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Star Trek 6: The Undiscovered Country

story by Leonard Nimoy and Lawrence Konner & Mark Rosenthal
screenplay by Nicholas Meyer & Denny Martin Flinn
directed by Nicholas Meyer, music by Cliff Eidelman
feature film, 113 minutes

As with most of the even-numbered films in this series, this one was quite well-received. It is primarily a mystery, and as such our heroes will spend a lot of time going over the details of the story - so it is a very good thing that the details of the story are quite solid, and that they come across on screen with a large degree of care, finesse, and story-telling polish that the previous film often struggled with, while continuing to deliver the high level of quality found in the previous film's set design and futuristic environment immersion.

The film's philosophical core is also a worthy one, as it centers on peacemaking, but the focus is not quite on how to get the job done, or why, as it is on a few insidious ways that peacemaking might be opposed. Thus, though the film has many nice bits of merit, it is mostly driving along with its gaze firmly planted in the rear-view mirror.

I have to say though, when I first heard that this film was to be something of a Klingon epic, I groaned. After using them as stock villains in the third and fifth films with questionable levels of success, it seemed that getting an even bigger dose of them in the very next film could be a mistake so large that it would really sink this story. However, we end up seeing a much, much broader scope for them here than has ever been presented on the classic series, and they are fused into a story that absolutely required a culture so large, so familiar, and so feared that the Klingons were a very natural fit. This time around, the story was so worthy of them, that it was a good call to have them here.

Early sections of this film must be applauded for their story-telling economy, and for packing the running time with a lot of excellent material. The opening music over the titles builds up a great sense of tension, resulting in one great large explosive blast in space to open the story. Immediately introduced are regulars Captain Sulu and Commander Janice Rand aboard the U.S.S. Excelsior, who proceed to investigate this incident that becomes a catalyst for the entire story.

Curiously, early drafts of the script had all the usual long sequences of gathering up the rest of the regular Enterprise crew from scattered locations, once more slowly assembling themselves before digging into the heart of the story. We really don't need that re-run idea holding up the early portions of every bloody feature film, so it's great that it was excised. Instead, we cut straight to what IS extremely relevant to this film, as they all assemble in a briefing room, and then realize that Spock has volunteered them for a mission without consulting them first. And Spock first realizes that they are not as comfortable or pleased with this as he assumed they would be. The main story is underway, and proceeds at a good pace here. Kudos.

"Logic is the beginning of wisdom, not the end."

In many ways, both Spock and Leonard Nimoy pulled off a curious one-two punch at this point in 1991, giving Spock two appearances that would forever change people's lasting memory of the character. Though Nimoy undoubtedly spent more time filming this feature film appearance first, he then quickly went on to guest star on Star Trek The Next Generation in a two-part story called "Unification", which then aired just ahead of this film's release date and by doing so broke the proper chronological sequence for the character. These two appearances reinforce each other in declaring Spock as a peacemaker, and indeed one who acts as though the pursuit of peace is the most logical thing for a humanoid being to do. Great; I love it! But I have to laugh as I note how Spock felt that an aura of harsh protectionism was the logical approach back in many of his early appearances like "Where No Man Has Gone Before" and "Balance of Terror". He has flipped his tune around 180 degrees here, and for the better I think. A nice statement of growth. But we'll save the final word on this switch for our review of "Unification" itself...

Curiously, there is something about the phrase "extending an olive branch" which neatly sums up Spock's new approach. Every time I hear this phrase, or think it on my own, the image that comes to mind is Spock at the head of this briefing table, seeking to offer former enemies some sign of co-operation, some hope for future friendship. I like to think I will continue to increase the number of times I extend olive branches to others in some echo of a similar spirit.

Climbing on board the Enterprise, we get a number of scenes introducing the Vulcan woman Ltn. Valeris, Spock's latest protégée. The double-meanings embedded throughout these scenes are quite cleverly done. The obvious layer that audiences easily pick up on the first time through is quite meaty and has important stuff to say. Finish the film and come back and watch again, and another layer reveals itself. The characters are true to life in the sense that they each have their own agenda of ideas and concerns, such that they don't truly hear what others have to say, and despite the depth of what is sometimes said, they respond to each other on surface levels only. Nicely done.

And wow, do the Klingons ever get an impressive entrance here. Forget those silly little "bird of prey" ships so prolific elsewhere, here we get a great big D7 class cruiser (upgraded K't'inga subclass version) very majestically swooping down onto the screen. NICE! Then follows one of the most extended beaming-on-board sequences the franchise has ever seen, with one Klingon after another getting an impressive initial shot. David Warner is back to try guest-starring in a Trek feature once again, and this time he actually has a very prominent and influential role. I was most pleased to see this, and of course, he performs exceptionally well here. Unfortunately, his character doesn't remain in the film long enough for my tastes; I'd have wanted to see twice as much of him at a bare minimum, and his character had so much scope to do more. Pity.

