I think it's fair to say that if you asked 100 Star Trek fans which of the original cast's movies was the weakest the largest percentage of them would say Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. The 1989 film was not a huge success, either commercially or critically, and much of the blame was levied on its star/writer/director William Shatner. But you may not know that the reason he was given so much creative control dates back over 20 years before the film even went into production...
1. During the run of the original 1966–69 Star Trek television series, William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy's lawyers drafted what Shatner referred to as a "favored nations clause", basically stating that whatever one of the actors received (e.g. a pay raise or script control) the other would also get.
Shatner had been holding out on signing a contract to reprise the role of Captain Kirk in Star Trek IV: The Journey Home, demanding not just more money but that his old television series clause be upheld for the movies. With Nimoy having directed Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and set to step behind the camera for Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, and contributing much of the story and script for the latter film, Shatner felt he should be given the same opportunity, despite having only directed a handful of TJ Hooker episodes and penned a couple of short teleplays almost 30 years earlier. But nevertheless, Paramount bowed to his wishes, and so when he did sign on for The Voyage Home it was agreed that he could not only direct the next sequel but would have significant creative control over the storyline.
"Excuse me Paramount, but it's my turn!"
2. Shatner got his initial idea for the story from watching televangelists, he was intrigued that not only did these personalities convince others that God was speaking directly to them, but they became wealthy by delivering, what Shatner considered as, false messages.
He wrote his first draft under the title of "Star Trek V: An Act of Love". In it Kirk is overwhelmed by Sybok's (who at this stage of development was called Zar) superior numbers of followers and Spock, McCoy and the rest of the Enterprise crew came to believe in Zar's divinity. Kirk feigns acceptance of Zar's beliefs to travel with him to the God planet, which to Shatner would be a desolate, fiery wasteland. When Kirk confronts "God", the image of the being transforms into that of Satan, and Kirk, Spock, and McCoy split up in their escape. Kirk eludes capture but goes back to save his friends from being carried away to Hell......and curtain!
3. Harve Bennett was intending to leave the Star Trek franchise behind, but Shatner convinced him to look at his story treatment and offer advice. Bennett basically disliked it, feeling that because no one could assuredly answer the question of God and the Devil's existence the ending of the film would never be satisfying. Bennett also told Shatner that his idea had "the feeling of a tone poem rather than an adventure story", and just wasn't Star Trek. He reasoned that the subject matter was too weighty and would likely be considered offensive by some moviegoers.
After hearing Bennett's input Paramount had their first 'wobble' towards Shatner's story idea. Up until then they had been very positive, Shatner had presented his plan to studio head Frank Mancuso while filming The Voyage Home, and he'd liked it. Shatner had then dictated the story himself and given it to Paramount's production president Ned Tanen for input, who again had praised and backed the idea. But once Bennett raised concerns Paramount were only satisfied when he agreed to return and rework the story with Shatner.
"This movie blows"
4. Harve Bennett wasn't the only one who initially decided to call time upon their Star Trek association. According to George Takei, he originally turned down the option to appear in Star Trek V solely because he knew William Shatner was directing - the pair had a long standing feud. But Shatner personally approached him and convinced Takei to reprise his role of Sulu.
Takei later went on to praise Shatner's professionalism on set during the shooting of this film, and stated:
"...despite our sometimes strained personal history, I found working with Bill [Shatner] as a director to be surprisingly pleasant."However, Takei didn't feel the same way about the story!
"The script seemed rather a muddle...as if three separately interesting stories force-sealed together into one [which] made for a confusing and ultimately tiresome two hours."5. When Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry heard of Shatner's idea for Star Trek V he objected to the characters' search for God in general, and more particularly, the idea of a God as portrayed by Western religion. One of Roddenberry's employees later suggested that some of his employer's animosity towards the story stemmed back to Star Trek: The Motion Picture, as Roddenberry had wanted to approach that film with similar ideas investigating the nature of God, but Paramount had firmly rejected his suggestions at the time, and so he felt hurt that Paramount would allow Shatner this much freedom but not the person who had created the franchise in the first place.
"Please, please, please... help me... Leonard. I have no... idea... what I'm doing."
