The Star Trek Re-watch – Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
One of the positive consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, has been the ability for people to explore television shows and films they never got around to see. This of course comes with the caveat that one actually has time to do so. Depending on certain circumstances (i.e. children or lack thereof and the essential nature of your job) this may or may not be the case. Nevertheless, millions of people who didn’t have free time before now have the opportunity to watch every episode of The Wire or the entire Harry Potter series.
With that in mind I thought it was high time to explore some gaps in my film and television lexicon. So of course I completely scrapped that idea and decided to re-watch every one of the thirteen Star Trek films that have been released since 1979. We continue on our journey down the warp lane with a film that put a cap on the end of the original crew’s adventures – Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991) Director: Nicholas Meyer Written By: Nicholas Meyer, Denny Martin Flinn Starring: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, Christopher Plummer.
Plot: After the moon Praxis explodes due to over-mining, the Klingon Empire’s home planet of Qo’noS is poised to become uninhabitable. After years of military conflict, the Klingons sue for peace with the Federation hoping to save their people. Captain James T. Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise are ordered to escort Chancellor Gorkon (David Warner) to a peace accord summit. However, soon after a joint dinner the Enterprise inexplicably fires on Gorkon’s ship while assassins eliminate the Chancellor. Soon a larger conspiracy begins to emerge indicating that not everyone in the Federation or the Klingon Empire is interested in peace. Spock, Kirk, and the rest of the crew must uncover the mystery in order to save the Federation, the Empire, and the future of the galaxy.
Re-Watch Review: After the commercial and critical failure of The Final Frontier there was a fear that the journey was over for the original crew of the starship Enterprise. While Star Trek was alive and well with The Next Generation, audiences were beginning to comment on how long in the tooth the TOS cast was getting. (MAD magazine was notorious for pointing this out.) In point of fact, the sixth Star Trek film was meant to be somewhat of a prequel focusing on the crew at Starfleet Academy. When Paramount producers passed on the idea (something that would be realized eighteen years later with J.J. Abrams film) longtime Star Trek producer Harve Bennett left the franchise. Consequently producers asked Leonard Nimoy to conceive a swan song for the original crew. Nimoy sought out Wrath of Khan director Nicholas Meyer. Together the two came up with an innovative idea – what if the Wall (referring of course to the Wall that separated East and West Germany during the Cold War) came down in space? The result was The Undiscovered Country, an excellent and entertaining last hurrah for the original crew that holds up surprisingly well.
Since the Klingons and the Klingon Empire had always been stand-ins for the Russians and the U.S.S.R., Meyer (who originally didn’t plan on directing) thought why not embrace it fully? As a result, there are many parallels in The Undiscovered Country that mimic what was going on in the real world circa 1991. Gorkon – in an understated and composed performance by David Warner – is effectively Mikhail Gorbachev, the explosion of Praxis equates to the Chernobyl disaster, and Gorkon’s subsequent assassination parallels similar historical figures such as Gandhi and Abraham Lincoln. Of all the Star Trek films to be released to date, The Undiscovered Country may be the most political but not in a pedantic or overbearing way.
Moreover it addresses the ideas of bigotry and prejudice prevalent in both the United States and U.S.S.R. at the time. Shatner’s Kirk is appalled at this assignment considering that a Klingon killed his son David. The sentence, “Let them die!” spoken with such vehemence early on in the film comes off incredibly powerful. Gene Roddenberry, who was in declining health at the time, hated the script as it didn’t match his idealized version of the 23rd century. While that point is certainly a bone of contention among Star Trek purists, it’s important to note Kirk’s journey in this film. He goes from a bigoted captain disgusted with his assignment to realizing that a Klingon killed his son not all Klingons. It’s his shift in perspective that makes him realize that peace is possible. If someone like him who experienced so much loss because of his enemies can come around, perhaps the galaxy can too.
What sets The Undiscovered Country apart from other entries in the franchise is that it contains a genuine whodunit plot point. Spock along with Kim Cattrall’s Valeris are tasked with finding out how the Enterprise apparently fired on the Chancellor’s ship and who among the crew executed the assassination plot. The ultimate realization – that it was in fact the Vulcan Valeris who was involved in the conspiracy – was a Hell of a twist considering what the audiences knew of Vulcans up to this time. Interestingly enough, Cattrall’s character was originally meant to be Saavik (who appeared in three previous Trek films) but was changed due to objections regarding her villainization. Cattrall (known most prominently for Sex And The City) is exceptional in this role and her interaction with Nimoy’s Spock, especially towards the end of the film, is superb.
Equally impressive is Christopher Plummer’s General Chang. For the life of me I don’t know how they got Plummer to be in this film but he certainly stands out. A gruff military warrior who quotes Shakespeare, he is the perfect foil to Kirk. Plummer chews the scenery, especially during McCoy and Kirk’s trial for the death of Gorkon. Chang seeks to keep the Klingon warrior mentality alive and thus is a willing co-conspirator in Gorkon’s death and subsequent coverup. Upon the re-watch I couldn’t help but think of Mark Strong’s words in 1917 when he says, “Some men just want the fight.” Chang’s mentality echoes Benedict Cumberbatch’s Colonel Mackenzie from that self-same film. It’s a fitting commentary for 2020 where almost thirty years since Star Trek VI‘s release, too many people in this world still want the fight.
The Undiscovered Country does carry with it a few flaws. Iman is completely miscast as the shape-shifting alien Martia who lures Kirk and Bones into a trap. In point of fact that storyline feels completely out of place and really doesn’t serve much of a purpose other than to give Shatner a hot woman to make out with. The Enterprise NCC-1701-A also looks vastly different from the previous film. There are more buttons than there are touch pads which doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. Also it’s hard not to view this crew through the lens of age. There’s no getting around the fact that everyone looks extremely old in this film. I’m not trying to be an ageist by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s difficult to watch these characters struggle with the physicality.
All that being said, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country serves as a fitting sendoff for the gallant original crew of the starship Enterprise. Sporting a complex plot and top-notch performances, the film holds up some three decades later. It remains one of the best entries in the entire Star Trek franchise.
My rating System:
0-1 God Awful Blind Yourself With Acid Bad
2 Straight Garbage
4 Sub Par
8 Very Good
10 A Must See
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country rates: 8.5/10
Next Up: Star Trek: Generations!!!!!