Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)

star trek vi the undiscovered country

“I’d give real money if he’d shut up!”

The Scoop: 1991 PG, directed by Nicholas Meyer and starring William Shatner, Christopher Plummer, George Takei, and Kim Cattrall.

Tagline: The battle for peace has begun.

Summary Capsule: Kirk and crew embark on their last great adventure… with glossy results!


Justin’s rating: We’ve switched Sulu’s coffee with battery acid. Now, let’s see what happens.

Justin’s review: [excerpt from Justin’s diary, December 19, 1991]

Dear Captain’s Log, I have finally sailed to the final frontier: I’ve seen a Star Trek film in the theater! I can’t remember being this excited about a movie, but I’ve seen it six times already and it keeps getting better. How cool is Kirk? I could be Spock’s replacement, I guess, but I do hate science class. We have to disect pigs this week, yummy.

What to say about Star Trek 6? Geez… what about, everything? Soooo much better than The Final Frontier (stupid laughing Vulcans). The computer effects were awesome, like the floating blood and the morphing alien lady! And how about that starship battle? Warp speed, Scotty, this is a darn good flick!

I think I’m getting weird looks in school for hanging up a Star Trek 6 poster in my locker, but oh well. Just because they lead dull lives doesn’t mean I have to.

I’m gonna go see it again this weekend, but no Starfleet uniform this time. Too bad my phaser doesn’t actually work… then I’d make them all pay!

[excerpt from Justin’s diary, September 5, 2002]

I’ve just re-watched an old favorite of mine, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. I prepared to wince mightily as I revisited the film that was at the pinnacle of my Trek years, but, Diary, I came away surprised. Believe it or not, Star Trek VI is still a great flick! Maybe — and I only admit this to you, in fear of being stoned by popular opinion — the best Trek film to date.

Sure, the technology and graphics have shown their age, but not as much as you’d think. While The Undiscovered Country was at the beginning of the CGI revolution, it wasn’t obnoxious about it; and after all, closely detailed models and traditional forms of FX are far more timeless, and used often in this movie. I do have to say that I appreciate the sequence where the artificial gravity cuts out on board the Klingon ship, and the crew (along with their blood) are floating around all nambly pambly. Gravity on starships in Star Trek is taken for granted way too much: “Well, darn, Mr. Riker, we’ve lost all power, all air, and the café is closed till 6pm… but at least we’ve still got this incredibly useful artificial gravity to keep us nailed down until we die from asphyxiation!”

As you may remember, Diary, The Undiscovered Country took a darker tone and more fast-paced edge than earlier flicks (with the exception of The Wrath of Khan) — and I think it works. As the Klingon people face a crisis of immense proportions that threatens to shatter their empire, a lightly-cloaked analogy about sparring superpowers begins. Looking back now with unglazed eyes, I can see clearly the holes in Trek’s mythos; the Trek universe likes to think of itself as evolved to a higher form of politics and way of life, but it is quite simplistic and naive when it comes to presenting anything close to the basics of multi-planet governments and alliances.

Simply put, this is a very polished and fun piece of filmmaking that delivers futuristic technology, special effects, humor, mystery, political intrigue, social commentary, action, adventure, and a few frozen bodies (which, coupled with margarita mix, makes a killer drink) by the transporter load. After three years of the old ’60s show, one janky animated series, and five feature films, the crew of the Enterprise deserved a fine send-off — and it got one.

Proving that mankind isn’t THAT evolved in the future, Kirk and crew must face their prejudices as they are ordered to extend a branch of diplomacy to a Klingon delegation. When things go sour (with a stilted dinner, ship attack, and political assassination), the Enterprise becomes a scapegoat and must solve a mystery to save a future… that they possibly don’t want. Interesting. Or as a certain pointy-eared Nimoy might say, fascinating.

While most Trek shows and movies revolve around solving some sort of mystery, be it the “flesh-eating virus that will kill me in 52 minutes precisely” or the “discovering a way to communicate with an alien species that talks only through sneezes” variety, The Undiscovered Country’s mystery (while no brain-scratcher) is aided by a sense of urgency and comradery between the well-oiled crew. Not to say that they oil each other down at the end of the day, but this IS the future and all. In fact, after dealing with several god-like alien races and saving the galaxy multiple times, a little thing like figuring out an assassination conspiracy is little more than a footnote in the Enterprise’s legacy.

