Director: William Shatner
Cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, Laurence Luckinbill, James Doohan, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, Walter Koenig
Plot: With a new Enterprise that is in a good need of a repair, Kirk (Shatner) is forced to answer a distress call from a settlement taken hostage by a Vulcan terrorist (Luckinbill).
The Final Frontier will almost definitely be remembered as the Star Trek movie where William Shatner got to have a go as director. While Nimoy carefully brought out the finer elements of the Trek canon that made his movies feel more intimate, Final Frontier is very ‘Shatner’.
Over the course of the movies, Shatner’s portrayal of Captain James T. Kirk has improved significantly. In the show, Shatner clung to melodrama to fuel the sense of adventure from the series and help bring out the comedy elements in the script. However, with the movies, we needed something more, which meant that Shatner had to embrace the dramatic characterisation of his role. Age helped, but also the scripts and direction helped Shatner give us a more mature and hardened Kirk. His performance in Wrath of Khan was excellent, the very image of a tired Admiral being forced to boldly go where no man has gone before once again. However, here, with Shatner both playing Kirk, and directing his own performance of him, that fine balance gets lost. We are back to the amusing levels of Shatner melodrama that robs the interplay between the lead characters of its emotional gravitas. Take the shore leave opening: this movie starts with the crew of the Enterprise waiting for their new ship to be ready for voyage, meaning that we catch up with the gang, namely Kirk, Spock and Bones camping in Yosemite National Park. In another movie, this would be an amusing moment to slowly remind audiences that the best moments of the film, and the series, are the three of these characters bickering. However, with Shatner at the helm, the jokes are not subtle and the entire dialogue scene feels like a fan trying to replicate the magic of the series, but only using broad stroke. Spock does not understand the references behind a nursery rhyme, Kirk climbs a mountain and McCoy grumbles on the side-lines. There are other moments in the film, where you wish that Shatner would take his foot off the pedal and under-act, rather than go for broke. A twist involving Spock’s relationship with the villain is revealed and Shatner plays the moment for laughs, rather than drama. His over-enthusiasm stretches to the direction as well. Nimoy used subtle poking to tell his comedy beats in The Voyage Home, but Shatner’s humour is a much broader stroke. In a critical moment in a rescue, Scotty bumps his head, knocking himself unconscious. Spock has rocket boots. Perhaps the most baffling moment is when Uhura distracts some simple-minded guards by exotically dancing. “I’ve always wanted a captive audience,” she quips, whipping out a gun at the last minute. Meanwhile, Captain Kirk gets into a fist-fight with a cat pole-dancer. Yes, I repeat… this is the most Shatner of all the Star Trek movies.
The story is also one that might dissuade audiences from enjoying The Final Frontier. In fairness, it doesn’t quite play out as badly as it sounds like it is going to on paper. When Kirk reaches the hostage situation, he finds himself facing a Vulcan terrorist, one who has abandoned the logical teachings of Vulcan and wants to use the Enterprise in a quest to find God. In order to do that, he needs to break through the Great Barrier, a wall in space that no one has ever gone before. The story is copied from some of the more generic templates from the days of the television series with a group of powerful enemies taking the ship and the crew forming a resistance to over-throw them. With a movie budget, the story never quite feels like a copy of the television days, one thing that Shatner does do as well as Nimoy’s last entry to the canon. The religious stuff might frustrate some Sci-Fi fans, or perhaps there is a place for religion in Star Trek, playfully questioning where it fits into the future. One of Shatner’s few mercies is that he never quite shows us God waiting at the end of the story, deciding on a witty plot twist and leaving the truth behind God up to the audience. This also leaves us with a brilliant matter-of-fact exchange between Kirk and the being waiting for them at the end of their journey. Yes, while the Final Frontier is an odd mix between the most disappointing entry yet (although more fun than the Search for Spock), it does get enough right to stop it from being a total disaster. We get a peek at Bones’ past that provides the film with its biggest emotional moment (always nice to see someone other than Kirk or Spock get that honour), and there are a few moments of gravity that cement a scene.
Final Verdict: This is clearly Shatner’s show his melodrama bleeding through the film, which gives Star Trek a fast, frivolous and slight disappointing feel.