… Nowhere is that theme more poignant than in Wrath of Khan. Khan is the physical reminder of Kirk’s past sins, his failures. An archenemy from 15 years ago come to drag the tired admiral through the gutters.

Search for Spock, then, is a desperate retreat into what TOS once was, and fails on many levels. In terms of making movies that sell, it has no hope of recapturing TOS. But it still manages, somehow, to be a lot like old school TOS. And when you consider the trilogy aspect, it’s easier to forgive the transgressions.

The Voyage Home is just a comedy episode intended for 80 year olds everywhere. A weirdly charming departure from the moodiness of the first three movies. From there we enter into a dangerous area – the movie franchise essentially reboots itself. The struggle that began in Wrath of Khan has been wrapped up, Kirk and crew are assigned to the Enterprise-A, and it’s business as usual. Ending the franchise would have been crazy, though, so we can’t avoid Star Trek V.

What’s weird is that Star Trek IV sort of sets up Star Trek VI. Kirk and his crew are given a slap on the wrist, thus earning hatred and angst from the Klingons. But, instead of capitalizing on the linked nature of Star Trek II-IV, we get a weird standalone adventure where all the rapidly aging TOS crewmembers are there on the Enterprise even though they all, as of the start of Star Trek II or earlier, were well beyond that sort of bullshit.

They get themselves caught up in a journey to the Center of the Galaxy (which they did multiple times in TOS) to find God. At the helm is Spock’s brother, who’s a lunatic empath taking advantage of Mad Max-style desert dwellers on a neutral zone planet.

Star Trek V is one, big, WTF?

And that’s why it gets a short shrift.

But let’s stop, step back, and take it as just some fucking whatever sci-fi flick. Remove it from the shadow of the franchise and evaluate it fairly.

It’s kind of awesome.

We open up on Apocalypse Planet Zero and Spock’s brother converting moisture farmers to some twisted Buddhist cult. A great start for generic sci-fi!

Before we continue, though, I have to confess my own personal experience with Star Trek V. The movie hit the theaters in 1989. Mom was a huge sci-fi geek and, on opening night, we went to the Loews Theater at Wheaton Plaza. And, after 8 minutes of what was, apparently, a Mad Max sequel, the film burnt up. The lights came on, the manager apologized, and mom was, like, “Fuck this.” We drove down to DC and caught it at the Uptown. Which, of course, is the big ass in your face movie theater. At the time, surround sound and big screens and all that bullshit was limited to certain spots, like the Uptown. So it was always a treat. Instead of two tinny speakers upfront, I saw Star Trek V with eight million speakers plugged right into my cock.

And I loved it.

We open with that Mad Max stuff and a scary Vulcan laughing with the sun behind him. Then we go to the title sequence… Which is the theme from The Next Generation (then wrapping up its second season). So there’s that cool connection. (A variation of The Next Generation music was also used in The Motion Picture, so, really, Star Trek V is cheating on multiple levels, but it’s still better than the Tubular Bells version of the theme in Star Trek IV).

Then we cut to Kirk rock-climbing, and Spock being the comic relief, and McCoy bitching…And…right there is where the film burned up at Wheaton Plaza and a packed theater – I’m talking standing room only — Went: HOLY SHIT! Resulting in an hour long drive all over the place till we hit the Uptown.

It’s my belief that Star Trek V tanked because of that. Every single person who went to see that movie had it burn up after a few minutes and had to drive all over hell’s creation to finish it. So, of course, they thought what the fuck is this shit? I just burned up a tank of gas, and hours of my life, to finish this movie…and it’s some retarded thing worthy of, like, 50 minutes in season one of TOS. Non! J’accuse!

If we’d been able to sit down and just watch it normally, we would have gone, oh yeah, this is Star Trek! No problem.

So, the problems… First — that a planet like Nimbus 3 exists. Some sort of neutral planet in the neutral zone (Um…whose neutral zone? Romulan or Klingon? We don’t know.)

Second – it’s the first attempt to capture the “dark side” of the Federation. A theme that’ll finally be realized in DS9 but, in Star Trek V, has you going, “Huh?”

