Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
This is a film that has aged well for me. In fact, I like it now far more than I did when it was new. As I’ve said for the other Star Trek films I’ve written about, I was there opening day in 1991. I didn’t hate it – because I think there are no truly bad Star Trek films, but.. As you’ll see if you read through this, the fact that they didn’t have the Vulcan in this film be Savvik really REALLY affected my take on the movie at the time. I’ll get into that more later, but at this point, I was really into Star Trek: The Next Generation, and while I still loved ol Kirk & crew, I kind of viewed this as the “OK, we’re done” movie, and overlooked it. Then my opinion crystallized for awhile that way, and when I went for a TOS era movie, I rarely went for this one. Not anymore, I find it far more enjoyable then I remember it being in the 90’s. I have a few words about the movie too…
The movie starts off with a literal “bang”. The destruction of a Klingon planet – Praxis. The first scenes of the movie are taken up with Capt Sulu in command of the USS Excelsior, the same ship that Scotty trashed two movies previous. I did like that we got to see Sulu advance in rank. I thought his character worked well as Captain here, and wasn’t just there to drive the ship for Jim Kirk. Also in Sulu’s crew was Janice Rand – the Yeoman from the first dozen or so episodes of TOS, who made a couple of cameo appearances in the movies before this. I loved seeing her in this. Once we got past this scene, the Capt Sulu character was weaved through the plot, and ends up being integral, without dominating time, I thought it was mixed together well.
One other thing about the Capt Sulu thing. Five years after this, Star Trek Voyager did an episode called “Flashback” where they postulated that Lt Tuvok served on this ship with Capt Sulu, and there were well, “flashbacks” to this episode where we got more into the scenes here. It also gave more to do for Rand.
One thing that I noticed on first view in 1991 and still bugs me is in this scene. When the Excelsior is riding out the shock wave from the destruction of Praxis, Capt Sulu’s tea cup stand in front of him has a cup of tea on it. The rattling forces it to fall off and break – it is shown broken on the floor right next to the base of the stand. However a minute later, it’s shown again but it’s a good 10 feet away – that always bugged me, it should be right where it fell. Here’s a couple of pictures showing that. If you click on them to see larger versions, it’s quite clear how inconsistent the placing of the broken cup is. I ran the teacup comments past a friend of mine, who suggested “That’s because the teacup is a sleeper agent!” Now he writes for television professionally, so maybe I’ll go with that. Happy Birthday Scott. ;)
Before this movie came out, it was known this was going to be the last movie for the original crew. That permeated the dialogue in the movie as well, just in case you didn’t know. When we get back to Kirk and crew, they’re at Starlet HQ for a briefing when you hear McCoy talk about a “retirement party” and Scotty mention “I just bought a boat”. The HQ meeting scene is quite good – something I’m going to be saying a lot. It’s basically just a lot of people sitting/standing around talking, but it delves into some deep thoughts – and prejudices. In a lot of ways that’s what this film has at its core – commentary on our deeply held prejudices in life. The fallout from the explosion earlier is that the Klingons are about to die as a culture/race, and that they’ve gone forward with peace talks with the Federation. Kirk & Crew are to escort the Klingon’s flagship – something that was set up by Spock volunteering Kirk and Enterprise for. That created a scene I always enjoyed where Kirk has it out with Spock over Klingons and his own hatred of them. It’s a great scene – brought out I thought by a directorial choice I liked – in a scene with 30-40 people in it, quite a few times we go to a zoom in on Spock & Kirk alone. I thought that worked well. These thoughts are followed up later on by a scene in Kirk’s quarters where he’s dictating a personal log, saying a bit more – “I will never forgive them for the death of my son”. It’s a fascinating insight into Kirk’s mind – something we didn’t see a lot, things just “happened” in the original series, there weren’t (always) a ton of introspective bits.
