Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Star Trek VI: 25 Years Of The Undiscovered Country

            Star Trek stood by itself 30 years ago. There was only one Star Trek,with one cast of characters. Then a year later, Star Trek: The Next Generation came along. During seasons 4 and 5 of that show,Star Trek as a whole celebrated its 25th anniversary.1991 was also the year where I went to my Star Trek convention-the only one my area ever put on,met actress Nichelle Nichols and got a chance to go to the theaters to see my second Star Trek movie on the big screen. That movie was Star Trek VI:The Undiscovered Country. Whats interesting about today is that this movie itself is now currently experiencing its own 25th anniversary.

                The Undiscovered Country was announced amid a rumor mill that I'd heard play out at a local comic store called The Wizards Den.  One thing that was known about the film was that it was going to be the final film to feature the entirety of the original Star Trek cast. Another story (which thankfully turned out to be total rumor) was that the entire original crew of the Enterprise would be killed off in the film. As with most Star Trek films made after 1984,the films production had an air of secrecy. There were a few things I did now based on info included in the Star Trek 25th anniversary special.

                  Those two realities of the film were that The Undiscovered Country would involve Klingon's. And that it would be a who dunnit. That turned out to be something of an understatement. The story involves a reluctant James T Kirk (and the crew of the Enterprise) being accused of attacking a Klingon vessel (and murdering Chancellor Gorkon,who was on board) at the dawn of peace negotiations following due to a disaster crippling the Klingon's energy resources. Solving this mystery unravels a conspiracy within both the Federation and Klingon empires by those who'd stand to lose from such a peace between the two societies.

                   Star Trek has always functioned best as sci fi social allegory paralleling current events on Earth within its universe. The Undiscovered Country's plot about a Klingon energy production facility called Praxis exploding and the need for a mutually beneficial peace paralleled the relationship between America and the Perestroika era USSR following the Chernobyl disaster. Director Nicholas Meyer had a big role in this element of the story. Using the character of General Chang (played by Christopher Plummer),he inserted his love of Shakespeare by including elements of The Bard's Hamlet into the story. That includes the title of the film itself.

                      One thing that enhances the films story is the memorable characters. Even ones who were only to appear in the film. A young Kim Cattrall appears as the Vulcan Lieutenant Valeris. Her interactions with Spock and the crew during their investigation of the Klingon/Federation conspiracy make her so endearing and memorable,one might be sad she winds up the villain of the piece. Still though,a villain of some complexity. Same goes for Christopher Plummer as the pompous General Chang. Iman makes an appearance as the clever and treacherous shape shifter Martia. Who actually provides Kirk with an interesting (if brief) prison love scene on the icy penal colony of Rura Penthe.

                        James Kirk himself is a major plot point during this film. Spock volunteers him for a mission to meet Chancellor Gorkon's ship as an escort to a peace conference. The humorous send up is Spock quoting the Vulcan proverb that says "only Nixon could go to China". Kirk is presented as a man who distrusts Klingon's due to the death of his son. The behavior of the racially diverse crew members of the Enterprise during an awkward state dinner with the Klingon's  indicates that,while humanity has solved its own issues with bigotry,that they would still need to take time to deal with alien races with very different values and cultural traits than humanity.

                         Michael Dorn,who portrayed Worf in Star Trek The Next Generation also appeared in the film as his characters grandfather. This character was an attorney pressed into service to defend Kirk and Dr.McCoy during their murder trial on the Klingon home world of Kronos,which actually gets its official name in this movie. Also,this is also the first Star Trek to feature any characters dealing with problems associated with zero gravity. After the attack on Gorkon's ship,the gravity is knocked out. And this provides an opportunity to set up the assassination plot that characterizes the film.

                           In the end,I view this as one of the original Star Trek films that got everything completely right. It had memorable side characters,plenty of what the late DeForest Kelly referred to as "Star Trek moments" relating to its type of humor,very magisterial action sequences filled with manic Shakespeare quotations and (most importantly to me,anyway) some of the best and most topical senses of social commentary in a Star Trek film. At the end of the day,its about the contrivances some will create in the face of their fears of change. And that comes together to make this one of Star Trek's finest theatrical moments.


  1. Jeff, here! A nice blog again. There was three things I wish they'd done differently in this movie and that was to have Lt. Saavik play the role that Valeris had in the movie. I think it would have impacted the audience more when Saavik betrayed Spock. It also would have opened the door to a motive that Saavik, who was half Romulan, felt great anger at Davids murder in Star Trek III and her new hatred for all Klingons. Plus it would have indicated that she and David were closer than we got to see in that movie, even though it was delved into in the novelization of Star Trek III. In my opinion it was a missed opportunity that would have been great fodder for character development. I understand why they didn't do it, but I doubt anyone was that surprised to know that Valeris was indeed the saboteur on the Enterprise, because they spent a lot of time in the film trying to paint her as Spock's successor with possible romantic undertones. Something that would have made much more sense with Saavik than Valeris.

    The other part I would have changed is all the Shakespeare references. I mean how is there and "original Klingon" version of Shakespeare? LOL! i even understand they had to change the Klingon vocabulary to include the use of the words, "to be" so that Gen. Chang could quote it. It just came off a bit silly to me having a British sounding Klingon flying around in a Bird of Prey quoting Shakespeare while taking pot shots at the Enterprise. At that time, Star Trek: The Next Generation was showing us how Klingons interact with each other with battle songs and quoting stories of Kahless. The Shakespeare stuff just seemed out of place.

    As for the sets, I didn't like how the Enterprise looked. They did, what I describe as, dumbing down the ship. It's the same thing Nicholas Meyer did in Star trek II, that I didn't like. He darkened the lighting especially in the crew quarters, had a kitchen built, crammed people into bunk beds, had pipes running along the ceiling everywhere, had the walls looked gouged and beat up and Kirks uniform needed retailoring because it looked to small for him. When they used sets from Star Trek: The Next Generation, it just didn't fit well with the battle style look of all the other sets. I think the bridge was the only set that actually indicated to the the audience that this was all happening in the future. Otherwise we were all flying through space on the aircraft carrier Enterprise from Star Trek IV! But again, I know why Meyer went that way with the sets, I just don't think that you have to make such extreme changes to familiar environments just to set a mood for the audience. The story will do that along with a good musical score.

    Well, that's all I've got except to say that 'The Undiscovered Country' was a good movie, maybe not the best of the series, but surely one of the better ones. It still makes me misty eyed that it was the last time we'd see them all together in a Star Trek film. But it left the door open that maybe, just maybe, once the Enterprise was repaired---because it was only 10 years old---another crew replaced them and the Enterprise-A had another adventure or two before the Enterprise-B was launched. Something to think about.