Why I Love Star Trek V

This came up tangentially during someone’s endless rants a discussion in the comments section wherein someone asked how I could possibly like Star Trek V, the universally reviled and traditionally most-trashed Star Trek film of all time. Well, let me tell you why.

First and foremost, let’s get something straight. I am in no way proposing that Star Trek V is a perfect film. My love of it is deeply rooted in some emotional things that I’ll outline in a moment.

However, that said, I’ll also point out that the film isn’t nearly as bad as it’s been made out to be. Sure, there are problems (special effects, an ending that fell apart thanks to budget constraints and those self-same SPFX problems, comedy delivered like an old Vaudeville act), but this movie is made with an obvious amount of love. I mean, it’s like watching the old blaxploitation movies like Shaft or Super Fly or Black Belt Jones. They lacked on almost every technical front, but they were made with so much fun and joy that you cannot help but love them. If you don’t, there’s something seriously wrong with you.

So yeah, I just put Star Trek V in the same league as Blacula. That’s a big compliment coming from me.

If you haven’t seen Star Trek V, I’m not going to belabor you with a long plot analysis. Here it is in a nutshell: Captain Kirk and crew are kidnapped and taken to the center of the galaxy on a quest for God.

Yeah, I know.

Star Trek Nerd
This is why.
The best part of it is, the guy who kidnaps them, named Sybock is Spock’s long-lost half-brother. It’s a twist, and had it been executed just a little bit better, it would have carried a very nice emotional impact. As it is, it’s kind of neat. The one thing you have to give Laurence Luckinbill is that he sells the heck out of the role. Obviously, he understood the long tradition he was joining – complete with the legions of dateless über-fans before they migrated into my own fan base and started suck all the fun out of that – and wanted to give everyone a character whom they would remember. In a lot of ways, I feel bad for the guy; he really though that this was going to be a net positive for him, and I can only imagine the venom he’s had to endure from the basement-dwellers over time. I don’t think I’ve ever heard about him attending a convention and I can understand why.

The fact of the matter is, I too hated Star Trek V for a while. I remember seeing it when I was 13, it was the first Star Trek movie I ever saw in the movie theatre. (I’ve since had the good fortune to see The Wrath of Khan on the big screen during college.) To me, it was exciting and fun. But then, over time, I started to become nerdier and more judgmental.

See, there’s this odd sort of groupthink that occurs in the nerdiverse, similar to what happens in any social sob-group, be they cheerleaders, jocks, skater punks or whatever else the kids are calling themselves. But in the nerd sub-category (which is the parent category of geeks, dorks, et al.), there’s a pervasive negativity that’s darned infectious. Even the things which are “loved” are loved with this negative forcefulness, a demanding codependence that demands a perfection that anyone short of our Lord in Heaven would have trouble achieving.

This mind–set deemed Star Trek V not just as an unsatisfying film but perhaps the worst film of all time. And over time, if enough people say something and feel compelled to agree with it, it becomes truth. This is true across the board.

Again, I digress.

Spock and Sybock on the God Planet
Spock, Sybock and the Eternal Quest
Flash forward to the year 2001. My mother had been dead for a year and I was still coping with that; my girlfriend of 3 years broke up with me and let me know by moving all her stuff out of the apartment while I was at work (which, in retrospect, was a good thing but at the time was a definite ego blow) and then refusing to see me; I had crushing credit card debt; I was stuck with a lease to a 2-bedroom apartment I couldn’t afford on my own; The Twin Towers had fallen in a vicious attack from a bunch of bloody savages. And then, as if to underline what a colossal f***-up I felt like, my brother got married and showed how well he had his act together. I was truly adrift and in desperate need of something to bolster my faith. It was a time of deep questions.

I developed a severe case of insomnia.

I was sort of like “Jack” in Fight Club. I’d doze off and wake up unexpectedly. I watched late–night television until I would pass out from exhaustion. I’d drink. I developed a nervous tic. But I couldn’t sleep.

So one night, I tried putting on a movie. I put on a Star Wars film, but that was a bad idea. I was too interested. Paying attention to something just fed the need to stay awake.

So I grabbed my Star Trek boxed set (one of the 3,876 versions that they’ve put out in the last 20 years). Even as tired as I was, The Motion Picture felt like punishment, so that lost out.

I liked II too much, VI was also solid, III was a failure at soothing me, and IV…well, that’s too much of a comedy to put you to sleep.

Star Trek V Poster
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier
So naturally, I chose Star Trek V.

I laid down and put the videotape (yes, tape) into the combo TV/VCR I had set up next to the bed. Then started Shatner’s feature film directing debut.

