William Shatner saw his wish come true when he was given directorial duties for Star Trek 5, but whether or not he did a good job depends on who you ask. Harve Bennett, producer on plenty of Trek films, reckons Shatner made a big mistake by insisting that one particular theme be central to his movie.
Star Trek has always been a franchise full of big ideas, be it artificial intelligence gaining sentience, or Star Trek characters being mind-controlled by weird alien bugs. Shatner decided to ramp things up with his Star Trek movie and introduced the concept of God himself.
Bennett really wishes The Final Frontier had followed a different path, insisting the story was too grandiose for even Trek to pull off. He told Star Trek Explorer issue #9, “I would say that Star Trek V was the weakest of the pictures, both in terms of coherency and its box office, and I would say without shirking responsibility is that the problem was Bill had story approval.”
“I said, ‘Bill, we cannot make a movie about finding God!’ I said that from the beginning… But he wanted to do it, so after much aggravation, I said, ‘All right, we’re going to go find God, but we’re going to make it the best trip we possibly can!’, and so that’s what we did. I think we achieved a good trip, but it was not a strong Star Trek,” Bennett added.
For Bennett, the project was never going to be a success, but Shatner had faith. “It was doomed by its premise,” he said. “But Bill felt if we worked hard enough and dazzled them with enough stuff, we could do it, and I don’t think we pulled that off… I think a faulty premise results in a flawed picture.”
Not to be contrarian, but Bennett is wrong. In fact, anyone who says Star Trek 5 is a bad movie is totally wrong. It’s not perfect, but The Final Frontier is one of the most ambitious and most fun entries in the entire Star Trek timeline.
My colleague, and resident Star Trek expert, James Osborne warned me about how terrible Star Trek 5 was, and maybe that helped lower my expectations, but I will always have fond memories of that particular adventure. What’s not to love about witnessing James T. Kirk and the crew traversing the unknown and coming face to face with a so-called God!?
Budget issues meant the grand finale of the film lacked the visual flair Shatner intended, but honestly, there’s something quite endearing about the rough and ready approach of the end product. Put it this way, I’d rather watch The Final Frontier than The Motion Picture, anyway. Still, there’s no beating the best movie in the whole franchise, The Wrath of Khan.
If you need more Trek content, check out our guides to the Star Trek Legacy release date, or see what’s going on with the long-gestating Star Trek 4. You can also dive into our list of the best Star Trek series, and the best Star Trek captains. Or, if you’d rather explore a different kind of sci-fi, here’s all we know about new movies like Avatar 3.