Defending ‘Star Trek V, The Final Frontier’

Star Trek 5, **** Stars for shooting God, *** Stars for a sequel

“Of all of the Star Trek movies, this is the worst.” Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

One of the most reviled Star Trek movies is part V or part 5, hated even more than the original Star Trek Movie with the bald-headed lady. I’ve been trying to figure out why because Star Trek V is one of my favorites. Reading reviews on it by Netflix customers or by critics it seems to come down to either bad special effects, corny dialogue or the nerve of director William Shatner (his first outing directing a Star Trek movie after Nimoy did the last two) to go after “God.”

The interpretation itself of whether God is the “thing” found at the end of the film is in dispute even though I would say it is obvious given the influence of atheist Gene Roddenberry and that Shatner, who helped write the script, was influenced by watching the fraud of televangelism. Wikipedia seems biased in stating: “Shatner also developed the initial storyline in which the alien mystic Sybok searches for God, and instead finds Satan.” But maybe that’s what Shatner has stated was the storyline elsewhere? I’m not Trekkie enough to know. It seems a very odd way to put it by Wiki.  I don’t recall ever hearing Satan referred to in the movie, if anything it would be a “false god” because the very term “god” is subjective.  There are all kinds of clues that lead up to an examination of ourselves as placing our own image on God and therefore God is  our imagination. What is behind God is all of our selfish ambitions, cruelty, stupidity and limitations–similar to the Bible when God has humans carry out his dirty work.

If you haven’t seen Star Trek V I would see it first before reading this article as this is more of a discussion than a review. I do recommend the film to both Christians and Freethinkers who like the Star Trek series so they can do their own examination of the film and why it is despised. And real Trekkies, which I do not claim to be as I know the dedication involved, should feel free to point out my mistakes in Trek lore and behind the scenes. I simply love this film and don’t think it deserves the bad reputation.

I want to first rule out bad special effects as a cause for hate because it seems like an invalid argument. The effects are certainly not superb for the time, but they seem to be standard for a movie budget of that size in 1989. This was before Jurassic Park forced everyone to convert over to CGI and therefore you do notice the shuttlecraft looks animated in certain scenes or when Captain Kirk is falling in Yosemite Park it looks fake because he was superimposed onto a background. I think this is to be expected and I’m sure we can come up with other films from that time period with the same flaws, but yet they are not as vilified as this sequel.

As for corny dialogue–this is the original Star Trek cast! Shatner hams it up along with Nimoy. It sparks laughs among those familiar with the characters and their history. I found myself laughing at the clever lines, the expressions by Spock, and Doc McCoy getting upset as usual. The camping scene singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” was definitely corny, but amusing. As someone who saw the film in highschool I know the audience had a good time. This corny behavior is present throughout the series.

If you want more realism, better special effects and better dialogue then look no further than the recent Star Trek reboot, but even mild Star Trek fans like myself recognize that the first set of movies has the same flaws as a lot of eighties films which are also the reason we watch them–we like the eighties.  And if you don’t like the dialogue between the original cast then why are you watching this movie in the first place? Did you see the TV series–that’s who they are. Let’s dispense with this argument for hating Star Trek V also.

What I think really bothered people is that Star Trek V tried to make a metaphysical statement about the ultimate search for God. When they do find God, they blast him with a shot from a Klingon Bird of Prey. It’s funny and blasphemous as all hell. Imagine if they had tried to do that on the TV series? As a Christian you may not like this ending or you may reinterpret the being in the end as Satan. But it should still make you uncomfortable as certain questions are asked, ones that could be asked of a supposedly real god. So being that the about 80 percent of Americans believe in God on some level, this final scene was probably not enjoyed even if the moments leading up to it were.

But I say, as an atheist, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing God shot in the face!

