I’m always on the lookout for seemingly disparate movies that have a lot in common. And I recently noticed that Star Trek V: The Final Frontier has many nearly identical setups as 1984’s Ghostbusters. I’m not saying that the makers of Star Trek V set out to rip off Ghostbusters or even pay homage to it. They simply made a lot of creative choices that went down a similar path as Ghostbusters, and they’re quite remarkable once you see them.
So let’s match up each of the scenes and ideas these two films have in common and see what they did with them.
Ghostbusters begins with a pre-title sequence. In it, a librarian doing her usual rounds witnesses paranormal activities and she comes face to face with an off-screen ghost that causes her to scream her head off.
Star Trek V was the first Star Trek film to start with a pre-title sequence. In it, a nomad digging holes in a desert comes face to face with a stranger who takes his inner pain away. Then the stranger reveals he is a Vulcan and he starts to laugh his head off.
Both of these films use their opening scene to reveal that something isn’t right. Ghostbusters is a comedy, but there’s nothing funny about an old woman being terrorized. It’s genuinely creepy and scary. And everyone knows that Vulcans are logical and devoid of emotion, so why is this Vulcan laughing like he’s in on some joke we’re not privy to? These are intriguing premises that invite the audience to wait for the answers.
A New Enterprise
The nascent Ghostbusters are kicked out of their cushy jobs at a university and decide to start a business. They purchase an old firehouse as the home of their new enterprise, despite the fact that it has substandard electrical wiring and other major problems.
Captain Kirk and his seasoned crewmates are called back from their vacation to embark on a new mission. Kirk returns to the newly christened Enterprise-A and discovers it’s in a hopeless state of disrepair.
The Ghostbusters demonstrate their competence by quickly turning the dilapidated firehouse into a state-of-the-art laser-protected holding grid for all sorts of ghosts. The Enterprise’s sorry state never improves much over the course of the film and is mostly used as an excuse for gags and plot convenience.
Ghosts overrun New York City, the symbol of American business and optimism. They terrorize many citizens, but they don’t appear to kill anyone. They’re just awaiting the coming of the godlike being Gozer.
Religious zealots overrun Paradise City on Nimbus III, nicknamed the Planet of Galactic Peace because it is inhabited by humans, Romulans, and Klingons. The zealots take over the city, but they don’t have any desire to kill its inhabitants. They just want to attract a starship that can take them to their god.
The ghosts are actually threatening while the zealots mainly come across as a nuisance.
Possessed or Freed
Two neighbors, Dana and Louis, get possessed by demons and are forced to act in bizarre ways that threaten to bring about the end of the world.
Kirk’s crewmates get freed from their personal demons and act in ways that are completely antithetical to their normal behavior. They help the villain bring the Enterprise to the center of the galaxy.
It’s shocking to see Dana’s no-nonsense demeanor transformed into a sensual display and it’s funny to see Louis acting even crazier than normal. But it’s completely unbelievable for Sulu, Chekov, and Uhura to turn on Captain Kirk, even if Sybok freed them from some deep pain they were hiding. They just wouldn’t do that. Thank goodness Spock and McCoy didn’t.
After allowing an EPA official to shut off their protection grid, the Ghostbusters get arrested for supposedly causing a major environmental catastrophe. However, they are able to plead their case to the mayor and talk their way out of prison.
After allowing Sybok and his men to get aboard the Enterprise, Kirk, Spock, and McCoy get put in the brig. They don’t talk their way out of prison, but they instead get busted out by Scotty.
I have to admit it’s pretty funny seeing Scotty going commando and trying to save the day. But it’s also extremely satisfying to see Peter Venkman put the EPA jerk in his place and win his freedom by appealing to the mayor’s self-interest.
The Long Climb
The Ghostbusters are forced to climb a long staircase in a high-rise building for two dozen floors to reach Dana’s apartment because the building’s elevators are out. They comically trudge their way up, carrying heavy proton packs and wishing for their misery to finally end.
