With Leonard Nimoy’s Trek films being both critical and commercial successes, The Final Frontier was William Shatner’s turn in the directorial chair, and it almost killed the franchise.
Starting on the mysterious world of Nimbus III, we meet a Vulcan with a crazy laugh, and the ability to take away peoples pain. Back on Earth Kirk, Spock and McCoy enjoying a holiday at the Yosemite National Park, Scotty is busy trying to get the new Enterprise in working order, while Chekov and Sulu are enjoying a hiking holiday.
The crazy Vulcan, Sybok has a strong faith, and a desire to leave Nimbus III (I’m not quite sure how or why he ended up there) and captures a trio of delegates representing Earth, the Klingons and the Romulans. The crew’s holidays are soon interrupted however, when, as usual, Kirk is the only Captain who can save the day.
On the other side of the galaxy, a bored Klingon commander, Klaa, is tired of shooting down old NASA space probes and after hearing the Kirk and the Enterprise are en route to Nimbus, he decides to test himself against Kirk.
With the new ship’s transporters playing up, a shuttle is dispatched, leading a rescue party to the surface of the planet. Kirk soon has the hostages in hand, only to realise it was an elaborate ploy on Sybok’s part to capture the Federation starship.
Returning to the ship, them pesky Klingons have got in the way again and the shuttle craft has to do an emergency landing. Kirk has a brief throw-down with Sybok. Spock has the chance to shoot Sybok, but refuses, revealing to Kirk they are, in fact, half-brothers and the trio are taken to brig.
Working his mojo on the rest of the crew, the laughing Vulcan soon has the ship at his disposal and sets course for the Galactic barrier, where, apparently, god lives.
Mr Scott succeeds in busting them out of the brig and they set about trying to retake the ship. They succeed only in telling the Klingons where the ship is headed, before Sybok catches up with them, asking for the chance to heal their pain. We get a nice insight into McCoy’s back story, but Sybok’s attempt with his brother is less successful. Spock, it seems, has found his place in the universe and is content with that.
Our good Captain refuses Sybok, and reminds us that pain is important, that it teaches us a lesson, and makes us who we are.
With the sort of timing only found in Hollywood, the Enterprise then arrives at God’s planet. Sybok, Kirk, Spock and McCoy head down for a tête-à-tête with the Almighty. What they find on the planet though, isn’t the big man upstairs, but, in fact, an alien being looking for a ride, and wanting to join with the ship.
Incurring the wrath of said God-thing, Kirk asks what God needs with a starship. Attacking Kirk and Spock, the being is revealed as a prisoner of the planet and Sybok realises his mistakes and takes on the creature, seeking to heal its pain.
Scotty finally gets the transporters working, beaming Spock and McCoy to safety, leaving Kirk alone to face the increasingly miffed God-thing. The Klingon Bird of Prey suddenly appears, firing at the monster and beaming Kirk to safety. Back aboard the Enterprise, Klaa apologises for his unwarranted aggression and the two ships go their separate ways allowing the Captain and crew to finish their holidays back on Earth.
The Final Frontier is widely regarded amongst fans as the worst of the series, but I don’t think it’s as bad as that. There was certainly worse to come from the franchise. As with all good Trek, its stand out moments are character led. The camp-fire scene at the start is great, and McCoy’s disdain for Kirk’s mountain climbing is yet another great moment from DeForest Kelley. Also worth mentioning is his scene with his father, the anguish of his father’s death with a cure so close to hand is a great glimpse into his character’s background, away from Starfleet.
The film really falls down with its special effects. Simply put, they’re dreadful. There’s no other word for them. Robbed of ILM’s assistance, (they were busy working on an Indy movie and Ghostbusters II) Shatner was forced to shop around for the cheapest option possible and it hurts his film.
It puzzles me why Paramount chose to cut so many corners with this film, from cheap special effects to simply cutting large chunks of storyline (Den Of Geek has already covered the cut Rockman sequence) that could have lifted the film; it shows little faith in Shatner, his story and his direction.
There are problems with the story, though. It’s muddled, to say the least. How does Sybok know about the god monster? How is the Enterprise able to travel across the galaxy so quickly? It also rankles me that, despite Sybok’s powers, the crew are so quick to betray Kirk. The humorous elements feel slightly forced, as if it was shoehorned in to appease those that, after The Voyage Home, were happy to see a Star Trek film.
TFF isn’t great. To be honest, you’re not missing much should you chose to skip straight from IV to VI.