Once we get to the Enterprise, we meet the new helmsmen, Lt, Valeris played by Sex & the City star Kim Kattrall. Now before I get into this, I want to say I have absolutely no problem with Kim’s acting here – I thought she did a good job with what was on the page. My problem here is that this is not Savvik. As originally scripted, this character was going to be Savvik. This is borne out in the dialog in the movie. If you listen to Spock & Valeris talk to each other in the scene in Spock’s quarters, it’s obvious it was supposed to be Savvik. They made no attempt to change the dialogue, it WAS stuff meant for Savvik, not just a new character that we are meeting for the first time. That bugged me then, it bugs me know. The problem here is that Kirstie Alley was not coming back, and Robin Curtis, who played Savvik in the third and fourth films was unavailable, and couldn’t shoot. The movie’s producers had two choices. Recast the character a second time, having a third actress in the role, or change the name of the character to something else. They opted for the latter. In one way I get why they went this path, but I always still wish they would have gone for the third actress option. Yeah sure, she would have looked different, but canonically it would have still been the same character. As it is, we STILL had a different face here, but with it being a different character too in addition to the different face, it doesn’t work for me – especially since the dialogue was still there from a time when it was Savvik. I can overlook that – and do. But as long as i’m talking about this stuff, I wanted to lay it all out there, as I’m not bringing it up again after this point. I really don’t mind Kim Kattrall in this movie. What I did mind was it not being Savvik. Keep Kim. Just call her Savvik. I wouldn’t have cared.
We get to the Klingons finally. The Chancellor is played by David Warner, who was in the movie immediately preceding this as a Federation ambassador – no connection was ever intended. He arrives on the Enterprise for a dinner engagement with his entourage. Many guards, his daughter, military officers, and his “Chief of Staff” – General Chang. Chang is played by Christopher Plummer, who is a major joy to me in this movie. He ends up being the primary bad guy, although you don’t that right away. His performance is glorious, ranging from cordial to laughter to anger and outright boiling over rage. It’s a delicious role, and one I can see why he’d be attracted to. So much fun in this – especially as he gets a bunch of closeups too, and it kind of puts him right in your face – another great directorial choice I thought.
Once the Klingons are here, the dinner scene is all kinds of fun. They have Romulan Ale, something that is known to cause extreme drunkenness based on prior references to it in canon. The scene starts off cordial enough, and there’s some jokes about Klingons not knowing how to use cutlery and whatnot, but the main thrust here was the conversation over existence of the Klingons as a race. The questions head towards more racist stuff as time goes on and they end up being offended with each other, although no actual fights break out.
The amusing part in here was the comment by the Klingons about William Shakespeare in Klingon. “You haven’t experienced Shakespeare until you have in the original Klingon”. In fact, “To be or not to be” comes up a few more times in the movie after this scene. The Shakespeare talk results in a good Klingon laugh – something you don’t see a ton of. But again – Christopher Plummer is spectacular in this scene – but he is in every scene. He was brilliant.
taH pagh taHbe’
The crews go back to their separate ships, and the escort to Earth begins. That’s when the movie’s main plot really gets going. Pretty much everything up to this point is setup for what comes after this point. When they separate, there’s some amusing dialog in the transporter room from the Enterprise crew. Most of them have some variant of “Well, we f’ed that up” (obviously not in that language). It was a short bit, but I liked the crew being disgusted with themselves.
We’re led to believe that the Enterprise fired on the Klingon ship, and two “Federation” officers came onboard the Klingon ship (which had lost gravity) and murdered Chancellor Gorkon. They then escape from the ship to places unknown. In the chaos, Kirk & McCoy beam to the Klingon ship and try to save Gorkon, but he dies. Oddly the Klingon blood in these scenes looks like Pepto-Bismol, it’s super pink. I do like the way the scenes with the murder take place – mostly because they’re in zero gravity. As much time as Star Trek spends in space across all variants of it, we spend very little time in space. So I enjoyed watching this scene with the zero gravity.
As McCoy works to save Gorkon, he says he doesn’t know what to do as he doesn’t know Klingon anatomy. As long as he was a surgeon, I find it hard to believe he knows that little about it. But I’ll let the moment pass. The emotion of the scene worked well. Earlier in the scene he also said “Let me help”, but if he knew he didn’t know the anatomy, what was he going to do? Probably just an instinctual response, but still..
