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Friday, 22 July 2016

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country - Special Edition

Star Trek 6 The Undiscovered Country title logo DVD
Written by:Nicholas Meyer and Denny Martin Flinn|Directed by:Nicholas Meyer|Release Date:1991

Today on Sci-Fi Adventures, I'm going through another Star Trek movie! But why write about so many Star Trek movies when there's a million other science fiction films in the world? Because it's the franchise's 50th anniversary this year! And it's also the US release date for the 13th Trek film, Star Trek Beyond.

So I figured to celebrate the release of the 50th anniversary film I'd go back 25 years and look at the 25th anniversary movie, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. This is the last Original Series film, the last Trek movie to have 'The' in the name, and the last time that Wrath of Khan writer/director Nicholas Meyer got to do any writing or directing for the franchise until the new TV series coming in 2017. Incidentally, Meyer intended Wrath of Khan to be called 'The Undiscovered Country', so the guy held onto that name for almost a decade before he finally had the clout to use it.

The last four Trek movies were produced by Harve Bennett, and he had a script written up for this sixth film that would make it a prequel, with the crew as young cadets at Starfleet Academy who steal a ship and go on an adventure! Which is a concept that burns my soul like sunlight burns a vampire. When the head of the studio shut that down Bennett left the franchise (and Paramount), and Nicholas Meyer came in to co-write a new story featuring the original actors, inspired by Leonard Nimoy's suggestion to base it around the fall of the Berlin Wall... in space! So that's what this is.

The following text will contain all kinds of SPOILERS for this movie and any Star Trek that preceded it. It shouldn't spoil anything made afterwards though, unless something's gone horribly wrong.



BOOOM! The movie begins with a flash, followed by ILM’s famous Praxis shockwave effect, which later showed up in all kinds of movies like Stargate, Independence Day, Armageddon etc. Even Star Wars got brought back into post-post-production so that George Lucas could stick the effect over the footage of the Death Star exploding in the 1997 Special Edition.

Actually I should mention that before the explosion happens there's a dedication to creator Gene Roddenberry, who died earlier that year. Then there's three minutes of opening credits to sit through, because the Trek films were still doing this as late as 1991! But instead of a heroic march, the movie has a sinister theme that builds in intensity and ratchets up the tension until the aforementioned BOOOM!

Elsewhere in space Captain Hikaru Sulu is sitting in his very own captain's chair drinking his captain's tea. 25 years this guy has been steering the USS Enterprise around, and they've finally given him his promotion! Of course this bridge is just a redress of the Enterprise bridge from Star Trek V so he hasn't really gone anywhere, but the character doesn't know that.Now he just has to keep the ship from being stolen or blown up, or else he'll be right back to his old seat on the Enterprise like poor Pavel Chekov, former first officer of the Reliant.

By the way, it also took Sulu 25 years to get an official first name. Which isn't as bad as poor Uhura, who had to wait 43 years before her name was revealed on screen in J.J. Abrams' Star Trek reboot.

Sulu explains in the voice-over that he’s just finished his first assignment: a three year tour cataloguing gaseous planetary anomalies. Bit of a humble task for the largest, most powerful starship in Starfleet. It's so damn classy it even comes with a table on the bridge to put his captain's cup on!

It’s almost like the writers originally wanted Sulu to have one of those tiny rubbish science ships (shown on the left) that get one-shotted by Klingons, but then George Takei crossed out all mentions of it and wrote in ‘USS Excelsior’ instead (shown on the right).

But cut lines from Wrath of Khan would've revealed that the Excelsior was intended to be Sulu's ship from the start. The novelization of Search for Spock backs this up, going on to explain that the Genesis incident prevented him from leaving Earth for a while, giving Captain Styles a chance to steal his seat.

Sulu mentions something about the ship going home at full impulse speed, which is the fun alternative to travelling fast enough to reach another planet in your lifetime, when suddenly the ship begins to shake and his cup of tea makes its way onto the floor, along with everyone asleep in the lower decks.

So now we know that that every time you see people throwing themselves around the bridge in Star Trek, someone somewhere is falling out of their bunk.

Turns out that they’d gotten hit by that energy wave from the 'Praxis effect' explosion. It originated from Praxis, a Klingon moon, so it’s starting to seem like Sulu’s ‘catalogue gaseous anomalies’ mission just happened to put his ship right on the Klingons' doorstep for three years... close enough perhaps to keep a eye on what they're up to.

Or maybe this is a magic space explosion that can travel light years in seconds. It’s going to be that isn’t it?

Praxis isn’t looking too good right now. Those dots are indicating the bit that’s gone missing, which is basically all of it. That was one of the Klingons’ key energy production facilities (and also their moon) so this is basically Space Chernobyl for them.

They phone up someone from the Klingon High Command, who admits that there has been 'an incident' but assures them that everything is under control and they have no need for assistance.

Then the movie was supposed to cut to scenes of the former Enterprise crew being collected from their boring post-Starfleet lives for one last mission, but that would've cost money so they couldn't do it.

Instead the film cuts to Earth, as the Starfleet top brass (and the senior Enterprise crew) attend a briefing around the biggest table they could afford, with Captain Spock explaining the situation.

The destruction of Praxis has polluted the atmosphere of the Klingon homeworld to the point where they have around 50 years left until they run out of oxygen. They're a high-tech race so they're capable of fixing this, but not while they’re spending all their money on their cold war with the Federation. So Spock has been negotiating with the Klingon Chancellor to scale back the Starfleet presence along their border. I guess this means no more gaseous anomaly scanning then.