Now, let’s not pretend that this alien thing imprisoned behind the great barrier is actually the unproven god as described by Christian or Muslim theology. It has limitations. That seems to be the point. It is an idea of god that proves to be both ridiculous and dangerous and this thing should be imprisoned. During a Cecil B. DeMille-like moment of awe at God’s presence, Sybok, the Vulcan god-seeker, is joyously reeling in the moment as he tells God how he found him. God asks, “This starship? Could it carry my wisdom beyond the barrier?” The musical score is gloriously spiritual and we’re all supposed to be in rapture of meeting the ultimate creator of life when Kirk butts in and asks, “Excuse me. What does God need with a starship?” I believe it  is one of the funniest scenes in the film because it interrupts what believing viewers are expecting to be a beautiful moment reaffirming the existence of a supreme being (even if fictional or not in accord with their theology) and there you have the doubter saying , excuse me, you’re not making sense.

Shouldn’t this be the question we ask of God on a regular basis? What did God need with an army in the Old Testament to wipe out his enemies? What does God need with human worship? Is he that vain and petty? What does God need with two planes to fly into the World Trade Center? Couldn’t he have done that on his own? Why is God so weak that he needs humans to kill for him, heal for him, speak for him? It’s almost as if God doesn’t exist at all? ….hmmm.

Sybok, the Vulcan who embraces emotion, is also an offense to religion–he is originally viewed as a terrorist and then a charismatic cult leader who can tap into the pain of others, literally showing it in dream-like flashbacks and therapeutically seeking to let people forgive themselves. It is almost Christ-like except Christ wasn’t about getting rid of guilt, he was about instilling it and then having us bow to him for forgiveness due to his temporary sacrifice on the cross. Vulcans are suppose to deny emotions in favor of logic, in fact, they go too far in this process as it becomes dogmatic and ritualistic. When Sybok rejects logic and welcomes emotion, he also welcomes the superstition of Sha Ka Ree, a place which we humans call “Eden.” This is the offensive part–superstitious religion feeds on emotion.

If you don’t think Christians paid attention to Sybok, I was well aware of Captain Kirk spouting, “I need my pain!” because the sound clip was included in the release Lusis by Christian industrial band Mortal (this is when I was a Christian and listened regularly to Christian music). You can hear it on the song “Painkiller.” Mortal didn’t seem to either get it or they disagreed with Kirk wanting to keep his pain because the pain made him who he was. Mortal seems to side with Sybok only they replace the creature at the end with their version of God. It’s almost eerie to see that they too would have been part of the cult and blindly ignore the lesson Sybok learned. Per their lyrics:

Praise God!
He has taken away my pain
Praise God!

I don’t object to emotions as Vulcans are extreme (though I do envy their intelligence), but I do have to say that emotion seems to be religion’s best friend and Christians, especially, are aware of this. They seem to want vindication from logic and science and wrestle between their emotions and what their brains are telling them. Otherwise how do you reconcile three persons in one being? The Trinity? It’s not logical, therefore it must be embraced by emotion. How do you reconcile a talking snake in the Garden of Eden? Not logical, but it must be true. Emotion!

Scientists are guilty of emotion as well, but the scientific method and the scientific community eventually weed out emotion-based theories. Recently I watched The Universe series and astronomer Fred Hoyle, who creationists love to quote, stayed true to his belief in an old, but static universe until his death denying any concept of a big bang despite the incoming evidence for an expanding galaxy all throughout his life. He was emotionally attached to his theory even as his theory became outdated. But science ruled him out. With religion, that would not happen. There are no checks and balances for beliefs written in stone when new evidence contradicts what was written thousands of years ago. All that happens is that the dogma is given a new twist, a new explanation of why it must be true–an awkward and embarrassing process.

So I defend Star Trek V as being a solid entry into the series. No, it is not deep theology or philosophy on our origins, it is pop culture with observations on what should be obvious and, yes, somewhat dumbed down for the masses. A massively distributed satire on the belief in God. If you prefer Satan, fine, but how would you recognize God in the first place if you can’t question God with an actual set of absolutes apart from God? Maybe it is time to ask this God why he needs your prayers to do what is obvious and right.

