Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

[This review includes spoilers.]

Spock: "There is an old Vulcan proverb: only Nixon could go to China."

The common wisdom among Trekkies is that the even-numbered Star Trek movies are good and the odd numbered movies suck. There's actually something to this theory. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country is a good movie that works on three levels: as a step toward aligning the Original Series mythology with Next Gen, as a farewell for the Original Series cast, and as an enjoyable Star Trek adventure in its own right. It looks especially good in contrast to its predecessor, the "let's pretend it never happened" fifth movie.

The plot centers on the Khitomer Accord, the crucial event that brought peace with the Klingons and eventually allowed a guy named Worf to serve on the bridge of the Enterprise D a few years in the future. But like the II-IV trilogy, this movie was also about growing older. The proverbial "undiscovered country" is the future, and our heroes were being pushed into retirement so that younger adventurers could take their place and start boldly going where no one had gone before. Sadly, I noticed when watching the first six movies in close succession that this movie is where they start showing their age in a big way. Shatner in particular looked tired, gray and overweight, a bit too old to carry the lead in an action movie, bless his heart.

(Although Sulu, the youngest member of the original series cast, got his own command and looked ready, able and willing to take the helm of a spinoff. It's too bad he didn't get one.)

This adventure did give some satisfying closure to Kirk as a character. He was forced reluctantly to lead the effort to make peace with a people he hated. Early in the movie, most of the cast were denigrating Klingons as subhuman in an uncomfortable echo of race prejudice. By the end, Kirk internalized that the "Klingon bastard" who killed David was an individual, and not all Klingons are bastards. This core message -- that it is ignorance that makes one see "the other" as evil -- has always been one the strengths of the original series. We're all "human," even if we're not all homo sapiens.

The Undiscovered Country included some strong guest stars, primarily David Warner as Chancellor Gorkon of the Klingon High Council, who didn't get enough scenes, and Christopher Plummer as General Chang, who probably got too many. (Great eyepatch, though. It looked like it was screwed into his head.) We got Michael Dorn playing Worf's ancestor the defense attorney, and Rene Auberjonois (pre Deep Space Nine) as a Starfleet officer. There was even a character named Dax, although he was most certainly not a Trill, Kurtwood Smith as the Federation president with rather amazing long white hair, and Christian Slater for about a minute.

We weren't quite as fortunate with the female characters. Kim Cattrall gave a forgettable performance (I certainly forgot it) as Lt. Valeris, who was mostly notable for her stupid hairdo and the fact that she wasn't Saavik. Iman played the shapeshifting alien Martia, a forgettable character, whom I'll admit had her moments.

The movie ended with the written signatures of the cast members, which I thought was just lovely. It was the perfect end to the adventures of the Original Series cast. Too bad it wasn't actually the end for all of them.

Bits and pieces:

-- Star date 9521.6. The action took place mostly on Enterprise, Starfleet HQ, and various Klingon locations that I didn't quite track.

-- The Klingon moon Praxis was destroyed and the entire Klingon civilization nearly along with it because of a lack of safety measures. I could make a contemporary political comment about this, but I won't.

-- Because the budget was slashed after the debacle that was Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, they used redressed Next Gen sets for much of this movie.

-- Janice Rand again showed up, this time as Sulu's communications officer.

-- Thanks to the chameloid, we got Kirk fighting himself again. That was like a petit homage to the Original Series.

-- As a plot point it was rather cool, but the lavender blood looked a bit ridiculous. Especially since there was so much of it.

-- McCoy was a ship's surgeon for 27 years. That's quite a career.


Chekov: "Guess who's coming to dinner?"

Gorkon: "The undiscovered country."
Spock: "Hamlet, act 3, scene 1."
Gorkon: "You've not experienced Shakespeare until you have read him in the original Klingon."
Chang: "Ach ah, ach beh!"
(My Klingon spelling sucks. Feel free to correct me.)

Chang: "In space, all warriors are cold warriors."
Plus, no one can hear you scream.

Chang: "We need breathing room."
Kirk: "Earth. Hitler. 1938."

Kirk: "I'm going to sleep this off. Please let me know if there's some other way we can screw up tonight."

Martia: "That was not his knee. Not everybody keeps their genitals in the same place, captain."

Kirk: "Once again, we've saved civilization as we know it."
McCoy: "And the good news is, they're not going to prosecute."

This was the last appearance of the entire original series cast together, and it was nice that they went out on a positive note. Three out of four sets of Starfleet dishes,

Billie Doux loves good television, especially science fiction, and spends way too much time writing about it.