There’s even discussion about mothballing the fleet, though seeing as Starfleet ships tend to be used to explore strange new worlds and boldly go where no man’s gone before, that likely isn’t going to happen. Nicholas Meyer liked to treat Starfleet like a navy, but these people do have a life outside of fighting Klingons.

Certain Starfleet officers are definitely not happy about this plan, especially Captain Kirk who doesn’t trust the Klingons one bit. He’s gotten a bit space racist in his old age, mostly because the entire race hates him personally and they killed his son. But Spock has volunteered him to command the mission to escort the Chancellor to Earth, so it's his duty to at least pretend to like it.

There’s an old Vulcan proverb, Spock explains, “Only Nixon could go to China.” Hey, that's not a Vulcan proverb, that's a human phrase referring to staunchly anti-Communist US President Nixon being able to meet with the Chinese leader to improve relations without appearing to be soft on Communism!

I'm going to assume that Spock knows full well where the phrase is from and said an obvious lie for the sake of humour, which is interesting considering how often the fact Vulcans never lie is brought up in this movie.

So the crew report for duty aboard the USS Enterprise-A, making this her third film. The original Enterprise made it to three movies too, before being blown to pieces, dropped on a planet and then blown up again. So good luck Enterprise-A!

They've reclaimed their bridge set from Sulu, but the room has been given an upgrade since Star Trek V and looks fantastic in darker tones. Plus Lt. Saavik has been replaced with her clone Lt. Valeris, played by Kim Cattrall.

    Saavik I (Kirstie Alley)                |                  Saavik II (Robin Curtis)                  |           Saavik III Valeris (Kim Cattrall)
Well okay Spock's two female Vulcan protégés have slightly different roles (Saavik sat in Chekov's chair, while Valeris is taking over for Sulu), but they basically just did a find/replace on Saavik's name in the script when Kirstie Alley declined to return and it was decided that recasting again would be absurd. Incidentally the undershirt is always supposed to be the same colour as the shoulder strap, but they messed up and figured it'd be better to stick with it for the whole film than do reshoots. A red collar typically indicates cadet or trainee, but I guess in this case it indicates she accidentally left a red sock in with the whites when she did her washing.

Kirk orders Valeris to take them out of Spacedock at a ridiculously unsafe speed, which leads to a scene straight out of Star Trek II, with Valeris reminding Kirk of regulations, Kirk ignoring them, and Spock taking Kirk's side. So I guess they've all totally forgotten the lessons learned in that film then.

Look at the guy on Scotty's left, he seems utterly horrified by this giant anti-matter reactor he has to work next to. Maybe he's just upset that this is just an obvious redress of the engine room from Star Trek: The Next Generation.

And so the Enterprise crew departs Spacedock on their final mission to… hang on, this is weird. The ship is fully operational and she has a full crew compliment of trained officers. That means that this is the only movie in the whole series that begins with Kirk's Enterprise in optimal condition.

Plus there’s no emergency, they’re likely not the only ship in the quadrant and the Earth isn’t currently being threatened by a mysterious probe. If they'd started off already on a mission this could've been an episode of the TV show!

Cut to Kirk in his quarters, moving his stuff in and recording a captain’s log about how much he hates them Klingons for killing his son in Search for Spock. Meanwhile I’m spying at his personal schedule and looking at all the interesting things he gets up to during the day. Quick, someone tell the Star Trek wiki that Captain Kirk wakes up at 5:30am, starts work at 8 and finishes his bridge shift at 4 in the afternoon.

Turns out that his bag was keeping the automatic door open and Valeris overheard everything he said from out in the corridor, though she doesn't comment on it. But she does go to speak with Spock in his quarters about her own concerns, with Spock replying that she should have faith and that logic is only the beginning of wisdom. Zen Spock is the best Spock.

The Enterprise soon rendezvous with the Klingon leader Chancellor Gorkon in his blinged-out flagship Kronos One, before turning around to escort him to Earth. This is the old Klingon battle cruiser model from Star Trek: The Motion Picture, repainted and adorned with gold and brass to make it a ship fit for a chancellor. There's a lot of reused models showing up in the film, as they didn't have the budget for new starships.

Kronos is established here to be the name of the Klingon homeworld, though the Next Generation team later decided it should properly be spelled Qo'noS. But it seems that neither spelling was ever actually shown on screen until Star Trek Into Darkness in 2013...

... which went and showed both of them. I'm trusting the internet on this one though, as there's no way I'm going through 700-something episodes to confirm it.

Anyway before Kirk escorts Gorkon back home he decides to (or was ordered to) invite him to dine with his officers aboard the Enterprise. He's clearly hoping the answer will be no, but Gorkon's up for it. 

So Gorkon and his party beam aboard, and it he's played by David Warner, back for his second Trek film in a row! He’s playing a very different character than he did in Star Trek V, as he's a very civilized Klingon instead of the only human in the galaxy who still smokes, though it's clearly the same actor behind the Abraham Lincoln beard and alien forehead.

These are the classiest of Klingons, so for once they're wearing something different to the standard Klingon armour introduced in The Motion Picture! The TV series spin-offs on the other hand decided to stick with the classic movie look. Forever. Well, until Enterprise anyway.

The two groups gather in the officer's mess to have the most awkward dinner scene in all of Star Trek, with the Enterprise crew doing a pretty good job of concealing their dislike of their guests and continually screwing up regardless. Chekov thoughtlessly speaks of ‘inalienable human rights’ to a table full of aliens, Kirk assumes the Chancellor’s Chief of Staff is quoting Hitler… plus all the food is blue, which is just weird and off-putting.

