Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country: Movie Review

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country is the latest film in the series led by James T. Kirk and his crew. It’s a 1991 film that marks the end of an era and at the same time deals with the end of an era. It is obvious that Shatner, Nimoy, and the others were no longer credible as action and science fiction heroes due to their age, but at the same time this is the best movie they ever made. Let’s see…

The director is Nicholas Meyer, the same of that Star Trek II who often appears at the top of the top 3 Star Trek movies. Here’s a sum up of the plot. After a terrible accident that blows up the Praxis moon, the Klingon Empire is on the brink of collapse due to a lack of energy resources. It’s finally time to forge a lasting peace with the Federation, but Chancellor Gorkon (David Warner, who’s not underused here as he was in Star Trek V) is assassinated and the blame falls on… Kirk! Sentenced to spend the rest of his days in the gulag of Rura Penthe, will he be able to escape and discover the culprits, thus avoiding a war between the Federation and the Klingons?

In my opinion, everything works in Star Trek VI. The plot is compelling, full of twists and turns (some more predictable than others), and above all it’s a very clear metaphor of the end of the Cold War, a metaphor to be read in an optimistic key since at the end those in favor of peace triumph. Praxis is Chernobyl (1986), Gorkon is Gorbachev, and there’s even a colonel called West (played by the legendary Rene Auberjonois)! They couldn’t be clearer than that.

Kirk and his crew seem a little tired, but they still do very well both in space battles and in standard action-packed moments. And the space battles here are truly exciting, both when Gorkon’s Kronos One (a stunning K’Tinga-class Klingon battlecruiser) is disabled, and when General Chang’s (Christopher Plummer) Bird-of-Prey is involved.

Then… There’s a lot of Shakespeare, which is not surprising as it firstly appeared in the TOS episode entitled The Conscience of the King! There are English quotes, yes, but also some quotes in original Klingon to enjoy it properly. “Cry havoc! And let slip the dogs of war!” I believe that this Julius Caesar line has never been said better in any theatre in the world, Christopher Plummer nailed it! The movie title itself is a quote from Shakespeare, from Hamlet to be precise, and refers to death, rather than a future of peace, but it doesn’t matter.

And do we want to talk about the cast? Sure, there are the usual Shatner, Nimoy, Kelley, Doohan, Takei, Nichols and Koenig, but many others are worth mentioning too. In addition to the aforementioned Warner and Plummer, we find the beautiful Kim Cattrall as a Vulcan Starfleet officer, Kurtwood Smith as the president of the Federation, Mark Lenard returning as Sarek, and then various cameos by Christian Slater (if your mum is the casting director, you can get anywhere!), Michael Dorn and Brock Peters. The latter two, together with the aforementioned Auberjonois, met a few years later in Deep Space Nine. And even Todd Bryant returns, although no longer as a captain after his behavior in Star Trek V!

But if I take off my trekkie hat for a moment, I can find a couple of flaws in this film too. The story is permeated by a certain racism that isn’t in line with the future conceived by Roddenberry in which humanity has overcome such nonsense. Of course, the Klingons were the enemies in TOS too, but here they’re treated with contempt, with Kirk who wish them all dead! It’s true that Shatner followed that line with a gesture showing that he regretted it immediately, but Meyer cut that gesture so in the film we only see Kirk saying “Let them die“, referring to the Klingons.

In fact, Roddenberry didn’t like at all this film, so much so that he argued animatedly with Meyer despite being terribly ill at that time. Poor Gene died a few days after seeing the theatrical version and the film is dedicated to his memory.

As for the Klingons, although well done in terms of make-up and special effects (I love their starships), aren’t well characterized in terms of society and organization, and we had to wait for The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine to make up for it.

Other than that, I find very little to complain about. Cliff Eidelmann’s soundtrack is probably not up to par with those of the previous films but it works (apparently, James Horner was asked to work on the movie, but refused another Star Trek assignment), and the final credits signed by the seven officers of the Enterprise are a treat. It’s the end of an era, after three seasons of TOS, two of The Animated Series, and six movies. But, with such an ending, there’s little to complain about, these films can be rewatched endlessly, and this is the one I have certainly rewatched the most! Ciao!

PS: this movie is also full of references to various TOS episodes. There’s a scene with two Kirks like in Whom Gods Destroy, and a peace conference with an attempted sabotage (and with an invisible ship!) as in Journey to Babel. And what about the splendid Flashback, a Star Trek: Voyager episode that follows the movie story from the point of view of the USS Excelsior commanded by Sulu?

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