Kelly said...

I was at a George Takei panel recently, and he suggested that the proper title for this movie should be Star Trek VI: Sulu Saves the Day. :-)

He also discussed how back when they were working on Wrath of Khan he pushed the higher ups to allow the crew to get promoted, since it was unrealistic that nobody would ever move on to other commands. Of course one suggestion he had was for Sulu to be a captain of his own ship, but the idea was never taken seriously. He said he pushed for it a couple go rounds, but by the time they got around to making Star Trek VI he had given up on the idea, accepting that it wasn't ever going to happen.

So when he received the script for this movie and learned on the very first page that he was captain of his own ship, he couldn't believe it! :D

Billie Doux said...

What a great story. Thanks, Kelly. I've always wondered if a Sulu movie would have worked. ???

TheShadowKnows said...

As much as I like Sulu (and George Takei), in my opinion he is just too easy-going and lacks the "command presence" to believably carry a whole movie as a ship's captain. As evidence for my position, I offer the very similar case of the easy-going and likeable Scott Bakula.

Kathy said...

This is my favorite of the Star Trek movies.

Maybe because it's a classy ending to the original cast (like you, I love the actors' signatures as they are literally signing off.)

Maybe because it's probably the darkest and heaviest Star Trek movie in general. (TWoK ends extremely sadly, but the feeling of melancholy and farewell is prevalent in this movie), and I tend to like dark if there's a point to it.

Maybe because I do find political thrillers so interesting.

Maybe because, like Khan, there is an incredibly entertaining villain. I love Shakespeare, and a Star Trek villain quoting Shakespeare makes my day.

Maybe because the special effects are really pretty good.

Maybe because it presents a side of humanity (and the Federation) that Roddenberry wouldn't have allowed, had he been in control (and wasn't dying). I like Roddenberry's vision, and I like his optimism. But, the first few seasons of TNG is way too optimistic. Human thoughts, feelings, fears, internal struggles, personality conflicts haven't changed much in the past 5000 years. TOS depicts that humanity is still subject to personality conflicts and internal struggles, even though it's 200-300 years in the future. So, why are there no personality conflicts in TNG, a mere 75 years from TOS?

I digress. My point is that Kirk's hatred of Klingons make sense. The crew's wariness of Klingons make sense. Humans aren't perfect, Kirk is not perfect. But, he's still a good representative of the human race.

Also, finally, maybe I love this movie so much because it's the first Star Trek movie I saw in theaters. And it's the first Star Trek movie I got on Blu-Ray.

(I'm OK with the lavender blood. Sometimes you got to do what you have to do to get a lower rating. Had this blood been red, it would have gotten a very hard R.)

A couple of interesting things for me:

1. Brock Peters, who plays Admiral Cartwright, couldn't get through his speech about not trusting Klingons during the conference at the beginning of the movie. What you see is a compilation of several takes.

2. Brock Peters played Tom Robinson in the movie version of my favorite novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. (I know he also played Joseph Sisko in DS9, but I know him as Tom Robinson. Love the novel so much, and I love the movie.)

3. The bolts on Chang's eyepatch all had the Klingon symbol on them.

4. "The Undiscovered Country" was Nicholas Meyer's original title for Star Trek II.

5. Chekhov's line "Guess who's coming to dinner" was originally Uhura's line. Nichelle Nichols refused to say it.

6. William Shatner started his career doing Shakespeare on stage as an understudy to Christopher Plummer. Plummer got sick during the rehearsals for... MacBeth (I think), and Shatner stepped in and supposedly got some excellent reviews. (I say "supposedly" because I'm not sure who reviewed him and plays generally aren't filmed, so we have no visual record of Shatner's performance.)


Juliette said...

I love this film so much. My favourite Trek film is II - my second favourite is a sort-of-equal-tie-depending-on-mood between VIII (First Contact), the 2009 movie (stupid Abrams refusing to give it a subtitle!) and this one :)

Dustin said...

The lavender blood did look a little ridiculous. I don't know if we'd ever seen Klingon blood before this movie came out, but we did see it again in the various series afterward and it was never lavender again. I know that the color was changed to avoid an R rating, but lavender says spring and gentle. It does not say mighty Klingon warrior to me.

I've often wished they made it green like the Vulcans and Romulans but that's just because of the TNG episode The Enemy where a Romulan is injured and Worf is the only one on board who can give a compatible transfusion.