Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country [DVD]
Director : Nicholas Meyer
Screenplay : Nicholas Meyer & Denny Martin Flinn (story by Leonard Nimoy and Lawrence Konner & Mark Rosenthal, based on Star Trek created by Gene Roddenberry)
MPAA Rating : PG
Year of Release : 1991
Stars : William Shatner (Capt. James T. Kirk), Leonard Nimoy (Capt. Spock), DeForest Kelley (Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy), James Doohan (Capt. Montgomery “Scotty” Scott), Walter Koenig (Cmdr. Pavel Chekov), Nichelle Nichols (Cmdr. Nyota Uhura), George Takei (Capt. Hikaru Sulu), Kim Cattrall (Lt. Valeris), Mark Lenard (Ambassador Sarek), Brock Peters (Adm. Cartwright), Kurtwood Smith (Federation president), Christopher Plummer (Gen. Chang), Rosana DeSoto (Azetbur), David Warner (Chancellor Gorkon)
Those who cherish the original episodes of the Star Trek TV series know well how creator Gene Roddenberry utilized the framework of science fiction to explore topics of current importance (Rod Serling did the same thing a decade earlier with The Twilight Zone). It was a way to use the otherwise conservative medium of television to deconstruct such heady topics as war and racism without ruffling the feathers of those who didn’t want to look beyond the surface.
When Star Trek became a movie franchise in the 1980s, the stories got away from Roddenberry’s thinly veiled social criticism. William Shatner, in his ill-fated directorial debut Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, attempted to move the series back in that direction, but the film was a miserable failure and almost put an end to the series. But, 1991 marked the 25th anniversary of Star Trek, and the producers at Paramount were determined that another entry in the series be released that year.
That entry turned out to be Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, which, more than any film in the series up to that point, returned to Roddenberry’s vision of the future as metaphor for the present. The idea around which Star Trek VI is built is “the Wall coming down in outer space,” that is, modeling the narrative around the momentous events surrounding the collapse of the Iron Curtain in 1989 and the eventual fall of communism in the Soviet Union.
It was a brilliantly simple ploy, one that makes the story in Star Trek VI deeply engrossing even when some of the surface details play a bit awkwardly. The fact that the chief characters in the film were so old is not brushed aside, but rather becomes a central aspect of the narrative. At one point, the always serene Capt. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) says to Capt. James T. Kirk, “Is it possible we’ve been doing this for so long that we’ve become obsolete?” Naysayers of the series would probably answer with a resounding “Yes!,” but what they miss is that the very obsolescence of Kirk, Spock, and the others is the crucial component of the movie’s political allegory: In order for the world to progress, the old guard has to step down and allow a new generation to take over. Kirk says just as much when he questions in his captain’s log, “How can history get past people like me?”
The film opens with a massive explosion on a Klingon moon caused by overmining—a sort of deep-space Chernobyl. The damage is so severe that the Klingons’ very existence is threatened, and in a last-ditch effort for survival, they begin negotiating with the Federation about terms of peace, thus ending 70 years of hostility between the two groups. The Federation selects Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise to be its ambassadors, meeting a Klingon ship and escorting it back into Federation territory for the peace talks.
Kirk is understandably resistant, even though Spock is the one primarily responsible for initiating the talks. Although he has always been portrayed in heroic terms, Kirk displays a deep vein of hatred toward the Klingons, compounded not only by his long years as a Star Fleet commander viewing the Klingons as mortal enemies, but because they were responsible for the death of his son (see Star Trek III: The Search for Spock). Gene Roddenberry resisted this twist on Kirk’s character, as he had always viewed the 23rd century as a time in which prejudice no longer existed. Roddenberry’s is an optimistic and humane view of the potential of humankind to better itself, but Star Trek VI works dramatically because it pits the potential for change against the kind of deep-seated prejudice that has hobbled humanity throughout the ages. The fact that this prejudice emanates from deep within the series’ central hero makes the story that much more compelling.
Unlike the other films in the series, Star Trek VI develops into a mystery story when the Enterprise appears to fire on the Klingon ship it is supposed to be escorting and the chief Klingon ambassador (David Warner) and several others are murdered in cold blood (the assassination takes place in a zero-gravity environment, resulting in surreal imagery of globs of purplish Klingon blood floating through the air). Kirk and Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy (DeForest Kelley) are accused of being responsible for the attack, and after some behind-the-scenes political wrangling, they find themselves in the middle of a Klingon show trial. Not surprisingly, they are found guilty and banished to a barren, frozen asteroid that serves as a prison—a thinly veiled referenced to Soviet-era Siberian gulags.
Thus, the story hinges on discovering who is truly responsible for the assassination, which threatens the potential for peace. Spock becomes the film’s central detective, working logically with the information he has in order to deduce the guilty party and save Kirk and Bones from their imprisonment. All of this works on two levels—on one level, it is about the beloved crew of the Enterprise on their final mission, but on another level it is about the age-old conflict between hawks and doves, those who would make war because they truly believe it is an inherent element of life and those who would foster peace at any cost, even to themselves.
