4. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)
Directed by Nicholas Meyer.
Starring William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, Kim Cattrall, David Warner, and Christopher Plummer.
A tremendous amount was at stake with the release of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, which had the double responsibility of not only course-correcting the franchise after the previous film cratered critically and commercially, but also giving the Original Series’ cast a fitting send-off.
The extremely canny decision was made to bring back The Wrath of Khan’s Nicholas Meyer to co-write and direct, and the result is an earnest yet rousing film about the future of humanity and beyond – a Cold War allegory that never deigns to the kitschy silliness of, say, Rocky IV.
Trek’s customary social commentary is melded with space opera jauntiness far more successfully than it was in the tonally jarring The Voyage Home, taking humanity’s solipsism to task in amusingly satirical fashion. But what takes The Undiscovered Country to the next level is its uniquely genre-bending approach, vaulting from political thriller to courtroom drama to prison break movie – all of it handled quite spectacularly.
Meyer’s script also does a wonderful job opposing an embittered Kirk against the more detached, pragmatic Spock as audiences reflect on their respective legacies. Kirk in particular has a fantastic arc in the film, triumphing over his grief in order to extend a helping hand.
Tonality is expertly balanced throughout; some of the funniest scenes of all the Trek films take place here, such as Uhura speaking broken Klingon, and Kirk fighting a double of himself. And yet, the central mystery – the identity of whoever fired the torpedoes – is genuinely intriguing, despite the initial stodgy potential of that forensic search for those missing boots. That’s not to forget the inspired choice to hurl Kirk and Bones into a Klingon gulag for a decent chunk of the movie.
After the stylistic nothingness of The Final Frontier, it’s also a relief to see a visual uptick with Meyer back in the director’s chair, even with the film’s budget being slashed to $27 million (that’s $6 million less than its predecessor). Though the CGI Klingon blood looks resolutely awful today, pretty much every other effects element in the movie is well-aged and lends it the expected majesty lacking from the previous film. Cliff Eidelman’s musical score meanwhile seals the slick crafts package, offering up the most evocative and affecting Trek sweep since the original movie.
Aside from Sulu being depressingly undeserved here, the central cast are otherwise well-utilised, while the supporting ensemble is a major embarrassment of riches. Kim Catrall is a hoot as the sledgehammer-subtle Saavik stand-in Valeris, while Christopher Plummer is having quite the time munching the scenery as Klingon general Chang, especially during the mid-film courtroom sequence.
Elsewhere there are cameos for future Trek alums Michael Dorn and René Auberjonois, while Christian Slater pops up for a brief moment as an officer (due to his mother, Mary Jo Slater, being the film’s casting director).
The sixth Star Trek film had a hefty weight to carry on its shoulders, but with one of the series’ most respected craftsmen at the helm, this wasn’t merely an apologetic reset but one of the most heartfelt and purely entertaining films in the entire series.
As much as one might cite The Voyage Home as Trek’s Avengers: Endgame, this film’s touching final farewell to the old guard, complete with the principal cast all lending their signatures to the end credits, was reportedly what inspired Marvel’s Kevin Feige to employ the very same tactic at Endgame‘s conclusion.
An affecting farewell to the original Enterprise crew and a welcome return to form after the disappointing fifth film, The Undiscovered Country is as fun and creative as it is dramatically compelling.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
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