Flashback: ‘Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country’

The original Star Trek cast bow out as they face a battle for peace… 

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‘Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country’: a satisfying conclusion to the voyages of the original crew.

Year:  1991

Starring:  William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, Christopher Plummer, David Warner, Kim Cattrall

Directed by:  Nicholas Meyer / Written by:  Nicholas Meyer & Denny Martin Flinn (Story by Leonard Nimoy, Lawrence Konner & Mark Rosenthal)

What’s it about?

When the Klingon Chancellor is assassinated enroute to peace talks on Earth, Captain Kirk and Dr. McCoy are accused of the crime leaving Spock and the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise to uncover the true culprits…

Retrospective

With the lukewarm reception of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (read the retrospective here), Star Trek’s future on the big screen seemed to be in doubt.  Yet, with the franchise’s 25th anniversary approaching, Paramount Pictures decided that the original cast deserved one more adventure before relinquishing the silver screen to their younger (and by this point, less costly) successors on the increasingly popular spin-off series Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Determined to deliver a classic and rewarding finale for the original crew (albeit William Shatner, James Doohan and Walter Koenig would cameo in Star Trek Generations) and one that would be equally redeeming for the audience, Paramount enlisted Leonard Nimoy and Nicholas Meyer to help shape Star Trek VI, both having been involved in the more successful and more popular entries in the series – Nimoy as director of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and Meyer as director (and uncredited writer) of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and co-writer of The Voyage Home.  With Harve Bennett feeling jaded by the troubled production of Star Trek V and disagreements with Paramount over the direction of Star Trek VI (the concept for a prequel featuring a new cast as younger versions of Kirk, Spock, McCoy et al being rejected by the studio) he would decide to depart the franchise leaving Ralph Winter in place as the film’s head producer.

The creative matchup of Nimoy (receiving executive producer and story credits) and Meyer would prove to be a strong and vital component to Star Trek VI, both looking to do what they felt the franchise did best – tell a compelling story that explores the human condition and discusses the issues of the day in an entertaining and engaging manner.  With the social and political climate of the 1990s being shaped by the fall of the Berlin Wall and the climax of the Cold War, Nimoy felt that this would make for a suitable and relevant topic of discussion for a good Star Trek story, one that would once again feature the original crew’s greatest adversaries: the Klingons.  Given that the Klingons were conceived by Star Trek writer/producer Gene L. Coon as a stand-in for the Russians and to provide conflict allegorical of Cold War tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union, their role in the story would be a natural and logical fit.  From this central concept, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (a title lifted from Shakespeare’s Hamlet) was born.  Working from Nimoy’s premise, Meyer would craft the film’s screenplay with co-writer Denny Martin Flinn, providing a dark, yet ultimately optimistic tale infused with all the fun, humour and excitement audiences had come to expect from a Star Trek film.

Star Trek VI opens with the destruction of the Klingon moon Praxis, the Klingon Empire’s key source of energy (an event likened by Nimoy as a galactic version of the Chernobyl incident), leading to a call for peace with the United Federation of Planets.  Three months from retirement, Kirk and his crew are ordered to rendezvous with the Klingon Chancellor’s delegation and escort them to Earth to open negotiations, but when the Chancellor is assassinated, Kirk and McCoy are put on trial for plotting Gorkon’s murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.  What follows is a thrilling ‘whodunit’ which sees Spock and the crew of the Enterprise in a race against time to uncover the perpetrators and rescue their comrades before peace talks falter and all-out war becomes certain.

Heading up the guest cast are David Warner (who had appeared as St. John Talbot in The Final Frontier and as a time-travelling Jack the Ripper in Nicholas Meyer’s directorial debut, Time After Time) as the “Lincoln-esque” Klingon Chancellor, Gorkon, Christopher Plummer as his villainous chief of staff, the Shakespeare-spouting General Chang, Rosana Desoto as Gorkon’s daughter (and successor) Azetbur and a post-Mannequin, pre-Sex in the City Kim Catrall as the Enterprise’s new Vulcan helmsman, Valeris.  Reprising their roles from The Voyage Home are Brock Peters as Admiral Cartwright, John Schuck as the Klingon Ambassador and Mark Lenard as Vulcan Ambassador and Spock’s father, Sarek.

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Christopher Plummer as General Chang.

