It's the million-dollar question: how did a guy with little directing experience and an ego the size of Enterprise end up directing Star Trek V: The Final Frontier?
It's quite a story.
Prior to Star Trek V, William Shatner's only directorial experience was with a handful of episodes of T.J. Hooker, a goofy cop show in which he also starred. Not exactly a stellar resume—especially when it's for the latest big-budget entry in one of the most popular franchises of all time. So how did it happen?
The previous two Star Trek films were directed by Leonard Nimoy, who also plays Spock in the series. Nimoy did an admirable job with both films, as Star Trek III was modestly successful and Star Trek IV exceptionally so. Shatner decided that anything Nimoy could do he could do better, and he nabbed the gig for himself.
He achieved this by invoking a clause written into both his and Nimoy's contracts stating that whatever one received, the other would, too. (Seriously.) So if Nimoy got a raise, so would Shatner, and vice versa. Cleverly, Shatner invoked this clause during Star Trek IV's filming to convince producers to award him the directing gig the next time around.
As much as you can criticize the final product, Shatner put his all into the film. He even wrote the film's initial scenario, though it changed greatly over the course of production. That being said, The Final Frontier was his first and last time directing a big-budget feature film, so take from that what you will.
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier is the first (and last) Star Trek film to be written by William Shatner. That's right—we're talking about Captain Kirk himself.
Shatner even came up with the initial idea. Inspired by popular televangelists of the time, he wrote an initial draft called An Act of Love that shares basic elements with the final film, such as the kidnapping of hostages on Nimbus III and the takeover of Enterprise. In his draft, however, Sybok is known as Zar, and in the film's conclusion, God is revealed to be the straight-up devil. Creepy.
Armed with this basic premise, Shatner fine-tuned the story with longtime Star Trek producer Harve Bennett before handing it off to David Loughery, a writer whose only previous credit was the script for the 1984 sci-fi film Dreamscape. Unfortunately for the filmmakers, the Writers Guild of America went on strike in 1988, which prevented Loughery from continuing work on the project.
There was some butting of heads after Loughery returned, though. For example, Shatner wasn't a fan of the way the guy changed Sybok's motivation from finding God to finding Sha Ka Ree, which in itself is a little inside joke—it's meant to sound like "Sean Connery" because producers initially wanted to cast the legendary Scotsman as Sybok.
Yeah, that's just bizarre.
In the end, however, the screenwriters managed to split the difference between these disparate visions of the film and unify their ideas in the final product. As much as they could, at least.
As with the rest of the Star Trek films, The Final Frontier was produced by Paramount Pictures—the same company whose TV division launched the original series. Star Trek and Paramount go way back.
There are few production companies with as illustrious a history as Paramount Pictures. The organization was founded in 1912, making it the fifth-oldest film studio in the world, and it consistently released groundbreaking films throughout the 20th century.
As mentioned, Paramount has been running the Star Trek show since the beginning. Although the original series was a bomb, lasting only a few seasons, the company found the film series to be a whopping financial success. In fact, Star Trek IV had just proven to be the most profitable of the bunch.
So, of course, they were going to make another film. Although there was some slight tension between producers and first-time director (and star) William Shatner, The Final Frontier was free of the tense work environment that had defined earlier Star Trek films. By this point, the series was running like a well-oiled dilithium crystal.
In some ways, The Final Frontier is a step down from its predecessors in terms of production. Its special effects are certainly less striking—the visual representation of God, for example, is cheesy even by '80s standards. And that's saying something.
According to Shatner, the explanation for this is simple: as a first-time film director, he ran out of money before it was time to add the special effects. Whoops. The film's producers were unable to hire industry leaders Industrial Light & Magic, as they had for previous films in the series.
The film doesn't exactly innovate. Camera shots are standards, visuals are mined from previous Star Trek films, and the overall stylistic approach is heavily influenced by Star Wars. Paradise City is basically an off-brand Mos Eisley. That being said, the film does feature more action than previous Star Trek films, which is a definite production choice made by Shatner.
The Final Frontier might not feature the most famous score in Star Trek history, but it does the job—and then some.
The score was composed by Jerry Goldsmith. Goldsmith previously composed the score for Star Trek: The Motion Picture as well as the subsequent television series, Star Trek: The Next Generation. Outside of Star Trek, Goldsmith is a legendary composer with a career spanning 50 years, winning one Academy Award and earning a handful of Grammy nominations in the process.
All of your favorites are here. You've got your triumphant main Star Trek theme, in multiple variations. You've got your upbeat numbers for action scenes. Goldsmith even takes bits of his work from Star Trek: The Motion Picture and expands upon them here, such as his theme for the Klingon warrior Klaa. Although The Final Frontier doesn't exactly reinvent the wheel, it does provide more than enough tasty soundtrack goodness to keep you satisfied.
Star Trek fans are called Trekkers, right? No? Trek-a-holics? Star Heads? Friends of Spock?
We kid. Everyone knows they're called "nerds."
Okay, that's really enough—especially given the fact that we've cosplayed as Starfleet officers too many times to count…
In many ways, Trekkies are the original fans. The first Star Trek convention was held in 1972, when Star Wars was but a twinkle in young George Lucas' eye. Later, a fan-led letter-writing campaign would be instrumental in the green-lighting of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which transformed a cult sci-fi series into a legit cultural touchstone.
That being said, the fandom isn't exactly enthralled with Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. While the film has its fair share of defenders, many Trekkies criticize the film for its poor special effects, incomplete-feeling narrative, and—most importantly—those gosh-darned campfire scenes.
Even with that caveat, however, we doubt there are many Star Trek fans out there who haven't seen the film, like, half a dozen times. Trekkies are many things, but uncommitted isn't one of them.