How Star Trek V Enhances Star Trek IV

In my endless quest to review Star Trek V: The Final Frontier into a respectable place in the franchise, I realized something.

Did you honestly think you were off the hook? You are never off the hook.
Did you think you were off the hook? You are never off the hook.

Our introduction to Sybok, Spock’s estranged half-brother long ago banished for eschewing logic to pursue emotional enlightenment, enhances a pivotal moment in its predecessor.

In fact, it enhances Spock’s entire arc in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home in an unexpectedly pleasant way.

How Do You Feel?

When Spock is retraining his mind on Vulcan, the computer trips him up with a simple question: “How do you feel?”

Amanda, his mother, enters and explains that the computer knows he’s half-human and is searching for an emotive response.

In the context of the one film, it enhances Spock’s arc as he journeys to a new wholeness within himself, affirming that he is more than the sum of his Vulcan logic. When he asks tells his father “I feel fine” during the film’s final reel, we enjoy this revelation with him.

And Then There’s Sybok

In the context of both movies, the question seems more like a Vulcan version of the Voight-Kampff Test. They really want to see if Spock, newly back from the dead, might break and take after his big half-brother. Maybe they wanted to see if he Hulked Out on them.

Vis-á-Vis the “Sybok revelation” from Star Trek V, you have to accept that “How Do You Feel?” is more loaded than Amanda may have known. It may have been more loaded than she was permitted to admit.

The Vulcans would have been tremendously careful with him during the “retraining of his mind.” Of course it comes through without Star Trek V. I admit that The Voyage Home stands on its own.

However, The Final Frontier enhances what comes before thanks to Sybok.

Also, Sarek

Let’s take it beyond Spock and tie it in to some of Sarek’s idiosyncracies through the series. The Vulcan government probably kept a close eye on his whole family.

Dude deserves more respect.
Dude deserves more respect.

If we consider The Final Frontier, despite failing with Sybok (and by extension his mother), Sarek next married a human. Humans were long derided by Vulcans as some of the most emotional creatures in the galaxy. (See: Kirk, James T. and McCoy, Leonard, a.k.a. “Bones.”)

Despite this, Sarek was rigorous with Spock. Spock almost completed Kohlinar, in fact, and stopped just moments before the ceremony was complete in The Motion Picture. He stopped because of his emotional sense about V’Ger.

Later, he pushed for his son to be reanimated in Star Trek III because his logic was “clouded” regarding his family.

In light of everything, maybe it’s amazing the Vulcan government even let him be an ambassador. They must have thought that keeping potential rebels close to power was a better way to monitor them.

In Conclusion

Therefore, Sarek’s history and Spock’s close friendship with humans gave the Vulcan government good reason to worry. Spock was a highly intelligent being who was brought back from the dead literally.

He was easily in danger of developing the same messiah complex his half-brother had, if not a more acute case.

Whether it was solely for preservation of their monocultural hegemony is a different debate. I can’t help wondering though, as Vulcan appears to be the most stultifying singular culture in the known galaxy. At least the Klingon characters had the excuse of always being military types when we encountered them. The Vulcans were always strictly similar regardless of their job or station.

Who would think that a movie so long disregarded as unimportant fluff could provide so much extra insight into the esteemed science fiction franchise?

kesseljunkie, that’s who. The guy who consistently out-nerds you all.

Fandom, Fanaticism and the Question of Art

In a recent Q&A session with Nicholas Meyer, director of Star Trek II and Star Trek VI, he said, “Art is not a democracy.”

I find that to be a particularly interesting statement from a film director, considering the tremendous amount of collaborative work from set designers, production managers and assistant directors (as well as visual effects teams in a lot of cases). But it’s a great point when viewed through the lens of fandom, and it ties into a something that came up during the long–running comments between myself and Tony over the last month about Star Wars v. Star Trek.

The nature of nerd fandom is a uniquely strange thing, one that I have yet to see repeated in other fan bases. There is a level of obsession that exists that is admittedly extremely unhealthy. Trust me, I took a long, long road from the Star Wars fan I was to the Star Wars fan I am.

To sidetrack onto that journey and give a little background, I was at one time the typical über-fan whom people usually mock. Star Wars was my golden calf. May the angels of heaven protect you if you touched my stuff or came in with a criticism you couldn’t defend. I would spend hours trying to convert people, to convince them that it was not only perfectly normal to obsess about a fake universe of laser swords and Dark Lords, but they were somehow deficient because they didn’t.

Honestly, why my brother didn’t do me the favor of a serious ass-kicking, I’ll never know. It’s probably a testament to what a loving brother he truly is.

Anyway, like most geeks (a sub-genus of nerd) I felt that I had something of a “claim” to the Star Wars storyline. Like a jealous lover, anything that threatened disharmony within the galaxy far, far away was a matter of extreme angst.

