From the Archive: Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

This wasn’t the first writing I did for my college’s student newspaper, The Pointer, but I do believe it was the first full-length review I turned in. It’s not that much longer than the most robust pieces written for our radio show, right in the middle of its three-year run when this was published, but I presume I was feeling a little more pressure about the word count, evidenced by me essentially make the same point repeatedly in the last three paragraphs. As is often the case with newspapers, I take no credit nor blame for the headline, which I explicitly state to absolve younger me for the misspelling of “contributor” below my name. Good ol’ Pointer.

What is it about Star Trek that fascinates us? How has this simple science fiction television program managed to become such a popular icon to so many people? The world is filled with Trekkers (Trekkies is now considered a derogatory term) who can instantly quote lines from the television series, the books, and the films as if they were reciting their home addresses. And when exactly did that appeal become so pervasive that even us nonbelievers, forever trapped on the outside of the fantastic realm of Vulcans and Tribbles, get a certain thrill from seeing the original cast decked out in their striking Federation uniforms?

That rush of anticipation and comfort is exactly what makes the latest and reportedly final voyage of the Starship Enterprise such a pleasant ride. STAR TREK VI: THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY is full of plot holes and inconsistencies that somehow don’t matter when you know that you’re being guided by the strong and steady hand of old friend Captain James T. Kirk (played by William Shatner, of course).

The plot, created by Leonard Nimoy (eternally Mr. Spock), is a thinly veiled reflection of the current state of global affairs. The Klingon empire is suffering from a terrible accident at one of their power-producing sites that bears more than a passing resemblance to the devastating Chernobyl disaster endured by the Soviet Union several years ago. When the ailing Klingons propose peace with the same tone as the ones currently sounding out a new era in Soviet-U.S. relations, the Enterprise is sent on a diplomatic mission to rendezvous with Klingon dignitaries (juicily played by David Warner and Christopher Plummer). The meeting is noticeably strained, but the real trouble doesn’t begin until the Enterprise apparently fires upon the Klingon vessel: an act of war during a struggle for peace. The crew has to determine who’s really trying to trip ip the steps toward universal peace as Kirk and Dr. Leonard McCoy (ancient DeForest Kelley) are brought up on murder charges before a Klingon court.

Rather than an overwrought, soul-searching finale, director and cowriter Nicholas Meyer (who was also a creative force behind the two most satisfying film offerings, parts II and IV) thankfully opts for what amounts to an agreeable if not particularly stunning concluding chapter that would have fit in perfectly as an episode during the original run of the series.

STAR TREK VI doesn’t try to finish things up with a shocking conclusion, but there’s a definite sense of closure to the release. Spock has a painting in his cabin intended to remind him that all things must end, Kirk rambles on about the uncertain future (the “undiscovered country” of the film’s title), and it’s made clear that the Federation is about to put this crew into retirement to make room for the next generation of space travelers.

STAR TREK VI is the way we should say goodbye to these characters that we’ve known for 25 years: not with profound proclamations, but with one final, high-spirited jaunt across the stars.

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Posted in Film

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