Star Trek VI was directed by Nicholas Meyer, the only person to have directed more than one film in the series. Meyer was responsible for helming the series’ best entry, 1982’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and he shows much of the same energy and operatic panache here, although in a slightly less flamboyant manner (perhaps it is the difference between directing a vengeance story and a political allegory). One can readily see an echo of Khan in Christopher Plummer’s lurid Klingon General Chang, who spouts Shakespeare with the same gusto that he orders his ship to fire.
However, Meyer stumbles a bit in some of the details, such as a completely ludicrous scene in which the crew of the Enterprise is trying to trick a Klingon ship into thinking they’re one of their own, so Cmdr. Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) has to look up Klingon words in a stack of old, dusty reference books. Old reference books? On the Enterprise? C’mon. Meyer also packs in a few too many cameos, including a distracting appearance by Christian Slater as a member of Capt. Sulu’s (George Takei) crew.
Yet, even with these slip-ups, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country is one the best films of the series, certainly the best since Wrath of Khan. As an allegory for the end of the Cold War and the building of a new world order, it is an intriguing vision of one possible future. And, not unimportantly, it is a fitting send-off to the original Star Trek crew, as this was the last time they would ever be together. Given that they had been the heart and soul of the series for almost three decades, it was too much for the filmmakers to retire them explicitly, so instead they gave them the fitting send-off of allowing them to fly into the great beyond, a 23rd-century version of the cowboy hero riding off into the sunset.
|Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country Collector’s Edition Two-Disc DVD Set|
|Audio|| English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround|
English Dolby 2.0 Surround
French Dolby 2.0 Surround
|Supplements|| Audio commentary by director Nicholas Meyer and coscreenwriter Denny Martin Flinn|
Text commentary by Michael & Denise Okuda
The Perils of Peacemaking featurette
Stories From Star Trek VI featurettes:
The Star Trek Universe featurettes
A Farewell featurettes
|Distributor||Paramount Home Video|
|Release Date||January 27, 2004|
|Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country was shot using the Super 35 format, which means there is some variability in aspect ratios. When shown in regular theaters on 35mm film, it was formatted in the conventional 2.35:1 aspect ratio. However, selected theaters showed the film in a blown-up 70mm format, for which the aspect ratio is closer to 2.0:1. It is this aspect ratio that was used for the new anamorphic widescreen transfer on this disc. Suffice it to say, the transfer is excellent, much better than the nonanamophic transfer on the previously available bare-bones edition. The image is crisp and clear, with only a few slight traces of any dirt or other artifacts. Blacks are dark and solid (see the Federation meeting scene, where the edges of the frame fall off into darkness), and colors are bright and well-saturated (see the purplish Klingon blood). Detail levels are good throughout.|
|The remixed Dolby Digital 5.1 surround soundtrack has plenty of kick to it—just witness the opening explosion following the credits. Cliff Eidelman’s dark, moody score, which mixes traditional orchestral instruments with some offbeat percussion and eerie human voices, is very well rendered. Surround effects work well, particularly with the scenes that take place in outer space and on the frozen prison planet.|
|As he did in his audio commentary on the special edition DVD of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, director Nicholas Meyer divides his yak track between talking about the specifics of the film’s production and his more general thoughts about philosophy, history, etc. This time around, he has his coscreenwriter, Denny Martin Flinn, to add some comments, and together they offer some intriguing insights into the film. And, of course, there is an optional minutiae-embracing text commentary penned by Michael and Denise Okuda, coauthor of The Star Trek Encyclopedia. |
The second disc in the set is packed mostly with featurettes. The opening one, “The Perils of Peacemaking,” runs nearly half an hour and focuses on the political and allegorical aspects of the film. Some of the most interesting comments come from Ambassador Dennis Ross, who doesn’t talk explicitly about the film, but rather about the real-life political situations it mirrors.
The next featurettes, “It Started With a Story,” “Prejudice,” “Director Nicholas Meyer,” “Shakespeare and General Chang,” “Bringing It to Life,” and “Farewell & Goodbye,” are grouped under the heading “Stories From Star Trek VI” and focus on the various stages of production, as well as central thematic elements of the film (such as the role of prejudice). These programs are shorter, most running under 10 minutes, although the production history “Bringing It to Life” runs for 23 minutes.
Under the heading “The Star Trek Universe” are five more featurettes: “Conversations with Nicholas Meyer,” “Klingons: Conjuring the Legend,” “Federation Operatives,” “Penny’s Toy Box,” and “Together Again.” The 10 minute interview with Meyer is definitely worth listening to, especially for the part where he talks about his college friend who dropped acid and watched an episode of Star Trek for 54 straight days. The “Klingons” featurette is also worth a look, as it is a 20-minute history of the Klingons and how they changed physically and in terms of character development from the original series, through the films, and into the new shows such as Star Trek: The Next Generation. “Penny’s Toybox” is a cheeky look behind the scenes at a warehouse on the Paramount lot that houses all the props from the Star Trek movies (the main point seems to be how cheaply everything was made).
Other supplements include a worthy 13-minute tribute to DeForest Kelley, original interviews with the cast at the time of the film’s release, two theatrical trailers, 5 minutes of video of Nicholas Meyer shown at a prescreening of Star Trek VI at a convention, and a gallery of behind-the-scenes footage and storyboards.
Copyright ©2004 James Kendrick