“You don’t trust me, do you?” asks Klingon Chancellor Gorkon to Captain James T. Kirk. He continues, “I don’t blame you. If there is to be a brave new world, our generation is going to have the hardest time living in it.”
Although 1989’s Star Trek V: The Final Frontier was not received well critically, it did do decent business at the box office. With the 25th anniversary of Star Trek coming up in 1991, Paramount decided to green light one more sequel featuring the original cast. Star Trek II director Nicholas Meyer was brought back to help develop the storyline as well as direct. I got to see this film on the big screen 10 years ago at the Two Boots Pioneer Theater in New York City as part of “Star Trek Saturdays.” It marked the first time I had seen the original theatrical version (I had seen the film on VHS many times; I had the special home video release that featured two minutes of additional footage put back into the film).
1991’s Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country picks up a few years after the events of the previous film. The Klingon moon Praxis explodes due to over-mining. As a result, the Klingon Empire only has approximately 50 Earth years left and can no longer afford to continue the hostilities with the United Federation of Planets. Klingon Chancellor Gorkon opens peace talks, and Captain Kirk is ordered to have the Enterprise escort Gorkon to Earth for the peace conference. While the Enterprise escorts Gorkon’s ship, Gorkon’s ship is mysteriously fired upon (knocking out weapons and gravity). Two Enterprise crew members then beam over wearing anti-gravity suits and shoot several Klingons, including Gorkon himself. Kirk and McCoy beam over to find out what happened and, after Gorkon dies, they are arrested for his murder. Spock has the Enterprise turned inside out, searching for the evidence that will exonerate Kirk and McCoy as they discover that another assassination will occur at the re-scheduled and relocated peace conference.
The returning cast (William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelly, James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, and Walter Koenig) shine as usual, with strong performances coming from Shatner, Nimoy, and Kelly. The “guest stars” offer strong performances as well: Christopher Plummer (as Klingon General Chang), David Warner (as Chancellor Gorkon), Kim Cattrall (as Lieutenant Valeris), Rosanna DeSoto (as Azetbur, Gorkon’s daughter), Brock Peters (as Admiral Cartwright), Mark Lenard (as Sarek), Kurtwood Smith (as the President of the United Federation of Planets), John Schuck (as the Klingon ambassador), Grace Lee Whitney (as Janice Rand), Iman (as Martia), Michael Dorn (as Colonel Worf, grandfather of Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s Lt. Worf), and a cameo by Christian Slater (as a U.S.S. Excelsior officer). Plummer gave the strongest villainous turn (since Ricardo Montalban in Star Trek II) as the Shakespeare-quoting Chang. Warner was much more reserved and statesmanlike as the Lincoln-ish Gorkon. Cattrall is quite superb as the complex and intriguing Vulcan Valeris.
Meyer, co-screenwriter Denny Martin Flinn, and executive producer Nimoy drew inspiration from Sherlock Holmes and helped craft Star Trek’s first whodunit. They also drew inspiration from the ending of the Cold War; the conflict between the U.S. and Soviet Union had always been the inspiration for the conflicts between the Federation and the Klingons. Meyer’s direction is excellent as usual; he elicits great performances from his cast and holds everything together for the original cast’s swan song. Dodie Shepard’s costume design was terrific, creating new costumes for the Klingons as well as the other alien races in the film. Herman Zimmerman’s production design was clever, redressing a number of sets from TV’s Star Trek: The Next Generation while creating some new ones (he also made some adjustments to create a more claustrophobic feel to the Enterprise). William Hoy and Ronald Roose’s editing was superb, moving the film at a good pace (like an excellent mystery novel). Hiro Narita’s cinematography was top-notch, giving a naval feel with contrast lighting on the starships and made excellent use of shadows in the Rura Penthe scenes.
The Oscar-nominated makeup design by Michael Mills, Ed French, and Richard Snell was excellent, as evidenced by the variety of different aliens on display throughout the film (some enhancements were done for the Klingon designs as well). The special effects by ILM were first-rate (and an improvement over the previous film). Two big highlights were the shock wave created by Praxis’ explosion at the beginning of the film and the morphing effect used in the second half of the film. Klingon blood, which is red, was altered to a more pinkish color in order to avoid an ‘R’ rating. The Oscar-nominated sound design by George Watters II and F. Hudson Miller was impressive, as was Cliff Eidelman’s breakout (and still best) score. With some inspiration from Gustav Holst’s The Planets (which Nicholas Meyer originally wanted to adapt for the score until the licensing turned out to be too expensive), Eidelman’s score captures the darkness of the storyline but still maintains Star Trek’s ongoing message of hope for the future. His heroic fanfare for Kirk and his crew remains one of the series’ best. Nicholas Meyer did a great job in helping to create this swan song for the cast of the original series. There is a director’s cut of the film with the previously mentioned two minutes of never-before-seen footage, which feature the character Colonel West (played by Rene Auberjonois). The director’s cut also includes some quick image flashes during a mind meld sequence and a few scenes feature alternate angles. It’s a shame that Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry died before the release of the film because Star Trek VI represents the best that Star Trek has to offer, and hopefully we will learn to not be afraid of ‘the undiscovered country.’