`Star Trek V': fun but unmemorable
NEW YORK — TREKKIES, rejoice. The world's all-time favorite spacecraft, the Starship Enterprise, is back on the wide screen. And this time Captain Kirk is in command twice over, since William Shatner directed the movie in addition to playing the skipper of the Enterprise, a role he's handled for more than 20 years. Also on board are Mr. Spock and other members of the crew, plus a surprising new character we haven't met before. ``Star Trek V: The Final Frontier'' starts by introducing the new arrival: Sybok, a Vulcan who turns out to be Spock's long-lost half brother. As soon as we meet him, though, we lose sight of him for quite a while - as the movie whisks us into the company of Spock and Kirk, beginning their latest adventure in a place no less exotic than Yosemite National Park. (Spock is in particularly interesting form here: In the space of a few minutes he saves Kirk's life, learns how to toast marshmallows, and admits he doesn't understand the words of ``Row, Row, Row Your Boat.'')
The movie kicks into high gear when Sybok comes back into the story, taking hostages and hijacking the Enterprise itself. These evil deeds don't seem very Vulcan, and, sure enough, Sybok is a renegade who believes in emotions rather than pure logic. He thinks he's had a vision telling him to go to the center of the galaxy, where he'll meet God and learn to understand the universe. He's crafty enough to reach the heart of the galaxy, but some big surprises are waiting for him - and our heroes - when they land on the mysterious planet they find there.
At its best moments, ``The Final Frontier'' reminds me of earlier films in the ``Star Trek'' series that I really enjoyed. The last one, ``Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home,'' was the best of all, with its down-to-earth story and hilarious dialogue. There are flashes of the same friendly humor in the new movie, especially when Kirk, Spock, and Bones are wandering through Yosemite Park together.
And the climax of the ``The Final Frontier'' has a kind of daring that recalls the first ``Star Trek'' movie. It's full of big philosophical issues, all treated with a goofy irrationality that only Hollywood could dream up. This is the second movie of the summer that mixes fantasy with themes borrowed from religion - the other being ``Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,'' wherein the characters quest for the Holy Grail and the ``awesome power'' it will supposedly give them.
Of the two new pictures, the ``Star Trek'' entry is easily the more enlightened. When its heroes come face-to-face with a larger-than-life character who claims to be the Supreme Being, and he announces his intention to use the Enterprise as a vehicle for disseminating his power and wisdom, Kirk unmasks the imposter by interrupting and asking an obvious question: If you're really God, why do you need mere objects - even highly technological ones, like the Enterprise - to carry out your wishes?
This contrasts vividly with the attitude of ``Indiana Jones'' filmmakers George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, who seem to believe that objects (like the Holy Grail, and the Ark of the Covenant in the original ``Raiders of the Lost Ark'' movie) can indeed carry divine but utterly blind powers usable by anyone who gets their hands on them - an oddly superstitious notion from supposedly sophisticated storytellers.
But even if the new ``Star Trek'' venture is smarter then Indy's current crusade, I can't get too excited about it. This is largely because ``The Final Frontier'' never makes up its mind how it wants to entertain us. It lurches from one concern to another - focusing on Sybok for a while, then mechanical problems on the Enterprise, then the mystery at the heart of the galaxy, then a gang of hostile Klingons, and so forth, never settling down on one thing long enough to involve us fully.
This doesn't mean the movie is no fun. The characters are as wonderful as ever, and there's something kind of charming about Bran Ferren's special effects - they're a bit tacky and cheap-looking, which makes them seem all the more believable. Still, the fact remains that some Treks are better than others, and ``The Final Frontier'' doesn't have the surprising warmth of the very best. It's diverting, but forgettable.