(1989, SciFi, color)
Mike Nelson and Kevin Murphy
Shatner's already cashing his check in his mind.
In a nutshell:
Spock’s outcast brother hijacks the Enterprise so he can journey in search of God.
A lone rider crosses the plains of desert planet Nimbus III. He stops to converse with an ugly bald hole-digger. “Each man hides a secret pain!” he declares, and engages the digger in tender embrace, underscored with a heartbeat sound effect. His emotional pain relieved, the digger offers the rider his fealty. The rider throws back his hood to reveal his Vulcan ears. They both laugh uproariously for some reason.
Sybok (the name of the emotional, pain-relieving Vulcan) carries on this way, and through the magic of heartbeat sound effect therapy, gathers an army of ugly, violent, and enlightened followers. He invades the capital of Nimbus III, taking important hostages from all three major Galactic civilizations, Federation, Klingons, and Romulans. His subsequent transmission demands that Star Fleet come to negotiate their release.
Meanwhile, Captain Kirk scales El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, while Dr. Bones nervously watches from the ground. Spock comes up from behind on rocket boots, and eventually irritates Kirk into falling. (Un)fortunately, Spock catches him before he can go splat and end the movie prematurely. Later that night, they eat whiskey-laced beans, roast marshmallows, and engage in the most embarrassing campfire sing-a-long ever committed to film.
Uhura comes to collect them in the middle of the night, because the transporters are arbitrarily not working and Star Fleet has summoned them to deal with the situation on Nimbus III. The Enterprise rushes to the rescue! Rather than do something sensible, like, say, negotiate as ordered, Kirk orders a daring commando raid that involves a lot of rather obvious sneaking pantomime, geriatric fan dancing, and the wrestling of three-breasted alien cat-girl strippers. It fails miserably, Kirk and company are captured, and Sybok returns aboard their shuttle to hijack the enterprise.
(At this point, it is dramatically revealed that Sybok is actually Spock’s outcast half-brother. This turns out to be of no significance whatsoever.)
With the principals locked in their own brig, Sybok turns his attention to the peripheral crew. His magic heartbeat converts them all, so that when Kirk and company inevitably escape, they refuse to stop helping Sybok on his quest: to journey to the center of the universe and meet the Supreme Being.
Meanwhile, a Klingon warship has been tracking their movements with the intent to engage and destroy them. Why? No reason I could discern. At least, not beyond generic hatred for the Federation in general and Kirk in particular.
The Enterprise encounters an impenetrable barrier just outside the universal center, and crosses it without much difficulty. Sybok, Kirk, and a few others take the shuttle down to a planetary surface to try and arrange a meeting with God. What they find is a giant, ethereal head imprisoned behind the barrier for crimes unknown in eons past. Sybok realizes his mistake and sacrifices himself to distract the evil head-thing while Kirk and the others escape.
The transporter starts working again. The Enterprise beams up everyone but Kirk before it breaks down again. The Klingons attack, having easily traversed the impenetrable barrier to follow them. Spock thinks fast. Let’s see, one of people they rescued from Sybok is a high-ranking Klingon officer. Is he higher-ranking than the one piloting the attacking warship?
Yes, as it turns out. Thoroughly chastened, the Klingon warship flies down to the planetary surface and plants a pair of photon torpedoes in the Evil One’s big ethereal face, rescuing Kirk from certain doom. They celebrate with a cocktail party, during which all the former enemies drink together and wax philosophical. Kirk and his companions end up camping at Yosemite again, where Spock demonstrates his ability to play “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” on the Vulcan harp.
And now, the Moral of the Story: True Religion is a precious, intangible conviction found deep within the human (Klingon/Romulan/Three-Breasted Alien Cat-Girl) heart, and not a luminescent, genocidal head floating in space. Special thanks to our movie’s director and producer, Messrs. Shatner and Roddenberry, for pointing that out. Food for thought. Food for thought, indeed.
Especially in the later years of the original cast, Star Trek was more of a sitcom morality play with starships than a real space opera, but it was generally good for some broad, goofy fun. Not this film. This is bad. This is horribly, irredeemably bad. This is bad enough that, if not for the presence of beloved characters in a beloved franchise, it would have been relegated to almost instant direct-to-video obscurity, where it would, perhaps, have been sold to the SciFi channel for a paltry sum and featured in one of the later episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Yes, it really is that bad.
Allow me to present Exhibit A: Kirk, Bones, and Spock sit around a campfire in Yellowstone National Park. Spock’s research into human camping rituals leads him to roast marshmallows and suggest a sing-a-long. The resulting rendition of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” is embarrassingly bad, but that’s not why the scene fails. If their badness was the point, they still might have salvaged a little dignity. There is, however, no point. Not to the song, not to the scene, and the actors appearing—one of whom is the director—seem to know it and look supremely embarrassed by their involvement in it. And yet, this did not stop them from reprising the scene at the end of the film.
Exhibit B: Kirk must infiltrate the capitol of Nimbus III for his ill-advised rescue attempt. A rag-tag force of emotionally enlightened thugs stands in his way. What does he do? He has Uhura (played by fifty-seven-year-old Nichelle Nichols) strip down for an impromptu fan dance. [Insert horrified shudder here.]
Our last stop on our tour of Moments That Will Crush Your Soul is Exhibit C: During the heavy-handed moral at the end of the movie, our multicultural VIP ex-hostages return, none the worse for wear. They appear to have settled all their ethnic differences—indeed, one of them appears to have fallen in love with one of the others, as if there was a whole other movie going on back there to which we weren’t invited.
This Rifftrax marks the first appearance of Kevin Murphy as co-riffer with Mike Nelson. When the titles flash across the screen, Kevin renames it, “Star Trek V: Shatner Ruins the Franchise.” As Kirk ascends El Capitan, Mike notes, “He’s trying to scale his own ego.” Later, as the contentious Klingons are introduced, Mike says, “I suggest comb-overs for the entire Klingon race.” The film, of course, is wretched, but the interplay between the two riffers adds a great deal. It’s worth watching/listening to at least once.
(1989, SciFi, color)