After an explosion on their moon, the Klingons have an estimated 50 years before their ozone layer is completely depleted, and they all die. They have only 1 choice - to join the Federation, which will mean an end to 70 years of wars. Admiral James T. Kirk and crew are called upon to help in the negotiations because of their "experience" of the Klingon race. Peace talks don't quite go to plan, and eventually Kirk and McCoy are tried and convicted of assassination, and sent to Rura Penthe, a snowy hard-labour prison camp. Will they manage to escape? And will there ever be peace with the Klingons?
Directed by: Nicholas Meyer
. Starring: William Shatner
, Leonard Nimoy
, DeForest Kelley
, James Doohan
, Walter Koenig
, Nichelle Nichols
, George Takei
, Kim Cattrall
, Mark Lenard
, Grace Lee Whitney
, Brock Peters
, Leon Russom
, Kurtwood Smith
. Music by: Cliff Eidelman
The fall of the Berlin wall and the end of the Cold War unleashed a spate of Hollywood films in which Russians defected to the United States ("The Hunt For Red October"), Russians and Americans teamed up to fight crime ("Red Heat"), shaky peace-talks began between Soviet and US politicians ("The Undiscovered Country"), dissident Americans sold defence secrets to the Soviets ("Falcon and the Snowman") and likable America warriors kicked steroid injected Russian ass ("Rocky 4").
Directed by Nicholas Meyer, "Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country" is one of the more interesting of such films. Meyer, a director and novelist who imbues his films with a quiet intelligence, is of course the man responsible for "Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan", a film which virtually re-invented "Star Trek". Meyer took Melville's "Moby Dick", several allusions to "Hornblower", Naval classics and submarine flicks, and turned Star Trek into a full blown maritime adventure movie in space. The pretentious technobabble and the soulless FX of Robert Wise's "Star Trek: The Motion picture" (it's actually pretty good), and the utopian flailings of Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, gave way to crowd pleasing action, humour, screwball banter, likable heroes and retro design changes. Elsewhere uniforms were given a more maritime feel, battles were staged like nautical encounters, crewmen blew whistles, torpedoes were loaded like cannons, captains talked about rudders and villains wore pirate eye-patches.
These changes, of course, annoyed both Roddenberry and the die hard fanboys. How dare Trek – a series about ideas and social issues - degenerate into a mainstream action movie!? How dare you turn a futuristic fleet of star ships into a jazzed up version of The British Navy, each vessel literally piloted by a crew of Red Coats!? It's a valid point, until you realise that Meyer was the first artist associated with Trek to have recognised, not only that Star Trek was always "Hornblower in space", but that it was always a fascist and xenophobic franchise. Meyer didn't turn The Federation of Planets into "The British Empire with warp drive", he merely amplified, and questioned, what was always there.
And so "The Undiscovered Country" begins by introducing Captain James Kirk (William Shatner) as an unashamed racist. Having lost his son to a "dirty" Klingon warrior, Kirk hates the Klingons, believing them to be vile, vulgar, violent and always untrustworthy. Of course his crew shares his sentiments. Why wouldn't they? Throughout the TV series, the Klingons were cast as token Russian, Black and Japanese villains. They were savage barbarians wearing Asian clothes and mostly played by black actors.
But when Kirk's ship is chosen to host the peace talks between the Federation (US) and Klingon (Soviet) Empires, Meyer undermines our preconceptions by portraying the Klingons as a well spoken and sophisticated group, adept at quoting Shakespeare and well versed in Earth literature. Far from a band of vile pirates, they come across as classy noblemen. Kirk and his merry men, meanwhile, look like a horde of drunken sailors.
Later, Meyer deftly toys with his audience's preconceptions, teasing us with the possibility that the Klingon's are responsible for a cunning attack on their own ambassador. But what actually unfolds is an elaborate plot, started by human, Vulcan, Romulan and Klingon militarist factions (in other words, we're all guilty), to destabilise any hope of peace between the empires. Old animosities and fears of change are essentially exploited in order to maintain the intergalactic status quo. The status quo being the constant cultural, scientific and military superiority of the United Federation of Planets.
Beyond its simple parable, "Country" resumes Meyer's fondness for turning his films into altars to classic literature. Dickens, Melville, Doyle, Shakespeare...these are his influences. Watch how he has Spock turn into Sherlock Holmes, frantically racing to solve "the case of the missing gravity boots". Watch how he pulls the film's title out of Hamlet, has bad guys quoting Shakespeare and has characters standing proudly before bookshelves adorned with "A Tale of Two Cities". References to Peter Pan, the Merchant of Venice, The Tempest and the racially themed "Guess Who's Coming To Diner", give the film a classiness which the franchise typically lacks.
Other impressive things abound: despite severe budget limitations, Meyer's space battles are deliciously spatial, his action has a cerebral kick, his dialogue is exceptionally well written (often screwball, always memorable, packed with one-liners), he makes sure all his cast members are given shining moments and cleverly counters Shatner's theatricality with appropriately theatrical villains. Elsewhere the film features an explosive shock-wave which set in stone the look of all future space shock-waves (the "Star Wars" shock-wave was only added in 1997).
Still, the film has two flaws. Firstly, the film's lead characters are all ultimately heroes, each with their obligatory "save the day" sequences. You sense that Meyer wants them to be tarnished, to be deeply wounded in some way, but that these characters have simply become too iconic, too mythic, to be meddled with. And so all the film's evils are given to token characters, Kirk's evils transplanted to a Federation admiral, Spock's evils to a Vulcan officer, the Klingon's evils to a rouge captain and so forth. Secondly, like most science fiction films, the film fails in its depiction of alien planets (a boring ice planet) and alien creatures (shape shifters and costumed dogs). But this is mainstream sci-fi. When you're dealing with swashbuckling space opera, dog puppets and ice planets will suffice.
Review by tieman64 from the Internet Movie Database.