The Aisle Seat Goes Back to THE FINAL FRONTIER
Is the Newest Star Trek Special Edition DVD Worth the
Plus: SHOGUN, BLACK SUNDAY and more debut on disc!
By Andy Dursin
I can only imagine that, if William Shatner's STAR TREK V: THE FINAL
FRONTIER happened to be the main topic of contention on a college debate
team, whoever is selected to defend the movie would have a far greater
challenge on their hands than the side that simply has to attack it.
This is a movie, after all, that's been the punching bag out of some
10 Star Trek big- screen features. Until last year's "Star Trek Nemesis,"
it was the least successful of the Star Trek films, and even now, it's
reviled in many circles as being the silliest, least significant effort
of the entire series.
The detractors can still produce a viable argument as to why they dislike
the film, but I guess I have to plead guilty: even though it's certainly
a little rough around the edges, I like this movie. Not only is the picture
not entirely deserving of its bad rep, I'd also gladly sit through "The
Final Frontier" again than any of the stuffy "Next Generation" features
(with the sole exception of "Star Trek First Contact").
Following on the massive mainstream success of "Star Trek IV: The Voyage
Home" (1986), producer Harve Bennett and director William Shatner had a
tough task at hand. Although Shatner concocted a story about the Enterprise
crew heading out to the far reaches of the galaxy in an attempt to find
God -- a relatively heavy story for a Star Trek film -- it's clear that
the studio wanted to retain the colorful humor that proved so successful
in "The Voyage Home." Having to mix the humorous with the deep subject
matter clearly wasn't going to be easy, and indeed, writer David Loughery's
final screenplay shows the difficulty in striking the right balance the
Loughery's story follows Spock's renegade half-brother, Sybok (Laurence
Luckinbill), and his crusade to find "Shaka-Ri," the supposedly-mythical
Garden of Eden in the deep reaches of space. In order to cross the "Great
Barrier," Sybok steals the Enterprise from Kirk, Spock and McCoy, who are
seen taking a vacation at Yosemite in the movie's opening moments. The
meaning of family, the topic of false prophets, and even the nature of
religion's existence in the known universe are interspersed by a few comical
gags and a subplot involving a freewheeling Klingon commander.
The somewhat rambling nature of the story, plus Shatner's relative inexperience
behind the camera (clearly, Bill was no Leonard Nimoy), resulted in a movie
that, at least, is nowhere near as polished as its predecessors. The gags
range from slapstick (yep, Scotty walking into a beam) to silly, while
there are subplots -- from Sybok's hostages to the Klingon angle -- that
never really pay off. Laurence Luckinbill's colorful performance would
have been more effective on the stage (where the actor was most at home)
than on- screen, where he seems just a little over-the-top throughout (Shatner
should have had him take it down a notch or two).
Sure, "The Final Frontier" has its issues, but not all of them were
director Shatner's fault, as the movie was almost fatally sabotaged by
Bran Ferren's visual effects. Since ILM was occupied with work on multiple
movies for the summer of 1989 ("Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" and
"The Abyss" for starters), the decision was made to go with Ferren and
his company to provide the F/X. As documented in Shatner's "Star Trek:
Movie Memories" book and elsewhere, Ferren had a decent budget at his disposal
but completely failed to deliver the necessary goods -- most of his effects
entail the Enterprise flying through pools of oil that look like run-off
you'd routinely find on the side of a highway. Shatner's originally conceived
ending -- involving Kirk running from monstrous creations from hell --
also bit the dust, since executives refused to spend the money needed on
his admittedly elaborate climax. What results in the finished film seems
hurried and incomplete, but the powers-at-be opted to deep-six any re-shoots,
not wanting to spend additional time or money on their tent pole June release.
With all of those problems, then, it's no surprise that "The Final Frontier"
didn't live up to its financial expectations.
That said, STAR TREK V is a movie that does have some wonderful moments
in it -- namely, the scenes involving Kirk, Spock and McCoy. While many
fans either love or hate the "row, row, row your boat" sequence, I find
it to be one of the quietest and more poignant scenes in all the Trek movies.
With the supporting cast relegated back to its supporting nature, Shatner
and Loughery at least enable the classic trio of heroes to take the stage
in scenes that have as much to do with their relationship as friends and,
indeed, family as they do with the plot. And sure, the Sybok plot is a
bit goofy, but there are also some terrific moments when the gang does
probe some of the mysteries of the universe and the human heart -- especially
when Kirk, Spock, and McCoy are confronted by Sybok with their own past
The Yosemite scenes are terrifically shot by Andrew Laszlo, and rounding
out the action is Jerry Goldsmith's score. With Goldsmith's triumphant
"Motion Picture" theme returning for the first time since TMP (along with
a reprisal of his Klingon Theme), the composer serves up a beautiful, stirring
score that ranks right up there with the best of the entire series: it's
majestic and moving, clearly an inspired effort for Goldsmith and still
one of my favorites of the late '80s.