However, this is not unique to Star Wars nerds/geeks/et al. Spend some time with a Lord of the Rings, Dungeons & Dragons, Star Trek or (if any exist still) Babylon 5 fan, and you’ll see. With some, it’s as plain as the chain mail under their shirt; others have learned to control themselves like a Zen Bruce Banner, but find the right combination of triggers and they Hulk Out on you just the same.

They’ve taken the notion of fandom and turned it into fanaticism. With this fanaticism comes a heavy price for artists.

Harlan Ellison wrote an essay called Xenogenesis about the phenomenon and delivered it in a speech in July 1984. Many science fiction writers shared stories with him that resonate today, and seem to be repeating with other sci-fi/fantasy creators through the new millenium.

Reading it (in a collected work in the early 1990s) started the change in my own perspective. It was a glacial change, but it took less than a decade to complete the journey, which was less than half the time I’d taken becoming an OCD fan, so that counts as a win.

In the essay, Ellison postulated what I came to realize, which was that sci-fi and fantasy fans take it to a whole level that causes a sort of metamorphosis in them. They feel that they have just as much ownership over the artist’s work as the artist him/herself.

If you know anything about Mr. Ellison, you know what he had to say about that. He did, however, sound the warning bell for the rest of us.

The tricky thing of course is how much fandom is too much fandom? Is a convention too much fandom? Putting a phaser app on my Droid phone? Recreating the entire set of the Enterprise from the original Star Trek TV show and creating a completely unwatchable fan series?

I would submit that none of those things is too much fandom, unless….

It fosters the notion that the fans somehow “own” the material as much as the artist, or that they have some sort of legitimate input to bring to the table for the creative process.

Something like Star Trek is a uniquely difficult one in this realm, though, because by its very nature it’s “art by committee,” which isn’t really art but entertainment. There isn’t some singular visionary force behind the series as a whole. However, allow me to use the disclaimer that TV entertainment can be art when you’re talking about something where a singular theme/plot/vision is in place from the beginning (I’d call this “The LOST Principle”).

In general, however, while there may be instances of singular visionary forces (i.e., the aforementioned Mr. Meyer) that produce singular cases of art within the context of the whole, Star Trek has always been the child of 1000 fathers and mothers. It remained “television” in its very nature, even after it crossed to film.

But again, if the fans had their way, Spock never would have died (there were protests when that d*ck Roddenberry leaked that plot point), robbing us of one of the most poignant and moving science fiction stories of the last 30 years. If the fans had their way, Darth Vader never would have found redemption, but rather would have turned Luke to the Dark Side and lived nastily ever after because that hard edge they earned when Suzie McAllister* turned them down for homecoming showed them how life is always rough and never ends happily.

*I made up this name. If there is a real Ms. McAllister out there, apologies.

Back to the main point, though, fans have to give up this idea that because they’re fans they have some sort of right of input. At that point it stops being art and becomes merely entertainment. Beyond that, it becomes entertainment that caters only to a specific audience.

That’s fine, though. There’s nothing wrong with entertainment either. Not everything needs to be a classic. But know how to discriminate between the two.

And if something doesn’t strike your fancy, then fine. You’re not obligated to stick with anything. Just ask Bruce Springsteen or a host of other musicians who try new things how well that’s been received by their “hard core” audiences. It doesn’t invalidate the work, nor does it invalidate the fans. If you’re only a fan of Bruce Springsteen up until Tunnel of Love (like me), that’s cool. If you liked the first Matrix but disliked the sequel(s), then that’s cool. If you prefer David Lee Roth to Sammy Hagar…well, all right then.

I guess my reaction is, if you dislike it then move along. There’s no need to stay invested in something if you dislike it. It’s like people who watch TV shows into their later seasons and bemoan how much better it was earlier. You know what I did when The Simpsons started to stink on ice? I walked away. Thanks for the memories, the stuff I liked was great and I’m sure there are people that think the later stuff is golden. That’s fine too. But I’m not going to keep watching the show and tell everyone every week how much I liked the older seasons more.

Why would I keep watching if I disliked it?

And that’s the crux of the problem with sci-fi/fantasy fans. They carry that vested interest with them, so even as they start to dislike something so much that they spew venom at it, they just stay in the relationship for no other reason than habit. And even worse, if someone else seems happy with what they now dislike then they attack that happiness too, with all the force they can muster. It’s not a matter of civil disagreement, it’s a matter of religious zeal.

Naturally, I fall into the trap from time to time of one of those pointless arguments. If you keep hanging with snarling nerds, it’s like being an alcoholic hanging out with friends who still drink. The chances of a relapse are very, very high.

But I’m pretty happy with the fact that I’ve changed my outlook from dork apostle to quiet believer. If someone wants to have the discussion, then cool. But it’s difficult to be too deeply involved in the nerd world anymore, especially when it comes to disagreements about artwork (which is what good films should strive to be). We need to remember that we’re just spectators, not participants, and not owners of the work by any stretch.

Goodness I went off on a tangent, didn’t I?

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.

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.

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.

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.