Monday, June 7, 2010

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

I used to consider Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country my favorite of the original cast’s movies. That tends to raise some hackles since TWoK is near universally considered the film by which all others are judged. If it is any consolation, my attitude about the film has changed over the years. It is still right up there in my book, but its flaws have become more glaring over time.

The original appeal came from me being a history buff. I enjoyed the Cold War allegory which had been missing from the five previous films, save for the laugh line of Chekov looking for nuclear weapons in TVH. It is odd, considering Klingons are present in all but one of the films. The Federation/Klingon conflict was to parallel the Americans/Soviet conflict way back in TOS.. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country makes up for it in spades with some direct lifts of Cold War incidents, such a Adlai Stevenson demanding the soviet representative to the united Nations answer him immediately rather than waiting for the translation during a heated exchange over the Cuban Missile Crisis. Enough time has passed that the Cold War stuff does not resonate for me like it once did. I have moved on to other interests.

Which leads me to dwell on other aspects of the film which did not catch my eye quite as much in the past. Under the new scrutiny, TUC does not shine as brightly as it once did.

But before I critique it, let me talk about the good stuff. The first good thing is we actually have a sixth film at all. William Shatner’s previous vanity piece was a critical and financial bomb. Were it not for trek’s 25th anniversary in 1991, TFF probably would have been the end of the franchise. But Paramount handed the project over to Nicholas Meyer and Leonard Nimoy because they hd both proven in the past they could turn in afine product on time and under budget.

Such was absolutely necessary considering the slim budget TUC was afforded. You do not have to lok too hard to recognize redecorated sets from TNG, costume errors which were never fixed, and prop markings clearly visible. The funniest of the latter is astrip of tape on a footlocker to mark the exact place where the actor was supposed to place the magnetic boots so they would stick. Frankly, the entire film is a bottle show. It often feels very small in spite of its sweeping themes.

In spite of the budget constraints, ILM was back doing the special effects. It is a fortunate thing, too. The Effects of TFF often appeared to be done on some computer nerd’s Amiga. That certainly would not have flown for the climactic space battle in TUC. Speakig of which, Gene Roddenberry jumped on the phone to his lawyer to demand the battle be severely rimmed in the final cut because he disliked the militaristic tone. Roddenberry died four days later, so his lawyer dropped the matter. I am not saying it is good Roddenberry died, but he did want to cut one of the finest moments of the film in some touchy feely peacenik fit. Some folks just cannot let go of the ’60’s.

Since my biggest gripes are going to be in regards to character moments, I have to praise one good one. Originally, Saavik was to return and be theFederation traitor, but it was decided she was too popular a character to make into a villain. Instead, the character of Valeria was created. There was not the slightest ounce of surprise the only new character on the Enterprise turned out to not be on the up and up, but at least it was not Saavik.

John Warner also gets to playa much better role here as the doomed Klingon Chancellor. The role more than makes up for his strip club ambassador role last time around.

But the character moments. Oh, mercy. The worst on screen was Kirk. We had gone through two films after the Klingons had killed his son with nary a reaction from him. That is strange, most definitely, but it could be rationalized that Kirk death with his grief privately. It may even be what he was referring to when Sybok offered to take his pain away bu the refused. He needed the pain of his son’s death as a constant reminder. But that is speculation. What we get screen is Kirk complete dismissal of the Klingon race’s need for survival because of his son’s death. Far be it from me to question how father reacts to his son’s murder. I do not have kids. But I think Kirk would not be so sweepingly bitter about the entire Klingon race because of one Klingon’s murderous actions. Kirk should be a bigger man than that.

The second character demeaned unfairly is Uhura. You would think Nichelle Nichols could not be humiliated any further after her geriatric strip tease in the previous film, but you would be wrong. She had to put her foot down twice in order to avoid saying racist lines. Oe in which she asked a Klingon if she could marry his son was cut because she refused to say it period because it cast negativity over interracial relationships. Another--the, ’Guess who is coming to dinner?” joke--was given to Walter Keonig because it was an reference to the Sidney Poitier movie movie about an interracial couple. Nichols was ignored I her complaint about the scene in which Uhura has to scour through language books in order to respond to a message in Klingon. Surely the flagship’s communications officer could speak some of the Federation’s biggest enemy’s language. A debatable point, but when you see the pigeon Klingon translation was pretty much in ebonics, Nichols’ objection is well taken.

Otherwise, TUC is a great send off for the original crew. There is an atmosphere thatan era is ending, both in the real world with the end of the Cold War and in Trek with the passing of the baton from the TOS crew to the TNG. The only real hole there is that the Enterprise which just left dry dock in TFF is already being decommissioned. Only a handful of years could have passed at most. Hat gives?

There was also a much steadier balance of humor and drama here than in either of the previous two films. Not that it did not run the risk of farce, particularly with the Shakespeare quoting Chang. At one point, McCoy quips he would pay real money to get Chang to shut up. He is saying exactly what the audience was thinking by that point.

In short, TUC is still a god movie in spite of its flaws. Nimoy and Meyer did a good job with what they had to work with. The problem for me is the film as shifted from marking Cold War into an era of peace to a bunch of old men who cannot change with the times even though the future looks brighter than the past. Take that for what is is worth. I am reaching theage where I think everything was better ten or fifteen years go myself regardless of whatever anyone else thinks, so I may be tainted by seeing my stubborn qualities represented in the characters.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

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