Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991) (part 3 of 6)


Chekov’s fiasco with the boots is nicely funny, and is a rare moment of humor in a Trek piece advancing the story, rather than stalling it.

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991) (part 3 of 6)

It’s been said before, but the Kirk vs. Kirk scene is a definite highlight. Not often Shatner manages to out-ham himself! Also, nice to see even a fake Kirk has the cheesiest fighting style known to man.

Caption contributed by Ed

“I just wanted to say I’m your biggest fan.”

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Ed Harris

A fan of less than great cinema since childhood, Ed divides his time between writing scripts, working an actual paying job and subjecting himself willingly to some of the worst films society has produced.

Multi-Part Article: Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)

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  • olddog99

    Arguably my favorite line from the entire Star Trek franchise comes from Spock near the end of this movie:

    “If I were human, I believe my response would be…’Go to hell’.  If I were human.”

    • edharris1178

       That’s definitely one of the better lines in the film.

  • Thomas Stockel

    I love this movie and I own the score.  I remember when sitting in the theater and you heard those first swelling notes I turned to my brother and whispered, “Jesus Christ!”  It was wonderfully dark and it did a tremendous job of setting the overall tone of the film from the get-go.  This was not going to be schlock like ST V or a comedy like IV.

    You raise some excellent points in that the racism did seem a bit ham-fisted and there were other issues as well. Overall, a great review!

  • Muthsarah

    I was genuinely…content with this movie.  I didn’t see it until many years after I had given up on the rest of the franchise (still a TNG/DS9 fan), so I don’t think my standards were set very high, but it was pretty fun to watch Trek competence in any form.

    I have to say, though, that I don’t agree with the general praise thrown at Chang.  With the exception of the courtroom scene, all he does is quote some of the the most oft-quoted Shakespearan lines.  Not only does that get increasingly irritating as the movie goes along (like Trek doesn’t have enough problems with characters trying and failing to be witty in wildly inappropriate situations), and it kinda ruins his death by giving him such silly last words, but if you take those lines away from him, what does Chang still have?  Sure, he’s hammy, in a mostly-enjoyable way, but I credit Plummer for that, not the writer.  On the page, the character is lazily pretentious and one-dimensional, a far, FAR cry from Khan, and, for me, the biggest disappointment in the film.

    As far as the biggest missed opportunity, though, I would have preferred had they dug deeper in the Federation conspiracy.  I didn’t mind seeing the old characters revealing their prejudices.  I enjoyed seeing some the morally-upright sheen wear off the good guys as even they are clearly uncomfortable at the idea of making peace with people they grew up hating (“The Wounded” is one of my favorite episodes, BTW), so that “character assassination” isn’t a big deal to me.  I would have even loved to see Saavik back too, and for the film to make Cartwright a bigger villain.  My dream scenario would have been the Enterprise having to defeat both Cartwright’s flagship and Chang, while having Saavik sabotaging the ship from inside.  That would have been so much more epic than Scotty kicking down the door and shooting a guy during a speech.  As is, Chang alone just isn’t written well enough to make for a great villain; instead, you have a great actor making well-enough out of some lazy dialogue (pointless Shakespeare drops is not class), and a half-baked conspiracy plot.  I know Trek doesn’t have a great record of going big and making it work, but I don’t think this would have been too difficult to pull off.

    A great villain, or villains, would have put this movie over the top.  Instead…it’s just “good enough”.

  • Fabioso

    Re: Nimoy being really scary when pissed off and wishing he played villains more. Have you ever seen the Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1978 remake. In this Nimoy plays the main bodysnatching alien villain and he is AWESOME, and what about the classic Columbo episode from the 1970s where he plays a murdering scheming surgeon. Nimoy’s rare but memorable excursions into villainy show what a massively underated actor he’s always been.   

    • edharris1178


  • Good writeup, mostly mirrors my thoughts about the film as well.  I remember seeing this in the theater on opening night and you could barely hear the soundtrack when Chang’s ship got blown up, there was so much cheering and applause. To this day it’s the biggest fan reaction I’ve ever witnessed in a movie theater. It was awesome.

    • Jeremy Pinkham

      The biggest one I saw was when I saw “Aliens” on its opening night in a movie theater on a US Marine Corps base in Japan. Even though the space marines in the movie were getting killed left and right anytime they said or did something badass the marines were cheering wildly.

