No really, 'Star Trek V: The Final Frontier' isn't the worst Trek movie

An intrepid fan boldly faces her past by rewatching "The Final Frontier." Does it deserve its reputation at the bottom of the Star Trek movie pile?

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
3 min read

What's the worst Star Trek movie ever made?

Many fans and online pundits will tell you "Star Trek V: The Final Frontier." This outing of the original Enterprise crew warped into theaters in 1989, at a time when my young Trek fannishness was at its most fervent.

I saw the movie five times on the big screen, each time accompanied by a progressively smaller audience around me. For my final viewing, I was the only one inside the dark theater. I haven't seen "Star Trek V" since then. As Star Trek celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, it's time for me to rewatch the film from my now-adult perspective. Is it really as bad as everyone says it is?

Remembering 'The Final Frontier'

Here's what I remember: Spock in levitation boots hovering near Captain Kirk, who was climbing the daunting face of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park at the time. British character actor David Warner as an ambassador of some sort. Uhura singing. Something about God and a laughing Vulcan. And that's it, other than recalling I loved the movie as only a Star Trek-struck kid can.

This time, I came prepared to set aside my childish ways and accept that this movie sucks. I was ready to tell you to avoid it. Go watch something else. Cue up "Wrath of Khan" or "Undiscovered Country." Anything except "The Final Frontier." But it turns out I can't do that. I rewatched it and loved it all over again.

It's a plot!


No, Sybok! Look away from the special effects!

Video screenshot by Amanda Kooser/CNET

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The plot is sparked by Spock's Vulcan half-brother Sybok, a zealot who believes God and Eden lie at the center of the galaxy beyond an unbreakable energy field called The Great Barrier. He hijacks the Enterprise and takes it through to a strange planet inside. Sybok, Spock, Kirk and McCoy meet a powerful entity, but it's a malevolent force seeking to escape its prison. Sybok sacrifices himself and a Klingon ship unexpectedly comes to the rescue to deliver our heroes safely to the end of the film.

Not-so-special effects

I can understand why some people spit on this movie. The special effects are dated. "God" looks like an outtake from an early "Doctor Who" production, one in which the budget was especially tight. William Shatner, who directed the movie, blamed the effects woes on the budget, telling Entertainment Weekly recently, "I wanted to give [the audience] earth-breaking granite monsters spewing rocks and fire. Instead, I had a few pebbles in my hand that I threw at the camera."

On the other hand, the sets and costumes are gorgeously rendered. The landscapes, city and people of Nimbus III, the "Galactic Planet of Peace," could have stepped out of "Mad Max: Fury Road." The alien horses have rhino horns. That's sci-fi gold right there.

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Why I still love it

Every original Enterprise crew member gets a loving nod in "The Final Frontier." Chekov takes over as captain. Uhura strips down and becomes a siren, singing a haunting melody against the backdrop of an alien moon. Scotty engineers a daring jailbreak. Sulu showcases his flying skills with a harrowing shuttlecraft landing.

To me, "Final Frontier" plays out like an elongated episode of the original series. It's reminiscent of the 1967 episode "Who Mourns for Adonais?" which finds the Enterprise crew tangling with a powerful alien who claims to be the Greek god Apollo. They even share a certain cheesiness level considering the glowing green space-hand that grabs the Enterprise at the start of the episode and the disembodied head of Apollo on the bridge viewscreen.

"The Final Frontier" may not be a great movie, or even a great Star Trek movie, but I wasn't crazy for going to see it five times as a kid. There's a lot to love here. You just need to kick back, enjoy the humor, smile at the special effects and be prepared to sing "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" when your turn comes.

Stray thoughts

The Klingons are ripped. The crew of the Bird-of-Prey is one of the more overtly muscular sets of Klingons you will ever see.

Yes, that is a three-breasted cat-woman-alien. Meow.

Few things are as startling as a Vulcan laughing heartily. Spock's half-brother Sybok enjoys a good guffaw from time to time.

Most quotable line: Captain Kirk interrupting the alien entity to ask, "What does God need with a starship?"

What's my vote for the worst Star Trek movie ever made? "Star Trek: Nemesis," the thoroughly forgettable final outing of the "Next Generation" crew.

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