It’s not a bad movie. True, the first four were better. This fifth film is just a bit of a mess. The plot is slightly disjointed, leaving us wondering at different points why what is happening is happening. There are parts of the plot that are underdeveloped – why are the Kligans necessary? Some loose ends when it comes to character development – why tell us about painful pasts if its not going to make a significant difference? There is a lacking in storytelling that explains how we got from A to Z.
But maybe this is the difference between a film directed by William Shatner, like this one, and J. J. Abrams. Loose storytelling verses tight, consistent storytelling. Not to mention the scenes which Shatner had to have been inspired from other films from the time. The bar scene on Paradise City, looks like, feels like, and even sounds like the bar scene in Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back. Towards the end of the film as Kirk, Spock, and McCoy get closer to “discovering” God, it feels like, looks like, sounds like Indiana Jones. Does William Shatner want to be George Lucas?
And its a shame, really. The fifth film promises to truly go where no one has gone before: beyond the Great Barrier, where it is believed God (or as the credits say, “God”) resides. Shatner starts the film off with religious allusions. As the film opens, a mysterious figure clothed in what looks like a Biblical costume. He meets a man who is about to shoot him. “I though weapons were forbidden on this planet,” says the mysterious figure. He proceeds to touch the man with the gun in a healing fashion telling the man that his pain runs deep. “Share your pain . . with me.” The man immediately feels as if some pain has escaped him. “How can I repay you for this miracle?” he inquires.
The mysterious man reveals himself to be a Vulcan and the man who was healed commits to following him on his mission of peace and healing. At first glance, it appears that this mysterious Vulcan, who we later learn is Sybok who is Spock’s half-brother, is a Christ-figure. Which isn’t a far stretch, as we have already seen Spock as a Christ-figure in earlier films. Even though Sybok seems to possess power to heal deep, emotional pains, that is where the Christ-figure allusion ends.
Sybok takes hostage three delegates – General Korrd a Klingon, Caithlin Dar a Romulan, and the earthly St. John Talbot. The plan is draw a Federation starship to Paradise City. But, it turns out that all three delegates are in on the “hostage.” They want the Enterprise for their epic adventure in search for God.
In the meantime, Captain Klaa of the Klingons, proceeds to seek after the hostages to free General Korrd. But when he finds out that Captain James T. Kirk is involved, he changes his plans to go after Kirk. Klaa’s obsession with Kirk seems to serve no purpose other than as a distraction, until the end of the film.
The God figure that Sybok seeks turns out to be more of a Satan-like figure. While the figure appears to look like God in the Judeo-Christian tradition, he does not act like God. He is demanding, wanting the starship to escape the place he has been locked into. “What does God need with a starship?” Kirk asked. Furthermore, this figure is destroyed by the Klingons who are hunting after Kirk.
For a moment it would appear that Shatnar’s Star Trek is making a science-over-religion statement. The implication is that those who search for God are searching in vain. And that sentiment is echoed by so many in our world today. Why bother with the search for God, because once you find him, you will be greatly disappointed.
And yet, as the crew celebrates on the Enterprise on the return home, we find a glimmer of hope in the galaxy. As Spock and McCoy look out into the vastness of the unknown frontier, McCoy asks, “Is God really out there?” A question we have all probably asked at one point or another in our lives.
It is Captain Kirk that offers the final word. “Maybe he’s not out there at all. Maybe he’s right here,” he says as he touches his chest, “In the heart.”
Perhaps we are looking for God in all the wrong places.