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STAR TREK VI
The Undiscovered Country

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, Walter Koenig, Kim Cattrall, Christopher Plummer, David Warner
Director:  Nicholas Meyer
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2:1
Studio:  Paramount
Features:  See Review
Length:  113 Minutes
Release Date:  January 27, 2004

“You must have faith…that the universe will unfold as it should.”

“Is that logical?”

“Logic is the beginning of wisdom, Lieutenant…not the end.”

Film ****

The end of the 80s and the beginning of the 90s were a remarkable time in world history.  The long, disquieting Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union had finally come to an end.  The Berlin Wall was torn down and Germany was reunified.  Future generations may not appreciate what it was like to grow up in a time where Communism was an active, invasive threat to world peace and freedom, and where nuclear holocaust was, at every moment, a proverbial button push away, but for those of us who lived through it, even during its waning hours, the sigh of relief is still escaping our lips.

In the world of Star Trek, a similar milestone was coming into being.  Trekkies had known, of course, since the launching of The Next Generation on television that the stalwart Klingon Empire had finally joined the Federation.  What was not known was how.  And given the current events of the 20th century, the time seemed ripe to tell the tale of the beginning of peace in the 23rd century as a way to mark the final hurrah of the original Enterprise and her crew.

With so many elements coming together into a great story with a sense of honorable finality, Star Trek VI – The Undiscovered Country became and remains my favorite film in the franchise.  It was art imitating life with impeccable timing…some Trekkies hadn’t been able to grasp the concept of a Klingon serving on a Federation starship in TNG, but détente in our time made anything seem possible…even the dismantling of the Neutral Zone.

The movie opens with a bang, as a Klingon moon explodes and drastically cuts short their future to maybe a mere fifty years.  With no hope of continuing their way of life as a galactic military superpower, they finally agree to open negotiations with the Federation.

The crew of the Enterprise under Captain James T. Kirk (Shatner) is due to stand down in three months, but when Captain Spock (Nimoy) becomes a key instrument in the burgeoning dialogue, the aging ship and crew are sent on the first diplomatic mission to the Klingons:  they are ordered to escort the chancellor (Warner) and his team, including General Chang (Plummer), through Federation space and to the bargaining table.  The shipmates of the Enterprise are mostly uneasy, to say the least.  Captain Kirk is especially tormented at being the first olive branch to the people who murdered his only son.

But the mission of mercy turns disastrous as the Enterprise appears to open fire on the Klingon ship, resulting in the death of the chancellor.  Refusing to start the war that will finally bring decades of hostility to their logical conclusion, Kirk instead surrenders, leaving he and Dr. McCoy (Kelley) in the hands of an angry Klingon court, while Spock has to solve the puzzle of what exactly happened when the Enterprise seemed to attack the chancellor’s ship.

This is terrific storytelling worthy of all the best Star Trek had ever been.  The pace is lively throughout, balancing such elements as Kirk and McCoy’s peril in a Klingon prison mining colony with the intrigue of the mystery at hand, as well as an added danger:  the peace conference will proceed, but the unknown enemy who tried to end it before will no doubt try again.

Of course, there is also an underlying examination of racism.  Star Trek and its creator Gene Roddenberry had always been visionary when it came to a future of tolerance…the Enterprise had officers like Uhura (Nichols) who was an African American woman, Sulu (Takei) who was Asian, and Checkov (Koenig) who was Russian at a time when most people didn’t see minorities in positions of power.  Now, ironically, all of them have to overcome their own prejudice against a people whom they were raised to fear and distrust. 

That was a huge leap in Star Trek lore…but if the Iron Curtain could be wrung down in our lifetime, little else seemed impossible.

Video ***

Since this film didn’t get the benefit of an anamorphic transfer the first time around, I was glad to see a proper job done for this special edition release.  The framing is kind of odd for this entry; about halfway between standard and scope widescreen ratios, but the images and staging all seem intact, so no complaints.  Most of the colors and details are sharp and crisp, from the busy starship interiors to the vast monochromatic landscape of the frozen penal asteroid, to of course, the vastness of deep space.  Every so often a slight shimmer is noticeable; but nothing distracting.  By and large, the print is clean, clear, and enjoyable to watch.

Audio ***1/2

The 5.1 mix is strong, with the subwoofer getting plenty of action keeping the ships humming along.  Dialogue is well rendered throughout, dynamic range is strong, and the front and rear stages are tactfully employed to give a sense of openness to the bigger action scenes, including the climactic dogfight in space.  Very well done.

Features ****

As with all the entries in Paramount’s special edition re-releases of these films, Star Trek VI is generously packaged with enough goodies to keep Trekkies happy for days.

The first disc features two commentaries:  an audio by director/co-writer Nicholas Meyer and the other co-writer Denny Martin Flinn, who discuss the making of the picture, it’s historical context, and the finale of the original Enterprise and her crew.  The second is the now famed text trivia commentary written by Star Trek Encyclopedia authors Michael and Denis Okuda.  You really need to watch the film at least once with that track activated; the stuff you’ll learn is endlessly fascinating.

Disc Two features everything else.  There are six mini-featurettes that can be viewed separately or as a single program that discuss the development of the movie.  It features new interviews with Meyer, Shatner, Nimoy, Plummer and others.  Five more featurettes make up “The Star Trek Universe”, including a conversation with Nicholas Meyer, the development of the Klingons, Federation operatives, “Penny’s Toy Box” (the Trek archivist shows you some of the movie series’ classic props and costumes), and “Together Again”, where we learn that William Shatner and Christopher Plummer had in fact acted together in their youths!

“The Perils of Peacemaking” is a featurette that links up the events of the film with the then-current events of history.  “DeForest Kelley: A Tribute” is a fitting, touching look back at the man who brought Leonard “Bones” McCoy to life (this movie was the last time the actor played his most famous character).  Original cast interviews take you back to 1991; you can select who you want to hear from and listen to what they had to say about their final movie as a full crew.

Rounding out are two trailers, Nicholas Meyer’s 1991 convention presentation, a production gallery and storyboards.  All of these are presented via some nicely done animated menu screens.  A wonderful and fitting package!

Summary:

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country is a remarkable film for many reasons:  it represented a turning point in the life of the Federation while reflecting a turning point that was unfolding here in our world, it was a story that found optimism while moving through some of the series’ darkest territory, and most of all, it was the last farewell for the original crew of the Enterprise.  They couldn’t have asked for a more fitting end.