Anyway, with the chancellor dead, Kirk & McCoy are arrested, and there’s some scenes back and forth with the Enterprise crew, Starfleet HQ, and the Klingon council over what to do with Kirk. I did like in one of the scenes, we got to see John Schuck’s Klingon Ambassador again. Love his appearances across Star Trek, but in particular, a movie a couple before this with the like “There shall be no peace while Kirk lives”. I actually was a little surprised that line didn’t come up in this movie, as I thought those kinds of thoughts would have played into the plot surrounding Kirk, the Klingons, and prejudice. But it didn’t. Ah well. Loved seeing him again.
Then we get to the trial of Kirk & McCoy. It starts off ominously enough with the two of them being lifted through a tunnel into the trial room, which was a great visual I thought – and the Klingons in attendance shouting “Kirk… Kirk… Kirk…” – great scene setter. One amusing factoid about this scene is Kirk & McCoy’s Klingon lawyer was “Col Worf“, played by Michael Dorn. This is the same actor that played Lt Worf on Star Trek The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine. This Worf is supposed to be the Grandfather of our Worf. He doesn’t do much, he’s mostly there to be overrun by Chang in the courtroom, but it was nice seeing Michael Dorn here.
As the proceedings went on, it was intercut with shots of the trial as being viewed from the bridge of the Enterprise, and at Starfleet HQ. One would assume a legally allowed murder trial of one of the most well known Federation officers would be aired pretty much everywhere.
Chang being a lawyer here I thought was a bit odd, as he was also an active general in their fleet, but never mind. It meant Christopher Plummer was in another scene, and he steals nearly everyone he’s in. The scene starts with a translation service shown, but then that’s ignored after a bit for the sake of the audience as the scene wouldn’t be nearly as dramatic if everything was said in two languages. One of the best moments of the bit was when Chang said to Kirk “Don’t wait for the translation – ANSWER ME NOW!”.
In the end, Kirk & McCoy are found guilty, but the judge in the case (who himself had an ominous look) said the sentence of death was commuted. They were both sent to a prison planet called Rura Penthe, which had a visual look of Siberia. Probably intentional, one would think.
When Kirk & Spock were taken away, the crew on the Enterprise try and figure out what to do next. Obviously they all want to save their friends, but they can’t do anything obvious and walk in and get them. They’re ordered to return to Starbase, but lie about damage to the ship, so they can stay there and figure out what needs to be done next.
We get to the prison planet and Kirk & McCoy immediately try to fit in to the prison populace. There’s a scene where Kirk has to fight other one for respect in the prison. Kirk gets his way out, but it seems pretty obvious someone will try and kill them in the prison. They are befriended by an alien named Martia. Martin is played by Iman, the the real life wife of David Bowie. One thing about her character. She smokes a lot, and while I don’t object to people smoking, I don’t care for it. I also don’t see it as attractive. I do here. The shots of her smoking in this movie work for me. Not entirely sure why.
Martia helps Kirk & McCoy escape. However, before that happens, she has a snog with Kirk, which garners a funny reply from McCoy (What is it with you?) We find out that Martin is not just a hot looking Iman woman. She’s a shapeshifter and morphs into a few other things before she’s killed off. She’s a small little girl, a large alien looking thing, and even Jim Kirk himself for a short time. Another thing that’s odd about Martia is that depending on what angle you’re looking at her, she sometimes looks like her outfit was influenced by Medusa. Specifically this shot.
The escape ends up by a campfire, and what was supposed to happen was Kirk & McCoy killed by the prison warden (played by William Morgan Sheppard), but before that happens, Kirk figures out what’s going on, attacks Martia, and starts a fight – which is the point where Martia morphs into Kirk, so Kirk fights himself, which was amusing to watch.
