Star Trek VI - The Undiscovered Country (1991)

Director: Nicholas Meyer

Starring: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, Christopher Plummer, Mark Lenard, David Warner, Kim Cattrall, Rosana DeSoto

It would be difficult (though not impossible) to pick out a single “Star Trek” story that came about at a more appropriate time. The Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union had kept citizens of both nations on edge since just after World War II. Each was just as distrustful of the other, just as frightened of the possibility of a shooting war… or worse, a nuclear war. In 1986, it wasn’t a bomb but a nuclear power plant at Chernobyl that cost lives, rendered an entire town uninhabitable for generations, and led to closer relations between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., culminating with the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Since Klingons = Russians, it’s only fitting that art should imitate life in “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.”

The U.S.S. Excelsior, under the command of Captain Sulu (George Takei), the former helmsman of the Enterprise, detects the explosion of the Klingon moon Praxis. It’s a costly disaster, as it has destroyed the Klingon homeworld’s ozone layer. Their options limited, the Klingons sue for peace with the Federation. Captain Kirk (William Shatner), still holding a grudge with the Klingons over the death of his son David, is dismayed when his first officer, Captain Spock (Leonard Nimoy) volunteers the Enterprise and her crew to meet with the Klingon Chancellor Gorkon (David Warner) and escort him to the peace talks. Someone feels worse about it than Kirk does… perhaps several someones… as Gorkon and several of his men are murdered shortly after returning to their vessel from a dinner aboard the Enterprise. Kirk and Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley) are arrested for the crime, and sentenced to life without parole on the gulag Rura Penthe, a truly unpleasant, snow-covered world.

It is up to Spock to pull a Sherlock Holmes and discover who stands to gain from the dismantling of the peace talks, not to mention figuring out a way to pull a jailbreak for his friends. The riddle to be solved involves figuring out why the Enterprise’s data banks insist that the ship fired two torpedoes at Gorkon’s ship, crippling its artificial gravity, while a visual inspection accounts for a fully-loaded inventory. The answer is obvious: At least one or more of the conspirators is an Enterprise crew member, and there may still be more in both Starfleet and the Klingon Empire. It would have been a gutsy move to make one of the seven main cast members a part of the conspiracy, but also a bit risky this late in the game, which is probably why they didn’t go for it. The prospect of fan outrage likely crossed the writers’ minds. Who wants to see their heroes turning traitor in their final appearance? As a result, the identities of the conspirators are hardly a surprise. Most of them are telegraphed right from the start.

Fortunately, “Star Trek VI” is about more than just mystery. It is also about learning how to accept change. When Chancellor Gorkon (who is made to resemble Abraham Lincoln for a very good reason) offers a toast at the dinner party, he toasts to “the undiscovered country.” Naturally, everyone else at the table has no idea what to say since that phrase, when spoken by William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, is accepted as referring to death (the ultimate ending). Gorkon, ever the idealist, is thinking towards the future and his vision for a greater understanding between the Klingons and the Federation, one that even he acknowledges won’t come easily to the current generation. Though he has even less screen time here than in “Star Trek V,” David Warner’s role as the ill-fated leader of the Klingon High Council has a great importance that his role as the Terran ambassador to Nimbus III lacked, and it’s a shame we don’t get to see even more of Warner’s great performance before Gorkon is martyred.

Making up for Warner’s disappearance from the movie is the fantastic Christopher Plummer as General Chang, Gorkon’s Chief of Staff and a serious Shakespeare buff. He devours every scene he’s in. There’s never any doubt as to Chang’s motives but, rather than play him as the sort of creature who just acts on instinct, Plummer projects a level of thoughtful intelligence to Chang. He’s a master strategist (probably how he rose to his current position in the Empire), and is like Kirk in the way he bends the rules of combat to his advantage.

There was some talk of Nicholas Meyer’s desire to have Kirstie Alley return as Lt. Saavik (from “Star Trek II”), but if that’s true it obviously didn’t pan out. Replacing Sulu at the helm is Lt. Valeris as played by Kim Cattrall, best known as Samantha from “Sex and the City.”

One of the great assets of “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country” is the film series’ return to a dark, serious tone. The lighting reflects this, as does the musical score. The main theme played over the opening credits is so haunting and creepy that it almost belongs in a horror movie. You know, as soon as you’ve heard this piece, that some bad shit’s about to go down.

Contrary to what it says on the poster above, the U.S. release date for “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country” ended up being December 6 of 1991, not December 13. I bring this up because, as fate would have it, I ended up seeing the movie on its original release date of the 13th. There were many different ways this one could have been screwed up. As this was going to be the last time we would have all of the original crew together, they deserved a proper send-off on the 25th anniversary of “Star Trek,” and they got one. Of course, like most modern cinematic heroes, just because you see them literally riding off into the sunset doesn’t mean that someone won’t think of a way to bring them back. Some endings aren’t always final.

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