THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY - STAR TREK VI 1991
The crews of the Enterprise and the Excelsior must stop a plot to prevent a peace treaty between the Klingon Empire and the Federation.
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As the Reganomic, age of greed go-go decade of the eighties drew to a close, the Star Trek movie franchise was not in a good place. Having begun the decade on a whimper with Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the series closed it out on a nervous breakdown with the disastrous Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, both a critical and commercial disappointment of epic proportions.
In considering how to inject new life into the franchise to put it back on track, producer Harve Bennett decided that the next film would be a prequel, depicting the iconic characters backstories and how they came to be associated with each other. Younger actors would replace the original cast, and two hot young at the time stars rumoured to be considered were Ethan Hawke as Kirk and John Cusack as Spock. However, Gene Roddenberry, the cast and fans vehemently opposed the idea, which lead Paramount to reject it. Miffed at the cast and the studio’s reaction to his concept, Bennett chose to leave the series. Ironically, almost twenty years later, Paramount would green light a prequel to revitalize the once again slumping franchise, to glorious results.
With a vital component now gone, Paramount turned to the other, in addition to Bennett, responsible for striking gold and platinum with Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Leonard Nimoy, to executive produce and create the story for the next movie. Nimoy felt that the sixth installment should be a valedictory for the original cast, as they were rather long in the tooth and it was time to pass the torch onto the cast of the highly successful at the time television spinoff, Star Trek: The Next Generation, whom both Paramount and the fans had eagerly desired to have their own film series.
Meyer was intrigued by the concept and agreed to the project, however, time was of the essence. Paramount wanted the movie to be completed for 1991 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Star Trek. Meyer was unable to solely write the script in the time allotted and enlisted longtime friend Denny Martin Flinn to assist.
This time around, Meyer completely exercised the freedom he did not have when re-writing and directing Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Meyer absolutely indulged his love of Shakespeare and literature in general. Starting with the title, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (a title he originally intended for TWOK), which is a quote from Hamlet that in the context of the movie is a reference to the unknown future, and having various characters liberally referencing and quoting from Shakespeare and other literary classics.
The resulting screenplay is a political commentary/whodunit mystery. Due to bad maintenance and unsafe working conditions, the Klingon energy facility on the Praxis moon self-destructs, causing severe irreparable damage to the Klingon home planet and weakening their hostile empire as a result. The Klingons find themselves in dire straits as their world is rapidly losing the capability to maintain life, and the only possibility of survival is to reach out to their long-standing enemy, The United Federation of Planets.
Dissension arises among some members of the UFOP over bringing aid to and making peace with such a barbaric species as the Klingons. The Enterprise crew is assigned to meet with and escort Klingon Chancellor Gorkon (a play on the name of then Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev), to peace negotiations on Earth. The mission does not sit well at all with Captain Kirk (William Shatner), who has always harboured prejudice toward the Klingons, which was exacerbated following their murder of his son in The Search for Spock.
Following an extremely tense and awkward dinner aboard the Enterprise after rendezvousing with the Klingon entourage, the ship containing Gorkon is fired upon twice by, apparently, the Enterprise. The surprise fire causes absolute disarray aboard the vessel, including the disabling of the ship’s artificial gravity. Amid the chaos, two assassins beam aboard the Klingon ship and assassinate Gorkon, throwing the peace process into great peril.
While obviously nowhere near the calibre of such classic political commentary mysteries as The Manchurian Candidate and All the President’s Men, Undiscovered Country is a fine and very entertaining movie that’s a worthy addition to the Star Trek cannon, and a fitting farewell to the original cast. Though the various characters, especially the Klingons, freely quoting Shakespeare and other literary classics does push the boundaries of credibility and veer on camp at times, it does work. Politically, while reflecting events of the time when originally released, TUD would end up being somewhat prophetic with the assassination of Israeli leader Yitzhak Rabin four years later and the current tension filled climate between the Islamic world and the West following 9/11.
The original Star Trek cast (William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols, Walter Koenig and George Takei) are in fine form, and they chose the right time to bow out, as they look ready for the old age home. The originals are provided wonderful support from Kim Cattrall as Spock’s new Vulcan trainee Valeris (Nicholas Meyer had originally wanted Cattrall to play Saavik in Wrath of Khan, but she was unavailable), David Warner as Gorkon and Christopher Plummer matching Ricardo Montalban in TWOK with his flamboyantly villainous portrayal of the Klingon General Chang.
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country was both a critical and commercial success, equaling the grosses of Wrath of Khan and Search for Spock, putting the movie franchise back on track. The next installment would see the Next Generation cast taking over. That cast would ultimately go on to make four films, the last of which almost equaled The Final Frontier in quality, gross and reception, thus causing the series to slump again and remain dormant for seven years.
In 2009, Nicholas Meyer’s heir apparent, J.J. Abrams, rejuvenated the franchise with an extravagant prequel to the original series, featuring young actors playing the revered characters, and was intelligent, gritty, sexy and fun. Star Trek went on to become one of the most critically acclaimed and highest grossing movies of the year, becoming the most successful in the franchise. A sequel has been planned, proof positive that Star Trek films are back with a renewed vigour and will continue into the 23rd century and beyond…