Gorkon is very gracious though and makes a toast to "the undiscovered country," which is a term from Hamlet referring to the afterlife. He's referring to the future though, because he's the Klingon Chancellor and he can coin any phrase he likes. Also because Nick Meyer really wanted an excuse to use it as the title. Gorkon seems genuine but then he also claims that Shakespeare was actually a Klingon author so who knows what's going on with him.

By the way, this is the Next Generation's observation lounge set, disguised so well that I never realised it until now. This could explain why all the little ships along the back wall disappeared in season 5, as Star Trek VI took them off and apparently never put them back.

The Klingons beam back to their vessel without any major incident and Kirk collapses on his bed to sleep off the drink. But then the Enterprise crew go and make another diplomatic faux pas by firing a photo torpedo at the Chancellor’s defenceless ship! 

Then they go and fire another one to knock out their artificial gravity, which is the first time that’s ever happened in Star Trek. Even the ships entirely knocked out by the energy dampening Whale Probe in Star Trek IV still had their gravity.

Two Enterprise crewmen beam aboard wearing gravity boots and begin stomping through these great looking corridors executing any helpless Klingon they discover hanging from wires along the way! The only way this could be more of a diplomatic debacle is if they assassinated the Chancellor himself. Which they do.

Though the director put a big blob of opaque CGI blood in the foreground to distract from his floating body.

Klingon blood is pink in this movie by the way and only this movie. Maybe the producers hadn't been watching Next Gen, maybe they wanted to do things their way, or maybe they just didn't want an R rating. Either way the next time a Klingon cuts themselves on TV or in a later film, they'll bleed red.

The Klingon ship swings around to return fire, but Kirk decides not to raise the shields. Instead he surrenders and decides to beam himself over to the Klingon vessel to hopefully prevent this from escalating into war. Dr. McCoy invites himself along as well to help treat the wounded, because he has no fear.

Also it turns out that Kirk has a little table on the bridge too! I’ve never noticed that before. Looks a bit techy though, maybe it'd be best if he doesn’t rest a cup of tea on it.

The viewer’s apparently not supposed to catch this the first time around, but Spock secretly plants a tracking device on Kirk’s back as he enters the transporter room, which he then wears for half the movie.

It’s kind of understandable that he doesn’t want to advertise its presence if someone on board is a traitor, and it's even slightly plausible that the Klingons would assume it’s just a normal part of his uniform, but why does Spock have a tracking device with him on the bridge? Is this a trick that the two of them have used before?

Speaking of things that make no sense, turns out that Dr. McCoy beamed aboard to help despite the fact he doesn’t actually know how to treat Klingons! He doesn’t know Gorkon's anatomy, his tools don’t work on him, and despite his best efforts the Chancellor dies on his table. So the two Starfleet officers are cuffed and arrested, which is what the Klingons have been dying to do to Kirk ever since he captured their Bird-of-Prey in Star Trek III.

Over on the Enterprise, Spock assumes command and works to piece together what happened. The ship’s inventory log shows that all photon torpedoes are still present but the ship’s data bank log shows two torpedoes have been fired, so something is definitely up. I guess they don't have to be loaded manually any more like they were in Star Trek II or else they could just watch the security cam footage.

Meanwhile on Earth, we learn that the President of the Federation is the Klingon version of Clarence Boddicker! Actually Kurtwood Smith is supposed to be an entirely different kind of alien here, but he looks similar enough for it to be confusing. Speaking of confusing aliens, that Vulcan-looking gentleman in the sash is actually the Romulan ambassador.

There's no mystery about the Klingon played by John Schuck though, as he's that awesome ambassador from Star Trek IV who didn't get to extradite Kirk. But he finally gets his wish this time, as the Klingons have him in custody and the President can't do legally do anything to get him back.

Colonel Odo West does have a scheme to rescue the 'hostages' with an acceptable rate of loss of manpower and equipment (and has brought the flip chart to prove it), but the President's not keen to start a war over two officers, even if they did literally save the Earth on multiple occasions. Or maybe he just doesn't want to say anything in front of the Romulan ambassador who's still in the room egging him on!

Wow, it's just occurred to me that the Starfleet brass are all wearing modern day service ribbons on their uniforms for the first and possibly only time.

I remember officers displaying decorations on their dress uniforms in the Original Series, but back then they used triangles haphazardly grouped together and it wasn't a great look. I can believe that they'd scrap them as a bad idea and try the old human military style instead (and then drop them entirely).

This is a nice set redress by the way. They moved some fancy furniture in and put curtains up over the windows and now you can't even tell this is the Ten Forward bar set from Next Gen. Unless you look at those distinctive wall tiles on the right. Of course Ten Forward might have been a replica of the President's office this whole time.

It's weird that Colonel West brought his plan to attack the Klingons on paper, but it's even weirder that they're just leaving the flip chart in plain sight while video conferencing with the new Klingon Chancellor!

Oh it turns out they can only see the President's face. But they’d better hope he hasn’t got his universal translator turned on, as this Klingon starts talking about their own attack plans while the holographic screen’s still on!

Gorkon's daughter Azetbur has inherited the role of Chancellor and she's pissed off. She's determined to continue to push for peace because it was her father's dying wish, but someone's going to pay for his death. She can't be bothered trying to get to the people who came aboard wearing spacesuits and shot everyone though, so she's going to put Kirk and McCoy on trial instead.