Third — Nimbus 3 is Tatooine, and that parallel makes me hate it.

Other problems: The suggestion that Uhura and Scotty are lovers (and have been for some time) as they work on an Enterprise-A “shakedown.”

And, regardless of the shakedown status, and the fact that the Enterprise-A is “in pieces” and in the middle of a spacedock full of functioning ships and groovy experimental ships, Starfleet calls on it to go to the neutral zone and save the universe.

Now… Okay. We all know from the recent remake that Starfleet has a very strict sort of fleet system. If the battlefleet is elsewhere being gay, then the defense fleet is called up to deal with Today’s Great Catastrophe. So, what happens in the remake is the same scenario in Star Trek V. The Enterprise is called up and away we go. But here it’s all a bit clumsy. An Enterprise that can’t even receive radio signals from Starfleet is told by Starfleet (via radio) to get to the neutral zone. So, first, they must comically pick up the crew from various points in Yosemite.

The other big problem is McCoy’s sea-change in attitude. “Human life is too precious to waste on macho stunts” he says to Kirk.

Um… This is the guy who talked Kirk into commanding a starship again. A conversation that led to Kirk taking command in Star Trek II and, from there, battling an old enemy from the 1960’s, defying Starfleet command, stealing a fucking ship of the line, then blowing it up, then starting an inter-galactic incident with the Klingons, and, finally, going back in time and changing the course of human history forever. And that’s just in the last three movies.

Hi pot!

Hi kettle!

Anyway, after a few rounds of Row Your Boat and retarded Enterprise shakedown shenanigans, we cut to Klingons. Which is great, and there are female Klingons on the bridge, and there’s the brave Klingon music. We all breathe a sigh of relief. Time to actually start the Star Trek movie.

The Klingon captain is frustrated. He’s shooting at space garbage and desperately wants to engage a Federation starship. People scoffed at this, but I loved it… It’s a perfect prelude to Star Trek VI. The boring, final days of the Cold War. (A startling parallel, really, to how the world was in 1989.)

So the Enterprise limps along to Nimbus III and what is, most likely, a massive incident that would require, maybe, a few ships. Yes, Starfleet says, there are plenty of available ships… But no experienced commanders. These words are actually spoken! So…okay. Why not put Kirk in charge of any one of those other ships? Ah, well. Nevermind.

Star Trek V is also all about Uhura’s fan dance. It took them 20 years to realize that they should just have Uhura naked and doing a sexy dance, then beat up the rednecks. Something she was always capable of, but never got to do. In The Motion Picture, she was just plain dowdy, and she was kind of second banana for Star Trek II-IV. But, finally, here she has a crucial role — get naked and confuse the desert hillbillies.

The fan dance, and the events leading up to it and immediately after, are the real reasons people hate Star Trek V — lame, outdated, misplaced comedy and a confused storyline.

But from that clumsy comedy we move into some powerful scenes. Sybock revealing the “inner pain” to our main guys. McCoy euthanizing his father, Spock’s birth and his father’s disgust at his humanity… And Kirk’s refusal to play along. “Pain and guilt can’t be taken away with a magic wand. They’re the things that make us who we are… We lose them and we lose ourselves… I NEED my pain!”

From that point on, at the movie’s midpoint, Star Trek V is oh-so-very Star Trek. So, while it is the worst entry in the original movies, I still defend it. I do so because it’s the last, true gasp of The Original Series. Star Trek VI is, spiritually, a TNG movie. But Star Trek V, despite a very rough start, spends its final two acts deep in the territory of a slightly off TOS episode. Right down to the somewhat saccharine finale. We go from shipbound shenanigans to a very TOS-style rocky planet, and an encounter with “God” that feels like it stepped out of the 60’s. Facing “God,” then, with the cynicism of the 80’s, is a moment where the entire movie franchise sort of syncs up and clicks in some weird, storytelling, and probably not intentional way.

Star Trek V comes across more as an epilogue to The Original Series. Here we’ve had 22 years of adventure, so we end it all in the woods, singing songs around a campfire, and fade out slowly.