Monday, June 30, 2014

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

1991 marked the 25th anniversary of Star Trek: The Original Series debuting on television. The follow up television show, Star Trek: The Next Generation was then in its fourth season and going strong. Critics that tore the last film, The Final Frontier, apart demand that they start using the TNG cast in the new films going forward. The executives at Paramount disagreed however, and wanted to redeem themselves with the original cast one last time for the 25th anniversary. Paramount shows they mean business by bringing back Nicholas Meyer, who directed the critically acclaimed second film, to direct this picture, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (trailer).

Longtime nemesis of the Federation of Planets, the Klingons, suffer a devastating blow to their home world right at the beginning of the film and find out they soon must flee their home to avoid extinction and are forced to coexist with their longtime rivals. The Federation sends Kirk (William Shatner) and the Enterprise to escort the Klingon ambassador to Earth for a peace talk conference, but right away something goes terribly awry that results in Kirk and McCoy (DeForest Kelley) to be taken prisoner by the Klingons. While those two attempt to find a way out of their inevitable death sentence, Spock (Leonard Nimoy) leads an investigation to uncover this conspiracy.

The plot takes a bit of set up to get going, but at least it starts with a huge energy blast right off the bat. I took this as a direct response to the negative reaction last time for The Final Frontier really toning back the special effects, and this time Paramount lets you know that right from the start they are not holding anything back. Also, The Undiscovered Country is the first film that really brings the look and feel of the updated Enterprise as seen on TNG with the original series cast. This results in a film 23 years later that still holds up on the special effects front exponentially better than all the previous films.

This film introduces Vulcan, Lt. Valeris (Kim Cattrall) to the Enterprise crew. I thought Robin Curtis and even Kristie Alley did better jobs donning the Vulcan ears in previous films than Cattrall who seems to be uncharacteristically emotive of the species. I do not consider myself a hardcore Trekkie by any means but by just watching mostly the films, it is pretty clear the Vulcans are suppose to be pretty straightforward and not really show much emotion in the tone of their voice which Nimoy, Curtis and Alley all clearly shown before. Cattrall appears to have thrown that logic out the window in her performance which kept nagging away at me throughout the film.

One of the primary themes of this film is the Federation overcoming their prejudices and past rivalries with the Klingons at the sudden need to save their race and integrate them into their society. This is doubly so for Kirk because he is still understandably hung up at the Klingons for killing his son back in Star Trek III. The film does a great job establishing this tension early on in one of the quintessential uneasy dinner scenes in all of sci-fi cinema. I could not help but chuckle a little as everyone grit their teeth and held back their emotions while pretending to get along.

I really like how Star Trek VI deals with how Kirk and McCoy are taken prisoner by the Klingons, and their very one-sided "trial" is definitely one of the best scenes of the entire film. While I really liked the adventures of Kirk and McCoy in Klingon world, I thought the film lost a step with Spock's investigation on the Enterprise. I think they attempted to go a little too CSI here by going overboard dissecting how the alleged crimes played out and tried to make it look like one grand masterpiece of detective work. To me it seemed more like the Enterprise crew digging through every nook and cranny for vital space suits as evidence to link to the perpetrators before Scotty (James Doohan) randomly gets up from enjoying a cup of coffee and literally yanks the not-so-hidden suits out of a vent for no inherent rhyme or reason. Maybe this passed for superb cinema detective work in 1991 before the many versions of CSI, Law & Order and NCIS hit the television waves, but this whole aspect of the film holds up terrible in 2014. Luckily, things pick up again in the final act with a thrilling back and forth dogfight and the conspiracy being foiled in grand fashion for the true perpetrators.

Like all past films I am covering, the BluRay has over two hours of previously released extra content as well as a half hour of new extras. I am not counting the commentaries in that either. I watched about a half hour each of the old commentary with Nicholas Meyer and the new one with Larry Nemecek & Steven Behr. If I had the time to spare to watch both in their entirety I would, but I did enjoy the parts I consumed as all commentators had really fascinating insight, with Meyer providing many on the set tidbits and Nemecek and Behr providing a fresh set of eyes on the near 25 year old film that originally released on the franchise's 25th anniversary.

There are a ton of old extra features worth checking out. Make sure to watch Perils of Peacemaking, a 26 minute piece relating the film's plot to the collapse of the Soviet Union. There is a very thorough 20 minute feature on the history of Klingons throughout all of Star Trek, and how their costumes evolved over the decades, and interviews with original cast members who portrayed Klingons I really dug. The biggest extra is Stories from Star Trek VI, which is a near hour long feature separated into six parts that covers a lot of big angles like bringing Nicholas Meyer back, VI being the final sendoff for the original cast and some very amusing production notes. If you can manage to squeeze it in, please do as it is quite informative and entertaining. There are a couple of new BluRay extras to check out, one is a quick interview with Tom Morga and his many anecdotes from being a lifetime Star Trek stuntman, and To Be or Not to Be touches on all the Shakespeare references in this film with a look at the ambitious people who took the time to translate Hamlet into Klingon, and yes they even include a couple of scenes too, because at this point with all the extras on here, why the hell not?

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country is a nice sendoff for the original series cast, and I especially dug the final sign off in the credits as a nice farewell. While I am not as hard on The Final Frontier as others, I am definitely more content that The Undiscovered Country got to be the final film with the original cast instead. There were a couple of lulls in the middling acts that I picked apart above that dragged it down a couple notches for me, but as a whole I am ranking this as one of the better Star Trek films, but giving my highest recommendations to check out the original crew in the second and fourth films first!

Star Trek Film Ratings

Star Trek: The Motion Picture - 5.5/10
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn - 10/10
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock - 7.5/10
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home - 9/10
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier - 6.5/10
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country - 7.5/10

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