Ultimately, he is upstaged by Christopher Plummer, who chews the scenery with great relish, and gives a fantastic performance. I think perhaps the great delight he and William Shatner share to be able to work with each other spills over onto the screen, and helps light up both of their performances. It works wonderfully. There's a nice little featurette on the DVD set letting us all know how they chased each other throughout the theatres of Ontario and Quebec, trying to outdo each other in many productions, a lot of which were of Shakespeare's plays.

Cultural Progress

But I think it's high time we gave this production a minus point for being as needlessly obsessed with Shakespeare as it was - because this did indeed contribute to unbalancing our screentime to the point where we pay far more attention and give far more emotional energy to the art of vengeance than that of peacemaking. And it's a bit of an oxymoron that, if the Klingons are indeed fearful of their own culture going extinct, they should end up openly displaying such a great obsession with a Human poet/playwright instead of the cultural icons of their own species. Can they not at least mention one of their own great storytellers?

Reportedly, Nicholas Meyer had a few debates with Gene Roddenberry over how far Human society might have advanced by the 23rd century, and which behaviours we could consider likely and which not. This tale is told primarily on the audio commentary, where we get Meyer and co-writer Denny Martin Flinn's take on it first hand, while Roddenberry's views are presented second-hand by those who may have not heard all the layers of it clearly while their work was being critiqued. With that noted concerning our source of information, Meyer's view might seem to have the upper hand - if we limit our view of the world to sensational news items, or dramas patterned after Shakespeare's limited concepts of conflict and resolution which are several centuries out of date by our time already, much less Kirk's time. Personally I tend to side more strongly with Roddenberry's side of the argument, but with one important difference. Where Roddenberry might think certain problems don't exist in his future because people just don't have certain hang-ups, I prefer to think that the danger of anyone having the same hang-up today as we had in centuries past still exists, but what changes is the degree of wisdom each individual is encouraged to develop in OWNING those hang-ups and processing it themselves, instead of blaming it on the rest of the world and externalizing it to bad effect. Both Roddenberry and I would have a smoother more peaceful society, but in my version, each individual still has to work on himself or herself to maintain it, and there is still much soul-searching to be shared. If everyone gets to the point where this is considered the norm, there should be many support systems in place in society one can turn to in times of need. And norms and support systems have shifted vastly between Shakespeare's time in the late 1500's and early 1600's and our time in the 1900's when this film was made, and indeed will shift again before Kirk's time in the 2200's. Progress is there. Unfortunately, this film probably shows less of that progress than other entries in the Trek franchise, possibly due to Meyer's own perspectives.

Course Plotted

Before we know, a terrible crime is committed, which hijacks much of the film's peacemaking efforts and becomes the central plot. Spock's logical side gets a real outing in figuring out the details of exactly what happened through the bulk of this film, while Kirk has to swallow his pride and courageously extend a very costly olive branch of his own towards the Klingons.

In the long run, I have mixed feelings about the structure that sees Kirk and McCoy forming the primary "away team" for this adventure. It seems like a prudent and interesting move at first for these two to go over to the damaged Klingon ship to apologize, investigate, and help if possible. Their screen time on the Klingon ship is well spent. The escalation of having them arrested is also worthwhile, not least for all the reactions amongst both the Enterprise crew and all of the various heads of state around this corner of the galaxy. The screen time devoted to their Klingon trial also works very well, both in terms of scenes at the actual trial, and for all the reactions elsewhere as well.

But, though the second half of the film still works well, I don't think it quite achieved its ideal. For my money, the scenes on the Rura Penthé penal "asteroid" are not interesting enough to command the amount of screen time that they receive, and we could have halved the amount of material delivered from here. It's nothing but ye olde prisoner dynamic after all, creatively fleshed out in its delivery, yes, but unable to make us anticipate that anything of true interest can or will happen there. I would have preferred the Kirk-McCoy away mission to have concluded earlier in the film's running time, and perhaps another mission featuring a different combination of crewmembers investigating something else to have begun. Spock, Scotty, Uhura, and Chekov still get lots of great scenes digging through the mystery on board Enterprise, but once more Spock is stuck on the ship during a Nick Meyer film. A bit sad.

