Star Trek VI – The Undiscovered Country (1991) ***
A peace initiative between the Federation and the Klingon Empire is threatened by conspirators on both sides.
I’m sure I’m going to annoy someone, but this film has some real stupidity in it.
Firstly, like pretty much all the previous films, there’s a genuinely decent story to be told here. Yet like all the previous films problems arise due to lazy thinking and/or poor choices. The biggest flaw with TUC is its generally ham-fisted approach. There really isn’t much subtlety in it.
Cliff Eidelman’s score is certainly evocative and parts of it throughout really set a mood. But as a main them it again felt out of place. It’s another example of trying to make Star Trek
feel like it’s something other than what it is.
The first WTF moment is the opening scene where Praxis explodes. Any minor bit of reflection on how it’s done shows how silly it is. If something explodes in such a way that the effects are significantly felt light years away (and I think it’s safe to assume the Excelsior
was light years distant outside of Klingon territory) then it’s not going to just damage the Klingon homeworld---it’s going to obliterate
said homeworld. Secondly, natural effects cannot travel faster-than-light and so the effects of the Praxis explosion would take freakin’ years to cross light-years to reach the Excelsior
and not mere minutes or hours. This is poor writing we probably wouldn’t accept from a comic book. But since it’s live-action and done in a generally serious tone they figure probably no one will notice. Wrong.
We know Nicholas Meyer has returned because he again puts his stamp on the Trek universe where Starfleet’s existence is primarily military defense and the Enterprise
is comparable to a warship or submarine. He goes so far as to redress sets and shrink corridors and crews quarters to reinforce the idea of a cramped naval vessel. This is totally inconsistent with the Enterprise
having long been established as a ship of exploration and peace that also happens to be able to defend itself. The design of the ship, inside and out, was always meant to convey that idea. But not in Meyer’s take on Trek. He reinforces this idiocy by suggesting that if peace with the Klingons is achieved then Starfleet could well dismantle large parts of its defensive structure. How stupid is this? The Klingons certainly aren’t the only ones out there ready to take on the Federation. In TOS the Enterprise
ran into a lot of folks that could be just as dangerous as the Klingons. Indeed in TOS the Klingons aren’t seen all that often at all. But, of course, in the movies they’re everywhere.
Meyer also doesn’t get the characters. I made a point of watching some of the special features before watching the film. In it William Shatner expressed his disagreement with Kirk’s blatant racism in the film. His take is that while Kirk may indeed have certain feelings he wouldn’t wear them on his sleeve. And if he did inadvertently blurt something out he would immediately regret it. He therefore asked Meyer to allow Kirk to show some regret and distaste after blurting out they should just let the Klingons die. Meyer initially agreed and then later cut the scene where Kirk expresses regret and embarrassment over saying something so distasteful aloud. Shatner wasn’t happy. And this sentiment carries over into the other characters as well. In TOS the episode “Day Of The Dove” touched on the issue of race hatred between humans and Klingons and yet also showed the Enterprise crew could wrestle with and control those feelings. This was a powerful message throughout the series. But Meyer’s intent was to deconstruct all of that. His version of Kirk was little better than some of the nutjobs in the ‘60’s era film Doctor Strangelove (Or How I Learned To Love The Bomb).
Nichelle Nichols was also one who objected to the blatant racism shown by the Enterprise
crew. Her take also was “this is not who these characters are.”
Nuance and subtlety are obviously not Meyer’s forte. Mind you Meyer isn’t the only one at fault here. Leonard Nimoy was involved in this story and he doesn’t seem to have objected to Meyer’s ideas.
In TFF Kirk says, “I miss my old chair.” Amen to that, Captain. I miss the Enterprise
we saw in TOS, TMP and even TWOK. I miss that beautiful yet powerful starship of the far future. I don’t care at all for the worn and cramped and darkened starfaring submarine Meyer puts on the screen. He also reinforces that idea by injecting nautical references that have absolutely no relevance whatsoever to operating a starship. This is a big issue with me throughout the films TWOK-TUC. Whatever one’s issues with TMP the depiction of Starfleet and the Enterprise
is conceptually consistent with what had been established in TOS. That overall approach would return in TNG. But in the films II-VI that idea is just thrown away and it really pisses me off.
How come on one makes a stink of the fact General Chang somehow managed to get hold of an excerpt of Kirk’s personal log? That moment was like getting hit over the head with a hammer and yet no one onscreen raises a finger over it.
How convenient that Kirk and McCoy get to keep their uniforms as prisoners sent to Rura Penthe and that they’re not searched and no one notices the viridum patch on Kirk’s shoulder? And how convenient that tiny patch can be detected two sectors away. And how monumentally stupid was the scene where the Enterprise
crew are clumsily trying to use old-style books to communicate in Klingon? Here was a perfect opportunity to flesh out an established character more and they totally ignore it. Uhura is the ship’s Communications Officer with decades of experience. Wouldn’t it have been a nice tough if she knew at least just enough Klingon language to communicate when needed? It would have been a simple and elegant solution as well as a nice extra dimension to her character. But yet again they choose the ham-fisted approach just to get a cheap laugh.
Spock’s telepathic assault on Valeris is REALLY out of character. And just how did Spock know Sulu aboard the Excelsior
would know the location of the Khitomer conference, particularly when the location is supposed to be secret from anyone not directly involved in the conference? Doesn’t the Enterprise
have any shields? How else to explain the holes in the hull? Again with all the sparking and exploding consoles when under attack (same in TWOK). And why is Spock asking McCoy (of all people who should actually be in sickbay) to assist him in in modifying a torpedo? Aren’t there any number of technicians or engineers aboard who could do that particularly in an emergency?
One damned stupid thing after another to kick me out of the story.
I also found the ending scenes both on Khitomer and the Enterprise
bridge to be awkward and over staged.
The film does have some positives to it. It has energy and good pacing. The f/x are competent. The music works for a lot of scenes. There are some good character moments. The essential story is a respectable one. Unfortunately the positives aren’t enough to elevate the film to anything more than just an okay effort. It’s a better and more polished effort than TFF, but not by a great margin.
I’m ready to be burned at the stake now.