Mark Watches ‘Star Trek: The Final Frontier’

In the fifth Star Trek film, WHAT THE HELL DID I JUST WATCH. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.

I don’t even know what to say about this.

It’s not unbearably awful, so let’s start there. This film is beautiful, first of all, and the HD version I watched through iTunes was a spectacle. It felt like Star Trek joining the modern world of cinematography, especially when comparing it to The Next Generation. There’s no graininess; it’s a crisp film, filmed in gorgeous locations that really accent a story that is, at heart, about the quest to find God. There’s a general camaraderie that William Shatner is able to capture in his first cinematic director’s helm in the Star Trek universe, and I can’t deny how great it was to see these six characters interact with one another. WE GOT AN ON-SCREEN, CANON CAMPING AU THAT WAS LITERALLY RIPPED FROM FANFICTION.NET. Okay, not literally, but haven’t we all read fics like this? HAVE WE NOT?

I think that this was an ambitious story, one that was always going to be difficult to pull off, so there’s a part of me that appreciates that this movie was attempted. I’m trying to be nice here because I don’t think this was a disaster. I was entertained, at least when I wasn’t constantly confused. (Which… was most of the time, let’s be honest.) It’s not the worst thing I’ve ever seen!

But it is bad. I spent most of this viewing confused, and in hindsight, it felt like I’d missed an entire portion of the movie. Sybok’s journey is so ambiguous that even when it is finally defined, it still isn’t all that sensical. It’s interesting, I admit, because Sybok never really is a villain here. He believes what he’s selling, and his power – to use the mind meld in order to “heal” a person’s pain – is the real deal. But I also think that’s ultimately a problem because it’s utterly divorced from the main story. How did Sybok ever find out that Sha Ka Ree was beyond the Barrier? Did he get some sort of spiritual “call” at any point in time? Did it tell him the specific location of this mythical place? Was the being responsible for Sybok’s drive? None of these questions are answered, and it’s INFURIATING. I’m all for ambiguity; I love open-ended stories that inspire thoughtful analysis. This movie, however, seems to patently misunderstand how much information the audience needs.

At times, it feels like an episode of The Original Series with a bigger budget. What happened since the last film? Why is the Enterprise in shambles while the crew is on shore leave? Why couldn’t any other ship help out? Surely, the Federation has plenty of negotiators at hand, right? While the cast slips back into these roles effortlessly, there’s little in the script that makes this feel like people aren’t just going through the motions. The bulk of The Final Frontier focuses on the dudely trio that is Spock, Bones, and Shatner, criminally underusing Chekov, Sulu, and Uhura, and it makes no sense at this point. You’ve got an hour and forty minutes to tell a story; why aren’t you using these characters more? Do we really need a five minute scene of Captain Kirk ascending El Capitan without cables or ropes?

This is not to suggest that this is all without merit. I appreciated Kirk’s stubborn refusal to submit himself to Sybok’s mind meld. That was a great character moment and a clear turning point in the story. And yet, as much as I loved to have a character like Kirk validate the need for pain to shape human life, I don’t know that the subplot even matters in the end. All of these people confronted their worst fears and the most traumatic moments of their lives. From Bones’s final moments with his father to Spock’s rejection immediately after birth, these were significant parts of the experience these characters lived. I imagine that each of the people under Sybok’s spell felt better about their lives, and in the end, isn’t that fine? It’s not like Sybok lied to them, and it’s not like he tricked them. It was almost like a form of therapy!

So where does the being at the end of this – we’ll call it God for the sake of the review – fit into the story? God appeared to have expected Sybok’s visit and also claimed to be the physical manifestation of the gods of the galaxy. Was that true? Was this being responsible for religious belief in the galaxy? Of course, the twist here is that God is a spiteful, violent being, eager to be worshipped and catered to, and Sybok is crushed with disappointment. But what does Sybok’s sacrifice mean to the greater narrative? How are we supposed to believe that the Enterprise‘s photons are useless against this thing, but a Klingon ship can destroy it in seconds? Why was there even a subplot involving Captain Klaa’s quest for glory if it was only here so that Klaa could kill God and then apologize to Captain Kirk? WHY WAS ANY OF THAT IN THE STORY?

This is, frankly, a jumbled mess. It’s pretty, and Shatner clearly has a knack for framing and scenery. The acting isn’t bad, either. So I blame this entirely on the writing. There are at least four separate stories jammed into The Final Frontier, and none of them are given the space to shine. Instead, it’s like we’re getting a greatest hits of The Original Series, only all of these ideas are watered down and twisted within one another. It’s a dense affair, and unfortunately, that’s not a good thing.

The video for The Final Frontier can be downloaded here for $1.99.

Mark Links Stuff

Please help book/finalize the Mark Does Stuff European Tour!
– The Mark Does Stuff Tour 2015 is now live and includes dates across the U.S., Canada, Europe, the U.K., and Ireland. Check the full list of events on my Tour Dates / Appearances page.
– My Master Schedule is updated for the near and distant future for most projects, so please check it often. My next Double Features for Mark Watches will be the remainder of The Legend of Korra, series 8 of Doctor Who, and Kings. On Mark Reads, Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series will replace the Emelan books.
- Mark Does Stuff is on Facebook! I’ve got a community page up that I’m running. Guaranteed shenanigans!

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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