While all this escape stuff was going on, the crew of the Enterprise was trying to find out who was responsible for the murder of Gorkon – trying to track down the boots. These scenes were intermixed with the escape stuff, so they were happening concurrently. Oddly though these scenes were some of the weaker, as some of the attempted comedy felt forced. Specially Chekov’s “Russian epic of Cinderella” line. I wasn’t entirely sure what the point of calling out a crew member like that in front of a dozen or so officers, one of which was Spock. It made ALL of them look pretty bad, I think that they didn’t know their own crewman well enough to know that his feet wouldn’t have fit the boots. There’s also a bit with Valeris shooting a phaser in the galley, but the reactions to that never jibed – the bit about “unauthorized phaser fire”. There’s been a crap ton of phaser fire over the years on the Enterprise and there were no alarms like they were here.
I did also notice in these scenes when the magnetic boots were found, it was shown to us the audience they were the magnetic boots by sticking one to the door of a locker. What I found amusing there is that the spot that the boot was to stick do had an had a mark on it, either from being stuck there too many times, or the magnet needed to pull this move off was far too noticeable. Take a look and see what I mean. On the final shot of the scene, the boot completely covers the spot I’m talking about. Again, take a look. To wrap that up, the name “Dax” on the door there has nothing to do with the Dax from Deep Space Nine. The name is coincidental.
There was a scene a little before this with the crew trying to talk their way past a Klingon outpost, and they have to do it by talking Klingon for real. There’s a scene where several crew members are helping Uhura come up with the words she needs. The problem I have with this scene is that Uhura shouldn’t need the help. Now I know the JJ Abrams films don’t count, but she was stated to be a linguistics expert, understanding Klingon. Uhura Prime here should be of similar skill – and I never cared for this scene, even going back to the first viewing in 1991 because she shouldn’t need that kind of comedic relief help to understand and speak the Klingon language passably. The comedy just didn’t work for me here at all.
Kirk & McCoy are rescued of course thanks to an intervention of Spock’s before they even left for the Klingon ship an hour ago in the movie. The various plot points come together here and lead Kirk & Spock to realize that there’s a way to draw out the guilty person, and lay a trap for them. Valeris of course shows up to do.. we don’t know exactly what, but I assume kill the person that could have outed her? However, before anything happens there, Spock reveals himself, and surprises Valeris (IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN Savvik!!). It brings up a sequence which is my second favorite in the movie, and some of my favorite Spock scenes.
If you’re been watching Spock all this time, one of the few emotions he rarely touched on was anger. And boy did he let some anger out here. I thought it was brilliantly acted by Leonard Nimoy. His rage at his tutor betraying the Federation was palpable. He slaps her phaser across the room they’re in, after daring her to shoot him. It was a really intense scene for sure, despite it being just William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, & Kim Cattrall – mostly in the dark.
VERY well done.
However, that leads into what is definitely my favorite scene in the movie. Right after this is a dressing down scene on the bridge of the Enterprise for Valeris, standing there with everyone watching her. Basically it’s Kirk’s version of “what the fuck”. I mean, just look at Kirk’s body language in the shot below when he seemingly “towers over her”. Anyway, she’s grilled for information as to who she was working with, where the peace conference is going to be held (as it was moved to a neutral site after the assassination from earlier). When she doesn’t answer, stoically refusing to divulge any information, we are led into something that trumps Spock’s rage from before.
This is what I have referred to as “mental rape”. For Vulcans the idea of using the Vulcan mind meld on another person without consent is abhorrent. It just isn’t done. So to watch Spock silently move over to Valeris after she refused to give information and proceed to extract the information from her against her will was one that got a bit of my own “Mr. Spock raised eyebrow” move. It wasn’t just a simple thing either, she attempted to resist, and Spock held Valeris in, tightening his grip on her. As she mentally resists, he has to get stronger, and I’m presuming his rage helped with breaking down her mental barriers. You know it worked, because at one point she screamed like it was a physical sexual rape – or at least that was my take on it.
Casual Star Trek viewers might not get the full intensity of this bit. But I sure as shit did. I get what that meant to Spock to do this. It did garner the information they were looking for regarding who was behind the conspiracy to kill Kirk and Gorkon. Intense as hell scene, no doubt.
