High Five/Low Five: “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country” (1991)

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I recently purchased the Blu-ray collection of the six Star Trek films featuring the original cast and after screening the last entry the other day, I’ve decided to give a brief overview of the final chapter.

First, the synopsis, courtesy of IMDB:

On the eve of retirement, Kirk and McCoy are charged with assassinating the Klingon High Chancellor and imprisoned. The Enterprise crew must help them escape to thwart a conspiracy aimed at sabotaging the last best hope for peace.

 

The High Five:

1.            Fantastic special effects. It seems like a no-brainer whenever discussing the work of Industrial Light & Magic, but when viewing this film hot on the heels of Star Trek V, which has some of the worst SFX of the series (not done by ILM), it really illustrates how good effects are taken for granted because they don’t jolt you out of the story. The shockwave effect from the Praxis moon explosion is something that has been used later in films, like the Special Editions of A New Hope and Return of the Jedi, as well as Stargate. The shape-shifting effect for the character of Martia, as well as the visual of the cloaked Klingon ship being illuminated when it fires photon torpedoes also deserve praise. Very good stuff for 1991.

2.            A mystery tale in space. The aspect of the plot that I found appealing was there was the central mystery of who exactly is behind the assassination of the Klingon chancellor. Some Trek films have plots that revolve around exploring the unknown, some are straight up heroes vs. villains tales, but I found this whodunnit aspect in The Undiscovered Country to be refreshing.

3.            This story has lasting effects. The underlying story in the film is that the Klingons have a serious issue facing their race’s existence and the only way to survive is to reach out to the Federation with an olive branch. The final moments of the film plant the seeds for what becomes the status quo for the Klingon/Federation relationship of the Star Trek franchises that chronologically come later. I am always a fan of a big paradigm shift that doesn’t immediately get retconned.

4.            An underrated score. I don’t think I’ve heard of Cliff Eidelman before or since this film, but his work here was spot on in a series that has had an inconsistent soundtrack throughout. Eidelman uses the music to effectively create a darker tone to this film, and when the pace needed to pick up, the score meets the challenge and succeeds.

5.            A perfect finale for this cast’s saga. Viewing the six Original Series cast films as one large arc, I found this to be a very satisfying closing chapter. Admiral Kirk in The Motion Picture was regretting his promotion and wanted to be in the captain’s chair again. His wish gets granted eventually, and by this point he realizes that he’s had a full career & he’s ready to ride off into the sunset. Spock can also be seen evolving into the character that he becomes in the 2009 reboot, where he allows a little of his humanity to creep in, making decisions that would garner stares of disapproval from his Vulcan colleagues. Overall, the whole crew seems to have become more of a family rather than just co-workers, and it’s rewarding to see even minor characters grow over this cinematic saga.

 

The Low Five:

1.            Did General Chang have any original lines? Ok, so you’ve got Christopher Plummer cast in this film as arguably one of the most bad-ass looking Klingons in the whole series, but it is completely ruined by the fact that he is merely a Shakespeare quote machine. I didn’t pay much attention to it when I saw this movie back when it first came out and I was eleven years old. I simply thought those lines were what awesome alien warriors would say when in battle with the Federation’s elite. Upon this viewing, I found myself trying to figure out this character’s angle. Was he really well-versed in alien literature and highly educated, or was he a dolt of an officer who read Cliff’s Notes versions of The Bard’s works so he could sound cool to his enemies? I keep bouncing back and forth on that one.

2.            This wasn’t really the end of the story for Kirk. Remember when one of my High Five points was “A perfect finale for this cast’s saga”? Well, someone didn’t get that memo. In the introductory entry into the Next Generation film series (Star Trek: Generations), we find Captain Kirk back again with old pals Scotty and Chekov. The latter two only really have an extended cameo in the beginning, but Kirk is heavily involved in the main plot. Kind of a downer since there’s such a good farewell to close out this film.

3.            The villains were Klingons, but could have been Romulans, Ferengi, etc… Compared to the Klingon heavies from previous films, there was something lacking in their representation here. They just came off as flavor-of-the-month villains, who could have been portrayed by any of the races previously known to be at odds with the Federation. I think I would’ve like to have seen someone akin to Christopher Lloyd’s Captain Kruge from The Search for Spock thrown into the mix here to liven it up.

4.            This crew could have used some new blood. While watching this film there was a moment when I said to myself “this crew looks pretty old”. Obviously, that’s going to be the case when you have this core set of actors that has played these characters since the 1960s, but I felt that they should’ve tried to maybe have a few more younger actors with the Enterprise crew. It would’ve given younger viewers a character they could identify with. Lt. Valeris (Kim Cattrall) fills that void somewhat, but for reasons I can’t say without spoiling the ending, she’s not enough.

5.            Hey, that’s Christian Slater! WTF? Speaking of young, up-and-coming actors, did you know Christian Slater was in this film? Indeed he was, in a strange cameo where his sole purpose is to wake up a slumbering Captain Sulu on the U.S.S. Excelsior. I kept thinking he was going to pop back up somewhere in the story, but he did not. Our loss.


The Verdict:

Recommended. If you’ve seen some of the previous films or caught some old reruns of the 1960s TV show, than I believe you’d enjoy a viewing of this film to see how those characters’ story essentially ends. Even if you’ve only gotten into Trek with the two J.J. Abrams films, this would probably be entertaining. It has a quick pace, great effects and a really good story. Very few lens flares though…

 

Bonus Side Note: Michael Dorn plays the Klingon defense attorney representing Kirk and McCoy in the Klingon court scene. Dorn’s more famous role is that of Lt. Worf in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Could he be playing his character’s ancestor?… Feel free to discuss this film with me in the comments below, or catch me on Twitter @theothersteve_m

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