By the time they got to the God planet, a miracle happened. I fell asleep. Blessed sleep. Now, I woke up again and had to start the process over. It then became a nightly ritual. I watched Star Trek V every night for a month to fall asleep. Eventually, it got to the point where the Paramount logo would come up and I’d nod off before the first shot officially started.

And I came to know the movie by heart. You know how you can learn other languages with those sleep tapes? That’s what happened here. I still know the movie by heart.

And I love it for what it is, which is a fun excursion into a deep philosophical question, a director in over his head but making a film with such unbridled enthusiasm that you can see that everyone is having fun, and some moments of legitimate humor that sneak through. There are even some character moments among Kirk, Spock and McCoy that stand as some of the best put down on film.

There is also a theme that stands the test of time. Namely, our over-reliance on self-help gurus that convince us that not only can they relieve us of our pain but we need to focus only on happiness without sacrifice. Well, I’m with Kirk: “Damn it, Bones, you’re a doctor. You know that pain and guilt can’t be taken away with a wave of a magic wand. They’re the things we carry with us, the things that make us who we are. If we lose them, we lose ourselves. I don’t want my pain taken away! I need my pain!”

Holy Cow, he’s practically the proto-Tyler Durden!

Besides, I think that’s a lesson everyone should keep in mind. It was deeply relevant to me then, and it’s deeply relevant now.

Also, life is not a dream. That’s a big one.

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22 thoughts on “Why I Love Star Trek V

  1. I also have fond memories of the movie. Mostly because of the myriad of jokes Rob and I came up with. It was fertile ground. I thought the planet was at the “center of the universe”? LOL. Nice blog. I remember those days well, bro.

  2. That you have a special fondness for a movie due to subliminal repetition is all well and good. Worse things have been used to brainwash people. 😉

    There are some good lessons that can be learned from the movie, to be sure, and lessons I learned long before having them preached to me by Kirk, Spock and McCoy (and really, one of the lessons is nothing more than a fancier package for Kirk’s self-realization from the original episode “The Enemy Within”), but that is neither here nor there.

    I respect your opinion and the reasons why you have it. But I maintain, that to me anyway, Star Trek 5 is one of the weakest in the entire franchise.

      1. BTW, one thing you should have mentioned in the article is that the book was (not surprisingly) much better than the movie. Including the part on Sybock’s childhood in the movie would have single-handedly made that movie a ton better.

  3. J’onn can have his pain and whatever salve he wants to use for it.

    I have a weakness for dance remixes of songs on the MP3 player while I work that many in my age group don’t share. The music (such as it is in some cases) helps get me through my shift (an 11 hour one last night).

    We each deal with what life throws at us differently. To each their own.

    I just happen to think that J’onn’s method sucks noodles. 😉

      1. One of Sybok’s first recruits, yes.

        Given your fondness for Sybok as a character, I thought it fit nicely, and was just going to let you go with your delusion, but N-O-O-O-O. You had to go and turn it into something nit-picky.

  4. I saw Star Trek V on the big screen and didn’t much like it, but I had fun watching it on TV a few years later. I find if I think of it as an extended TOS episode, I overlook the effects and the slightly clunky story and have a good time with it.

    1. Exactly! Once you take away the expectations and just sort of settle in for something fun, it’s a nice diversion. Regardless of every other argument I might make, too, it’s better than Star Trek III and that got Nimoy a second chance! (Although I would never change Star Trek VI — Nicholas Meyer is the definitive old-school Trek director. He really “got” it.)

      Thanks for the comment. I’m always looking for new topics to talk about, so if you have a thought, feel free to share!

  5. Honestly, V and VI are my favorites. I was a pre-teen when they were out, at the height of my Trek love. I enjoyed the cheesiness of STV because it reminded me (and still does) of a classic TOS episode. I also loved the shots of Yosemite, and I’m always a fan of shuttle missions. I also loved how the bridge and ship looked in both films. I didn’t mind that they reused TNG sets for STV, or the engineering room for VI. In fact, I loved how it brought those two worlds together in such a fashion. Was good to see the Enterprise A still plowing around the universe even as an older ship.

    1. Well, it’s good to know I’m not alone at least. TFF was the first Trek movie I saw in the theatre, and I was pretty young. I remember seeing it with my uncle, cousin and brother, and I was super excited about it and pronounced how great I thought it was. I remember my uncle very gently saying he wasn’t sure if he agreed with me but was happy I had a good time.

      If they had used Saavik in VI instead of Valeris, I think there’s an argument for it being equal to, or possibly better than, Star Trek II. But they didn’t, so there isn’t, so moot point. 🙂

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