At the end of the film Captain Kirk tries to give believers an “out” to relieve them of the pain of seeing God blasted in the face. He says that God may be found in the human heart–or if you listen closely, he is probably saying that God is us. We can surmise that this is true because when Sybok is confronting God’s anger after Kirk questions him with , “Why does God need a starship?” God shows Sybok another face–his own. Sybok sees God as Sybok, an image he created and the terrible creature behind it knows that it is a lie imagined by humans, Vulcans and any other race.

If you are a freethinker, give Star Trek V another viewing. Make a family night of it with your kids as there are key elements in it that have atheism, agnosticism and skepticism in mind. Because you may not see a Star Trek film do this again. I would guess that the reboot of Star Trek may not carry the vision of Roddenberry which essentially was one of putting religious bickering and petty human needs behind us as we pursued scientific discovery. Even campy movies can point us in the right direction of overcoming superstition. And at the very least, where are you going to see a spaceship blast God in the face?

SIDENOTE: For the first time, last night, while watching Star Trek V on my new widescreen I saw an inside joke I didn’t realize was there before. The Klingons shoot at what they consider to be space junk. When you look closer, it is a satellite with Carl Sagan’s communication to alien life in the form of  the Pioneer Plaque. You have to be quick to catch it, but once I saw it I laughed. The Klingons have no respect for humans.

To be fair, other notable intellectuals were involved in the design of the plaques too such as Frank Drake and ex-Sagan wife Linda Salzman Sagan. According to Wiki, “The first plaque was launched with Pioneer 10 on March 2, 1972, and the second followed with Pioneer 11 on April 5, 1973.”

‘Time Changer’ Movie Review – The Horror of the TV Remote

Time Changer - ***Stars

Time Changer will probably be lost in the deluge of straight-to-DVD movies and cable movies produced in a time when low budgets can work due to inexpensive digital technology. BUT it should be considered a cult classic in the tradition of such greats as Reefer Madness due to its alarmist nature over what amounts to nothing.

I speculated on this movie in one of my daily Freethunk News Bites and my evaluation went overboard in the expectation that Time Changerwould show a society in torment from lack of values. Quite the opposite. The premise of the movie is that society can be good without God but that without God we’re all going to hell. The most horrific moment in the movie is when Biblical Professor Carlisle–who was transported into 2002 from the past–picks up a TV remote and watches 150 channels of sinful cable. His horrified expression is so hilarious I laughed my ass off and rewound it to watch again.

And that’s why this movie should be a cult classic for freethinkers and unbelievers. Each immoral discovery is so harmless that we have to laugh at the shock of the good professor and yet, I believe the director Rich Christiano actually feels the same way.

Let me back up briefly to let you know the plot: We start in 1890 at Grace Seminary with a gathering of Biblical professors who have come together to review and approve of Professor Russel Carlisle’s new book The Changing Timeswhich is about presenting godly morality without placing emphasis on the authority for that morality (which is God/Jesus). All the professors will give their stamp of approval except one–Captain Stubing, I mean Dr. Norris Anderson played by Gavin MacLeod. He believes the book is dangerous because without the authority of God people will begin to essentially forget who created morality and why they need the salvation of Christ.

The professors quarrel until Dr. Anderson invites Prof. Carlisle to his basement to show him a new invention reminiscent of H.G. Wells–it’s a time machine!  Although hesitant, Carlisle agrees to subject himself to Anderson’s experiment to go into the future and see how everything has gone downhill without Christ’s authority. “Zap,” Carlisle is in the future 2002 in a city area where he stares in awe and wonder at traffic, gadgets, tall buildings and lingerie in the shop windows. From there he proceeds to meet up with Christians at a church where he is continually disappointed at how “new” Christians are living and laments the lost souls who need God. When Carlisle returns to 1890 his end conclusion is that he was visiting “the last days.”

Here’s what made Carlisle think he was in the last days: Lack of church-going, boredom at church, God’s name taken in vain on a movie screen, prevalent divorce statistics, a little girl stealing his hot dog, disrespectful teenagers, sexy lingerie displayed out in the open while shopping, and yes, the TV remote which allowed for a child to see an unmarried couple kiss (I kid you not).