Meanwhile Starfleet orders the Enterprise back home, but Valeris sneakily suggests that Uhura report they're suffering technical difficulties and cannot return. It would be utterly implausible for any other ship, but this is the Enterprise! In the first film she launched before the engines worked, in the second she was wrecked by Khan and in the third she was held together with a fragile automation system that immediately broke. Of course in the fourth film they got a new Enterprise and that seemed fine... until the fifth film revealed she'd been launched before they'd got her working, again. So even with the computers sabotaged to falsify the logs, she's still in far better condition than anyone back home has any reason to believe.

Kirk and McCoy are put in a Klingon show trial, with Chang himself as the prosecutor and General Worf as their defence. Unfortunately Chang basically owns the courtroom, bringing up the fact that McCoy was drunk and about to retire as evidence that he was incompetent, using Kirk’s demotion from Admiral as evidence that he breaks regulations, and playing the log entry about him hating Klingons as evidence that he hates Klingons. All Worf can do in their defence is continually yell ‘objection’ to no effect.

By the way I'm not just calling him that because he's played by Michael Dorn, the defence attorney really is called Worf. He's the grandfather of the Next Generation character, and you can tell they're different people because he has a different bumpy forehead and you can actually see his ears. So the Next Gen character is Worf, son of Mogh, son of Worf.

And we hear James T. Kirk's middle name "Tiberius" here for the first time in live action.

The Klingons are doing this old school, so there's a real live translator repeating everything Chang's saying in English through those speakers they're holding

This gives Chang a chance to quote a line from US ambassador Adlai Stevenson, who yelled "Don't wait for the translation, answer me now!" at the Soviet representative during an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council during the Cuban Missile Crisis. And Kirk does answer his question, revealing that he actually can speak a bit of Klingon.

All the evidence is circumstantial, but they get Kirk to admit he's responsible for the conduct of his crew and that's enough to find him guilty of Gorkon's murder. The two of them escape the death penalty but they're sent to to the penal asteroid of Rura Penthe to spend the rest of their lives mining dilithium.

Back on the Enterprise, Spock implies that he's descended from Sherlock Holmes and then calmly works through the mystery with the bridge crew, while the camera floats around the actors on a Steadicam.

They've visually accounted for all their torpedoes so they must have been fired from somewhere else. They detected a neutron surge but saw nothing, therefore 'somewhere else' must be a new kind of Klingon Bird-of-Prey that can fire while invisible (it's like they know that the filmmakers couldn't afford any new ship models). So there's two ships that the assassins could've beamed back to, but either way the person who falsified the logs is still here. Spock assumes.

Either way they can't tell Starfleet about their crazy theory, so their next move is to search the ship for the gravity boots used by the assassins. Which will be distinguishable from the gravity boots not used by assassins because... they never say.

Meanwhile in the caves of the frozen prison asteroid of Rura Penthe, Kirk and McCoy are making new friends. It looks like this is a cave set in a sound stage, but these scenes were actually shot on location in Bronson Canyon, not far from the Hollywood sign. The snow's totally fake though.

Annoyingly their universal translators were confiscated, so they can’t actually understand anyone here except for that woman at the back with the feathers smoking a cigar, who calls herself Martia. She explains that there’s a reward for their death, as someone on the outside wants them out of the way. I'm not entirely sure why, as they don’t actually know anything, but it keeps things interesting at least.

Over on the Enterprise, Valeris is proving that Vulcans can be lunatics too by grabbing a kitchen gun and vaporising dinner. Well to be fair she only destroys the pan, not the contents. It was of course entirely logical to do this, because it demonstrates a point: the killers can’t vaporise their boots without setting off an alarm. Cue half the main cast and a security team coming into the gallery one at a time to investigate what's going on.

This is one of the reasons I think it's better Saavik didn't come back, as she's very by the book, while Valeris is a fun Vulcan. I just don't see Saavik ruining dinner to prove a point. Good lens flare by the way.

Some people find the idea of a ship’s galley to be ridiculous as the crew have food machines to give them space food. But they’ve got shuttles and transporters, thrusters and impulse engines, phasers and photon torpedoes; Starfleet likes the idea of having a choice. Plus when the leader of the Klingon Empire comes over you don't want to serve him a Pot Noodle.

A weapons locker in the kitchen is a little weirder, but during Star Trek V Kirk couldn’t find a single weapon on the ship to prevent her being taken over by a shuttle load of starving desert dwellers armed with rock shooters. So I guess he fixed that flaw. Personally I'm more confused by the wall covered in switches and buttons.

Back at Rura Penthe, Kirk’s having a fight against a spiky blue alien with severe sunburn. Unfortunately it’s mostly played for laughs, with McCoy yelling “You got him where you want him!” when Kirk doesn't have him where he wants him, plus there's way too much hugging. But Kirk ultimately manages to triumph when he slams his boots down and accidentally scores a double a nutshot (he didn’t know they were in his kneecaps).

Later Kirk keeps McCoy up all night discussing how he was used to hating Klingons and how it didn't even occur to him to take Gorkon at his word. Funny how he's only questioning his hate now after being dropped in a hellish Klingon prison due to a crappy Klingon show trial. So he plans to break out with Martia's help and prevent another assassination.

Also the Excelsior's still in the story, with Christian Slater making a cameo appearance as the guy waking Sulu up to tell him that Starfleet’s looking for the Enterprise. Sulu tells him to lie and say they've no clue where the ship is, and then goes back to sleep.

This was right after Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, so Slater's tiny cameo isn't a 'before they were famous' kind of appearance. It's a 'Star Trek fan whose mother is the casting director' kind of appearance.

