Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991) (part 6 of 6)
What doesn’t work:
Really, most of the issues would be classified as nitpicks: Some of the jokes are a little too cheesy, Chekov is still kind of a useless putz (his one crowning moment results in the below shot), but there’s one big area where the movie stumbles.
The story in execution (sort of):
While the story works pretty well for the most part, there are some key elements that hurt the film and make some parts a little hard to take.
“Pardon me, but do you mind if we assassinate your character just a little bit?”
I’ve already spoken about the odd way a side character from a previous film is treated, but that’s not where the character assassination ends. The main crux of the story is that Kirk finds his inability to get over his son’s death at the hands of Klingons in the third film used against him as part of the frame-up.
That’s all well and good, but the way the film goes about it is a little less than elegant. After the Enterprise crew is assigned to escort the Klingon Chancellor (after being volunteered by Spock), Kirk and Spock have a chat, during which Kirk says that they should just let the Klingons die.
Initially, there was a bit of physical business where Kirk clearly regrets what he just said, but for whatever reason it ended up on the cutting room floor. This has the rather unfortunate effect of making the man look like an amazing prick who has no problem letting an entire race die slowly, and probably quite horribly, due to the actions of a few of their citizens. It turns out okay in the end, but it’s still a rather unpleasant way to end your hero’s first scene.
This extends to a later scene, where he records a personal log and admits he’s never been able to forgive the Klingons for his son’s death, a log that’s used against him in his trial. Alone, this would be okay, as it’s clearly a personal log being used in an ethically shady manner against the accused, but the way the first scene ends, it does leave one with a bad taste in their mouth.
Kirk has always been someone who didn’t necessarily trust the Klingons (the same goes for the rest of the crew), but never has he come off as someone who would approve of genocide by way of negligence. It’s surprisingly careless storytelling that’s only there to justify the plot.
This odd carelessness extends to the rest of the crew as well, as the banquet scene is one of the most uncomfortable stretches of time in an actual good movie I’ve ever seen. On the upside, their bullshit can be chalked up to being drunk. This can’t be claimed later on though, as there are quite a few moments where, at best, the crew comes off as kind of stupid.
As I mentioned, upon first seeing the Chancellor’s ship, Chekov asks if they should raise their shields (you can take the mind-controlling eel out of the guy’s ear, but you can’t make him smart), and at a crucial point as the crew is rushing to save the captain and McCoy, Uhura—the communications officer—turns out to not be able to communicate in Klingon for shit. Admittedly, it’s a mildly funny moment that Nichols fought against, but come on!
Actually, now that I think about it, the Chekov thing isn’t really “character assassination” as much as it’s just his usual routine. Let’s be honest, at his best he was a rather daft twit whose main purpose on the ship was to sit next to Sulu, and distract the villain of the week, whether it be by posing as the captain or getting captured and tortured.
Hey, look at it this way: If the villain is busy torturing Chekov, he’s not paying attention while Kirk sneaks up behind him with a phaser, so technically, that’s a distraction, too!
Moving on, Scotty probably comes off the worst with his rather amazing claim after the trial that, due to Gorkon’s daughter not crying (since Klingons have no tear ducts, according to Spock), it means she must have been in on the assassination, adding that Klingons don’t value life the same way humans do. It’s more than a little unsettling to see an established character suddenly getting that nasty, when his general demeanor towards Klingons could be called, at worst, politely hostile.
Uhura has one or two moments of unpleasantness herself, with petty bitching about table manners after the banquet, though the worst comes at the end, where in the last time we ever see this woman, she expresses sympathy with Valeris’ point of view. You know, the same Valeris who willingly participated in a plot to ruin a peace treaty with the Klingons, got two of Uhura’s friends framed for murder, shot her accomplices in the head, and damn near got everyone killed by a hammy, one-eyed Klingon.
Yeah, nice sentiment to leave us with. It’s kind of like if at the end of Lord of the Rings, before leaving Middle Earth forever, Frodo shouted to Sam, “By the way, I screwed your wife! Live well, my friend!”
“We’ve got something to say, wait here while we get the sledgehammer!”
You might have noticed from the overall plot and time in which the film was released that the story is an allegory for the Cold War. By 1991, the Berlin Wall had been brought down, and relations between America and Russia were bordering on downright friendly. In typical Trek fashion, a parallel was made to this using a film crew, a script, and a nice shiny sledgehammer.
From the name “Gorkon” being a mash-up of the names “Gorbachev” and “Lincoln”, to the notion of certain factions being afraid of the change that would come due to the end of hostilities, the film wears its heart on its sleeve, to a fault.
It works to an extent, but it also is so unsubtle and blindingly obvious that it sort of boggles the mind.
At the climax, Scotty foils an attempt to kill the Federation President by kicking down a door like a badass, and blasting the shit out of the Klingon assassin (a moment where I nearly stood up and cheered when I saw it in the theater). In the extended cut that made it to VHS and DVD, there’s an earlier scene that introduces us to a minor character in the form of Colonel West (played by future Deep Space Nine star Rene Auberjonois), a hardliner in league with Cartwright, who outlines a rescue plan that’s sure to spark a full scale war, which is quickly dismissed.
There’s also an added bit after the assassination attempt is foiled, where Worf’s grandfather bends down, notes that the huge pool of blood coming out of the dead guy isn’t Klingon blood, after which he pulls at the guy’s face, revealing it to be a mask worn by West himself.
An off-screen voice exclaims, “It’s Colonel West!” and I swear the only thing keeping it from being a Scooby-Doo cartoon is that Chekov isn’t begging for Scooby Snacks while Kirk wanders around in a white shirt doing jack shit. It’s not an entirely vital addition, and as it is, it adds some unintentional humor right where you really don’t want it.
The character of Valeris was initially meant to be Saavik, a character who played key roles in the second and third movies and had a cameo in the fourth. Roddenberry objected (to be frank, I agree with him here, as the rest of the movie has enough character assassination issues), and after some back and forth with the director, Cattrall ended up playing a totally new character.
While she does well, and we’re spared having a genuinely nice character that we do sort of end up giving a crap about destroyed for the sake of a plot twist, it does render her a rather obvious “surprise” villain.
Hell, you don’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out she’s in with the bad guys. It’s what I like to call the Law & Order Rule of Stunt Casting™. In any episode of any show in that franchise, if a relatively well-known actor is in a guest star part, that’s the killer! Robin Williams, Whoopi Goldberg, Brent Spiner, they’ve all been on cop/legal dramas after already becoming successful (sorry, folks, but I cannot in good conscience call Brent Spiner a “star”), and they’ve all turned out to be the killer. Christ, if you have a few season sets and more time on your hand than is healthy, you could make a hell of a drinking game out of it.
Granted, Kim Cattrall isn’t exactly a big name, but she is rather prominent, and my point still stands.
In spite of the flaws, I do enjoy this movie. It’s fast paced, exciting, and well-made, and it’s a wonderful sendoff for the original crew. It’s not perfect, but what the hell ever is with this franchise?