Our reviews of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (published December 4th, 2000), Star Trek: The Original Motion Picture Collection (published October 19th, 2009), and Star Trek: The Original Motion Picture Collection (Blu-Ray) (published May 18th, 2009) are also available.
"This is the final cruise of the Starship Enterprise under my command. This ship and her history will shortly become the care of another crew. To them and their posterity will we commit our future. They will continue the voyages we have begun and journey to all the undiscovered countries boldly going where no man, where no one has gone before."
- Captain James Tiberius Kirk
In the poignant and subtle teaser trailer, a voiceover from Christopher Plummer says some words that still ring true for me, and I can think of no better way to summarize my love of classic Star Trek than with his words:
"For one quarter of a century, they have thrilled us with their adventures, amazed us with their discoveries, and inspired us with their courage. Their ship has journeyed beyond imagination; her name has become legend; her crew, the finest ever assembled. We have traveled beside them from one corner of the galaxy to the other. They have been our guides, our protectors, and our friends."
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country is the final adventure for the crew that we have grown to love over the years. Never again will we see Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, Uhura, Sulu, and Chekov set out together to once more save the Federation from harm. Their time is at an end. And with this film, they are given a wonderful goodbye. The film is one of the best in the canon, with a perfect combination of all the traits that Trekkies and non-Trekkies want: action, adventure, humor, a good story, and a lot of fun.
Goodbye, my friends. It was fun.
Facts of the Case
Captain Sulu of the USS Excelsior, on patrol near the Klingon border, encounters a massive energy wave. In tracking down its source, Sulu discovers that a key energy producing planet of the Klingon Empire has exploded.
Some time later, a secret assembly is held at Starfleet Command. We learn that the destruction of the moon of Praxis has contaminated the Klingon homeworld of Q'on'os, forcing the evacuation of the entire planet. Because of their huge military budget, the Klingons cannot mount such an undertaking on their own. At the behest of the Vulcan Ambassador, Captain Spock has begun negotiations with Chancellor Gorkon (David Warner, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, Titanic) to end over 70 years of unremitting hostilities between the Federation and the Klingons.
Captain Kirk and the crew of the USS Enterprise have been gathered to escort Gorkon to Earth for diplomatic negotiations. But Kirk doesn't trust Klingons, not since they murdered his son David; and he is not alone, for there is much prejudice in the Federation against the Klingons. Still, Kirk has his orders and he obeys.
The Enterprise sets out and soon meets up with Gorkon's vessel, when Kirk invites the Chancellor on board for a meal with his officers. At dinner, we meet Gorkon's staff, including his daughter, Azetbur (Rosanna DeSoto, La Bamba, Cannery Row), and General Chang (Christopher Plummer, Dolores Claiborne, Dreamscape). It is not a good dinner, as there is much distrust displayed on both sides.
But after dinner and after the Klingons have returned to their vessel, an incident occurs that could derail the burgeoning peace talks and instead plummet the quadrant into intergalactic war. Now it's up to Kirk and his crew to prevent war and restore the trust between their two peoples.
The battle for peace has begun.
From the opening strings of Cliff Eidelman's ominous score, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country grabs you. If that isn't enough to arouse your attention, then just a few minutes later, the movie literally starts with a bang. You're hooked. Trek VI is arguably the best film, or it's at least a very close tie with the exceptionally noteworthy Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. In either case, there are two winners in the competition: the fans and Nicholas Meyer. Thank you, Mr. Meyer, for breathing new life into the franchise; and, more importantly, thank you for bringing perfect closure to the classic series.
There were several important things that Trek VI had to do, because it was possibly the last film to be made featuring Kirk and company. First, it had to restore faith to the fans after the disastrous Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. Second, it had to simply be a good movie, if for nothing else because it had the even/odd "curse" to live up to. And, last, it had to present an opportunity for everyone to say goodbye and leave on a high note. In that, it had to give all of the characters a chance to shine, to have an important part in the tale, and to have a "final" chance to simply be their characters after 25 glorious years.
In each case, Trek VI succeeds. Whom do we thank? We thank Nicholas Meyer: a man who knew nothing about the franchise yet perfectly captured and enriched Gene Roddenberry's universe. The Undiscovered Country magnificently rebounds after The Final Frontier, easily making the fans almost forget that that tale exists. How? Because it is a fun action adventure, with a little bit of mystery, suspense, and humor (albeit "Trek humor"), that was derived from an excellent script detailing an important "Trek event" and that is well acted, smartly directed, and supported by great sets, locations, and special effects.
But most importantly, Trek VI is successful because it brings closure to classic Star Trek. Yes, we will see Spock and Scotty in The Next Generation, Sulu on Voyager, and Kirk, Chekov, and Scotty in Generations, but this is their swansong—their last chance to shine in their playground. Even though there had been talk year after year that these characters would not come back for another film (see special features below), Nicholas Meyer truly understood that their time was at hand. And knowing that, he crafted a tale that embodied everything you loved about the series capped off with a touching goodbye. He gave each character, and most importantly our "second-tier characters," something to do for a change—they weren't always relegated to the background: Chekov played an important part in the hunt, Uhuru gave important suggestions during the final battle, Sulu was promoted to Captain, and Scotty was almost Spock's right hand during the crisis onboard the Enterprise. Everyone was given an important task that was vital to the success of the mission. It was the crew of the Enterprise, led by Captain Kirk, that saved the day.
And, really, who knew that having the actors "sign off" at the end of the film, something so simple, would give the fans resolution? It honestly is the ideal end for the characters we've grown to love.
