Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country Movie Review

The rule of thumb with Star Trek movies continues to be: even-numbered good, odd-numbered bad. The first Star Trek movie was a sub-Kubrickian snore. The third and fifth were marred by gratuitous action and sentimentality, respectively. On the other hand, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was an entertaining swashbuckler highlighted by good performances, Kirstie Alley's debut and James Horner's score. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home was a cute riff on the 20th century environmental crisis.

Paramount eventually noticed the pattern. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, the sixth mission of the starship Enterprise, was largely the work of director/screenwriter Nicholas Meyer, who wrote Khan, and executive producer Leonard Nimoy (who played Spock, of course), director of Star Trek IV. The sixth movie generally reflects Meyer's and Nimoy's concern for integrity.

The events of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country bridge the gap between the old TV series, in which the Klingons were arch-villains, and Star Trek - The Next Generation, in which Klingons serve in Starfleet. An environmental calamity on the Klingon homeworld forces the Klingons to sue for peace and appeal to the Federation for aid.

James T. Kirk (William Shatner, of course) and the venerable Enterprise crew are chosen for the peace envoy because they represent the old status quo mentality of Starfleet. After decades of mistrust between humans and Klingons, culminating in the death of his son, Kirk feels no sympathy for the peace. "How can history get past people like me," he wonders.

Kirk regrets his stance when assassins sabotage the peace mission and the Klingons hold him at fault. Kirk and Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley) beam over to investigate, and are arrested, tried and exiled to Klingon Siberia. The Federation president refuses to intervene, saying "This president is not above the law."

The 24th century universe of Star Trek is firmly rooted in Earth tradition: God is everpresent in speech, militarism is still noble, and everyone seems to know Shakespeare. (Even the Golden Gate Bridge, or a replica thereof, is still standing.)

Like its even-numbered predecessors, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (incidentally, no characters die, despite the subtitle) is fast-paced and entertaining. The movie goes for laughs and gets them (even Bones' asides are occasionally funny). It also addresses philosophical questions more significant than just expanding the "where no man has gone before" to include Klingons, too.

In the movie, pacifism doesn't carry the day -- the peace is born out of necessity and forged by warriors. While peace between the two empires (yes, the Cold War symbolism is a little overdone) is a great achievement for Kirk and his crew, Kirk stresses that it is not "the end of history," an impossibility.

Sci fi often deals with big issues (unlike other forms of 20th-century literature, which have sunk to navel-gazing), but often ineptly and naively, because science fiction writers are not scientists. The original Star Trek avoided some of the standard pitfalls of sci-fi by de-emphasizing technology - the series' special effects budget was minuscule anyway, and TV shows used to put more emphasis on ideas and characters. For example, Harlan Ellison's classic episode "The City on the Edge of Forever" was great not for its exploration of sci-fi what-ifs (the episode revolves around backward time travel, which is physically impossible anyway), but for its treatment of human compassion and self-sacrifice.

Likewise, in Star Trek VI, the details are not as important as the message. (It's writ pretty large.) There are some unbelievable moments in the plot, but it doesn't matter much.

During Star Trek VI, Spock calls Sherlock Holmes "an ancestor of mine." Indeed, Spock, Kirk and the other characters have become almost as mythic as Holmes, and will outlive the actors that portrayed them. May they live long and prosper. And may the special effects always be poor.

The new special edition DVD has all of Paramount's usual majesty: audio and text commentary tracks (discussing, in part, the film as an allegory for the collapse of the Soviet Union), endless featurettes from the making of the film, (and more on the USSR) and promotional materials from the release of the movie.


Comments

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country Rating

" Good "

Rating: PG, 1991

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