Medical Biophysics Graduate Student Association

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What Does God Need With A Starship?

We warp on with our social experiment! Will watching the original six Star Trek movies transform yours truly into a blathering Trekkie, or will I be sorely disappointed with the entire exercise? As always, my friend (and devoted Trekkie) Edwin Chen attempts to enlighten me on all the nuances of the series, while I remain pleasantly ignorant...

GREG: Four movies down, two more to go. I guess I can safely say that I’m on the home-stretch. All I can really hope is that this series goes out with a bang, and not a whimper. Especially after what I just witnessed in Star Trek IV. But, as Edwin alluded to earlier, these movies are maybe more akin to the James Bond movies. In fact, if that’s the case, I would suggest that they drop the roman numerals in the titles, because after all, “part fives” are usually reserved for cheap, crappy horror movie franchises. So, will this movie entertain me? Bore me? Or just plain make me angry? There’s only one way to find out…

ED: In the interests of full disclosure, I should probably make a few disclaimers which may impair my objectivity when evaluating “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier”. First, this was the first Star Trek movie I ever saw in the theatres. I got into Trek when the “whale one” was just leaving the cinemas, and by the time I got caught up, it had left. But since Star Trek V, I’ve never not seen any of the movies in anything less than the big screen, and once even made a trek of my own from Montreal to Toronto to watch the movie on opening night with my friends. And two, Star Trek V was also the first movie I ever went to with a girl. Technically, it wasn’t a date. At least I don’t think it was (twenty years later, I still sometimes don’t know). We both just wanted to see the movie! But back then, geek wasn’t yet cool, so Selma and I surreptitiously headed off to the Square One cinemas after school one Friday, her in her skimpy Yeoman Rand outfit and me in my pointy Vulcan ears (I already had the Vulcan slanty eyes down pat), and reveled in our first trek through the star on the big screen. In retrospect, maybe I should have held her hand when she asked me to while we walked home instead of doing the Vulcan hand salute? Oh the roads not taken…

GREG: I get the sense that this means you like this movie even if it’s complete garbage. Oh please Lord, please let this movie not suck. As the movie opens up, my first thought is that this movie looks nicer, or prettier or more modern. But then again, movie technology has been advancing quite quickly since the time the first movie came out. The opening scene, on some dustball planet, was quite magnificent, and shot in such great detail that I started raising the bar of my expectations. “Relax Greg,” I told myself, “just give it time.” And sure enough, it didn’t take long for the cheesiness to kick in. The first time we see Captain Kirk, he’s rock climbing the face of a mountain in Yosemite Park. Without harnesses. Keep in mind that this is fat, 1989 Shatner, which makes this completely unbelievable. Whatever, I can let it go – after all, we’ve seen much worse from these movies.

ED: I’m guessing you didn’t notice, for surely I expected you to go apoplectic when you saw that this movie was directed and co-written by William Shatner himself? And given his giant-sized ego, is it any wonder that he made himself out to be some kind of superhero, literally able to scale tall mountains. And either that’s the most obvious stuntman in Hollywood history or somehow, Kirk managed to gain 30 pounds after climbing up the mountain. Was there a KFC on the way or something? By the way, for a franchise which has often been prophetic in its depictions of future technology (flip phones, 3 ½” floppy disks, tablets and stylus pens and wireless earpieces bear a shocking similarity to the depictions in the Original Series), Spock’s rocket powered boots were an embarrassing blow to the solar plexus of Trekkies for its lack of creativity and its lazy use of sci-fi clichés. It was like Star Trek had devolved into a 23rd century equivalent of Condorman. You might wonder why I’m going on about these friggin’ boots. Well, in my mind, these boots were a metaphor, representing the nadir of Star Trek creativity and when they started caving in to some unknown marketing pressure in an attempt to make their product accessible to the general public by making it stupid and clichéd. Everyone expects sci-fi to have rocket packs, I guess, but it doesn’t make it less ridiculous.