You are probably aware that this release of Trek VI is the latest double-dip from our friends at Paramount for the Trek franchise. Originally released as a bare-bones disc, this "Special Collector's Edition" is by far the overall best release of a Star Trek movie. First, let's address the transfers. Originally released as a non-anamorphic print, this new release corrects that mistake with an excellent anamorphic print. There is perhaps a little bit of controversy to be had with this new print, however, because of the aspect ratio. Trek VI was originally filmed in 2.35:1 anamorphic but the DVD releases have been changed to 2.01:1 based on Meyer's "wishes." I have been unable to find a source to verify this "wish," but my opinion is that this change in aspect ratio is not a big deal. I know many videophiles will be aghast, but my concern in changing ratios stems from butchering widescreen to pan and scan. Slight ratio alterations at the "widescreen" level don't overly bother me, as long as the director has a say in it. Again, we're in a touch of a gray area, but I'll let it pass. And I do that because the new anamorphic print is well produced, with just the slightest of flaws: a bit of brightness flickering in the blacks during the opening credits, some overt graininess during some Rura Penthe scenes, and some terrible black definition during the night scene on Rura Penthe. That may sound like a lot, but each is just a brief hiccup in a print that is very clean, very sharp, with bold colors and no bleeding. It all looks very good. There is one other thing that may be a problem, but I don't have my old DVD version or a VHS copy to verify: in the scene where people are walking and leaving Rura Penthe, the picture seemed excessively purple. I do not recall this scene having such a strong purple hue. I could be wrong, but, again, I cannot verify this. Still, don't let that bother you. For the audio, the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is better than I remember from the first pressing. This disc has a solid and encompassing mix with clear, hiss-free dialogue, and impressive use of the surrounds and bass. Cliff Eidelman's score is a definite attention-getter on this disc.
Now, let me begin to address the mammoth amount of extra features on this special edition. I thought that the Trek V Special Edition was good, but this one is even better. The sheer quantity is overwhelming, but I will admit that some of the material is a bit weak.
Audio Commentary by director Nicholas Meyer and screenwriter Denny Martin
Flinn: I was nervous about all of the bonus materials after listening to this
track because it is lackluster; I feared it was all going to be mediocre.
Nicholas Meyer does not make entertaining commentary tracks, at least on his
Trek films. I was greatly disappointed on Trek II, and that follows suit
here. He does a lot of talking, but he over-intellectualizes the conversation.
He rarely imparts the information that a Trekkie wants to hear. It all feels a
bit condescending. As for Flinn, he doesn't add much, and he enjoys talking
about himself just a bit too often.
Those two items are on disc one; everything else below is included on the second disc.
"The Perils of Peacemaking" (26 minutes): This first featurette on disc two is probably the weakest of the lot, giving the viewer pause, once again, about how good the rest of the material will be. Rambling at times, this segment details real-life peacemaking and overlays that in the Trek universe. It also details how the Klingons arrived at this point in the story. The highlight here is the "he said / he said" portion where Nimoy and Meyer discuss their recollections of events.
This next group is categorized as "Stories from Star Trek VI." These five segments cover an impressive array of details regarding the production of this film. It's the most comprehensive examination of the making of a Trek film we've seen to date. The whole segment, with a "Play All" feature, clocks in at just about an hour.
"It Starts with a Story" (10 minutes): The genesis of the idea of
Trek VI and how it once was envisioned as a prequel film. Many parts are
repeats from those in the "Perils" segment.
These next features are grouped under "The Star Trek Universe." Each is self contained, and there isn't a "Play All" option here.
"Conversations with Nicholas Meyer" (9.5 minutes): Filled with
good, new information, Meyer talks about Trek. But, like his commentary, he
comes across a bit arrogant and too confident. Simply, he's not the man I wish
him to be…but he is a great Trek director.
We'll now just look briefly at all of the remaining features:
DeForest Kelley: A Tribute (13 minutes): A touching and heartfelt tribute to
the man known as Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy. He is missed.
Wow, now that's a lot of bonus material! Not all of it is good, but it is the most complete compilation yet put together…though I must admit I'm still craving a blooper reel.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Let me take a moment to point out a few odd things you might notice in this film, after watching it a couple of times:
Bones' pinky ring: Why is McCoy wearing a pinky ring? Starfleet is
anti-jewelry, and I think this is the first piece seen in the series (aside from
a Bajoran earring, perhaps). It has always looked out of place to me.
And, lastly, I, as usual, want to convey a tiny story about my first viewing of Trek VI. It was my senior year at Miami University, and my friends and I piled into a couple of cars and headed down from Oxford to Cincinnati to catch the movie. In one of those silly, inconsequential moments that will seem absolutely stupid to everyone else, I still remember with a smile on my face as the car I was riding in passed the other car of friends. The guys in the other car all looked over and, in unison, made the Jean Luc Picard "engage" hand movements. It's stupid, but for some reason it's still a fond memory.
Paramount did two extremely stupid things with the packaging of this set. The first is that the case is white. Do they realize how loud and out of place this set now looks when filed in the middle of all the other black cases? And, if you look really closely at disc two, you will see that the image has been printed upside down. Oops! Even worse, they took an image from Star Trek: Generations, the USS Enterprise-B, instead of one from this film.
I have yet to mention that this DVD release also features a few subtle tweaks made to the film at the behest of Meyer. They're small and you may not even notice them all—but one you most certainly will.
I believe I've already said how good this film is, so I'll leave it at that. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country Special Collector's Edition is definitely recommended to everyone as a purchase, regardless of the double-dip. With better video and audio transfers and a mountain of bonus materials, this set kicks its predecessor's butt; and considering this release is cheaper than the first, it's an exceptionally logical purchase.
I hereby dismiss all charges against Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. It succeeds on all fronts and is a lasting tribute to the inimitability of the classic series.
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Scales of Justice
• Audio Commentary by Nicholas Meyer
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