On June 9th, 1989 Paramount Pictures released the 5th installment in the ‘Star Trek’ movie franchise; “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier”.
When the newly-christened starship Enterprise’s shakedown cruise goes poorly, Captain Kirk and crew put it into Spacedock for repairs. But an urgent mission interrupts their Earth-bound shore leave. A renegade Vulcan named Sybok has taken three consuls hostage on the planet Nimbus III, an event which also attracts the attention of a Klingon captain who wants to make a name for himself. Sybok’s ragtag army captures the Enterprise and takes it on a journey to the center of the galaxy in search of the Supreme Being.
The film was directed by cast member William Shatner, following two films directed by his co-star, Leonard Nimoy. Shatner also developed the initial storyline in which Sybok searches for God but instead finds Satan. Series creator Gene Roddenberry disliked the original script, while Nimoy and DeForest Kelley objected to the premise that their characters, Spock and Leonard McCoy, would betray Shatner’s James T. Kirk. The script went through multiple revisions to please the cast and studio, including cuts in the effects-laden climax of the film. Despite a writers’ guild strike cutting into the film’s pre-production, Paramount commenced filming in October 1988. Many Star Trek veterans assisted in the production; art director Nilo Rodis developed the designs for many of the film’s locales, shots and characters, while Herman Zimmerman served as production designer.
Production problems plagued the film on set and during location shooting in Yosemite National Park and the Mojave Desert. As effects house Industrial Light & Magic’s best crews were busy and too expensive, the production used Bran Ferren’s company for the film’s effects, which had to be revised several times to keep down costs. The film’s ending was reworked because of poor test audience reaction and the failure of planned special effects. Jerry Goldsmith, composer for Star Trek: The Motion Picture, returned to score The Final Frontier.
“Star Trek V: The Final Frontier” was expected to be one of the summer’s biggest movies and a sure hit, appearing in a market crowded with other sequels and blockbusters such as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Ghostbusters II and Batman. Never before had so many sequels been released at the same time. Analysts expected The Final Frontier to make nearly $200 million.
Marketing included an MS-DOS computer game, part of an increasing trend of game tie-ins to movies. J.M. Dillard wrote the film’s novelization, which was on The New York Times Best Seller list for four weeks. Paramount sold Star Trek-branded apparel through catalogues and Kraft made a Star Trek-branded marshmallow dispenser. While Star Trek had a built-in fan market, marketing tie-ins were risky at the time and even high-grossing films could not guarantee success of related merchandise. Unlike other summer blockbusters Star Trek had no mass-market appeal and no major food or beverage promotions, but sold pins and posters in theaters, bypassing retailers.
In its first week, The Final Frontier was number one at the domestic box office. Its $17.4 million opening on 2,202 screens beat the $16.8 million total of The Voyage Home and made it the best Star Trek opening weekend thus far. The Voyage Home, however, had played in only 1,349 theaters at a time with lower ticket prices. In its second week The Final Frontier tumbled 58% to make $7.1 million; its third week it grossed only $3.7 million. It had a wide release of ten weeks, shorter than any Star Trek film before it.
Did You Know…
- Enterprise-D corridor sets from Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987) were used as Enterprise-A corridors in this film. Very few cosmetic alterations were made so as not to interfere with filming of the television series, which was under way at the same time.
- The surface of Nimbus III as viewed during reconnaissance by Captain Kirk was generated from an electron microscope image of a lobster’s claw.
- Shots of the Enterprise-A in Spacedock and of Spacedock itself were originally produced by Industrial Light and Magic for Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986).
- To achieve the shot of the shuttlecraft crashing onto the landing deck of the Enterprise, a scale model was placed on a launching pad connected to garage door springs. A crane was used to move the catapult into place.
- The malfunctioning log recorder uttering “Good morning, Captain.” was an in-joke for Admiral Kirk and party’s sabotage of the USS Excelsior’s bridge computer in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984) which read the same thing across the helm screen.
- According to George Takei, he originally turned down this film because he did not want to be directed by William Shatner with whom he has had a long standing feud. But Shatner convinced Takei to reprise his role.
- The instrument panel tones are the original, bridge sound effects from the series, only more digitally synthesized.
- Walter Koenig said in interviews he only worked 8 days on the film.
- The movie’s climax was cut almost entirely out due to the writers strike going on at the time, and a result of that was the budget for the special effects being cut drastically. Otherwise, the film’s ending would have been entirely different.
- Only Star Trek film to feature a pre-credits scene, and the only one to have the opening credits play over the action of the story rather than over a starfield.
- Due to the film’s relatively poor box office performance, it was released directly to video in most foreign locations.
- Final film voyage of the complete original crew of the USS Enterprise. Although there would be one more film featuring the original cast, the character of Sulu is no longer a member of the Enterprise crew in the next movie, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)
- Towards the end of the film’s theatrical run, Paramount paired it with Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) for double feature showings.
- William Shatner asked Paramount for money to complete the film the way he originally intended, for release on DVD. Paramount refused.
- This film marks the largest, living thing Spock neck pinched: a horse.
- Harve Bennett blamed the relatively low box office results partly on Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987). Bennett believed the series had eased the Trek fanbase’s desire for more product. As a result, he felt the fans preferred to stay home weekend evenings for first run TNG episodes rather than going out for multiple viewings of the film.
- DeForest Kelley went into seclusion, after filming the death of McCoy’s father, because DeForest Kelley was deeply personally involved with his own father.
- Released on 9th June 1989, 9 years and 6 months after the release of “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” on 7 December, 1979.
- Gene Roddenberry was highly critical over the idea of Sybok being Spock’s half-brother. He felt it apocryphal for Sarek to have had a son with another woman prior to his marriage to Amanda.
- The film’s special effects were not done by ILM because the members of ILM were already working on Ghostbusters II (1989) and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989). This hindered the film’s ending greatly because the ending was to be much longer than Kirk simply being chased by “God.” However, the sequence had to be cut out as a result of awful-looking special effects. The scenes were replaced by more shots of George Murdock’s face, except his eyes glowed.
- Gene Roddenberry was said to be unhappy with the movie, as the story was too similar to his initial script for the Star Trek revival project which he wrote during the 1970s. Roddenberry’s script, which centered around the Enterprise discovering, and eventually killing God, was rejected by Paramount, who felt the subject matter would be too controversial.