GREG: No, I certainly DID notice that Shatner wrote and directed the movie, but I knew it going in, because you had mentioned it before. And those rocket boots were pretty cheap looking – they basically looked like ski boots with a tiny jetpack on the side. Lame. Anyway, moving on – who’s the villain? And what’s the plot of the movie? Well, apparently the aforementioned dustball planet has been taken over by some Vulcan dude, and all he really wants is to get a starship to arrive so that he can steal it. Why he needs a starship is beyond me. How did he get there? I mean, presumably he came on a ship, right? Regardless, Kirk and the Enterprise crew (who all somehow look significantly older, especially Uhura who now has grey hair) take a jaunt out to this planet in their barely-working ship (the fact that it’s barely working will make so many other things convenient later on in the story).

ED: Okay, I love Uhura and I can only imagine how important her character was in the climate of 1960s television, but was I the only person disturbed by her “sexy grandma dance”?

GREG: Oh God, don’t get me started about that. First of all, we don’t need a striptease from this Grandma. We can all agree that Nichelle Nichols (who plays Uhura) was once sexy, but now she’s old. That was disturbing. We’re also introduced to a side story about a Klingon ship that intercepts the transmissions and decides to also head to the planet to take out the Enterprise; however, this story is useless and basically irrelevant to the plot. Once the Enterprise arrives, we find out that this Vulcan dude is none other than Spock’s conveniently never-before-mentioned half-brother (brothers from different mothers). This is the one Vulcan who’s all emotion and no logic, apparently, and so was cast out of society. But what does he want with a spaceship? Oh, dear readers, please don’t laugh when I tell you this, but (drumroll please…) he wants to drive it to heaven.

ED: Yeah, I hear your pain, Greg, but I need my pain! Perhaps Sybok can fix us with his new age, “I-feel-your-pain”, radio psychiatrist trick? Seriously, after the greatness of Khan, this touchy-feely-hippie-let’s-all-hold-hands-and-sing-Kumbaya villain just won’t do! Besides, one of the things that annoys me the most about the characterizations in this movie is how we’re supposed to believe that the crew, this very tight-knit family we’ve all known and loved for years, suddenly betrays each other after just a few minutes listening to Sybok’s impersonation of Dr. Phil? And when Kirk finds out that Sulu and Chekov and Scotty all betrayed him, how does he feel? As it turns out, so little that they don’t even bother to mention it again for the rest of the movie. As a bit of an aside, I also particularly enjoyed Bones’ revelation that he pulled the plug on his father and they miraculously found a cure for disease just weeks later. As a child, I nodded sagely at the irony of the situation; as a scientist, my only conclusion is that Bones clearly wasn’t paying attention at those medical conferences or wasn’t keeping up to date with his reading, because I’m fairly certain science don’t work dat way!

GREG: “WTF? No seriously, wtf?” Those were the thoughts going through my head when the “mutiny” happened. Worst…mutiny…ever. Completely unbelievable, and confusing to boot – I mean, were they brainwashed? Or just convinced by Sybok to be complete idiots? This Sybok dude has also apparently worked out where heaven should be: it’s at the centre of the galaxy, “across the barrier”, where no man has boldly gone before. Now, Edwin has complained about the new J.J. Abrams Star Trek movie from last summer, saying that “it was all dumb action” whereas all of the old movies “were at least always about something.” Okay, so this movie is “about” spirituality and whether or not there’s a heaven, and blah blah blah. What it’s about is stupid. And you know why? Because they get to this place, at the centre of the galaxy, and talk to some sort of “God” figure. This is some sort of being that appears to be all-powerful, can literally shoot lasers from his eyes, can transform his image into anyone, and yet all it wants is a spaceship so that it can presumably leave. WHAT!? Really? Why didn’t this thing just steal their damn ship? And what the hell was it? And why could they kill him with simple weapons? We’re given the impression that it’s not the true “God”, but who the hell knows.