While viewing this film, it becomes almost a parade of cameos and classic moments, each topping each other in a desperate bid to make this a film to remember. Spock gets in one last mind meld. Kirk gets the girl — again. Bones and Spock spar wits. Scotty gets to loudly bluster about shields collapsing and torpedoes firing. Uhura whips out her linguistic capabilities. Sulu is all grown up, with his own ship. Chekov’s sideburns are now large enough to apply for independence. It’s (in my opinion, so there, etc.) the greatest Trek crew ever assembled, and there’s no way you want to miss that party.

In more ways than one did The Undiscovered Country mark the end of an era. Not only did it pass the torch off to The Next Generation for the next film (Star Trek: Generations), but this was the last Trek film helmed by Nicholas Meyer, the last film Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry ever saw before his death, and the last time the NCC-1701 crew would ever be seen together again. It’s funny to watch this film and realize that, for the most part, you’re seeing 60+ year-old actors in roles that might be intended for 20-something actors… in any other series. It’s a tribute to how engaging they are (in roles that they’ve nailed down over the course of thirty-odd years) to hardly notice their age.

I’ve got to say, Diary, that even though my Trek years are long since past, there’s still a twinge in my heart when I think back to this final “goodbye” of the original series… and what a better way to say goodbye than give it a tribute that will last for decades to come?

Kyle’s rating: This makes me not want to die before I get old!

Kyle’s review: Like Justin, I believe that the original series crew (Kirk and company) is one of the best teams of heroes ever assembled, in my opinion perhaps outclassed only by the Justice League of America and the Magnificent Seven. Their exceptional exploits can be enjoyed in the television show(s), films, and a collection of original novels that if stacked could reach the moon. If you love the original series crew as much as I do (and many do), then you’ll be really happy that they get as great a send-off as STVI provides. Even if you prefer Star Wars or just televised sporting events, Trek VI is quality enough to entertain anyone capable of sitting through sci-fi space drama.

In a bit, I’m going to go so overboard due to my personal hero worship that my review may lose all coherence for the non-Trek-fanatics. So let me cover all the basics here and now. Basically, after decades of hostilities between humanity and the Klingon empire, a disaster leaves the Klingons very weakened. While some human sentiments veer towards driving the Klingons to their knees, the enlightened Earth leaders want to reach out to the Klingons and try to establish a new era of peace. Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) and his crew have spent decades turning the Starship Enterprise not only into the flagship of the Federation but also into one of the biggest symbols of the cold war, so it makes a lot of sense to send them to reach out that olive branch to the Klingon chancellor. Unfortunately, when things go bad they go really bad, and Kirk and McCoy (DeForest Kelley) are charged with murder while Spock (Leonard Nimoy) is left in charge on the Enterprise to get to the bottom of a conspiracy that threatens to escalate human-Klingon hostilities to the point of genocide. Will the good guys solve the mysteries and save the day? The upside is that this all occurs very far into the future, so you and me will be mostly unaffected as long as we don’t think about it too much.

Okay. Since genetics and bad breath already ensure charming girls will always be a problem for me, I have no qualms admitting that not only do I love Star Trek, but Captain Kirk is one of my personal heroes. At first glance, Kirk might seem like your standard sci-fi hero, all big, bold, and brassy and always with a trump card up his sleeve. But if you watch the original series and the films, you’ll realize Kirk became over the years an incredibly complex and fleshed out character, who is driven by ideals and dreams while dealing with philosophical problems and concerns just like us civilians. It doesn’t hurt that Shatner’s very distinctive performance style makes Kirk an extremely unique dude. If you read Shatner’s Trek novels, especially The Ashes of Eden (which rivals Trek VI for best send-off of Kirk and crew), you’ll really get to see what an interesting and ultimately human hero Kirk is. But I could go on forever. My point is that Kirk is the coolest, and his friendship and comradery with Spock and McCoy is a huge part of what makes the original crew so great. And that’s part of the magic of Trek VI. Kirk and McCoy have some good times, Kirk and Spock have a rift but show that they ultimately are best friends, Spock and McCoy get to engage in a fascinating hobby, and all three get great lines and scenes. All the crew gets some good stuff, including Scotty’s assessment of who really committed the murder, Chekov and Uhura showing they’re some of the best officers a captain can have, and Sulu being a good captain for having served under the best.