By contrast, the Khitomer sequences feel quite badly rushed - it's an interesting place, with a LOT of characters involved doing interesting things. Indeed, when the name is first spoken in this film, it has the power to peak the curiosity of those members of the audience, myself among them, who had become big fans of "The Next Generation" TV series by that point, because Khitomer had been already been named as a location for many high-profile events with a heavy impact on galactic politics in general and on Worf's personal backstory specifically. Events here could have been greatly expanded, and even just the events we do get seem to deserve at least twice as much footage both for storytelling clarity and to allow us audience members to appreciate what happens here more fully. I mean, most of the Enterprise regulars plus a big contingent from the Excelsior all beam down here. Most of the story's guest characters are already assembled here to begin with, including Michael Dorn's character who assists. And it is a shame that the scene's actual peacemaking efforts are given so little thought and attention - Speeches by President Kurtwood and the Klingon Chancellor are merely treated as background ambience at this point, while Kirk's final few words to the assembly seem to be a bit of a trite let-down considering the big ideas tackled so much more eloquently elsewhere in this same film. What gets attention instead are the action sequences surrounding the opposing vengeance - which remain quite decent for the space sequences, and just barely adequate in the Khitomer set itself. This is possibly the weakest "final fix", dramatically speaking, of any of the Star Trek films... and it's a bit sad that this is the one that the original crew are going out on. It's good that extra footage ended up in the DVD version here - the sequence does benefit from this. However, I still feel we could have had more, both before and after the big event, and perhaps drawing out the event itself with more of a tense and frantic boots-on-the-ground search.

Perhaps many of the best scenes of this story are those that take place on board the Enterprise, and thankfully, both Kirk and McCoy get to participate in a good number of those after returning from their main excursion. Spock has some nice relationship subplots coming to a head at this point, which turn out to be some of the most satisfying bits of the movie.

Composer Cliff Eidelman also deserves high praise for his work on the score. Though not quite topping the work on this series by the industry giants Jerry Goldsmith and James Horner, he has been quite successful in contributing some really wonderful themes to the Trek universe without copying anyone else's style too closely. His Klingon music feels culturally appropriate, yet is very different from what Goldsmith and his long line of imitators had done before. We also get a really lovely new theme for our regular heroes, one which has a nice melancholy feeling of finality to it. Musically, the original crew were able to bring their film series to a magnificent close here.

Like pretty much every single feature film with the original crew in it, this turns out to be an excellent film, and a very worthwhile entry in the Trek franchise. Not only do I heartily recommend it, but heck why not get all six already, and watch them all in sequence! It's hard enough to find single movies that do what these films did, much less to find six in a row all as worthy and thought-provoking as these, with lovable characters in a continuing narrative. Very, very well done indeed!

Read the next Star Trek review: Encounter at Farpoint

(Or, skip ahead to the next feature film: "Star Trek 7: Generations")

Star Trek 6 is available in various incarnations on DVD and Blu-Ray.
Click on the Amazon symbol for the desired disc format and location nearest you for pricing and availability:

2-disc DVD Special Collector's Edition


DVD Canada


DVD Extras include:

  • Commentary by director Nicholas Meyer and screenwriter Denny Martin Flinn.
  • "The Perils of Peacemaking" featurette (26 min.) on how parallels to current events helped trigger the making of the movie...
  • "Stories From Star Trek VI" 6-part making-of documentary (57 min.), adding William Shatner (Kirk), Leonard Nimoy (Spock), Christopher Plummer (General Chang), producer Ralph Winter, and composer Cliff Eidelman.
  • Okuda text commentary
  • "Conversations With Nick Meyer" interview (9 min.)
  • "Klingons: Conjuring the Legend" (21 min.), with Plummer, William Campbell (Koloth), Michael Dorn (Worf), make-up designer Michael Westmore, costume designer Bob Blackman, and set designer Lee Cole.
  • "Federation Operatives" on actors with multiple Trek roles (5 min.)
  • "Penny's Toy Box" prop featurette (6 min.)
  • "Together Again" featurette (5 min.) on the history between Shatner and Plummer.
  • A Tribute to DeForest Kelley (Dr. McCoy) (13 min.)
  • Original 1991 Interviews (44 min. total) of Shatner, Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan (Scotty), Nichelle Nichols (Uhura), George Takei (Sulu), Walter Koenig (Chekov), and Iman (Martia).
  • Trailers (4 min.)
  • 1991 Convention Presentation by Nick Meyer (5 min.)
  • storyboard and photo archives
1-disc Blu-ray

Blu-ray U.S.

Blu-ray Canada

Blu-ray U.K.

Blu-ray Features add:

  • Commentary by Larry Nemecek and Ira Steven Behr
  • Library Computer
  • Tom Morga: Alien Stuntman
  • To Be Or Not To Be: Klingons and Shakespeare
  • SCISEC 006: Praxis
  • BD-Live--Star Trek I.Q.

Or, get all 6 original crew feature films on Blu-ray at once with an exclusive bonus disc.

The First Six
Feature Films


Summit Six-Pack
Blu-ray U.S.

Summit Six-Pack
Blu-ray Canada

Summit Six-Pack
Blu-ray U.K.

Also includes exclusive bonus 7th disc, with
"The Captain's Summit" discussion (HD, 70 min.) between
William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy,
Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, and Whoopi Goldberg.

Article written by Martin Izsak. Comments on this article are welcome. You may contact the author from this page:

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Read the next Star Trek review: Encounter at Farpoint

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