With a screenplay laced with strong dialogue and characterisation, Nicholas Meyer draws out fine performances from the principal and guest actors alike ensuring that each of the core Star Trek characters get their moment in the spotlight, especially George Takei who relishes the advancement of the loyal Mr. Sulu to Captain of the U.S.S. Excelsior.  Christopher Plummer makes for a great villain, excessive and passionate quotations of Shakespeare only adding to his increasing malevolence.  William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley are once again on top form with Shatner and Kelley in particular sharing some memorable scenes together during their trial and subsequent sentence to the penal mining asteroid, Rura Penthe.

It’s reported that Gene Roddenberry (whose health was in serious decline) had concerns about The Undiscovered Country, specifically the prejudice and bigotry displayed by the Enterprise crew and the more militaristic approach to Starfleet, conflicting with the more altruistic vision he had for Star Trek and its characters.  These are certainly valid points but can largely be forgiven when taken in the context of the film’s story and the history of the conflict between the Federation and the Klingon Empire and those aforementioned parallels to America and Russia.

Climaxing with a tense and exciting finale featuring an explosive space battle between the Enterprise, Excelsior and a prototype Klingon vessel and a desperate race to prevent the assassination of the Federation President (played by Robocop’s Kurtwood Smith), Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country is a fitting conclusion to the original cast’s tenure and a satisfying celebration of the franchise that remains one of its most enjoyable big screen instalments.

Geek fact!

Star Trek VI includes a cameo from one of Hollywood’s hottest rising stars of the 1990s – and Star Trek fan – Christian Slater.

What are your memories of Star Trek VI? Share your thoughts below!

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Once more unto the breach: the original cast of ‘Star Trek’ assembled for their final adventure…

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11 thoughts on “Flashback: ‘Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country’

  1. Great review! I really like Star Trek VI, its such an exciting story. All the regular cast get a role to play in the action and the battle at the end between the Enterprise, the Klingon bird of Prey, and the Excelsior was awesome! A great send off on the big screen for the original Star Trek crew 🙂

    • Cheers Paul, there’s certainly a lot to say about Star Trek VI – it was actually difficult to keep the retrospective at a reasonable length as I probably could’ve gone on quite a bit longer!

  2. Who can not love the last hurrah of the original cast? This was one of the best Trek films since it had so many traits of a great Trek story: a storyline that reflects current events…in this case the end of the Cold War, interesting character moments and exchanges, superior production values (remember this came right after the cheaply done Trek V) and most of all it was a fitting send off for the original cast who were given their chance to save the galaxy one last time before sailing off into the sunset.

    • Couldn’t agree more, It’s certainly one to show those who have only seen the recent J.J. Abrams series. As much as I enjoy those these classic Trek outings are on a whole different level in terms of their intellectual and philosophical offerings.

  3. I loved Star Trek VI – must have watched it more than a dozen times. It’s usually my go-to Star Trek film as it is just pure adventure without being bogged down by too much continuity and heavy drama. Good review!

  4. Awesome review man! I really enjoy how you contextualize the whole movie with background facts, and by placing it in its time period. Also really enjoy the info on production, actors and writers that you include; they are definitely insightful and gives so much more pertinence to the movie and how its received by the public. As you might already know, I haven’t watched any Star Trek movie willingly (I’ve had a Philosophy teacher show us an episode or two of one of the Star Trek shows and I’ve seen clips of a VERY old Star Trek movie with… really bad action scenes). I know that there are some really amazing movies part of the series, but I’d have to look into it to find out where to start (besides the recent reboot that made everything much more accessible to the public). Recommendations? 🙂

    P.S. Where’s that early as hell UK release Wonder Woman movie review, sir??? 😀

    • Thank you very much for the kind words my friend! I think if you’re interested in checking out older Star Trek then this film would be a great idea as it’s very much standalone and there’s a depth to it that I’m sure you’ll appreciate. It really is a strong example of ‘good’ Star Trek and what it has to offer – if you do watch Star Trek VI and enjoy it then your next stop would be Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan if you don’t mind early 80s sci-fi but that too has a depth, great acting and some exciting old-school action (just don’t expect Rogue one style CGI space ship dogfights and you’ll be fine)!

      For something more recent, Star Trek: First Contact (featuring the cast of the Next Generation tv series) is a really good one to check out.

      Oh and in reply to your P.S. – saw WW last night, so stay tuned for the review which I’ll be posting tomorrow 🙂

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