THE FINAL FRONTIER is not a classic Star Trek film, but it's nevertheless
an ambitious one that's hard not to admire simply because of what Shatner
and Co. were attempting here. The massive nature of the story -- does God
exist, and if so, where? -- is balanced by small, intimate scenes with
Kirk, Spock and McCoy, and it's that very aspect that I find compelling
and entertaining in spite of the film's problems.
Paramount's double-disc Special Edition of the film (**1/2, 107 mins.,
1989, PG) is out next week and offers a bounty of special features fans
will love, though like the movie, these extras aren't nearly as compelling
as the goodies on the four DVDs that preceded it.
Although Shatner has previously ranted about the trouble he encountered
in post- production, he's markedly quiet about that aspect of the movie
in his audio commentary. Recorded with his daughter Liz (who wrote "William
Shatner's Personal Account of the Making of Star Trek V," a book that still
sits on my shelf), this is a disappointing talk that's dominated by a lot
of dead air. More often than not, Liz prompts her father to discuss various
subjects, but Shatner seems unwilling to open up on the juicier aspects
of making the film (perhaps a concession to getting this DVD out there
in the first place), and what they DO talk about has been discussed elsewhere
in greater detail.
Following through on that letdown, the on-screen text commentary by
the normally reliable "Star Trek Encyclopedia" authors (Michael and Denise
Okuda) is likewise tempered in its criticism of the movie. There are the
typical nuggets of information about the production, but also a lot more
talk about what makes the series so successful: in other words, it's more
generalized and less revealing than their past efforts, and also a disappointment.
Not all is lost, though, on the DVD, as a collection of documentaries
can be found on the second disc. These include a solid overview of the
production, "The Journey," sporting new interviews with Shatner, Loughery,
and Harve Bennett. While the tone of the piece is not especially candid,
at least there's some discussion of what went wrong behind-the- scenes,
though the speakers seem overly concerned about not burning any bridges
(does Bran Ferren have dirt on them?).
Additional documentaries include a profile of the two actors who essayed
the Klingons (cute, but not necessarily worth 13 minutes); an excellent
profile of veteran Trek production designer Herman Zimmerman; an amusing
15-minute interview with Shatner culled from the shooting of the film;
a fluffy look at Trek's pro-environmental messages; and a terrifically
amusing pitch by Bennett to the Paramount sales team (from 1989) about
marketing the sequel.
Most interesting to fans, and the most revealing element of the DVD,
are the make-up tests of the "Rockman" Shatner wanted to include at the
end of the movie. Though Shatner shoots down the suit that was constructed,
I didn't think it looked that bad in the footage screened here, though
because the studio only allotted enough money for one suit to be made (Shatner
needed a dozen in order to shoot his original climax), it was never used.
Additional make-up tests, special effect mock-ups, stills, storyboards,
trailers and TV spots, and a wonderfully vintage press conference (from
mid-December, 1988) round out the disc, along with four brief deleted scenes.
Running under a total time of five minutes, these are culled from a workprint
and are basically extensions of scenes in the finished film.
Paramount has done a fine job remastering "The Final Frontier" on DVD.
There's a new 16:9 enhanced widescreen transfer that's apparently a big
improvement from the earlier DVD release (I can only compare it to my old
laserdisc, which is excessively soft and grainy by comparison), while the
5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack fares marvelously in conveying Goldsmith's
All in all, this is a nice Special Edition worth a purchase for Star
Trek fans -- especially for the superior transfer. Though the supplements
aren't as in-depth or candid as I hoped they would be, the effects test
footage and the more vintage extras (the press conference, Shatner's original
interview) make it, overall, a worthwhile trip back to a "Final Frontier"
that's fun in spite of its flaws. Check it out.
Also New From Paramount
The success of "Roots" changed the landscape of television. For starters,
networks began searching out properties that could become the next big
TV mini-series. Shows like "The Winds of War" and "North and South" would
become mammoth hits in the early to mid '80s, and none came as well-received
or successful as NBC and Paramount's 1980 undertaking of James Clavell's
SHOGUN (***1/2, 547 mins., 1980).
A bestselling novel based loosely on actual events, Clavell's book was
an international bestseller, but laid dormant for years as it passed from
one producer to another before being made. Directors and writers came and
went, as did actors: Sean Connery, Albert Finney, and Roger Moore were
all viewed as viable candidates for the production, which at first was
intended to be a theatrical film.
