Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country review
When I first heard there was going to be a sixth film with the original cast of Star Trek, I must admit to having winced somewhat. Would the visual flavor that I had loved from the early movies once again feel very much gone, much as it had in the case of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier?
However, when I read Nicholas Meyer would be returning to the director’s chair, I grew excited. Aware he was the man who had largely been responsible for making The Wrath of Khan such a success, I became hopeful he could once again rescue the original crew and help them go out in style in this, the last Star Trek film to feature the entire original main cast.
I can remember rumors flying about, at the time, that this film would see the death of Captain Kirk. There was even a shot in the trailer of Kirk being disintegrated, so the question of his survival did indeed hang in the balance. Although easily forgotten today, it did up the ante of excitement at the time.
Happily, my hope that Nicholas Meyer would successfully direct this film, which was released to mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of Star Trek, turned out to be well-founded. With location shooting on frozen glaciers and bouncing back and forth between there and Hollywood, it is a testament to Meyer’s management skills that he could deliver such a high-quality film on a budget not much more than that of its immediate predecessor (only about four million US dollars more).
It just so happened that we were studying Hamlet in my English class during my senior year of high school when the film was released. Not lost on me was the fact that its title is a reference to a particular line from Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 1. Just as our heroes faced the “undiscovered country” of an unknown future in the film, I – preparing to graduate from high school – was also facing a new and uncertain future that could be both frightening and exciting at the same time. As Spock says in the film, we must have faith every time a turning point comes in our lives and in the world around us and allow it to unfold, as it should. I always have and always will love it when we get introspective thoughts like this in the middle of a film chock full of space battles and adventure.
This film also features a dastardly conspiracy, and the conspirators are an interesting bunch. Only one of them is someone we would actually expect to be in on it, and that’s General Chang. A most unusual Klingon character, he’s actually articulate and well-mannered, and he liberally quotes Shakespeare just as a means to get under Kirk’s skin. Chang is obviously badass enough (as evidenced by the eyepatch bolted to his skull, which I always loved), but more than that, he’s cunning enough that he’s not even above playing the victim to make Kirk suffer behind bars.
It would have been too easy to have had an assortment of the other Klingon characters in this film turn out to be Chang’s fellow conspirators, and revealing his collaborators to actually be a variety of Starfleet officers instead was appropriately shocking. The most interesting of them all is Valeris, as this was originally supposed to be Saavik, returning from the three films in the “Genesis Trilogy”. Frankly, I’m grateful that, for various reasons, this wound up not being the case. Let’s be honest; we would never have thought that Saavik would be a conspirator, and we would have felt the betrayal just as our heroes did. So, all in all, I believe it worked out for the best.
The film’s end battle does not disappoint in the slightest nor does Kirk’s triumphant speech at the conclusion of the film, which chronologically sets the course for The Next Generation. Best of all, the Enterprise, battered but triumphant, sails away into the brightness of a star as Kirk records his final log and the original cast literally signs off. It was the perfect ending for twenty-five great years together and the promise for a great future, even in the wake of the passing of Star Trek’s creator, Gene Roddenberry.
I’ve always thought the film could have benefited from fully incorporating the Shakespearean quote its title comes from, which states, “But that the dread of something after death – The undiscovered country, from whose bourn no traveller returns…” This quote would have been perfect in the film itself, presented just after the dedication to Gene Roddenberry but before the fade-in on the starfield for the opening credits. This would have raised the question of whether, taken in this context, the quote was a reference to death itself, or to the fear of the future world that awaits our heroes’ posterity.
Ultimately, the fact this film evidently made use of already-existing sets from Star Trek: The Next Generation (even though Nicholas Meyer included some nice nautical touches in the set decoration) is the only thing keeping this film from being absolutely perfect.
A freelance writer, Douglas has several years experience writing newsletters, sales copy and movie reviews. He is also the author of the screenplays Supralight and Bloodstone: The Sorceress and the Warrior. His reviews of Star Trek films (as well as a DS9 retrospective) have been published on the TrekSphere website.