Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (PG)
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This is the sixth film based on the TV series Star Trek, and the final film to feature the original cast (at least as the main characters). It came out in 1991, and was dedicated to Gene Roddenberry, who had died a couple months before its release. I don't recall whether I saw this in a theater or VHS or what, but by the time I rewatched it in 2023 as part of my summer of Star Trek, I remembered very little about it. Now that I have seen it again, I'm a bit surprised to find myself thinking it's probably my favorite Star Trek movie ever, even slightly above The Voyage Home, though it's hard to really compare the two movies; I love them both in different ways. This movie is far more serious in nature, even more serious than The Wrath of Khan, I would say, because the stakes are so much higher. I also want to say that by this point in the franchise, I was starting to feel that the Klingons had been overused in the films, but that did nothing whatsoever to diminish my appreciation of their use in this film. This is absolutely their best use so far. The film has a bit of the feel of a Shakespearean tragedy, I guess, or at least there's a lot of quoting of Shakespeare. It's also an allegory for the end of the Cold War, in the late 20th century.
It begins with the Klingon moon Praxis exploding, and sending out a devastating shock wave, which is experienced by the Federation starship Excelsior, which is now under the command of Captain Hikaru Sulu. (This was the first time his first name was used canonically, though it had been used in other media before.) They report the matter to Starfleet, and subsequently a classified meeting of the top brass as well as the command crew of the Enterprise discuss the situation. It is said that the Klingon homeworld of Kronos now has at most 50 Earth years of breathable oxygen left. (Which is obviously devastating, but I find it strange that there's no mention of the Klingons potentially resettling on any of the other worlds in their empire. Also, Kronos is still inhabited by the time of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and I don't remember if there was ever any explanation for that.) Anyway, Kirk and his crew are assigned to escort a Klingon ship to Earth for peace talks, though they're far from happy about this, as they don't trust Klingons.
The Klingon delegation includes Chancellor Gorkon (David Warner), who is sincere in his desire for peace with the Federation. (It seems a bit odd to me that someone like that would be able to ascend to the highest position in the Klingon Empire, but perhaps it's an indication that their race as a whole isn't as warlike as we're generally led to believe. After all, we usually just see, well, warriors, so of course they're warlike. It may not hold true for the majority of the Klingon populace.) The party also includes Gorkon's daughter, Azetbur; his military advisor, General Chang (Christopher Plummer); and I guess a few less important people. Kirk invites them to a dinner aboard the Enterprise (and seems a bit disappointed that Gorkon accepts). After the Klingons have returned to their own ship, the Enterprise appears to fire torpedoes at them, disabling their gravity. Two people in Starfleet space suits and gravity boots beam aboard the Klingon ship and kill several people, gravely wounding Gorkon. (And we see that Klingon blood is pink.) Everyone on the Enterprise is shocked and confused by these events, but Kirk surrenders to the Klingons, in an attempt to prevent his mission of peace from being derailed. He and McCoy beam over to the Klingon ship, and McCoy tries to save Gorkon's life, but fails. The two of them are then arrested for Gorkon's assassination.
Azetbur succeeds her father as Chancellor, and plans to go forward with the peace talks, though she wants them to be held at a secret, neutral location. Meanwhile, Kirk and McCoy stand trial. They are prosecuted by Chang, and defended by a Klingon lawyer named Worf (Michael Dorn, who plays the character's grandson of the same name on "The Next Generation"). They are convicted and sentenced to spend the rest of their lives on the dilithium mining penal colony on Rura Penthe. There they are befriended by a fellow prisoner, a shapeshifter named Martia (played in her primary form by supermodel Iman), who helps them escape from the mine and cross the icy terrain of the planet until they get outside the area covered by a shield that prevents beaming out. Then they'd just have to wait and hope the Enterprise came to rescue them. Meanwhile, Spock and the crew were busy conducting an investigation into what had happened, and that part of the movie is kind of a murder mystery/political thriller. They eventually learn the whole truth, but I'm not going to spoil exactly what happened or who was behind it. I will say that at one point, Spock has to obtain information from a conspirator by using a mind-meld against their will (which is sometimes referred to by Star Trek fans as "mind rape"; it was obviously traumatic for the conspirator, and I don't think Spock took it lightly, himself). Anyway, the Enterprise does rescue Kirk and McCoy... actually, I guess that happened before the truth was learned about the conspiracy to kill Gorkon and frame Kirk. But then they have to find out where the peace conference is being held. They learn from Sulu that it's at Khitomer, and the Enterprise and Excelsior go there to stop another assassination, this time of Federation President (Kurtwood Smith, barely recognizable under his alien makeup; I wish I knew what species he was supposed to be).
Well, the day is saved and I suppose peace is achieved, though we don't really see the latter part. The Enterprise crew were going to retire in three months, but they get called in early for the ship to be decommissioned, which seems odd to me, since they just got it a couple of movies ago. (Though I guess several years had passed since then, in-universe. It's now 2293. Which means they've had any number of adventures that we never got to see.) However, Kirk decides to take the ship out for one last voyage, once again disobeying orders, as he is wont to do from time to time. I liked the course heading he gave, but I won't say what it was. I also liked that Kirk learned to recognize and at least start to overcome his own prejudice against Klingons (which parallels pretty much any prejudice in the real world). Although at one point he says that everyone is human, and I know he meant well, but that's hella problematic (it would be like saying "everyone is white"). I liked that Spock at least said in passing that he found it insulting; perhaps the writers meant that as a joke, but I took it seriously, and he's right to be insulted. Anyway, I also like how in Kirk's closing narration he alters the line "where no man has gone before" to "where no one has gone before". (That's something I remembered happening in one of the films, but I couldn't have told you which one until I rewatched this. But it makes sense that it was this one.) Oh! I haven't even mentioned a major character in the movie, a Vulcan lieutenant named Valeris (Kim Cattrall). I just don't know what to say about her, I'm afraid, but she's an interesting character. There's also a cameo by Christian Slater, and his appearance is much briefer than I remembered it being. And I feel like I should say more, but I can't think what. It's just a really great movie. Oh, there are a few bits of humor, but I'm not sure how I felt about that. Like the only one I can recall right now is when the Enterprise crew were trying to speak Klingon so they could slip past a patrol or whatever to get to Rura Penthe. That was a bit cringey. And they were just lucky the Klingon they talked to seemed to be drunk. And, yeah, I really don't know what else to say.
Followed by Star Trek Generations