After "Roots" hit the big time, though, the property headed for the
small screen, where NBC and Paramount teamed up with Toho Studios and other
Japanese production houses to film the massive project. Shot entirely in
Japan for nearly a half a year, SHOGUN was produced and written by Eric
Bercovici from Clavell's novel, and directed capably by Jerry London. While
the crew faced countless technical challenges (Toho wasn't as technically
proficient as Hollywood), they ended up capturing a remarkable tale that
would be embraced by the masses.
Clavell's tale of a stranded British sailor (Richard Chamberlain) in
17th century Japan -- who falls in love with a geisha and becomes involved
in the land's internal political and military struggles -- may not be a
household name these days, yet when it aired over 20 years ago, SHOGUN
was nothing short of a phenomenon. NBC recorded some of its highest ratings
to date when the mini-series aired, with the show garnering increasing
word-of-mouth and growing ratings as it progressed through its separate
episodes. The program became such a blockbuster that its creators firmly
believe that its popularity enabled the spread of Japanese culture into
the American mainstream, from restaurants to sushi bars which are commonplace
in our society today.
The show itself is still highly entertaining, if a bit leisurely told.
Extremely faithful to its source, SHOGUN is an epic adventure and a historical
travelogue of feudal Japan. Chamberlain serves as our guide, learning about
the customs of the land while serving up both action (as his character,
John Blackthorne, seeks to become the first foreign Samurai) and ample
doses of soap opera (his relationship with one of warlord Toshiro Mifune's
geishas) along the way.
It's beautifully shot and acted with a terrific cast, most notably John
Rhys-Davies as Rodrigues (a Spanish sailor who works for Mifune's Toranga),
who resembles Sallah in more ways than one. Musically, Maurice Jarre was
tapped to score the mini-series, though this isn't one of Jarre's more
inspired efforts: recorded with what sounds like a small orchestra, it's
functional but little more, and definitely a bit disappointing under the
circumstances (Jarre would more memorably score the disastrous movie version
of Clavell's TAI-PAN several years later).
Paramount's superb box-set offers five DVDs filled with the complete,
unedited contents of the broadcast mini-series, plus a bonus DVD of extras.
The full-frame transfers are exceptionally colorful and pristine -- it's
doubtful the show ever looked so good on the air in 1980. The original
mono sound has been effectively remixed to 5.1, giving a nice stereophonic
presence to the soundtrack, which -- as the filmmakers point out in the
DVD documentary -- had to be painstakingly re-assembled once the crew returned
to the United States (Toho wasn't equipped to pack both sound and picture
together when shipping the movie overseas).
The DVD supplements include a terrific documentary overview of the production,
sporting new interviews with London, Bercovici, Chamberlain, Rhys-Davies
and others. It's a fascinating look into the production of the show, with
candid observations and revealing anecdotes about the obstacles the cast
and crew faced during production. I would have liked some insight into
the feature-movie version that was released in Japan (and on video in the
US), yet little is divulged -- and there's no mention of Jarre's music,
either. Still, it's a fine program that runs over an hour all told, and
the DVD also includes three historical featurettes and brief commentary
from director Jerry London on select scenes (all included on the supplemental
Perfect for DVD viewing, it's great to see SHOGUN back in circulation,
and in such a fine presentation as well.
Also New On DVD
BLACK SUNDAY. 1977, 143 mins., R, Paramount, Available October
14th. ANDY'S RATING: ***. CAST: Robert Shaw, Bruce Dern, Marthe Keller,
Fritz Weaver, Bekim Fehmiu. COMPOSER: John Williams. SCRIPT: Ernest Lehman,
Kenneth Ross, Ivan Moffat from the novel by Thomas Harris. DIRECTOR: John
Frankenheimer. DVD TECHNICAL SPECS: 5.1 Dolby Digital (stereo remix), original
mono sound, 2.35 Widescreen.
DVD debut of John Frankenheimer's suspenseful (if slightly overlong)
1977 thriller delivers the goods for fans who have been eagerly awaiting
the movie's digital debut. Based on the novel by Thomas Harris (best known
for "Silence of the Lambs"), BLACK SUNDAY is sometimes erroneously grouped
into the '70s disaster genre, and often confused with the terrible Charlton
Heston flick "Two Minute Warning." While that picture focused on sniper
attacks at a football game, "Black Sunday" sports a plot by terrorists
Bruce Dern and Marthe Keller to crash a blimp filled with a deadly gas
into the Super Bowl. Robert Shaw plays the Israeli commando who uncovers
the plot and comes to America to prevent it from happening, in a marvelously
entertaining picture that has very little in common with most of the all-star
Irwin Allen spectacles being cranked out at that time.
