Review for Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
When the Klingon moon Praxis explodes, devastating their home planet’s ecology, and effectively dooming the Klingon Empire, it serves as an opportunity for some kind of meaningful peace between the Federation and the Klingons. To that end, it’s Captain Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise to whom the duty falls to facilitate that peace, when they are ordered to meet the Klingon Chancellor Gorkon, and escort him to Earth for peace talks. That doesn’t sit well with James Kirk, who with his crew is on the verge of retirement, and who still holds a grudge against the Klingons for the death of his son. It turns out that someone holds more than a grudge when Gorkon is assassinated, Kirk and McCoy are framed, and arrested for the crime. Now it falls to Spock and the Enterprise crew to rescue their friends from a Klingon gulag, uncover the conspiracy behind it all, and salvage the peace mission.
The Undiscovered Country gets a 2.35:1 widescreen 1080p transfer on this disc. As the movie starts, we get the familiar starfield and the opening credits, and there is an ever so slight, almost imperceptible wobble in the image, the sort of movement that you get when a film is transferred to Blu-ray with the minimum of processing and interference to stabilise it. If only that were the case! Paramount have gone to town with the DNR, completely stripping the film of grain, rendering skin tones as waxy, limiting detail, and even adding the sort of ghosting you might see when you have your TV’s picture noise reduction setting at maximum. It looks better than the DVD, certainly better than the non-anamorphic barebones “collector’s edition” I bought fifteen years ago, but this is not what you want a film to look like on Blu-ray. It is watchable though, but hardly rewarding. And the digital chronometer on the Enterprise bridge is still a continuity nightmare.
You have the choice between Dolby TrueHD 7.1 Surround English, and DD 5.1 German, Spanish, Italian, and French, with subtitles in these languages as well as Arabic, Danish, Finnish, Dutch, Norwegian, Swedish, Portuguese and Croatian. Cliff Eidelmann’s score is still one of the high points of the Undiscovered Country, adding a sense of ominous dread alongside the usual triumphalism of Trek themes. The volume on this disc is pretty low, and even when lifted to an audible level, it’s not the most resounding of surround tracks. You certainly will wish for more life from the subwoofer during the action sequences, and the Praxis explosion sounds pretty weedy.
As I mentioned, I only had The Undiscovered Country on a barebones, letterbox DVD, so extra features are a novelty for me here. It must be mentioned that most of them come from the previous 2 disc DVD release, and only a few new features have been added for the Blu-ray. The animated menu seems to be the same across all discs in this collection.
The first commentary from writer/director Nicholas Meyer, and writer Denny Martin Flinn comes from the previous DVD release, while the second commentary from fan and writer of the Next Generation Companion, Larry Nemecek, and TNG producer and DS9 producer and show runner Ira Steven Behr is a lot more jovial.
The Library Computer offers a glorified text trivia track during the film.
The Perils of Peacemaking lasts 26:33 SD and looks at the art of allegory as it applies to this film.
Stories from Star Trek VI gather 6 featurettes which run to 57:09 SD with a play all option.
There’s no play all option for the 8 featurettes in The Star Trek Universe, 5 of which are in SD and run to a total of 46:14. The other 3 are in HD, created for this BD and run to a total of 30:38.
Farewell – Deforest Kelley: A Tribute lasts 13:19 SD.
There are 8 Original Interviews with the cast which run to 43:52.
Finally, you’ll find the teaser trailer, the theatrical trailer, and a 1991 convention presentation for the film.
Here’s a bit of controversy for you. I loathe The Undiscovered Country. Were it not for the obvious deficiencies of Nemesis, this would be my worst Star Trek movie. It wasn’t always thus. I loved it when I first saw it in 1991, it was briefly my favourite of the lot, and it all had to do with the obvious allegory, pertaining to Chernobyl, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and glasnost. In 1991 that was a big deal, when we briefly and idealistically thought that world peace was a genuine likelihood. There was also the slightly more subtle allegory as it applied to racism and civil rights. It was the perfect Trek movie for that time. It really should have stayed there, as it doesn’t work anymore, indeed stopped working just a few years after.
Here’s the thing... The Undiscovered Country’s cold war thriller storyline can only work because it assassinates the characters, and it dismisses what Star Trek has always been about for what was then 25 years, and is now a 50 year legacy. Boldly going, seeking out new worlds, new civilisations, it was always about openness, about understanding, about trying to find peaceful solutions to conflict first. It was about the wonder of the unknown, about exploration. This film can only work by painting the Federation as a whole, and the Enterprise crew in particular as bigots. That flies against everything that I learned about original series cast from three seasons of television and five prior movies. I can no longer buy Kirk’s hatred of an entire species for the actions of one individual. The same goes for the frosty attitudes and snide comments from the rest of the crew; Chekov’s “Guess who’s coming to dinner”, although Scotty’s “Klingon bitch” line is restricted to the home video version.
That might be the one benefit of this Blu-ray. We get the theatrical release only on this disc, which lacks the General West plot arc which leads to that terrible Scooby Doo ending in the home video version, as well as Scotty’s minor misogyny and a couple other small character beats.
The plot also only works if the Enterprise crew are fundamentally stupid as well as bigoted. I could, and will point out character moments that just don’t stand up to scrutiny, leafing through vintage paper books to find a Klingon phrase (you’d expect Uhura to speak some Klingon, she speaks Romulan in the reboot), Chekov, chief of security in The Motion Picture, doesn’t know how phasers work on a starship 12 years later, McCoy not knowing Klingon anatomy (he figured out how to cure a Horta in a few minutes, despite seeing one for the first time), and the crew generally so inept that they need a Mary Sue Valeris to tell them how to do everything.
Speaking of vintage books, Nicholas Meyer may have indulged his Hornblower fascination in The Wrath of Khan, but he overdoes it here, leaching all colour out of the sets, the Enterprise bridge now a forbidding, dark submarine grey, the pointless digital clocks, the crewmen triple bunking, the ship now having a galley (what happened to the disc operated food tubes from the original series?). Meyer reshapes Trek to conform to his vision, and the end result doesn’t hold up to scrutiny or extended thought.
There are a few character moments that still sparkle in this film, the performances are strong (I love Christopher Plummer as Chang), and I certainly still appreciate the send-off for the original series crew, that hint of Peter Pan recalling all that was best about the original series, but the film itself doesn’t work anymore, and it really does belong back in 1991.