Kirk and McCoy begin to climb their way up an extremely high turboshaft. But before they make it very far they are met by a rocket-boot-powered Spock who takes them up dozens of decks and even overshoots the mark.
Ghostbusters manages to insert another brilliant joke into an otherwise serious situation while Spock pulls a Kobayashi Maru and cheats in order to creatively solve an impossible task.
After Ray engages in a little bit of banter with a godlike being, Gozer asks him, “Are you a god?” Ray admits he isn’t one, and then Gozer proceeds to punish him by shooting him and the other Ghostbusters with lightning bolts from its fingertips and telling them to die.
After a being claiming to be God tells Sybok to bring the Enterprise closer, Kirk asks, “What does God need with a starship?” The being responds with a question of his own: “Do you doubt me?” Kirk says he demands proof that the being really is God, so the being shoots Kirk with lightning from his eyes.
The lesson is you should be careful when dealing with someone who claims to be a god. If you can’t outwit them, at least try to duck.
The Ghostbusters fight back with energy blasts from their proton packs. Gozer disappears before they can strike and capture it. But Gozer soon reappears in a new form.
Kirk orders the Enterprise to fire a proton torpedo at the alien being. At first it looks like it’s destroyed, but it soon resurfaces in a modified version of its old form.
The good guys’ counterattack isn’t as effective as they would have liked.
Choose the Destructor
Gozer’s final form is chosen by one of the Ghostbusters. After being commanded to choose and perish, Ray accidentally thinks of his most beloved corporate mascot from his childhood: The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. And right on cue, a hundred-foot-tall evil version of Mr. Stay Puft shows up and begins to rain destruction on New York City.
The being that Sybok thought was God turns out to be an evil alien. It takes on the form of Sybok to mock his naïve pursuit of God. The Sybok lookalike then threatens to kill Sybok, Kirk, Spock, and McCoy if they don’t accede to his wishes.
We make our own monsters. The things these characters thought were pure and innocent turn out to be just as corruptible as anything else.
Crossing Streams and Timely Beams
Expecting to die, the Ghostbusters agree to cross their streams in order to generate enough power to close the dimensional portal and send Gozer back to wherever it came from. Thankfully, they all miraculously survive the ensuing explosion and are ecstatic to still be alive.
Expecting to die alone, Kirk has Spock and McCoy beamed off the planet so he can face off with the alien being by himself. However, a Klingon Bird of Prey shows up and blasts the being to kingdom come. Kirk becomes emotional when he learns that Spock fired the shot that saved his life.
This moment is set up early in both films when Egon tells the other Ghostbusters not to cross the streams and when Kirk tells Spock and McCoy he intends to die alone. It’s a great payoff in both cases.
We’re Ready to Believe You
Ghostbusters was a reaction to The Exorcist and other occult films and obsessions in pop culture at the time while Star Trek V was a reaction to TV evangelist hucksters taking advantage of well-meaning but gullible believers. They approached the topic of religion from different angles and found quite a bit in common, though with disparate levels of success.
Star Trek V was trying to be a comedy while also grappling with deep questions of God, religious devotion, and personal belief. Somehow, it didn’t quite gel into a good movie. But Ghostbusters showed that it’s not necessarily a bad idea to insert cosmic questions about God into a comical film. In fact, it makes it look so effortless that one can forget what a precarious balancing act that film pulled off. Believe me, it’s not easy.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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So insightful! Great, Robert!
Thank you very much. This was a fun one, especially since we’ve got new Ghostbusters and Star Trek films coming out in just a few weeks.
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I kind of think the new ones won’t have as much in common as the old ones did, but then again, before reading your article, I wasn’t even aware of the similarities between the old ones! 🙂 Great post!
I have to agree. I am glad someone else noticed. The plots are similar. The ending with the gargoyles in Ghostbusters made me wish Trumbull had come back to do the FX for Trek V. But after ILM got Trek II that was not going to happen.
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