Man, this is a great movie! We get crazy aliens with a touch of toilet humor thrown in (king of a sci-fi Farrelly brothers punchline comes into play), a swipe at Shatner’s infamous vanity (good work, Jim!), and a fabulous space battle. The soliloquies are as Shakespearean as possible and the Shakespeare themes and references are very much appreciated. Sure, if you really think about it, this probably is a story that keeps space politics and plot devices simple to keep it understandable and enjoyable, but you’ll be so entertained watching you won’t even notice. All the acting is impressive, from Shatner and crew having lived in their characters’ shoes for decades to Christopher Plummer’s acting expertise making Chang be one of the coolest, literate, and theatrical characters in the Trek mythos. There might be plot holes, but Trek VI is so great on so many levels that maybe it really is the best Trek movie! But that’s a coffee house discussion for another time.

Wow. It helps that Trek veteran Nicholas Meyer helped create this installment, because he knew all about each character’s foibles and quirks to get everybody those little cool lines and scenes to make you smile every single time. Kirk is flawed but still a heroic titan, Spock is eminently logical but finally in perfect touch with his human half, and McCoy is wonderfully acerbic and bitingly witty in his old age. But a big part of what I love about Trek VI is the message it has to offer about change and perspective. Just because things have been the way they have for a very long time doesn’t mean that you should be so set in your routine that you can’t adapt and thereby lose your usefulness. Life never remains the same, so be ready and willing to accept new challenges and (you knew this was coming, didn’t you?) boldly go where no one has gone before. Thanks, Jim!

Listening to ABBA failed to help Kirk and McCoy’s trial defense

Intermission!