Meanwhile Chekov finds Klingon blood on the Enterprise's transporter, so now the crew are searching for uniforms too, using their high-tech uniform detector.

The hallways of the movie ship were stolen by Next Gen in 1987 for their own Enterprise, so this film stole them back and reworked them to be narrow and grey, with doors separating sections of corridor and exposed conduits running along the ceiling. The doors here drop down from the ceiling though (right through the pipes), so now I'm imagining some poor crewman on the deck above getting a surprise door in the face when it slides back up.

They eventually discover a pair of boots in Crewman Dax's locker, giving Chekov a chance to be clever and say "If shoe fits, wear it".

Shoe doesn't fit though, because Dax is an actual alien on this crew conspicuously full of humans. A different alien to the Dax on Deep Space Nine though.

Poor Chekov never catches a break in these movies.

Enlisted crewmen exist in Star Trek, with Chief O'Brien being the most famous of them, but creator Gene Roddenberry envisioned that the ships were pretty much run by a crew of officers who'd all attended Starfleet Academy. Even the people scrubbing the plasma conduits have a degree in astrophysics or whatever. That's why it's kind of weird to see a room full of people here wearing the black collar crewman uniforms. I guess there must be a severe officer shortage in the 2290s... which would explain why the Original Series crew are still on active duty now that I think about it.

Back on Rura Penthe, the escape plan is going ahead, with Martia revealing a little trick she can do.

Martia's a shapeshifter! Though not the kind that's actually orange goop like Odo on Deep Space Nine. She turns into a hulking hairy guy to join Kirk and McCoy on the lift to the mines, then becomes a young girl to slip out of her huge manacles afterwards.

I was expecting this morph effect to have aged hilariously badly, but I’m sorry to report that it still looks fairly great to me, especially as she moves her head around mid-morph. You can always tell it’s her though as she's got yellow eyes like Mystique in the X-Men movies.

The three of them get some convenient clothes then climb out to the surface and make a run for it.

Now that's some proper location filming, out on a glacier in Alaska! They still had to use fake snow though.

Getting to the surface of Rura Penthe isn’t actually all that hard, in fact the guards throw people out here as punishment. The trouble is that it's an asteroid with a prison dug into it, and without warm clothing a prisoner will die out here in seconds. With warm clothing, they’ve got maybe hours, but there’s nowhere to go, nothing to eat, and no way to escape.

There's also a shield to prevent people from being beamed up to a ship, but the edge of it is within walking distance. The trouble is that they don't have a ship, as this is deep within Klingon space and the Enterprise isn't. Though that tracking device on Kirk's back means that once they're out of the shield Spock knows exactly where to find them.

This leads to the dumbest part of the movie, where communications officer Uhura reveals that unlike Captain Kirk, she can’t speak Klingon and has to rely on a pile of actual books to talk her way past a Klingon outpost to sneak into their space (because the universal translator would be recognised). The respect the writer has for this character is immense.

You might ask why they don’t just use the computer to look up the translation like the Epsilon IX crew did in the The Motion Picture, but well… they are.

It’s written on the screen behind them. But the computer's so damn slow that it only comes up with the answer after they've already worked it out from the books.

Turns out that Kobayashi Maru test got it wrong all these years, as if you enter the Neutral Zone and tell the nearest outpost "We am thy freighter, we is condemning food, things and supplies." they'll be drunk enough to just let you sail on by. So the bridge crew are made to look like idiots and the Klingons running the listening post are made to look like idiots, and it's all for the sake of a comedy scene that isn't funny.

Meanwhile down on Rura Penthe, Kirk figures out that Martia is setting them up!

So she transforms into him just to give us a Kirk vs. Kirk fight! Though she forgot the yellow eyes, and morphing mid-sentence make it kind of hard to make out what was said. Though this does set her up for the best comeback in the movie:
Kirk: "I can't believe I kissed you."
Kirk: "Must have been your lifelong ambition"
I think this is the second time now that Kirk's faced off against a shapeshifter imitating him. He's also had to deal with a racist robot duplicate, a mirror universe counterpart, and the personification of his dark side. Plus there was that time a lunatic body-swapped with him, but I don't think that should count. P.S. Never join Starfleet.

The fight's soon interrupted by Rura Penthe's warden, played by W. Morgan Sheppard (who I recently saw as the soul hunter in Babylon 5's Soul Hunter). This was their plan all along, as Martia lured Kirk and McCoy outside in exchange for a full pardon. It’d look suspicious if they were to both die by accidents, but being killed while trying to escape is much more plausible.

The warden picks the wrong Kirk though and kills Martia by mistake! Or maybe on purpose, I honestly can’t tell. He was never going to allow witnesses either way. I remember this scene being in the trailer, except it was a different take, zoomed in to only show the one Kirk. Everyone knew that this was the last movie for the original crew, so maybe he really was going to die this time!

He actually convinces the warden to tell him the whole plot, but Spock beams him up too soon, with Kirk yelling ‘son of a… damn dammit, damn…’ the whole time.

Chang finds out about Kirk's escape and heads to intercept the Enterprise, while Scotty intercepts Kirk on the way to the bridge holding the bloody uniforms. He'd found them shoved inside a vent in the officer's mess.

And then two seconds later they find the assassins themselves, lying dead in a corridor behind one of those mysterious new section isolation doors. I always thought they were found in a turbolift before this rewatch, because why else would the door be there?

They couldn't be vaporised as that'd set off the alarm, so this mysterious third assassin killed them with a phaser on stun at close range. They were murdered because of what they knew, so Kirk gets the idea of putting out a message on the PA to get a court reporter down to sickbay to take a statement from them. The third assassin will assume they're still alive and head down there immediately to finish the job before they can talk!

