On seeing the new Star Trek, I decided to dig into my old DVD’s and review my personal favourite of the Original Series movies. The cliched choice is The Wrath of Khan, and it is indeed awesome, but I’ve always had a soft spot for The Undiscovered Country, despite its abuse of Shakespeare. So, having just witnessed Kirk and Spock’s first voyage, what did I make of their last?
It’s not a perfect movie, to be sure. The mystery villain is fairly easily determined (the movie even cleverly signposts the identity as the crime unfolds), it’s not the best film to introduce anyone to the crew and some of the politics – Colonel West anyone? – are fairly blunt. However to worry about such things is to miss the point. The movie actually deals quite well with creating a world where the franchise’s coldest worries are becoming obsolete. Many reviewers note that the cast look tired and frail – even the once boyish Checkov cynically remarks on the diplomatic dinner, but is on hotter form during the interrogation of crewman Dax. Yes, the crew is past their sell-by date, but that’s the point. For one last time, in seeking piece with the oldest enemy, Kirk will venture into uncharted space.
The supporting players are across the board fantastic. In particular Christopher Plummer’s Shakespeare-quoting General Chang is a great addition to the franchise, particularly in how he plays off Kirk (“In space, all warriors are cold warriors”). He makes the most of his somewhat restricted screen time. There are also all manner of fun cameo’s that don’t detract from the story too much.
Worth a mention is the amazing soundtrack, in a franchise that has made a habit of cracking out high quality soundtracks. It – along with a wide scope of locations, some well staged action and a universal theme – help the movie to seem more epic than the series has since Khan and Kirk locked themselves in a struggle over the cpaacity to create life itself. It doesn’t resort to the old ‘Earth is in danger’ schtick – indeed, if war does break out, it is explicitly stated that the Federation would likely defeat the dying Klingon Empire – what is at stake is the very philosophy Gene Roddenberry invested in the franchise.
You would point out, that I am being kind to the movie because it is the last in a series. You are correct. If exhaustion was not the theme of the piece, the worn out performances of the actors would seem out of place. If this wasn’t the last time that they stood together, the round of applause at the end would seem indulgent. The truth is that it ends two-and-a-half decades of adventuring in a dignified manner, which rarely occurs in franchises that can be picked up and dropped so quickly these days. It ensure that a crew with mixed cinematic track record goes out on a high note – it’s a shame that the cast of The Next Generation couldn’t follow suit.
If the new origin of Star Trek interests you in anyway, you could do worse than checking out the original ending.
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country is the final outing for the original cast and crew of Star Trek. Directed by veteran Nicholas Meyer (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan), it reunites the original cast in their entirity, as well as supporting performances from Christopher Plummer (The Sound of Music, Up), David Warner (The Omen, Titanic), Kurtwood Smith (That 70s Show, 24), Michael Dorn (Star Trek: The Next Generation), Rene Auberjones (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), Kim Cattrell (Sex and The City, The Tiger’s Tail), with a cameo from Christian Slater (Heather, True Romance). Chancellor Gorkan incorrectly identifies ‘the undiscovered country’ from Hamlet as ‘the future’. Apparently, despite the wonders of reading Shakespeare ‘in the original Klingon’, the aren’t anoted copies.