Monday, September 20, 2010

And the final entrants are...

So it's taken more than a week to pack all these in, and today we're going to close the loop, as we go into the numbers 5 and 10 on our list. But first, before we get into it, let me disclose one film that isn't on this -- or probably any -- top Trek list.

"Star Trek V: The Final Frontier"

"ST5" was the first film from the original series released concomitant with "TNG," and - unlike "ST6" - no effort at all was made to synergize the production with the TV show. "ST5" is generally seen as a low-point in the franchise, if not the absolute lowest. It is widely regarded as non-canonical, Gene Roddenberry - the Great Bird of the Galaxy himself - considering it "apocryphal at best." Elements such as Spock just suddenly having a half-brother seemed out of place, and people have tried to sweep it under the rug.

So then ... why was it even made?

The answer, of course, is that the Shat hit the fan. William Shatner was extended "favored nation status" by Paramount, because his participation was so vital to the franchise. He demanded the director's chair and they just had to say yes, or risk his not participating at all.

This is why it was made; this is also why people hate it.

You see, "ST5" really isn't that bad. Some elements of it are actually fantastic, and fit perfectly in the theme and style of both "The Original Series" and the greater Star Trek mythos, such as:

  • The scenes in Yosemite National Park are all fantastic: Kirk climbing a mountain "because it's there," Spock roasting "marshmelons," McCoy using Kentucky bourbon to flavor his chili and telling Kirk "You know, you really piss me off, Jim," and Sulu and Chekov getting lost hiking.
  • The "planet of galactic peace" is a rare and delightful piece of sarcasm in Trek lore. The Romulans, Klingons, and Federation have established this project to show how they can work together and it all fails because none of them really want to work together. Contrary to Trek's typically egocentric presentation of "the human condition," the human ambassador is an alcoholic, chain-smoking pessimist, and the only one who cares about the planet of misfits is the Romulan.
  • The assault on "Paradise City" is good action, with a great set and nice effects on the night-time phaser shots. Uhura's fan-dance to trick the guards is one of the best moments the character ever got.
  • Humor. Spock's line: "Please, captain. Not in front of the Klingons" - is vintage Trek. Or when Kirk is chewing out Spock for not shooting Sybok and Bones volunteers, "You want me to hold him for you, Jim?" There's also a line I love where the Admiral says "This is an emergency -- we need Jim Kirk!" and Kirk mutters under his breath "Oh please."
  • The "secret pain" business. See Sybok brainwashes people by using the Vulcan mind-meld to erase the memories of their greatest, unspoken sufferings. This is actually very similar to what Roddenberry wanted to do with the episode "The Naked Time," where the crew experiences intoxicating effects and they reveal their inner character. His goal with this, early on in the show, was to demonstrate what was inside these people who otherwise keep everything locked up. He felt this was such a good way to provide character exposition that he did a sequel to it in the second episode of "TNG" - "The Naked Now." The only problem with the "secret pain" notion is that we don't really get to see what everyone experiences. We see it with McCoy and Spock, but that's it! What is Chekov's secret pain? Or Uhura's? Or KIRK'S for that matter? (Though that one's not so vital, because I think he came to terms with his "secret pain" in "ST2.)
Of course these all get ignored because the climax to the movie is somewhat heavy-handed and weird: The business with the "God" entity. It felt out of place for everyone along the religious spectrum.

Now even though the presentation could have been a bit more polished, I don't understand why people object to the "God" creature at the end of the movie. Star Trek, particularly "TOS", is FULL of God-like entities. Here are a few of them:
And this is just off the top of my head -- I didn't do research on this because I'm sure there's even more.

SO if Star Trek is full of god-like beings, how was this climax at all out of place in the Trek mythos? It actually seems to fit really well. After all, what could be more Star Trek than the idea that Captain Kirk not only finds God, but he beats him up? That's pure Trek right there! Kirk had already beat up Trelane, Gary Mitchell, and Apollo during the series.

People complain about the "God" story, but the true reason they hate "ST5" is because of one simple, undeniable fact of Star Trek:

Trek fans don't like William Shatner, and this was his pet-project about himself.

Now Trek fans don't hate Shatner, and as one guy in a "TNG" episode said, "I have many friends who don't like me." But they resent him. They resent him for lampooning himself, and by extension them. They resent him for not taking ownership of Trek as the reason for his fame. And most importantly they resent him for being a jerk to his co-stars (notably George Takei).

Furthermore, Trek fans have never identified with Shatner/Kirk -- a dashing, handsome, aggressive leader who wins himself a new girlfriend every week. Who do you think Trek fans identify with more: that guy or the outcast scientist who has sex once every seven years?

And the answer to that question, is why I've ranked the last two movies on our list... (cliffhanger!)

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