#11 in my Ranking of all Star Trek films.
This movie is objectively bad, but it’s not worthless. The story is so poorly assembled and the characters are mostly just placeholders and the movers of small plot points, but within this mishmash of styles, tones, and subplots, there are a handful of actually quite wonderful things and moments.
Really, The Final Frontier feels like a clip show of scenes from different movies, or maybe different episodes of a television series. Nothing seems to go with whatever is coming next. The opening scene on Nimbus III contrasts starkly with the camping trip at Yosemite Park that follows. The troubles of the new Enterprise working, horribly contrast with the super serious handling of the actual, confusing, plot. Scotty hitting his head and falling down is such a weird bit of slapstick humor (attempted at least) in the middle of the sort of antagonist taking over the ship. Uhura dancing with leaves to distract some guards is followed by a terribly filmed infiltration scene executed by people who should be in an old folks home. From one scene to the next, the movie feels like its jumping genres and even stories. It’s a mess. There’s no strong through line for anything like a story. Apparently, Shatner’s original cut of the film was about half an hour longer, and I’m willing to believe that it would actually improve the film, providing material to bridge the gaps that obviously exist in the final product. That’s pure conjecture, though. What we have is terrible.
However, as I said, the movie’s not completely worthless. I love the opening scene on Nimbus III. I think it’s really well filmed, mysterious, and comes to an interesting conclusion with the mysterious figure revealing his Vulcan ears and laughing. Seems like some interesting things to come! (Spoiler: There really aren’t.)
The camping stuff oscillates between a bit cringy and endearing as our three central characters just play off of each other. It goes on for too long, but it still rather works.
And then, there’s the central piece that works. Late in the movie there’s a fantastic scene that doesn’t really make sense with what we’ve seen before. Sybock, the Vulcan and Spock’s (retconned) half-brother uses his telepathic ability to help people explore their pain and release it, which turns them into his followers somehow (sure, why not). We never see more than people closing their eyes and then opening them in relief and surprise afterwards, but when Sybock performs this feat upon our three main characters, we, as well as the other characters, see exactly what the others see. It doesn’t really fit, but who cares. It’s honestly the only great thing in the movie.
The best is really the section around McCoy. DeForest Kelley was always a fine actor who had gotten shoe-horned into the role of McCoy. He was easily cantankerous and amusing in his frustrations, but he didn’t get many moments to really dig deeper. Here, McCoy is presented with the death of his father, and McCoy blames himself for it. He had cut off his father’s life support a mere month before a cure for the old man’s debilitating disease was discovered. Kelley’s mixture of anger, guilt, and relief is wonderful and the finest thing he did in Star Trek. Next we see Spock witness his birth. Being a Vulcan, the reactions are very small, but the implied pain of seeing his father, Sarek, saying, “So human,” at the first sight of his half-human son is clear. All through this very high quality set of acting, there’s something very interesting and visual going on in the background.
The whole scene happens on the observation deck looking out into space. The scene begins with nothing but a typical starfield, but as the action progresses, a luminous collection of stars steadily grows in the background. No deliberate attention is brought to the effect, but it’s always there just over the characters’ shoulders. It continues until the image fills the windows and we actually do take a solid look at it. For a movie filled with obvious action that makes little sense, to see something so wonderfully subtle playout in the background of an already strong scene is actually quite amazing.
Yeah, The Final Frontier is bad, but I simply cannot hate it because of the handful of really good things almost hidden by the awfulness around them.
And besides, what does God need with a starship?
Netflix Rating: 2/5
Quality Rating: 1.5/4