Friday 8 May 2009

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)

Friday 8 May 2009
Let bygones be Klingons?

[SPOILERS] The last Star Trek movie to feature the entire original cast of the '60s series, The Undiscovered Country only happened because Paramount wanted to use the franchise's 25th anniversary to boost interest after the reviled Final Frontier. Director Nicholas Meyer seemed the ideal man for the job, having similarly revived Trek with Wrath Of Khan after The Motion(less) Picture...

Notions of a Starfleet Academy-set prequel were mooted early in the creative process, but ultimately the movie used an idea from Leonard Nimoy as its starting point; "[what would happen if] the Wall came down in space?" -- referring to recent events with the fall of the Berlin Wall. Handed a smaller budget by Paramount, but a potent idea to make Klingons allegorical Russians at the tail-end of a Cold War with the Federation, Star Trek VI started shooting in 1991, with everyone back to reprise their roles, in an intended swansong for the aging stars...

The Klingon moon of Praxis is destroyed, an event witnessed by the USS Excelsior under the captaincy of Sulu (George Takei). The satellite's demise throws the Klingon homeworld into chaos; losing a vital energy-producing facility and their planet's ozone layer in one fell swoop. A warlike footing no longer tenable with their Federation neighbours, the Klingons have no choice but to broker peace with their old enemy.

The USS Enterprise is dispatched to take Chancellor Gorkon (David Warner) to peace talks, although Kirk (William Shatner) isn't happy about the burgeoning likelihood of peace with the Klingons, whom he's spent a career fighting and lost a son to. Even knowing the Klingons face extinction without a truce fails to change his mind. "Let them die" is his only thought on the matter.

While hosting Gorkon and other dignitaries, the Enterprise appears to fire photo torpedoes at their guest's vessel, Kronos One, before a pair of men in anti-gravity boots and Federation uniforms beam aboard Gorkon's ship and kill the Chancellor. Suddenly, the Enterprise is at the centre of a tense diplomatic atrocity, with the Klingons outraged by the Federation's cold-blooded attack. Chief of Staff General Chang (Christopher Plummer, in less Klingon make-up at his own request) puts Kirk and McCoy (DeForrest Kelly) on trial for Gorkon's murder, sentencing them to life imprisonment on the icy asteroid of Rura Penthe. It's there that prisoner Kirk beds shape-shifter Marita (David Bowie's wife Iman) -- surprisingly the first sexy alien to fall for Kirk since the '60s TV series -- who agrees to help them escape to clear their names.

Meanwhile, Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and Vulcan helmsman Valeris (Kim Cattrall) investigate Gorkon's murder themselves, trying to untangle a despicable plot to frame the Federation, likely masterminded by someone who doesn't want peace between the Klingon Empire and the United Federation of Planets. Someone not unlike Kirk, of course, although a vital element of this movie is the defrosting of Kirk's prejudices as he comes to realize that peace is worth fighting for, and to let bygones be bygones...

Star Trek VI is a near-perfect send-off for the original cast. The storyline directly feeds into a notion behind The Next Generation series (peace with the Klingon Empire), the main characters all get something worthwhile to play, there's a decent villain in Chang (who likes to quote Shakespeare), the mystery is Scooby Doo calibre but great fun, there's a memorable role for ice-cool Cattrall, strong effects wprk (Stargate even stole the Praxis blast-wave a few years later), a thrilling finale (despite its steals from countless assassination-themed movies), and even the way the majestic score's crescendo leads into the end-title signatures of the cast has a real punch to it.

This wouldn't be the definitive end of the original cast's involvement in Star Trek, but it's most definitely their last hurrah as an iconic collective, before other crews were passed the phasers and inherited the mission: "to boldly go where no man has gone before..."

Paramount Pictures

Budget: $27 million
113 minutes

Director: Nicholas Meyer
Writers: Nicholas Meyer & Denny Martin Flinn (story by Leonard Nimoy, Lawrence Konner & Mark Rosenthal)

Cast: William Shatner (Captain James T. Kirk), Leonard Nimoy (Spock), DeForest Kelly (Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy), George Takei (Hikaru Sulu), Walter Koenig (Pavel Chekov), Nichelle Nichols (Uhura), James Doohan (Montgomery "Scotty" Scott), Kim Cattrall (Valeris), Christopher Plummer (Chang), David Warner (Gorkon), Iman (Martia), Brock Peters (Admiral Cartwright) & Rene Auberjonois (Colonel West)