  • This is actually my favorite of the Star Trek movies, even moreso than Wrath of Khan. To me it is the perfect representation of the basic thesis of the Star Trek franchise, which is why it’s so ironic Gene Roddenberry hated the shit out of it. Honestly, I often got the impression the man did not really understand his own story, and that he was every bit as hopelessly naive as the TNG crew were often written to me. His problem was that the paradise he had created in the Federation was unreal, distant and unearned. It’s a world where all hatred and prejudice are gone…just because. We can’t relate to people who don’t share ANY of our fears and weaknesses…unless we see them overcome them, and that’s what this film gives us. It shows us that these are not superbeings who have had all their fears and hatreds purged from their minds. They’re are just like us, they still fear the unknown, they still hold grudges. They reason the future is a paradise is because despite those human weaknesses, in the end, they always do the right thing, not because it’s easy but because it’s right.

    Plus, I never felt that anyone was really behaving that out of character. Kirk has always been at his most militaristic when the Klingons were involved, ever since their first appearance in Errand of Mercy. They make it pretty clear that Kirk did not actually want genocide, and the line was spoken in a moment of anger. And Uhura & Chekov, well let’s be honest, there’s not enough character between them to ruin.

    • Muthsarah

      It takes an ideologue to inspire a movement, but it takes a pragmatist to make it viable.  Roddenberry provided the inspiration that created Trek’s utopian future, but it took an Ira Steven Behr to flesh it out, provide the needed shades of grey and actually make it feel real enough that one can care about it, take it seriously, and build on it.  Without that depth, idealism is just meaningless fluff, and you can’t do anything with that.  The man WAS naive to the end, but any vision has to have such a simple vision and an uncompromising voice; without that, there’s no passion, and no clear goal to constantly strive for.

      It’s beautiful when a man can respond to the question “wouldn’t baldness be cured in the 24th century?” with “in the 24th century, no one will care about something like that”, as he can provide the ideal of a perfect society, free from petty prejudices, for your characters to strive for, but you don’t want such a person actually handling the story, or else all of your characters are going to start out perfect, have no conflicts, and thus have no room whatsoever for growth.  Roddenberry was a great guy, but once he got TNG greenlit and off the ground, his job was done; he had kept his vision alive.  Everything he did after that was a detriment, as he would not accept anything short of his perfect future (as no ideologue should ever do).  His vision of the Federation was an ideal, not a reality.  His views should always be considered, but never taken as gospel.  The characters had to still have failings, and the universe, even the good guys, had to still be imperfect, or else there was nowhere to go with the story.  So even Roddenberry’s perfect future had to be deeply flawed if it was to exist at all.  Trek was always at its best when it balanced the Roddenberrian utopianism with cold, hard reality and unavoidable human/extraterrestrian failings.  Life itself is an imperfect story, and it never has an end.

      • Graeme Cree

        The baldness answer might be a good one if it weren’t patently untrue. The TNG crew, Picard included, do take a lot of pride in their appearance. Nobody is ever sloppy or dishevelled. Riker even reads Ensign Ro the Riot Act in one episode for not doing enough in this regard. The TNG Crew is one that constantly boasts about being above petty prejudices but is actually more subject to them than the average person today. I don’t know if Gene was naive, so much as incredibly full of himself. But after the reaction he got from fandom, maybe it’s hard to blame him.

    • In fairness a lot of what Roddenberry thought after TOS I disagreed with, and it’s not a coincidence that once he was kicked upstairs on both TNG and after the first movie both improved.
      I mean he just had this slightly hokey idea of just what starfleet was, even objecting to the very notion it was in any way a military arm of the Federation, which is frankly ridiculous and if that’s true the ships shouldn’t even have weapons on them and when they encountered a hostile enemy they should have negotiated with them only.

      I actually liked Shatner’s bigotry and prejudice. It’s understandable on a personal level and also from the attitude of an old Cold War warrior unable to let go.

      • Graeme Cree

        Roddenberry retconned or made up a lot of facts to suit himself. The Scotty Dealing Drugs story? Totally fictitious. The network didn’t want a female First Officer? Also fictitious. (They objected to Majel personally).

        The whole question of whether Starfleet was military is another. By the time of TNG, Roddenberry was claiming that were not, and NEVER had been military, and that they were equivalent to Jacques Cousteau’s fleet of exploration ships (the fact that they just happened to carry enough firepower to wipe out a planet was coincidence). But here’s what the original Trek Writer’s Guide said on that same question:

        “Is the starship U.S.S. Enterprise a military vessel?”

        “Yes, but only semi-military in practice — omitting features which are heavily authoritarian. For example, we are not aware of “officers” and “enlisted men” categories. And we avoid saluting and other annoying medieval leftovers. On the other hand, we do keep a flavor of Naval usage and terminology to help encourage believability and identification by the audience. After all, our own Navy today still retains remnants of tradition known to Nelson and Drake.”

