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On Dec. 6, 1991, the original crew of the Enterprise had its final adventure. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country saw Captain Kirk deal with his own racial prejudice and the film used the end of hostilities with the Klingon Empire as an allegory for the fall of the Berlin Wall — making it one of the darkest and most cerebral Star Trek movies ever. The Hollywood Reporter reviewed the film opening day:
No surprises are desired and none are forthcoming in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, the latest and apparently final voyage of the noticeably aging Enterprise crew. One of the most precisely targeted of any film or film series, this episode typically gives fans everything they have come to desire and expect: standardized character relations, a plot gleaned from today’s news, a sentimental affection for space travel and discovery, a very male universe and an instantly recognizable divide between good and evil.
For non-believers, the film offers the usual judicious and relatively economical serving of recent and tried effects — including some nice-looking body transformations — a plot made up of different measures of space, adventure, detective mystery and courtroom drama.
For all that, the film leans heavily on the incoming audience’s affection and tolerance, and there are problems with rhythm and pace that might scuttle a less familiar venture. However, given the film’s status as the only sci-fi adventure of the season and as a farewell performance, it could do some fast opening business. Long-playing possibilities look unlikely, however.
The plot, from a story penned in part by Leonard Nimoy, involve the crumbling of the nefarious Klingon Empire following a cataclysmic Chernobyl-type disaster (only a moon blows up instead of a mere reactor). While escorting a Klingon emissary, Gorkon (David Warner), to a peace conference, the Enterprise appears to fire on the diplomat’s vessel, killing Gorkon and some aides.
This causes a crisis following which Capt. Kirk (William Shatner) and medical officer McCoy (DeForest Kelley) are tried by the Klingons and imprisoned on a frozen mining asteroid. Meanwhile, Capt. Spock (Nimoy) and the Enterprise crew (including regulars James Doohan, Walter Koenig and Nichelle Nichols) seek to find the conspirators who have framed the innocent Kirk and company.
Given that Christopher Plummer plays a one-eyed Shakespeare-quoting Klingon general named Chang, and that the Enterprise crew has been supplemented by a female Vulcan officer, Lt. Valeris (Kim Catrall) with grave reservations about peace negotiations, the audience has a list of suspects from which they may deduce the guilty long before Spock does.
Luckily, the plot detours to Kirk and McCoy’s escape from their snowy prison with the help of a treacherous changeling (Iman) who can be seductive or frightening as the situation demands. Similarly, the movie ends with some bang as the Enterprise and another ship under the command of regular Capt. Sulu (George Takei) trade proton punches with a stealth Klingon fighter.
The usual character-shtick dialogue among Kirk, Spock and McCoy is handled perfunctorily but effectively, without the self-conscious preciseness it had in Star Trek V. However, by the production’s nature, it is condemned to several philosophical exchanges about the condition of the universe, a turn that clearly delights fans but which may cause impatience in others. Too often, as with Kirk and McCoy’s long courtroom scene, the action grinds to a halt for platitudinous declamations.
Still, the film has a conviction and pulp-adventure integrity that cannot be underestimated. Director Nicholas Meyer keeps his camera hopping and the production has a dark, atmospheric sheen that persistently suggest mystery and danger. Not the best of the series, but a suitable farewell. — Henry Sheehan, originally published Dec. 6, 1991.
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