6. After Shatner and Bennett had restructured the story, and once Paramount were happy with the adjustments, Nicholas Meyer was approached to pen the script but he was unavailable, and so scripting duties fell to David Loughery, who would prove to be an unpopular choice amongst some of the key players. Roddenberry, Nimoy and DeForest Kelley all felt that Spock and McCoy would never betray Kirk, which Loughery explained was done to give a conflict in which "one man stands alone" from the rest.
Loughery stopped work on the script during the 1989 Writers Guild of America Strike, and during this time Shatner reconsidered certain elements including making Sybok's character softer and more sympathetic. But when the writers' strike ended and Loughery returned to work he cut most of Shatner's revisions and made many further changes. Shatner later said he felt betrayed by Loughery, as he had transformed the search for God into the search for the mythical paradise Sha Ka Ree (a word play on "Sean Connery", who they had in mind for the role of Sybok. He was later approached to see if he'd be interested in the role but had already signed on for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, which clashed with filming schedules.).
Shatner insisted Bennett and Loughery revise much of this new script. Sha Ka Ree remained, but it was changed to a place of ultimate knowledge of which Sybok had received visions, and Nimoy and Kelley's concerns were also addressed.
7. Once the script was finalised Paramount was worried that the film could not be made for the agreed budget of $27 million and so ordered several cuts. Shatner had envisioned angels and demons at the film's climax, but these were converted to rock monsters that the false god would animate from the earth. Shatner also wanted six of the creatures, but was forced to accept just one. In the end the film did go over budget, and came in closer to $33 million.
8. Shatner was so hands on with the project, right up until the final minute before release. He basically ran the editing room and delivered what he deemed to be the finished cut to Paramount, which ran to slightly over two hours (not including end credits). Paramount thought this was too long, and wanted a running time of one hour forty-five minutes, which would guarantee twice-nightly screenings. Shatner insisted that nothing could possibly be removed without damaging the film's integrity, and so he stuck firm. Not taking no for an answer Paramount tasked Harve Bennett with the job of shortening the film's running time. Once he saw this new cut Shatner was horrified by Bennett's edit.
And so it seems were the vast majority of test audiences, as the sample screenings were garnering almost entirely negative reviews. The previous Star Trek movies had all enjoyed a majority of "excellent" ratings, but here only a very small percentage awarded that accolade. Shatner insisted it was all down to Bennett's cut, and so the two haggled over what parts to restore or pare. Eventually five minutes of footage was excised to improve the film's pacing, some effects were redesigned and improved, and an additional scene was included on the Bird-of-Prey to make the circumstances of Kirk's rescue clearer. The second screening, with the final effects and sound in place, received much better reviews, although still far from any of the previous films sample reviews.
Answer: To stop people leaving early.
9. The morning after the film's opening Shatner awoke and discovered a positive review in the Los Angeles Times, it was the first review for the movie he had read. He then turned on his television and the local station also gave Star Trek V a glowing review. Nimoy later said that Shatner called him up to say that, once again, they had a huge hit on their hands!
However, those early reviews were not representative of the vast majority which appeared over the next few days. Shatner himself recalled that he incorrectly...
"...began sensing a [positive] trend, but ultimately [The Final Frontier] was a failed but glorious attempt at a thought-provoking film."A critical and commercial failure, The Final Frontier very nearly ended the Star Trek movie series. Paramount eventually coupled it with Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade as a double feature in a effort to prop up Trek's gross take, and many of the planned overseas theatrical releases were withdrawn and the movie went straight to home video.
After all releases were taken into account the film did make money, with an estimated total of $63 million. But compared to The Voyage Home's gross of $133 million, The Search For Spock's $87 million, Wrath of Khan's $97 million, The Motion Picture's $139 million, and all the movies which followed it, The Final Frontier sits firmly in last place amongst all 12 Trek films.
10. When the 2009 Blu-ray collection of original crew Star Trek movies was being prepared, and the movie was to be remastered into 1080p, Shatner suggested to Paramount that he would like to oversee a director's cut of the movie (similar to the ones given to Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan). He sent extensive documents outlining areas for improvement, segments where the special effects could be redone, and listed all the omitted scenes he intended to restore that had been cut from the original release.
Shatner later stated in an interview that Paramount, in no uncertain terms, said "No" to the venture.
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