Friday, June 25, 2010

"Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country" (1991)

"Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country" (1991)
Starring William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and Deforest Kelley
Written by Nicholas Meyer and Denny Martin Flynn
Directed by Nicholas Meyer

After "The Final Frontier" left many filmgoers disappointed, Paramount wasn't sure they wanted another "Star Trek" feature.  After all, the crew was now noticeably middle-aged.  How believable was it for them to continue having wild adventures in outer space?  Not very.  Thus, preparation began for a prequel film which would recast Kirk, Spock and the others as young Starfleet cadets.  It would take nearly 20 years for that idea to come to fruition, since it was shelved when studio execs were convinced to give the original crew one last go.

Determined to give the cast an appropriate swan song, Nicholas Meyer returns to the franchise, having proven himself by giving the franchise its two most successful installments, namely "Wrath of Khan" and "The Voyage Home."  What he crafts here is a fine political thriller set in space, with old foes confronting racism and differing political ideologies.  This film was produced as the old Soviet Union was falling apart, and the parallels are fairly obvious, but only serve to give the film greater depth and meaning to the proceedings.

The Klingon moon Praxis explodes at the outset of the film, an industrial accident that pollutes the atmosphere of the Klingon homeworld and decimates their economy.  With the empire predicted to fall apart after this catastrophe, Klingon Chancellor Gorkon (David Warner) reaches out to the empire's old enemy, the Federation.  Captain Kirk, despite his hatred of the Klingons for killing his son, is ordered to escort the chancellor through Federation space to a peace conference on Earth.  Partway through the journey, however, the Enterprise seemingly opens fire on the chancellor's ship, and two men in Starfleet uniforms board the vessel and assassinate him.  Captain Kirk and Doctor McCoy are arrested for the crime, and tried and sentenced to manual labor for the rest of their lives.

Spock, now in command of the Enterprise, must piece together exactly what happened in order to prove Kirk and McCoy's innocence before the assassins can strike again the rescheduled peace conference.  What he uncovers is a vast conspiracy that includes not just high-ranking Federation officials but Klingons and Romulans as well.   It all culminates with a confrontation in orbit over the peace conference as the starships Enterprise and Excelsior attempt to stop the assassination of the Federation president. 

This is a thrilling entry into the "Star Trek" franchise, throwing a bit of mystery and intrigue into the mix, and telling a serious, allegorical story filled with interesting characters.  Captain Kirk's hatred of the Klingons comes to the forefront here, and though fans will decry his overtly racist attitude towards them, it all makes sense in the context of the story - a Klingon murdered his only son, after all.  That sort of thing tends to have an effect on a human being.  It not only provides a necessary dramatic thrust for us to care about Kirk, but also figures into the plot when his words are used against him in court. 

Christopher Plummer joins the cast as General Chang, the villain of the piece, and brings a necessary dramatic weight to the proceedings.  He works well off of Shatner, and his theatrical roots get good play from Chang's admiration of Shakespeare.  Kurtwood Smith appears as the Federation president, and though he doesn't get much opportunity to shine, he seems appropriate to the role.  Kim Kattrall, later of "Sex and the City" also joins as the Enterprise's traitorous helm officer, Lt. Valeris.  She works fine enough, but the nature of her role means she can't emote much, so she does her best to deliver her dialogue without emotion... but also without sounding flat or bored.  Vulcans are a tough role to play, so props to her for not botching it like some others have (I'm looking at you, Jolene Blalock).

The visual effects are top notch, thanks to Industrial Light and Magic.  The final battle is one of the best of the franchise, with lots of damage inflicted spectacularly on the Enterprise.  It's quite well intercut with the scenes on the planet below as the assassin prepares to kill the president, giving the entire sequence a tension that could easily have gone the other direction.  But under Meyer's skilled hand, the whole thing is just vastly entertaining.

Presentation on the blu-ray disc is, again, problematic.  While this movie probably looks the best of the original "Star Trek" films in HD, it still has issues.  Digital noise reduction rears its ugly head once more, which leads to washed out details.  However, it's not as much of a problem as it was in the earlier movies, which leaves "The Undiscovered Country" looking pretty awesome compared to the DVD version.  Particularly impressive are the scenes in the Klingon prison, where costumes exhibit a lot of excellent detail.  Colors are boldly saturated throughout, and contrast is excellent across the board.  Still, this transfer could definitely be better.