After this, Kirk contacts Capt Sulu, who does tell Kirk where the peace conference is, and both ships head there in order to stop them attempting to kill the President of the Federation, which was the next planned move in this conspiracy. However, before they get there, General Chang reappears, and decides he’s going to destroy Kirk and the Enterprise. Given Chang’s ship can fire when invisible, they put a pounding on the Enterprise, but Kirk can’t really fight back as they can’t find them.
Chang spews some more of the Klingon Shakespeare, and it’s a fun “submarine battle” vibe. Not quite as good as the original series episode “Balance of Terror”, but a damn fun scene. In fact, for some reason Chang’s monologuing is being played inside the Enterprise while McCoy & Spock work on a special torpedo they realize can find Chang. McCoy says “I’d give real money if he would shut up”. This is the comedy that works, not the stuff I mentioned earlier.
As the Enterprise is about to beat down, Sulu’s Excelsior shows up and joins the battle. Eventually, the torpedo is launched, and finds Chang’s ship. It doesn’t destroy it, but does make it visible to the point that both the Enterprise & the Excelsior can destroy it together. The look on Chang’s face when he realizes he’s about to die is met with “To Be or not…” and then he dies. Great closure for that character, I thought.
The last part of the movie doesn’t have as much drama. Kirk & Sulu’s crews beam down to Camp Khitomer and save the President of the Federation (and the Klingon Chancellor) from being assassinated. It’s a relatively short scene, and while there is drama with “are they actually going to succeed”, they don’t in the end. All the players in question are all here, and end up being arrested when it’s known that Kirk & Co are in the know about the plan and who is behind it. One side note. The actor who played Col West was played by Rene Auberjonois, who later went on to play Odo on Deep Space Nine.
There’s a speech here by Kirk (because of course there is) about the future, how they’ll have to live in it, and all that. It wraps up Kirk’s character arc in the movie coming from racist at the start towards Klingons to working with them at the end for peace.
After all this plot is over, there’s a scene with Capt Sulu talking to Capt Kirk, and then we directly lead into the end of the movie, where they’re ordered to report for decommissioning. Kirk of course ignores that and sets off into the sunset, ending the run of the Original series crew as a complete unit.
I mean you’re watching this whole movie knowing it’s the end of the original crew. But when the scene turns up at the end, you had almost forgotten about it – or at least I did way back when the first time I saw it. So the scene saying “report for decommissioning” was a bit of a shock in some ways, despite knowing it was coming. They even put a shot of the Enterprise sailing into the sunset to wrap it up.
- Biggest Problem: Valeris is not Savvik
- Biggest Strength: The big three are handled well
- Overall Rating: B+
This movie was one that in years gone by I always overlooked. I mean Wrath of Khan was awesome. So was “the one with the whales”. But Star Trek VI I tended to overlook, because at that time Next Generation was in full force on TV, and honestly, I thought I was done with the TOS crew. Then there was my irritation at this not being Savvik, which I detailed above.
But somewhere in the last decade, I revisited this, and discovered this is a glorious movie. It’s far better than I ever gave it credit for in the past, and Christopher Plummer is spectacular. He steals every scene he’s in. Heck I wouldn’t mind seeing a Chang mini series on Paramount+ somewhere along the line. Get more Shakespeare in the original Klingon.
But seriously, this is a far better movie than I realized, and if you were on the fence, you should check it out too. However, I suspect if you’re reading this page, and made it this far, then you are already a fan of the movie.
If I thought so highly of it, why just a B+? Well, the bits in the middle I talked about with the forced comedy take it down just a notch. If those bits ere handled better, I would have loved it top to bottom. But they’re not that plentiful, and they don’t last long, so it doesn’t take the movie down as a whole. Just a bit on the grade scale.
Hi Sean Ferrick. Can’t lie – as I wrote this, I thought of several bits I figure you’d like. Hope you get a chance to read all this.
Finally, this amusing picture. In the scene where they were about to find the clothes they were looking for, we get a shot of Scotty sitting at the dinner table from earlier in the movie reading. What’s he reading? Some technical schematic of the USS Enterprise. Because of course he is. That’s so Scotty.