  • A planet exploding, without direct Death Star intervention. Cool!
  • Cap’n Sulu is da man… and he drinks coffee
  • Spiffy FX as the Excelsior is hit by the energy wave!  Surf’s up!
  • Janice Reed (Grace Lee Whitney) and Sarek (Mark Lenard) show up in cameo roles
  • The Enterprise is controlled by music board sliders?
  • As Kirk is recording his log in his cabin, he walks by the door, and you see it open
  • Futuristic whistles!
  • I love Kirk’s face as the Klingons board his ship
  • The dinner scene is classic… replete with awkwardness and fencing with words
  • Watch the collective sigh when the Klingons transport off the Enterprise
  • Artificial gravity going out… you don’t see that a lot in the Star Trek series, no matter how badly beaten up a ship gets.
  • Tough Klingons have sissy lavender blood!
  • Spock’s so sly, putting a locator patch on Kirk.
  • There’s a really cute redhead on the bridge of the Enterprise, just thought I’d point that out.
  • CAMEO ALERT: Kurtwood Smith (That 70’s Show, Robocop as the President), Deep Space 9‘s Odo as a Starfleet consultant, Michael Dorn (Worf) as Kirk’s defendant, and Christian Slater as the Excelsior communications officer
  • Didja notice how we got the word “sabotage?”
  • The Enterprise has firepoles?
  • McCoy gets a laugh at the trial
  • Chekov’s sideburns are far out of control!
  • We get to see the Enterprise kitchen!
  • Valaris shooting up the pot… hehe
  • Spock slapping away the phaser — that’s my man!
  • I love the crew scrambling to speak Klingon from books.
  • That is the coolest eyepatch in the world: Klingons don’t bother with straps.
  • Starfleet has a LOT of insubordination, so much that you think these guys take lessons in ignoring orders.
  • Oh geez, the cheesy “slow clap” dealie at the end of the film.
  • The subtitle, “The Undiscovered Country,” comes from Hamlet’s famous “To be or not to be” soliloquy, as do many of General Chang’s quotes. The film’s title was originally intended for Star Trek II: the Wrath of Khan. The first title for Star Trek II was “The Undiscovered Country”. It was in reference to Spock’s death. It was changed because the executives at Paramount wanted Kahn’s name in the title.
  • The welcome speech that Kirk, McCoy, and the others receive on arriving on Rura Penthe is an homage to the speech made by Colonel Saito to the British POW’s in The Bridge on the River Kwai.
  • The name of the prison planet, Rura Penthe, is a reference to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. It is the name of the slave labor camp that inspired Captain Nemo’s rage against society and that was the location of his death.
  • General Chang’s eyepatch has three bolts that go into the skull. They all have the Klingon insignia engraved on them.
  • The Federation President’s office is the set of Ten Forward (from Star Trek: The Next Generation) with a little redecorating. Enterprise-A corridors, sickbay, transporter room, dining room, and engineering were all sets from Star Trek: The Next Generation. One of the sets from Next Generation had a series of ships named “Enterprise” carved into it; this set feature was damaged during the filming of Undiscovered Country, when the Enterprise was being bombarded by Chang, and no longer appeared in Next Generation episodes filmed after that point.
  • When the Excelsior starts to shake as a result of the shockwave from Praxis, Mr. Valtane is first kneeling over Sulu, then he is over at the science station, and when Sulu’s cup falls, Valtane is back at Sulu’s side running towards the science station. My god man, make up your mind. [Thanks Robert H.]
  • In the ships galley, when Valeris vapourizes the pot with the phaser, the stuff inside the pot doesn’t vapourize with it. A little undercooked? [Thanks Robert H.]
  • It’s nice to know that NOT all Starfleet issued footwear can fit all aliens. And I thought stereotypical women were testy about shoes. [Thanks Robert H.]
  • At the beginning of the end credits, the signatures for each of the principle cast members is written one by one as a final send off for their characters.
  • Spock (Leonard Nimoy) tells the crew, “An ancestor of mine maintained that if you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the solution.” The “ancestor” Spock quotes is Sherlock Holmes, another fictional character well-versed in logic. Leonard Nimoy and co-star Christopher Plummer have both played Holmes on stage and screen. Also, director Nicholas Meyer is the author of several Sherlock Holmes novels, including “The Seven Per-cent Solution,” considered by many to be the best Sherlock Holmes story not written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
  • William Shatner was distressed when he saw how wide his bottom was in the scene where he walks across the bridge (away from the camera). He had them airbrush the entire scene to make his butt look narrower.
  • Gene Roddenberry died within 48 hours of viewing this film for the first time.
  • Special effects footage of the U.S.S. Excelsior in warp and of General Chang’s Bird of Prey exploding were later reused in Star Trek: Generations.
  • The name “Gorkon” is a blending of the names Gorbachev and Lincoln, two of Nicholas Meyer’s models for the character of the Klingon chancellor.
  • The casting director was Mary Jo Slater, mother of Christian Slater. Thus his small role as a Communications Officer aboard the Excelsior.
  • The Klingon blood was also purple to avoid an “R” rating, according to producers. Klingon blood was and is red in the television series.
  • The opening theme to Star Trek 6 is undeniably my [Justin’s] favorite Star Trek theme.
  • From Hunter E. of The Daily Wav: “I was a closed-captions editor for the National Captioning Institute back in the early 90s. Marc Okrand, at the time – don’t know if he’s still there, was also an editor for NCI albeit on the East Coast. Marc created the Vulcan and Klingon languages for Star Trek. 🙂 So when this film came in for editing I called him up to ask what the hell the spellings were for the Klingon in the film so I could caption in actual Klingon instead of the lame old [speaking Klingon] used. Unfortunately, not only was I over-ruled in the use of Klingon in the captions, Marc said that what he wrote for the film was kind of bastardized by the actors. Also, we had finished captioning the film (in its original theatrical release) and then about 2 weeks later the film came back in for editing – it seems they added about 5 minutes of extra footage for the video release (rumor was they wanted to fill out a 120 minute tape, but who knows why). I was psyched to see the new footage and the new “ending” which really changed the tone of the film (in the theatrical release, they said it was a Klingon that tried to do the assassination – we didn’t find out it was West (Rene Auberjenois), a Starfleet officer, until the video release.”