  • Cameron Vale

    Minor quibble, I don’t believe at all that this movie unduly character-assassinates.  With Kirk for example, bigotry isn’t just some facile villain trait that only happens to unenlightened people, it’s a real issue that could afflict anybody.  The TOS episode ‘Errand Of Mercy’ had a very similar idea, the one where Kirk attempts to incite the Organians to take up arms against Klingon occupation, and discovers in the end how war had undermined his capacity for civility.  Nor do I think worse of Uhura for discovering that she isn’t an idealized character who never makes mistakes.  One of my favorite film protagonists ever is Frank Drebin, because he’s a rare example of a character who doesn’t have all the answers and for whom things always go wrong, but remains capable of saving the day through his competence and dauntlessness, which I think is a much greater and more relevant kind of hero.

    • edharris1178

       Oh, I didn’t think worse of the characters afterwards.  I just think it was executed a little carelessly.

  • DamonD

    Great review, I think I feel the same way about almost everything in this movie.

    It just feels…nice. Not in the sappy way, but just in a very warm “that went pretty well” feeling. As said in the Generations review, they absolutely could’ve just started fresh with the TNG crew there and been none the worse for it.

    • edharris1178

       I agree, glad you enjoyed the article.

  • Locutus

    Re: Angry Spock.. I recall, during the forced mind-meld scene, thinking to myself “Oh man, Spock is pissed!”

    This was my second favorite of the Trek movies, after Wrath of Khan and before First Contact. It was a nice way to close the TOS era.

  • “I guess you need more than two assholes to make a conspiracy.” LOL! Thanks for that line, Ed, and the recap of one of the better of the original Trek movies, and for making points I found myself agreeing with . As for Christian Slater’s cameo, I have no idea how the son of casting agent Mary Jo Slater managed that…

    • edharris1178

      Glad you enjoyed it.

  • Graeme Cree

    The movie is 90% good. But the biggest problem is with Kim Cattrall. I don’t mean her acting, I mean her character. In the end, we’re left with a mystery where there’s only one suspect. Who is the traitor on the Enterprise? Obviously, it’s the new character. If she had been Saavik, then there would have been a real mystery.

    I’ve heard that it was Cattrall who objected to playing an existing character, and wanted a new one. This review says Roddenberry objected. Either way, the traitor should have been Saavik. Or somebody that the audience would never suspect. Like Chekov. He’d have been perfect. A character that nobody would suspect, but ultimately non-essential.

    There are a couple of other minor fails. We’re told in the beginning that the Klingon’s new peaceful attitude is due to a Chernobyl-like accident (assuming that losing one planet could cripple the Klingon Empire, but okay). What an amazing coincidence then that the Chancellor and his daughter just happen to be true peaceniks at heart anyway.

    Making the Klingons the guardians of political correctness (getting offended at the use of the term “Human Rights”) is a bit uncomfortable. They’ve done far worse in other episodes. Slave labor, executing a hundred hostages at the drop of a hat. And they’re in near tears because someone used the word “Human” as a synonym for “sentient”? It really doesn’t compute. Especially since they’ve been quoting Shakespeare all evening themselves. I simply chalked it up to Hollywood’s “Inside the Box” thinking, and tried to ignore it. Trying to dismiss everyone’s justifiable distrust of the Klingons as some kind of mindless prejudice, when in fact it’s based on pretty much everything we’ve been told about the Klingons, and seen evidence of ourselves since Errand of Mercy, is ultimately insulting to the viewer’s intelligence. But again, it’s Hollywood. They feel good about themselves in this way. They talk about diversity, but don’t really believe in it, and feel deep down that everyone is just like us, even if it takes enormous retcons to come to that conclusion.

    In the initial release of the film, Colonel West doesn’t appear. So, when Scotty guns the assassin down, a lot of people gleefully proclaimed that they’d found a blooper. “This Klingon doesn’t have blood that looks like Pepto-Bismal! Ha, ha!” Then when the video came out, and the West scenes were added, we saw why.

    • Michael Micucci

      I do wonder if you were old enough to have lived through even the last part of the Cold War, because the things you are deriding as unrealistic and “Inside the Box” thinking were quite relevant to the Russian/American divide in the 70s and 80s. Americans saw all Russians as “boogeymen” because of a set number of incidents involving the militaries of both countries. The regular population of either country were just normal folk who were casting the entirety of the other side into the same pot as the uber-militants we would see in the news.