For starters, "Black Sunday" benefits enormously from Frankenheimer's
no-frills, realistic direction: the movie has moments of violent action
alternating with a documentary-like approach to the story. None of the
movie feels overly programmed or dated (save for the finale's poor special
effects), with the director's fresh approach separating it from similarly-themed
junk like "Two Minute Warning." [Sorry, Andy, but I have to step in
for a moment here to defend "Two Minute Warning". It may not be "Black
Sunday," but it's still a worthwhile thriller and a fascinating mix of
Universal Studios cheese and 70s movie bleakness. If nothing else, the
pairing of Charlton Heston as the cautious policeman and John Cassavetes
as the gung ho SWAT officer is worth a look--SB] The performances are
equally no-nonsense (Dern is appropriately deranged in a low-key manner),
and John Williams' score becomes a major asset as the film progresses to
its memorable climax, which was mostly shot at the Orange Bowl during Super
Bowl X. Paramount has done an exceptional job remastering "Black Sunday"
The widescreen transfer is appropriately framed in the original Panavision
aspect ratio, and looks markedly fresh considering the movie's age. Even
the weak special effects sequences look crisp and clear, devoid of the
grain we usually associate with films of this age. Even better is that
the original, cramped mono soundtrack has been remixed for 5.1 stereo surround,
giving Williams' (still sadly unreleased) score far more life than previously
heard before. No special features are on-hand, but this is one of the better
library titles I've seen remastered on DVD lately, and for a certainly
deserving movie as well.
Aisle Seat Capsules
THAT WAS THEN -- THIS IS NOW (***, 1985, 101 mins., R; Paramount,
available October 14): Countless adaptations of S.E. Hinton's young-adult
novels sprung up in the early '80s. From Francis Ford Coppola's overblown-but-entertaining
"The Outsiders" (due out next year in an expanded Director's Cut) and overblown-and-unsatisfying
"Rumble Fish" to the low-key Disney release "Tex," it seemed that every
few months brought about another Hinton movie, often with hot young actors
about to break into the big-time. THAT WAS THEN -- THIS IS NOW was one
of the last of the Hinton adaptations, and though it's more dated than
its predecessors in terms of its then- contemporary '80s setting, this
is easily one of the better teen movies of its time. Credit is due to star
Emilio Estevez, who also wrote this effective drama about wild kids Craig
Sheffer and Estevez, and the trouble they have growing up on the street.
Sheffer is able to cope with adulthood, but his adopted bro Estevez has
more difficulty doing so -- and that contrast ends up setting up the conflict
between the two. Co-starring a young Kim Delaney, this is an effective
and satisfying work from director Christopher Cain, worthy of a look on
DVD (keep an eye out for Morgan Freeman in a supporting role). Paramount's
1.85 transfer is superb, and the 5.1 sound filled with typically '80s,
bass- heavy rock tracks.
FROM JUSTIN TO KELLY (*1/2, 81 mins., 2003, PG;
Fox): The "American Idol" phenomenon might have catapulted Kelly Clarkson
to the top of the charts and set up this past season's runner-up Clay Aiken
to do the same this fall, but that success didn't carry over to the big
screen. Not that it should have come as any shock, since this bare-bones
musical-comedy was rushed into production to capitalize on the building
"Idol" success -- but before a workable script or soundtrack was in place.
The result is an utterly bizarre "film" (if you can even call it that)
that doesn't have enough of a story or developed characters to qualify
as a legit movie. The "plot" has America's singing sweetheart Clarkson
as a girl looking for love on spring break, and the talent-challenged Justin
Guarini (the runner-up to Clarkson) as the guy she falls in love with.
The laughs are non- existent and the songs completely forgettable -- it's
like watching a three-minute music video stretched to 81 minutes. Even
musical fans will feel let down by the movie, which Fox has released on
DVD with several extended scenes (they don't help), featurettes, deleted
scenes, and commentary from Clarkson, Guarini, and director Robert Iscove,
who must have had orders to helm the picture with a point-shoot-move-on-to-the-next-scene
mentality. The DVD does at least look sunny (in full-frame and 1.85 transfers),
and includes a bass-pounding 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack. I'd dread a
future cinematic teaming of Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard, yet I can't
say that it'd be any worse than this one. [My own fantasy is that they'd
make "From Ruben to Clay" and keep the exact same script as "Justin to
Kelly," changing only the names. I guarantee it would be a classic that
people would talk about for years to come--SB]
NEXT WEEK: Two words: INDIANA JONES!! Plus RUDY
Deluxe Edition, THE ITALIAN JOB and much more! Send all emails to firstname.lastname@example.org
and we'll catch you then. Cheers!