Seems to me that the trap's more likely to catch a court reporter. Also why would they expect the assassin to make their move when the targets are in a room full of witnesses?

But when Lt. Valeris shows up in sickbay to re-murder her assassins she finds the lights out, and Kirk and Spock lying in the beds instead.

Valeris had to be the traitor as she's the only suspect really. It couldn’t have been one of the main crew as they would never betray Starfleet... well except in Star Trek III where they stole the Enterprise, plus in Star Trek V where they all helped a cult leader steal the Enterprise.

They'd never murder crew members to cover up their conspiracy to start a war at least and I can't believe Saavik would've done it either, so I think the introduction of Evil Saavik worked out for the best. She's devious and reckless enough to be plausible, but likeable enough that you don't want to suspect her. When she's revealed you think 'oh, that makes sense', rather than 'that's bullshit!'

Valeris won’t willingly reveal her co-conspirators, so Spock is going to have to get into her brain with a mind-meld and take the information against her will. And they’ve invited everyone onto the bridge to watch!

Unfortunately I'm watching the Director's Cut so I get cheesy flashes of all the people involved as she lists them, complete with a chime sound. One of the Starfleet admirals from Star Trek IV (ding), the sneaky Romulan ambassador (ding)... and General Chang (ding)! So people on all sides have been happily working together to sabotage their attempts at cooperation.

Director Nicholas Meyer apparently came up with this mind-meld interrogation on the set, as originally Valeris gave in under pressure and just told them the names, then they got the location of the peace conference by phoning up Sulu. In the film however Spock puts Valeris through agony trying to find out where this conference is... before suggesting that they just phone Sulu up instead. Continue to humiliate the woman and violate her thoughts for no reason why don't you!

This is followed by a scene where Kirk visits Spock in his quarters, where the Vulcan asks if they've become so old and inflexible that they've outlived their usefulness. Uh Spock, you successfully negotiated historic peace talks and uncovered a conspiracy reaching to the highest levels of Starfleet and the Klingon High Council. Sure you were wrong about Valeris but I think your usefulness remains at acceptable levels.

Kirk cheers him up and tells him that everyone's human... which I think is kind of a dumb thing to say to a Vulcan and Spock agrees with me. He did this in Wrath of Khan as well, at Spock's funeral in fact, saying that of all the souls he'd encountered, his was the most human.

Anyway they get to the planet holding the peace conference in time to stop the next assassination attempt, but Chang's there too in his prototype Bird-of-Prey that can fire when cloaked.

The Enterprise can easily take on a tiny Bird-of-Prey, but they have to see the thing first, so Chang gets to fire off torpedo after torpedo from his invisible ship, which smash into the the Enterprise's hull like the shields aren't even there.

Hang on, the President of the Federation, the Commander in Chief of Starfleet, the Chancellor of the Klingon High Council and all their staff are down on the planet below and no one’s got a starship in orbit? I understand that the last time they brought spaceships one of them ended up getting shot at, but did they all walk there or something?

Suddenly Chang breaks off his attack and goes after the 6' Enterprise model instead!

I don't know what exactly makes this shot look so fake to me, maybe it's just over lit, but this is one of the few times that ILM has failed to sell me on an effect in this film. I suppose it doesn't help that all trace of the beautiful pearlescent panelling has been painted over by this point, leaving the model with a flat grey look.

Back in The Motion Picture the hull had some life to it and the lighting was more dramatic.

Anyway the Enterprise is utterly helpless against Chang's ship, until Uhura reminds them of all the equipment they're carrying to catalogue gaseous anomalies. Spock realises there's got to be all kinds of gaseous anomalies coming out of that ship's ass and invites McCoy down to perform the necessary surgery on a homing torpedo.

This always seemed like a weird line to me, and not just because 23rd century Starfleet officer Uhura uses the word "tailpipe". It's Sulu's ship you see that was cataloguing anomalies at the start, so it's like the writer forgot what ship was which. But hey there's no reason that all Starfleet ships wouldn't be carrying the sensors.

Speaking of Sulu, a new challenger arrives!

It's the Excelsior! The two most advanced prototype warships from both empires are facing off against each other, and the beat up old Enterprise is here too! Trouble is that the Excelsior can't see the Bird-of-Prey any better than the Enterprise, so all they can do is draw some of the fire.

The picture quality on their viewscreen is amazing by the way. The blacks are so deep they're darker than anything else in the room.

Chang's loving this. He's fighting the two most famous Federation ships at once and kicking the crap out of both of them, while simultaneously annoying the living shit out of James T. Kirk by constantly quoting Shakespeare and anyone else he can think of over the radio.
"No peace in our time."
"Once more unto the breach, dear friends."
"Tickle us do we not laugh? Prick us, do we not bleed? Wrong us, shall we not revenge?"
"The game's afoot"
"Our revels now are ended."
"Cry 'Havoc' and let slip the dogs of war."
"I am constant as the Northern star."
At this point the man can only communicate with classical quotations, and it gets a little more irritating every single time. It'd almost be better if he was quoting episodes of The Simpsons (which are much funnier in the original Klingon by the way).

Oh, speaking of dumb things spinning around on the Klingon bridge, you can't see it but the helmsman has a steering wheel. Seriously, I can tell by the way he moves his arms. 

And now we get to see what happens when the shields really aren't there any more, as a torpedo punches right through the saucer from underneath, blowing up the officer's mess! Now the Next Gen crew are going to have to clean all that up before they can have their observation lounge back.

