The Worst Star Trek Movie Happened Because of a Contract Dispute

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Put down the marshmallows and stop singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” It’s time to gather ’round the campfire and listen to the contract squabble that led to one of the strangest movies in the Star Trek franchise. Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Star Trek III: The Search For Spock certainly have their fans, but it was Star Trek V: The Final Frontier that cemented the adage that “only the even-numbered Star Trek movies are good.” How in the world did the franchise follow its most successful movie Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home with a film about Spock’s long-lost brother and God needing a starship?

As with most things in Trek, the answer leads back to Kirk and Spock. William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy had a strange, complex relationship on-screen and off, resulting in contract negotiations that changed the course of the franchise.

Shatner and Nimoy

As dashing Captain James T. Kirk, William Shatner was the star of Star Trek, and CBS executives worried that audiences would be turned off by the “Satanic”-looking Spock. However, Spock quickly became a hit with fans and, thus, started earning more attention from writers and directors. That didn’t sit well with the famously vain Shatner, who demanded changes to scripts to give Kirk more screen time and attention.

The two eventually established an equilibrium, which allowed them to work together for three seasons of The Original Series, making it into a pop culture phenomenon that only grew in influence after its cancelation in 1969.

But the show’s popularity turned out to be a blessing as much as it was a curse. As Nimoy attempted to branch out into music and other types of roles, he found himself typecast. So great was his frustration that Nimoy published a book in 1975 titled I Am Not Spock. So it’s no surprise that when the sequel series Star Trek: Phase II went into production, Nimoy refused to rejoin his new classmates.

Nimoy did change his mind when the success of Star Wars prompted Paramount to change their plans, ditching Phase II for Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Nimoy signed on for that movie and its sequel, but his reluctance led to the public perception that he asked for Spock to be killed off at the end of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. But here’s the thing: Nimoy loved making Wrath of Khan. So much so that when producers asked him to be in a third part, Nimoy not only said yes, but also asked to direct.

The Favored Nations

It took some convincing for then-Paramount chief Michael Eisner, who thought that the actor hated Spock and the franchise, but eventually Nimoy got the nod. And things were going so well that Paramount signed Nimoy for the sequel The Voyage Home, even before Search for Spock hit theaters. 

But not everyone was excited about Nimoy’s renewed commitment to the franchise. Shatner initially refused to sign on for Star Trek IV, dismissing the time-travel plot. With enough of a pay raise, Shatner not only came back but gave one of his best Kirk performances in The Voyage Home, an undeniably charming comedic turn. 

However, Shatner had his sights set on bigger things. Upon his return, Shatner invoked his “favored nations clause,” a part of his and Nimoy’s contracts that required equal treatment between the two stars. Usually, this clause meant that the duo received equal pay and screen time, but Shatner used it to demand he get to direct a movie, just like Nimoy. Furthermore, Shatner got a great deal of say in the production of the film, choosing the concept — a space-bound critique of televangelists — and even participating in casting. Shatner initially hoped to get Sean Connery to play Spock’s half-brother Sybock, even naming the destination planet Sha Ka Ree. After Connery turned down the part, Shatner chose Laurence Luckinbill, whom he saw playing President Lyndon Johnson on television. 

The result was a mess that not only failed to match The Voyage Home’s franchise-topping box office take (the three Kelvin timeline movies have since overtaken The Voyage Home), but The Final Frontier made the least of any of the Trek films at the box office, at least until the Next Generation stinker Star Trek: Nemesis. Time has been slightly kinder to Star Trek V, to the point that a Sybock mention in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds recently generated genuine excitement. But the movie remains a bit of an embarrassment within the franchise, a necessary evil to keep Kirk and Spock aboard the USS Enterprise.

The post The Worst Star Trek Movie Happened Because of a Contract Dispute appeared first on Den of Geek.

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