      And it is maybe even MORE relevant now with the “Western world vs. Islam” issues going on, where Westerners (esp. Americans) are tending to see all Islamic as Jihadist militants based on a set of incidents involving a fanatic few, where the rest of the Islamic world is trying to state how prejudiced it is to account those actions to all Muslims because the crazy fanatics simply state to share some pieces of their religion.

      So, I guess I don’t understand where you are coming from, when the parallels are not only historical but very current and very relevant.

    • Jeremy Pinkham

      “In the end, we’re left with a mystery where there’s only one suspect. Who is the traitor on the Enterprise? Obviously, it’s the new character.” Another story like this is “Batman: Hush,” written by Jeph Loeb. A previously unseen old bosom chum of Bruce Wayne shows up unexpectedly at his door in the first issue and later that issue Batman’s attacked by a mysterious masked assailant. Gee, wonder who it could be… The story plays it up like it’s an actual mystery.

  • Ryan Ann

    “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country” is one of the best Star Trek movies in the franchise. Nicholas Meyer does a great job directing this movie (though it doesn’t match his own work in “Wrath of Khan” and especially Mr. Leonard Nimoy’s fantastic directing job in “The Voyage Home.” I have to admit every time I get to the end of this movie I get teary eyed knowing this is the last movie for the original cast. Christopher Plummer is fantastic as Chang and is the second best villain of the original series after Ricardo Montalban. There is amazing acting by the two stars/leads of the show: William Shatner and (especially) Leonard Nimoy who have done some of their best acting work here. Shatner’s Kirk is fantastic and quite powerful having to deal with his own prejudices. After his ridiculous work in part V this is a refreshing turn for him and you actually feel sorry for Kirk as you know the Klingons killed his son. However the best acting in the movie is done by Leonard Nimoy. Spock will always be my favorite Star Trek character and Nimoy will always be Spock. Some spectacular moments with him, especially the mind rape scene and his interactions with Kirk/Shatner (“Are we so old we have outlived our usefullness. Would that confescate a joke). They will NEVER outlive their usefullness. Nimoy is an incredible action and has incredible range and it really shows in this movie. Deforest Kelley also has some great scenes as well, especially the moment in the klingon ship when he tries desperatly to save Chancelor Gorkin (played wonderfully by David Warner). George Takeii actually does a pretty decent job as Sulu as he gets to command his own ship. It’s nice to see him get more purpose in a Star Trek movie other than saying “Aye Captain.” However, James Doohen (Scotty) and especially Nichelle Nichols (Uhura) and Walter Koenig (Chekov) added nothing to the movie. Uhura and (especially) Chekov were wasted charactes but seeing Scotty be his own whiny self (he did get a great moment at the end of the movie when he blasted Colonel West away rocked) was so sad. Where was the hilarious Scotty we knew from the Nimoy directed movies? Valeris (Kim Cattral) got on my nerves and I hated her character and how she screwed over Kirk/Shatner and especially Spock/Nimoy. It was sad to see this since Spock was (or was supposed to be) a mentor to Valeris. Overall a terrific movie and also a great musical score. RIP Leonard Nimoy. I will always miss you LLAP. You were and will ALWAYS be the best!!!

  • RockyDmoney

    Just thinking about a young Kim Cattrall is…intoxicating

  • Michael Micucci

    Interesting fact: The original script had the Excelsior figuring out where Chang’s Bird of Prey was with all of their sensors (which had been configured to catalog gaseous anamolies, brilliantly set up in the beginning of the film as a sort of Chekhov’s Gun), only to be shot down by an absurdly egotistical and petulant Shatner because he wanted Kirk and the Enterprise to have all the glory instead of giving any to George Takei. Thus, we ended up with Uhuru’s “What about all that equipment to catalog gaseous anomalies” ass-pull right at the end, because Shatnre refused to film unless they changed it (and hence the brilliant Chekhov’s Gun turns into an absurd ass-pull, thanks Bill!).

    Is it any wonder that the rest of the cast HATED the guy with a passion of a thousand suns?

    Also, w.r.t Kirk regretting his words to Spock at the beginning, they actually kept a bit of really cool acting from Bill where he kind of sighs and covers his face with his hand which is actually a rather subtle way to show Kirk was actually uncomfortable with what he just blurted out. It was a very special moment of subtle, understated acting from Bill that was pretty much unique to this movie (regardless of how huge an asshole the guy is, I agree his work here in VI was very well done).

  • Hutchy01

    I’m pretty sure everyone can tell Leonard from Adam!