It's nice to see Chang using three dimensional thinking against Kirk though, firing upwards to hit the hull where it's only a single deck thick. It's just a shame that it was the officer's mess he wrecked and not anything of any importance whatsoever. Khan and Kruge's attacks were surgical, but Chang has no idea what he's firing at.

He's doing more damage to their morale though, as he's apparently hacked their entire audio system to put his voice on speakers. Even Spock and McCoy have to listen to him prove how many plays he's read, and they're down in the torpedo room engineering his demise. McCoy actually mentions that he’d give real money if he’d shut up, and he lives in a culture without money.

Turns out he doesn't have to spend a dime though as his torpedo homes in on the Bird-of-Prey's bridge and lights it up as a target. Uhura had the idea, Spock and McCoy did the work, Kirk gave the order, and Chekov pressed the button. Job done.

There's a moral to this story. When Sulu saw danger coming at the start of the movie he yelled "SHIELDS!" fast enough to save his ship. Chang on the other hand literally just quoted Shakespeare as he watched the torpedo home in on him. Be a Sulu, not a Chang.

Three Bird-of-Preys have shown up in the last four Star Trek movies, and for all the talk of hostilities between Starfleet and the Klingons, this is the first time any of them gets blown up. And it blows up good. Good enough to be reused as stock footage for years to come in fact! Not sure why it bobs around like that in space, but I'm blaming automatic thrusters. Why the Starfleet crews have forgotten about their ships' phasers though is a mystery.

But the movie doesn't end yet, as Kirk still needs to save President Clarence Boddicker from being assassinated by a Klingon conspirator! Well actually the assassin must have been deliberately aiming to miss, as the shot goes under the president's armpit while Kirk's still airborne, but it was still a very heroic jump.

Don’t ask me why there’s a trampoline right in front of the stage or how Kirk even knew he was the target. Or why Azetbur has a half-dozen Klingons rushing to protect her, while no one was around to save the president from being tackled to the ground by a wanted fugitive.

The Klingon sniper goes to take another shot, this time to silence Valeris (who they brought with them because… I don’t know), but Scotty races up there, barges the door right off its hinges and blasts him out of the window with his phaser.

See, I wasn't even exaggerating! (Though I did edit the clip a bit to make it shorter).

The guy moves fast for an overweight septuagenarian. I guess he didn’t get to do any miracle worker engineering stuff in the film, so they gave him this to do this instead. In fact the entire senior staff beamed down for this job, leaving all their redshirts on the ship this time. General Worf's here too, and he goes over to check on Scotty's handiwork.

It’s not really a Klingon, it’s Old Man Withers in disguise! The red blood is the giveaway.

Actually it's Colonel West, the guy with the rescue plan flip chart from earlier. Even when he's not playing Odo he's a master of disguise! I guess he intended to be seen making a getaway to pin the blame on the Klingons or something.

This means that Scotty just shot a superior officer out of a window, which is kind of hardcore. Well I think he's a superior officer anyway. He's the only Starfleet colonel to ever appear in Star Trek so it's hard to tell. In the theatrical cut he doesn't appear at all, so if you've got the 2009 DVD or Blu-ray then there's no West for you.

Wow, look at all those flags. Seems that people from all over the Federation turned up to this top secret peace conference. And I don't blame them, as this is way better than that crappy Planet of Galactic Peace from the last movie. They came for long boring speeches, they got heroic action and poses.

Well okay Captain Kirk does have a few lines to say, about some people thinking that the future means the end of history, which is apparently a reference to Francis Fukuyama 1989 essay "The End of History?" which claims Western liberal democracy may be the final form of human government. Kirk on the other hand feels we're not out of history just yet, as the message of Star Trek is that there's always room to do better, there's an even brighter future to be reached, as long as people are brave enough to accept change.

Even the Kirk's arch-nemesis the Klingon ambassador has to clap after that.

And the Enterprise-A actually survives all of its movies. Plus the adventure has cured the crew of their space racism!

Though they're ordered back to space dock again, so that the ship can be decommissioned. Which seems a bit premature as they've only had this new ship for 6 years, and they weren't even done with the refit when they got it! It's not without real world precedent though, as the USS Missouri was decommissioned due to the collapse of the Soviet Union only 8 years after a refit. The fact that this happened a year after this movie hit cinemas means that it's prescient precedent.

Spock basically tells Starfleet to go to hell though and Kirk decides to go find Neverland instead, setting a course for the "second star to the right, and straight on 'til morning."

Uh, he didn't mean that literally. Helmsman, what are you doing? Oh wait the chair's empty right now, as that was Valeris' job. That's last time this ship design ever appears on screen in Star Trek by the way, though Excelsiors show up all the time.

Then we get Kirk's final captain's log entry as a voice over, where he mentions that the ship and its history will soon be under the care of a new generation (or a Next Generation *wink*). He ends it by saying they'll journey to all the undiscovered countries "boldly going where no man... where no one has gone before." Which is a nice way to pass the torch on to the Next Generation crew, seeing as the new series changed "man" to the more politically correct "one" in their opening monologue.

Personally I thought "man" was already gender neutral, as it never occurred to me it could mean anything but humans in general, maybe even humanoids if you want to include Spock, but I understand why it was changed. "One" is a bit too inclusive though really, seeing as any time the crew travels into the unknown and meets an new alien race they have to think 'oh, someone's already gone here before!'