Groovy Quotes

Sulu: [seeing the energy wave] My… God!

Sulu: Mr. Veltine, any more data?
Valtane: Yes sir. I’ve confirmed the location of Praxis…
Sulu: What is it?
Valtane: I cannot confirm the existence of Praxis.

Reed: Do we report this sir?
Sulu: Are you kidding?

Kirk: What are we doing here?
McCoy: Maybe they’re throwing us a retirement party.
Scotty: Suits me, I just bought a boat!

C-in-C: To put it succinctly, the Klingon empire has 50 years of life left to it.

Cartwright: To offer Klingons safe haven within Federation space would be suicide!

Spock: I have personally vouched for you in this matter, Captain.
Kirk: You. Have personally. Vouched.

Kirk: Don’t believe them! Don’t trust them!
Spock: They’re dying.
Kirk: Let them die!

Kirk: We’ve done our bit for king and country.

Spock: Logic is the beginning of wisdom, not the end.

Chekov: Guess who’s coming to dinner…

Crewman: [about Klingons] You know only the top of the line models can talk…

Chang: “To be or not to be, that is the question” which preoccupies our people, Captain Kirk. We need breathing room!
Kirk: Earth. Hitler. 1938.
Chang: I beg your pardon?

Chancellor: If there is to be a brave new world, our generation is going to have the hardest time living in it.

Spock: I doubt that our own behavior will distinguish us in the annals of diplomacy.

Kirk: Signal our surrender.
Uhura: Captain?
Kirk: We surrender!

Chancellor: Don’t let it end this way, Captain.

Spock: In either case, what we are looking for is here.
Chekov: What are we looking for?
Spock: Lieutenant.
Valaris: Two pairs of gravity boots.

Kirk: Can’t believe I kissed you!
Alien: [disguised as Kirk] Must’ve been your life-long ambition!

Kirk: Couldn’t you have waited two seconds? He was about to explain the whole thing!

Kirk: First rule of assassination: kill the assassins.

Kirk: You’re a great one for logic. I’m a great one for rushing in where angels fear to tread.

Kirk: Spock, you wanna know something? Everybody’s human.
Spock: I find that remark… insulting.

McCoy: [As the Enterprise is under attack] This is fun.

Helmsman: She’ll fly apart!
Sulu: Fly her apart then!

McCoy: [As Chang is quoting Shakespeare] I’d give real money if he’d shut up!

Kirk: Captain’s log, Star Date 9522.6: I’ve never trusted Klingons, and I never will. I could never forgive them for the death of my boy. It seems to me our mission to escort the Chancellor of the Klingon High Council to a peace summit is problematic at best. Spock says this could be an historic occasion, and I’d like to believe him, but how on earth can history get past people like me?

Kirk: Bones, are you afraid of the future?
McCoy: I believe that was the general idea that I was trying to convey.
Kirk: I don’t mean this future.
McCoy: What is this, multiple choice?

Spock: What you want is irrelevant, what you have chosen is at hand.

Spock: What we require now is a feat of linguistic legerdemain and a degree of intrepidity.

Spock: There is the old Vulcan proverb: only Nixon could go to China.

Spock: If I were human I believe my response would be “go to hell.” …If I were human.

Spock: Mr. Scott, I understand you are experiencing difficulties with the warp engines?
Scotty: There’s nothing wrong with the bloody —
Spock: Mr. Scott, if the Enterprise responds to hails and returns to Starbase, there is a good chance that we will never see Captain Kirk or Doctor McCoy alive again.
Scotty: Could take weeks, sir!

Chekov: Course heading, Captain?
Kirk: Second star to the right and straight on ’til morning.

[After Kirk and Martia kiss passionately.]
McCoy: What IS it with you, anyway?

Kirk: Captain’s Log, Star Date 9529.1. This is the final cruise of the Starship Enterprise under my command. This ship and her history will shortly become the care of a new generation. To them and their posterity will we commit our future. They will continue the voyages we have begun, and journey to all the undiscovered countries, boldly going where no man… where no *one* has gone before.

If You Liked This Movie, Try These:

  • Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan
  • Star Trek 4: The Voyage Home
  • Star Trek: First Contact

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