Now, realistically speaking, these kinds of reactions might be thoroughly accurate if we took a Biblical professor from the 1800s and placed them in modern times. The problem, though, is that the writer/director/producer expect us to sympathize with Professor Carlisle instead of laugh at his outdated reactions. Sex on TV, God’s name in vain, lack of church attendance–all of these things have not thrown society into chaos. Not even having a business open on Sunday is detrimental, which I find ironic because my local Christian Supply was open on Sundays growing up and I suspect I could find more of the same today. The film doesn’t care if society is happier, if disease is less rampant, that we have a better standard of living, that violence is down statistically speaking, that racism and inequality is on the decline, and that generally speaking we are better off than if we lived in the late 1800s. The film is concerned that we are all going to hell because we don’t accept Christ’s authority. Morality has nothing to do with it which is kind  of misleading concering the morality premise.

The problem with this conclusion is that we need to take one step back. If morality and law does not need the name of Christ–whether you believe morality came from God or whether it evolved is not the issue–then we can live peacefully on earth with some statistical exceptions (there will always be a minority of individuals who don’t want to play nice). But if earth is to disappear and we live forever through our souls in heaven or hell we should be concerned. The problem is, no one has ever been able to prove the existence of the soul, heaven, hell or God. We even have to question the existence or nature of the original Jesus Christ as his life was put into print apparently 70 years after his death, and this was a time when there were multiple saviors roaming the land–not to mention we have no extant Biblical writings, only copies of copies.

So to allow for any authority you must prove the authority exists. If someone came and arrested me in the name of a government called “Bob” and I had never heard of Bob why would I acknowledge that authority? You could have just made “Bob” up. Concerning religion, you could even point to a dead Bob in history and say you are his religious representative and that unfortunately I can’t talk to Bob himself to verify what his moral laws are (because Bob raised from the dead and is now in charge of Bob heaven) but that you have written them down in a book. It is the same with God and Christ. This is why Christians have unquestionable faith and even in the movie when Carlisle speaks to a science class he says that we defer to The Bible first and not science even when science is in conflict with The Bible.

Christians don’t want to admit that life on earth is getting better. Certainly life is still hard, but give me 2010 versus the 1800s. I was surprised that Carlisle did not react to the diversity he saw around him concerning black people treated as equals or quite honestly talking to a woman as an equal. Were the 1890s so liberated? A woman with a job probably would have been frowned upon as immoral at that time (backed up by scripture, no doubt) and therefore I think Carlisle should have thrown that on his list–“women do not know their place, man is the head of the household.”

The reason I think atheists and other unbelievers would enjoy this film is because it depicts exactly what we might expect–a confused man grappling with an evolved society. Now I’m not so sure professors from the 1890s were so dumbed down as Carlisle as he goes around asking questions like Data from Star Trek: Next Generation, but certainly we could see this character from the past crying tears at holding a TV remote that shows him sex, violence and bad sitcom humor. It is the same for all of us growing up as we judge the upcoming generation and all of their foul entertainment…and then the same cycle will occur again. In his grand speech nearing the end of the film, Carlisle compares our generation to the generation of Noah. Seriously? As I doubt there was TV in the time of Noah, how did those people fall into sin so easily? Through stage plays, oral stories, a foul word uttered when thrashing wheat?

For entertainment value, I do recommend this film. D. David Morin’s  portrayal of  Prof. Carlisle is fun to watch and the dialogue by veteran actors Hal Linden and Gavin MacLeod keep the picture from falling into low budget amateur status. Production values are also pretty clean with even some fancy titles.  It is a Christian nightmare of the future that atheists can be amused by. It even has Paul Rodriguez in it running a laundromat and he doesn’t pop one joke. The executive producer on the credits is listed as Paul Crouch, the owner of Trinity Broadcasting Network. I think it’s safe to say that TBN, with its history of scandals, should be “hands off” when it comes to judging the current morality of our society. If they want to say were imperfect but generally moral and without Christ we’re going to hell, I can accept that…because you have to prove your supernatural assumptions are all true first. With so many religions judging unbelievers, we can’t go on faith.