ED: I think you hit the nail on the head here Greg. The writing in this movie is sooooo lazy. There are so many holes. For example, that scene where Spock has the chance to shoot Sybok in the cargo bay. Spock’s got the phaser literally pressed on Sybok’s chest, Kirk screaming “SHOOOT HIMM!!!” – I’ve seen this scene in one incarnation or another in a hundred Hollywood movies. It’s lazy writing. And in the end, Spock does nothing? Dude, set the phaser to stun and blast away! Do the Vulcan neck pinch! Kick him in the nuts! Anything!

GREG: I know. Spock is usually pretty awesome, but in that scene (and really, in this whole movie) he was a complete pussy. Look, I understand the idea behind this movie. The questions about spirituality, heaven, and God are all fine and good, but it’s just way too obvious, heavy-handed, and hokey in this movie. I would rather that they just fight some friggin' bad guys. One thing that the movie does get right (and they have been getting right ever since the first movie) is the playfulness and camaraderie that is evident amongst the main characters. You can sense that they are, in fact, all good friends. This movie especially studies Kirk, Spock, and Bones’ relationship, which is the lynchpin of the series. I appreciated that (though the campfire scenes are a little gay - not that there's anything wrong with that).

ED: Ironically, while I’m the one who’s been touting the camaraderie of this group, I found that this movie didn’t do a good job of it. This is the movie where their camaraderie (as done so well in “The Voyage Home”) turned from playfulness into buffoonery. Scotty knocking himself out banging his head on the ship? Really? This is what passes for screenwriting? The only facet of the crew interaction which was passable was the trio of Kirk, Spock and McCoy in the woods. They really are the lynchpin of the entire series, and form a perfect triangle with Spock’s logic, McCoy’s emotion and Kirk bridging the two of them together. Up until now, the movies have mostly shown Kirk and Spock’s guy love for one another, but finally, this movie accurately depicts the necessity of McCoy in that menage-a-trois. I was reminded of an episode in the Original Series where everyone thought that Kirk had died, and Spock and McCoy are going at it pretty hard until they listen to a pre-recorded tape that Kirk had made in the event of his death, and then everything was alright again. I don’t think any of the two can survive without the third. And Brokeback Mountain imagery be damned, they can’t quit each other and I can’t quit them.

GREG: By the time the credits began to roll, I was so angry. It was a good thing I wasn’t drunk while I watched this crapfest – I would’ve broken something. This movie stunk so bad that I can still smell it. It definitely stole the crown as the worst movie in the series so far. I would say that it’s one of the worst movies I’ve seen in a long time, but I just watched the first three Friday The 13th movies, and they’re all much, much worse, so you’re lucky Star Trek V. But let me be clear: I will never, ever, ever watch this movie again. I’m giving it a 4/10 (and that might be generous).

ED: Okay, I think you should set your face to stun before reading on. But… I don’t hate this movie. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t like it. But I just don’t hate it. I know it’s awful. By every metric, it’s awful. But for some reason, I can’t hate it. I can’t disassociate myself from the 13 year old kid inside me, watching this movie in the cinemas. And back then, I enjoyed it. I just didn’t have the wherewithal to understand that the movie stunk. I liked the Kirk-Spock-McCoy scenes in the woods. I thought Scotty was funny. I thought the search for God was deep and meaningful. I was young and stupid and sharing a tub of popcorn with a cute brunette, hoping to boldly go where no man had gone before…

GREG: I can appreciate that. I certainly love some movies from my childhood that are definitely crap. But I just can’t give this one to you; sorry Edwin. But I really hope that the last movie is far better than this one.

ED: It is. I promise. In fact, I’ll bet you my autographed Leonard Nimoy photo that you’ll like it more than this train wreck. In fact, it’s my second favourite, behind only “The Wrath of Khan”. So let’s just be men about this and act like men do in all uncomfortable situations – let’s just pretend this didn’t happen, and move on. Next up will be “The Undiscovered Country.” Hope you’re up on your Klingon!

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