In the opening of the fifth installment of the Star Trek franchise we find the Enterprise-A and her crew engaged in a mortal battle where the future of all life in the universe is at stake and…oh, wait that’s not what we find at all.
In the third movie, the Enterprise was destroyed and they ended up spending the entire fourth film in a stolen Klingon Bird of Prey. But at the end of the previous film, Captain Kirk (William Shatner) was severely punished for his actions of commandeering his old ship and setting off on a forbidden mission to search for Spock (Leonard Nimoy). But as we all knew, the punishment really wasn’t a punishment. Instead of being an admiral stuck behind a desk with no ship to command, Kirk was demoted down to a captain and forced to take command of the new Enterprise, or as Trekkies know it as Enterprise-A.
But the new ship isn’t quite ready for launch, leaving engineer Scotty (James Doohan) with a lot of work on his hands while the rest of the crew gets shore leave on Earth. Kirk, Spock, and McCoy (DeForest Kelley) take a camping trip in Yosemite. Chekov (Walter Koenig) and Sulu (George Takei) get lost in the woods and Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) starts making moves on Scotty.
While trying to enjoy their time in dry dock, they find themselves being summoned by an emergency message from Starfleet Command. A group of fanatics has taken over the city of Paradise on the planet Nimbus II (aka the Planet of Galactic Peace) and taken three very important hostages. They are three ambassadors: one from the Federation, one from the Klingon Empire, and one from the Romulan Star Empire. And even though they are not the only ship close enough, it seems that Kirk is the only one experienced enough to deal with such a situation. Shore leave is immediately rescinded, and with only a skeleton crew and a ship with only half of its systems working properly, they head off to negotiate the release of the hostages.
Upon their arrival, they discover that the hostage situation is merely a ruse. The hostages have been persuaded to join their captors under the leadership of a Vulcan named Sybok (Laurence Luckinbill), who is more of a persuasive cult leader than a terrorist or kidnapper. Together, with the help of the three former hostages, the group seizes control of the Enterprise-A, brainwashes most of the crew, and throws Spock, Kirk, and McCoy in the brig. It’s the ship that Sybok wants. He needs a vessel to take him and his followers to the center of the universe and across the Great Barrier that no ship has been able to cross before. Because on the other side of the barrier is where they will find God.
Once again the interaction of the main characters is what saves the film. There are a lot of really intimate and personal revelations that we have not seen in any of the other films before. In the beginning minutes of the film, the brotherhood between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy are fleshed out as the three are camping. The Captain confesses that he knows he is meant to die alone and as long as the other two men are around, he knows that he will survive no matter what may occur. Later on in the film, we also get to see what McCoy’s pain is with the death of his father and Spock’s childhood insecurities. But throughout the film we see one common thread and that is the unity of the three men and how nothing can sever the bond between them.
Along with the seriousness sequences there is a lot of comedy that makes you smile: Chekov and Sulu being lost and pretending they are in a blizzard, Scotty managing to knock himself out on a low beam after saying he knows the ship like the back of his hand, McCoy asking Kirk if he should hold Spock so he can hit him for getting them captured, Uhura’s infamous naked fan dance in the desert to distract some guards, and, my personal favorite, when after finally meeting God, Kirk raises his hand and says, “Excuse me, I have a question” with that oh-so Kirk smirk on his face.
It’s been a long time since I last saw this film and remember it as not being one of the good ones. After all, it is an odd-numbered film, and after seeing it again, it does still belong in the category of weaker Star Trek films, but not because it’s a bad story. The idea of a fanatic taking over the Enterprise-A is an interesting idea.
The reason it fails so miserably is because there really isn’t any payoff. They spend the entire film just trying to get there. Once they meet God, it wraps up in a matter of minutes. Within seconds, Kirk realizes it’s not God, but some malevolent powerful alien, gets it to confess, gets attacked by it, and quickly vanquishes it. Even the Klingons that have been cloaked and following them just so their captain can claim victory over a Starfleet ship and the infamous Captain Kirk end up being a dud. Instead he ends up helping them.
Not every Star Trek film needs to have huge battles or huge special effects to make it enjoyable. This film is the prime example of that. The characters are so engaging and mesmerizing in their own right that they are a joy to watch. The problem is that this film keeps teasing and gearing you up for an amazing confrontational ending that when it doesn’t deliver, it taints the rest of the film and ends up leaving a bad taste in your mouth.