In the week when we learned the name of the new Star Trek film (Star Trek: Beyond Stupid), we look back at the 1991 offering – Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.
Star Trek VI wisely sidesteps the directorial efforts of William Shatner (Star Trek V), instead employing Wrath of Khan director Nicholas Meyer, who delivers the level of quality that made Star Trek II such a success. It steps up the special effects and the storytelling, although the whodunnit is rather undermined by the culprit sticking out like pointy ears.
The plot is solid, involving Kirk (Shatner) being accused of assassinating the Klingon High Chancellor (David Warner) and sent into exile, despite the best intentions of his defence attorney (a certain Michael Dorn). Actually, exile looks quite fun; it’s all bunk beds and yellow-eyed alien ladies – better than Butlins anyway.
This story is rich with ideas of racism and conflict, concerned with diplomacy and politics just like The Phantom Menace isn’t. There are a few more Star Wars elements; while Star Trek V recreated Tatooine, VI recreates Hoth. But this franchise is characterised by a unique combination of intelligent sci-fi and baffling eccentricity; the latter fulfilled here by a scene in which Shatner fights himself. “Surprise!”
The Undiscovered Country is an engaging and entertaining film about the future, with Trek‘s typically optimistic attitude towards future endeavour; human or otherwise. A marked improvement on the last few instalments, this sequel is enjoyably well-rounded – and I’m not talking about William Shatner, who’s doing his best William Shatner impersonation.
There’s an appearance from Kurtwood Smith with flowing white hair, a brief glimpse of a young Christian Slater, and (awesomely) Christopher Plummer as a Shakespeare-quoting Klingon. The Enterprise crew are all strong as ever, if somewhat close to retirement/decommissioning. But this is their final voyage, and the film is a fine farewell to the characters we’ve grown to love – or at least learnt to tolerate their accents.
A satisfying send-off for the original crew of the starship Enterprise, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country opens with a tribute to franchise founder Gene Roddenberry (who’d died soon after the film’s completion), and closes (along with the cast’s autographs) with a Next Generation-style update to the “final frontier” monologue; “to boldly go where no man – where no one – has gone before.” Or as the great Douglas Adams put it: “To boldly split infinitives that no man had split before.”