And this 25th anniversary movie ends with the autographs of the original main cast whooshing past, as they literally signed their final film together. It was supposed to be the signatures of the characters signing the ship's log, but if Leonard Nimoy wants to sign his latest final Star Trek movie I guess you have to let him.

But then someone went and spelled Uhura's name wrong in the end credits. You ruined their special movie, end credits guy!


CONCLUSION


Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country... even the bloody title is a classical quotation! That should've been a warning sign right there.

The trouble with the pre-reboot Trek movies is that for various reasons the cash just wasn't available, and this was no exception. It's a space epic on a budget and it’s hard to create something truly spectacular when you’re filming with decade old models and sets borrowed from a TV series. Though ILM’s back, so the models look pretty again! And Nicholas Meyer’s returned, so the quality of the story and directing is back up to Wrath of Khan levels. He tends to emphasis the military aspects a bit much and his overuse of quotations is kind of obnoxious, but the guy sure knows how to make a Trek movie entertaining.

Wrath of Khan composer James Horner on the other hand chose not to return as his career had moved past Trek movies, and Jerry Goldsmith wasn’t coming back after Final Frontier crashed and burned, so they had to go with plan C. This actually worked out for the best though as Cliff Eidelman gives the movie a dark soundtrack better suited to a political thriller than a naval adventure. Captain Kirk might be joking around with Dr. McCoy and a shapeshifting bird-woman, but the score insists that you take it seriously, and when it’s tension-ratcheting time it leaps into action with zeal. It's definitely not the sonic wallpaper that the TV series were cursed with.

It would be fair to say that the movie’s a bit political, as it’s an obvious Cold War allegory, with Gorkon standing in for Gorbachev, Praxis standing in for Chernobyl etc. But it’s really about people faced with change coming up against their prejudices. Which is a good idea I reckon. With Next Gen moving onto season five at this point the movie feels like a historical drama by comparison, so it feels appropriate that it takes a step back from Roddenberry's ideal to the feel of the Original Series, where crew members were occasionally xenophobic and Kirk gave them crap for it. Not that Kirk getting over his hatred of the Klingons is a completely foreign concept either, as it was the point of both Errand of Mercy and Day of the Dove, off the top of my head. In fact now that I think about it, the very first episode to feature the Klingons was about Kirk coming to realise he was more comfortable with their conflict than the peace that others were forcing on him!

The problem is that the film comes right after Star Trek V, which ended with the Enterprise crew having a party with Klingons. Though that’s easy resolved by just ignoring that the fifth film exists entirely, like this movie does!

The real problem is that the Enterprise crew’s prejudice is supposed to be human and realistic, but it’s so obvious and relentless that it comes across as comical and out of character. I can understand Kirk saying “let them die” in a moment of frustration, but when you’ve got people on the bridge saying “Guess who’s coming to dinner,” it makes it into a joke. It wouldn't reflect so badly on them if the audience was led to be on their side at first, but this was released after we got to like the Klingons in Next Gen, and we're shown that Gorkon and Azetbur are sincere, so the crew's last adventure together makes them appear to be xenophobes and space racists.

Plus I mentioned earlier that Kirk's dealt with multiple shapeshifters imitating him, robots, a mirror universe, being split into two, being body-swapped a couple of times... basically this guy has had enough shit going on in his life without the Klingons, so I don't buy that he’s that worried about who he’ll be without an enemy to fight. And he's still got the Romulans to mistrust!

But the film’s an even-numbered Trek movie so it was always doomed to be decent. It’s flawed for sure and the central mystery's a bit weak, but the cast are on form and overall I’d rank it as one of my favourites. I just would’ve liked it better if it didn’t feel like a Next Generation TV movie at times.

Strange new worlds explored: 0. Humans have been to Rura Penthe before.
New life discovered: ?. Some of the aliens there might be new to Starfleet though!
New civilisations discovered: 0.
Boldly gone where no one has gone before: Uh... the Undiscovered Country maybe? A future where the Klingons can become allies.
Other ships in range: Thankfully yes.


I'm done with Star Trek movies for a while now, but Walter Koenig will return for more brain scanning in Babylon 5's Mind War.

Thanks for dropping by and reading my words. Though I'm sure you've got plenty you want to say yourself in the comments box below so I'm going to shut up now and let you share your opinions.

4 comments:

  1. I was thinking "I don't remember Odo being in this" but it appears I've never seen that version; I had no idea there even was an alternate version!

    I know what you mean about the unconvincing prejudice but I've always read it as a sign of them getting older, tying into that idea that people tend become more conservative and intolerant as they age. Plus, the Klingons did kill his son, so I can understand why Kirk hates them and why his friends would back him up.

    Of course, it would be more convincing if he'd known his son for longer than five minutes, but you can't have everything.

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  2. Have you heard this piece of trivia?

    "In George Takei's autobiography he revealed that the original script called for Captain Sulu and the Excelsior crew to discover the Klingon Bird-of-Prey's weakness and use their gaseous anomaly equipment to find it. But William Shatner objected, feeling that Captain Kirk would not need another captain's help and had it drafted into his contract that the scene be rewritten." - http://www.warpedfactor.com/2015/06/10-things-you-may-not-know-about-star.html?m=1

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    1. I vaguely remember reading that somewhere, and I'm 50/50 on whether I believe it. It's 100% plausible that Shatner would steal Takei's glory, but less so that the writers would let the Excelsior crew come up with the solution to the final space battle in the first place. Plus Captain Kirk doesn't figure it out himself either way.

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  3. A very good point, it wasn't Kirk but Uhura who came up with the idea.. I think? Or maybe it was team brainstorming.

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