***What happens when I, a 30-something-year-old fanboy, decide to look at the Star Trek franchise for the first time with an open heart? You get “Rob Watches Star Trek.”***
TITLE: Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
STARRING: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, Kim Cattrall, Christopher Plummer
DIRECTOR: Nicholas Meyer
WRITERS: Leonard Nimoy, Lawrence Konner, Mark Rosenthal, Nicholas Meyer, Denny Martin Flinn
STUDIOS: Paramount Pictures
RUN-TIME: 110 min
RELEASED: December 6, 1991
By Rob Siebert
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As we reach the final movie to feature the original Star Trek cast in its entirety, I have to take my hat off to everything the franchise had achieved circa 1991. By this point, it had been more than 20 years since the original show ended. Yet these characters and this universe were still able to sustain themselves through six films, not to mention a short-lived animated show, and a hit spin-off in Star Trek: The Next Generation. In the modern era, where Marvel has made expansive cinematic tie-in universes the “it” thing, can there be any doubt that Star Trek was ahead of its time? I think not. (On a side note, I never realized this movie did the whole autographs-on-the-credits thing so many years before Avengers: Endgame.)
I only wish these characters could have gone out on a higher note. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country isn’t a bad movie. But it doesn’t have the same epic feel as The Wrath of Khan, the light-hearted throwback appeal of The Voyage Home, or even the infamous reputation of The Final Frontier. It exists on an awkward level somewhere above mediocre, but below good.
After the destruction of a moon throws their empire into chaos, the notorious Klingon race seeks to make peace with the United Federation of Planets. Much to his dismay, Captain James T. Kirk is chosen to escort Klingon ambassadors to Earth so that peace talks may commence. But when the Enterprise inexplicably fires on the Klingons from out of nowhere, Kirk is framed and imprisoned on a frigid planet with Bones in tow. Now they must survive their new, hostile environment as Spock and the rest of the crew search for the truth.
I can’t even tell you how happy I was to see The Undiscovered Country do something its predecessors all failed to do: Give the proper emotional weight to the death of Kirk’s son David. After some of the things we saw on the show, Kirk has every reason not to trust the Klingons. But remember, David was killed by a Klingon in Star Trek III. As such, Kirk has just cause to flat out hate the Klingons. You’re not likely to find better fuel for drama than that. It’s not explored very much, but at least the film remembered that David existed. Is it a coincidence that it happened in a film that was directed and co-written by Nicholas Meyer, who directed David’s first appearance in The Wrath of Khan? Probably not.
Star Trek VI is full of Shakespearean quotes and Cold War allegories. That’s all well and good. I actually like the them being about how people chose to deal with change. I just don’t know that it made the most of its premise.
For my money, the most interesting part of the movie is Kirk being framed for the murder of the Klingon ambassadors. If I’ve got the keys to Star Trek VI, I make that the core of the movie. We’d be with Kirk at the prison colony has he wrestles with Bones over whether the Klingons deserved to die for all they’d done. Meanwhile, Spock and the others work to solve the mystery of who did attack the ambassadors. They ultimately springing Kirk and Bones from the prison during Kirk’s fight with the big alien brute (Whose genitals are mysteriously on his knees…?). The Enterprise then brings the culprit to the peace talks between the Klingons and the Federation, clearing Kirk’s name. Thus, we have a more exciting and character-driven movie that’s a little more sleek in terms of its story structure.
Incidentally, is that Worf from Star Trek: The Next Generation that we see representing Kirk and Bones at their trial? *Googles it* Ohhhhhh, okay. So it’s Worf’s ancestor…who is also named Worf? Go figure.
So how does Star Trek VI fare as a swan song for Kirk, Spock, and the crew? Meh. Kirk’s quoting of Peter Pan was a nice little moment. But the Earth didn’t exactly move for me. But after more than 20 years, and all that had been done with these characters, how does one even begin to tell a farewell story that does justice to them all? What’s more, a story that definitively and convincingly says farewell? It’s a tall task by anyone’s standards.
Plus, one can argue it’s all for naught anyway. While this was indeed the last time the crew was all together, Kirk and a few others were in 1994’s Star Trek Generations. And of course, we’d see Spock many years later in the J.J. Abrams movies.
That’s the thing about beloved and iconic characters like these. It’s never goodbye. Not really. There’s always another story to tell, and another adventure to go on…
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