May 28, 2020
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991) (part 1 of 6)
SUMMARY: The crew of the Enterprise-A gets a pretty decent final sendoff, in a brutally obvious Cold War parable.
In December of 1991, the sixth film in the franchise was released, and boy, did it have a big mountain to climb! After the bloated ego trip that was the fifth movie, Paramount went back to director Nicholas Meyer, the man at the helm for the second and best in the series.
Meyer came up with a story ripped from the headlines, which brought a nice sense of closure to this iteration of the franchise. Let’s take a closer look at what worked… and what didn’t.
First off, a brief (for me, at least) summary: After an explosion on a Klingon moon, Kirk and company are press-ganged into escorting the Klingon Chancellor Gorkon (David Warner, in his second straight Trek film) to a peace summit. On the way, Kirk and his crew make asses of themselves during a dinner, and shortly thereafter, Gorkon is assassinated, apparently by Enterprise crew members.
Kirk and McCoy are blamed, put on trial by General Chang (Christopher Plummer), and shipped off to a prison on an ice planet, while Spock and the rest of the crew try to clear their names. It turns out to be a conspiracy involving both Klingon and Federation representatives, with a Romulan thrown in for flavor, because I guess you need more than two assholes to make a conspiracy.
After the usual “Enterprise gets an ass-whooping from an enemy ship but toughs it out and comes out on top” space battle, and some speechifying (complete with the old “slow clap that turns into a round of applause” routine), the crew is given a warm sendoff.
General Thoughts/Favorite Moments:
The opening theme music is a wonderfully moody piece by Cliff Eidelman, who contributes a very good score, right up there with the stuff James Horner and Jerry Goldsmith did for the franchise. It fits the tone of the movie perfectly.
One other thing about the credits: it’s refreshing to watch a Trek entry free of Rick Berman in the credits. Leonard Nimoy was executive producer on this, and unlike Mr. Berman, he genuinely knows what makes the franchise work.
Even as a very casual Trek fan, I have to say it’s nice to see Sulu get a shot at the captain’s chair. Granted, it means less screen time for him, but for Takei it was probably a positive for him, as it meant he didn’t have to share any scenes with William Shatner. Not exactly the best of friends, those two.
I’ll get into this in further detail later on, but the big meeting scene in the beginning is interesting, in that it deals rather frankly with the subject of prejudice within Starfleet, not a common thing you find in this franchise. In an interesting move, the man lobbying strongly in favor of using the disaster the Klingons suffer to conquer them is Admiral Cartwright, played by Brock Peters from To Kill a Mockingbird, which both works for and against the film.
Peters gives a forceful, strong performance, and having an African-American actor best known for an awesome movie about racial tension in the South spouting out some rather nasty, racially charged dialogue is a bold move, but I’m not sure the audience for Trek and the audience for To Kill a Mockingbird really had that much overlap.
It’s also odd, in that the character appeared in the fourth movie as a neutral side character whose job it was to basically stand around with a bunch of other Starfleet big shots looking worried while the crew saved the world again.
It’s not a major thing, as we didn’t spend enough time with him in the other movie to learn he wasn’t an asshole, but it does come off as a rather cheap way to avoid setting up an entirely new character. Compounding the problem is that this isn’t the only instance of this sort of thing occurring in the film, but we’ll get back to that later.
Evidently, Peters was uncomfortable with the dialogue, and I can’t say that I blame him, as it would be amazingly harsh even if it was coming from someone like Dennis Franz, who’s played his fair share of assholes! For me though, since I really don’t have that much of an attachment to the character, it’s more a screenwriting problem of having a guy we’ve seen in a neutral position all of a sudden turning into an asshole, as opposed to a new character.
Having said all that, the following scene with Kirk and Spock is nicely done, though director Nicholas Meyer left out a crucial bit of physical acting that would have made the issues I’ll get into later a little less jarring.
I enjoy the bit where Kirk has Valeris steer the ship out of space dock at regular cruising speed. Classic Cavalier Kirk.
Kirk’s log regarding his reservations about the mission takes a little bit of the sting out of his first scene, wondering how change can come about with folks like him who aren’t thrilled about it. It’s a nice moment.
The mentor/student relationship between Spock and Valeris works pretty well, and makes the reveal towards the end that Valeris is a baddie nicely shocking… Though I’ll get into that later, along with why it ain’t that much of a shock.
Chekov’s line “Guess who’s coming to dinner” was apparently supposed to be a line for Uhura, but Nichelle Nichols refused to say it. She also objected to a few other things that ended up not being used. Of course, she doesn’t exactly make it through the film without looking sort of bad, but you gotta give Ms. Nichols points for the effort.