For the longest time, I never understood why “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country” never got the talk it deserved. It was a hit at the box-office and paved the way for the Next Generation films while showing the Star Trek franchise still had legs. Fans tend to look at films Khan, Spock and Voyage Home as a defining trilogy and I can see why. My argument is why not end it all with “Undiscovered Country?” It ends a lot of character arcs with Captain Kirk, takes a lot of dark risks and even explorers more boundaries with the characters we know and love. Well, after watching it a few times, I sort of understand why some would tend to overlook it but I still see no excuse to skip it.
When a Klingon moon explodes, its revealed that a good bulk of the ozone layer on the Klingon’s homeworld is depleted and a lack of energy throws them into turmoil to the point they can’t control themselves. The solution; seek peace with the Federation who happen to be a long time enemy. How they choose to talk about their terms however is where it gets interesting. They decide to have an ambassador sent and let an escort accompany them to Earth. This of course has Kirk in the mix when him and his crew are chosen to be the escort despite the captain’s anger for the alien race after killing his son. But problems arise when when the Chancelor is assassinated under the Enterprise’s watch and leaves Kirk for the blame to the point him and McCoy get sent to court for their crimes while Spock and the crew try to piece together this intense mystery.
What works the most about “Undiscovered Country” is how it keeps your guessing. There’s so many open possibilities and it takes advantage of every single one. The idea that anyone on the crew is a suspect, Kirk trying to learn to deal with his bigotry and even the material with the Klingons hold up well too. They are alien beings that are trapped between making peace with a long time enemy or creating a new war. They play off of it so much it makes you wonder just how many are willing to put down their weapons and just get along. Even the Federation is unsure yet willing to try out making negotiations hoping this will lead to a positive outcome.
While that is a strength of a movie, it also comes as a weakness. A lot of Klingon elements are used as a tour de force metaphor for the Cold War when America and Russia went head to head in the nuclear arms race. Unlike most movies like Superman IV or Red Dawn where they use the time period as a plot device, Star Trek VI serves as more of an afterthought which is not a bad idea but the symbolism and metaphors come off as obvious and might date this entry a little. Crew members resort to racist Klingon slang as even talks of advanced weaponry get tossed in the mix. They even go as far to have Kirk and McCoy imprisoned on a snowy planet that looks remonstrant of a Gulag. On first watch, its kind cool seeing all the different alien species mining for minerals and mingling but in hindsight, it pushes the Russian connections a bit too much.
What that said, I feel the rest of the movie holds up enough on its own. Its nice to see the original cast back together one last time, the action scenes are intense while providing plenty of flare and the performances are good too. Highlights include David Warner getting a small but big role as the Klingon Chancellor and Christopher Plummer as the Klingon General Chang really soaks in his role of war crazed persona. Its funny how these two contrast from each other as Warner goes for a softer approach while Plummer really goes all out. Its fun seeing him watch in delight as he tries to outwit Captain Kirk and see that his motives succeed. The action scenes are well done and very intense for a Star Trek movie. The Klingon assassination scene is a huge highlight with Dutch angles and tight close-ups used to a good degree. The special effects hold up well enough but again there is that looming Cold War metaphor as starships move about like war submarines when in confrontation. On the other hand, its nice to see some model work before the switch over to CGI.
Fans might also be curious to check out the Director’s Cut which you can find on certain DVD releases and VHS tapes. The one that seems to be more recommendable and available is the Special Collector’s Edition cut. Much like with “Wrath of Khan,” (ironic as Nicholas Meyer returns to direct), the additions are small and subtle but enhance the narrative without grand damage. There’s only a couple of shots changed around like when Scotty examines some blueprints of the Enterprise but then there’s whole sequences that are restored like a group proposing to save Kirk and McCoy and Spock inspecting the torpedoes while the Scotsman alludes to his Klingon bigotry. But then, there’s some that sort of work like this extra twist to an assassination near the end when the assassin turns out to be someone else. Without spoiling anything, its a neat idea but lacks the proper build up.
Overall, “Undiscovered Country” is a fitting end to such an amazing franchise. Sure the original Star Trek movies had some bumps along the way, but this entry really ties the knot together. I’m pleased to see they decided they stopped here and didn’t continue as clearly the cast was already aging. In a way, this acts like a reunion film and its nice to see the old crew back together one last time. In today’s cinema, this considered a taboo move as films like Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull feel pointless knowing the original franchise was fine without a new entry. This sequel doesn’t fall into that trap but nearly does considering the cast is well aware there’s no point for a six one but at least have fun with it. By the time the end credits came and showed the signatures of everyone from William Shatner to Leonard Nemoy, I couldn’t help but feel a sign of accomplishment. These people went to explore the most amazing parts of the galaxy and truly went where no one had gone before. This was this curtain call and it was a nice end to their experience to such a well remembered franchise.