William Shatner Admiral James Tiberius Kirk
Leonard Nimoy Captain Spock
DeForest Kelley Doctor Leonard "Bones" McCoy
James Doohan Montgomery "Scotty" Scott
Walter Koenig Pavel Chekov
Nichelle Nichols Nytoba Uhuru
George Takei Hikaru Sulu
Kim Cattrall Lieutenant Valeris
Mark Lenard Sarek

Directed by Nicholas Meyer. Written by Nicholas Meyer and Denny Martin Flinn (from the story by Leonard Nimoy, Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal, based on the characters created by Gene Roddenberry). 1991. Running time: 109 minutes.

"Only Nixon can go to China." And with that spurious logic Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and his Starship Enterprise becomes pivotal to a process that would bring peace between the so-called Federation and their Klingon adversaries. Kirk and his crew are to escort a Klingon delegation to where negotiations would be held. Along the way the Klingon representative is killed in a way so that it would appear that Kirk and Co. are responsible.

Thus the scene is set for probably the most underrated movie in the Star Trek franchise, Star Trek VI - The Undiscovered Country, the last movie to feature the cast of the original 1960s cult TV show. Made in 1991, Trek VI not only concerns itself with answering questions its fans were asking ("Just how did the Federation and the Klingons make peace between the vents of the 'Sixties TV show and its revival as Star Trek - Next Generation?"), but with events of the day, namely the collapse of communist governments in the former Soviet bloc and the end of the Cold War. Besides the Nixon allusion mentioned, the analogy is made more explicit when one character makes a remark to the effect that in space all warriors are cold warriors (cold war-riors? Geddit?).

When a major Klingon power source is destroyed accidentally (shades of Chernobyl?), the Klingons realise that a continued standoff with the Earth-led Federation can no longer be sustained and will result in their self-destruction in the long-term. Or make that some Klingons. To suddenly make friends with one's enemies is difficult and there are vested interests: there wouldn't be a need for huge arms expenditure and several cold warriors would simply find themselves out of a job.

I suppose they haven't been studying Earth history because then they would have realised that the end of the Cold War didn't make the military of both superpowers redundant. Instead the former Soviet Union and the USA just went on to invent new enemies, like Iraq for the States and Chechnya for the Russians for example. Also, some cold warriors on the Federation side feel the same and soon a plot is afoot to derail the peace negotiations through assassinations.

After the dreadful Star Trek V- The Final Frontier, the big screen Star Trek franchise needed a shot in the arm. Trek V with its hoaky attempts at humour and a tired-looking cast (who can ever forget the sight of a strip-teasing Uhuru distracting the attention of a guard? Groan . . .) was a death knell. The obviously wig-wearing and corseted crew was not only too old for this gig, but the franchise as such had run out of steam. Nothing was new or interesting anymore in the Trek universe. Thus Undiscovered Country was such a surprise because it not only managed to breathe some fresh air into the affair, but also played on the concept's strengths, especially its characters.

Today the Trek franchise has also pretty much run out of steam with the end of the Deep Space Nine spin-off, the dull Star Trek - Voyager and the less than inspiring recent big screen Star Trek - Insurrection effort. It needn't be this way: after Final Frontier everybody has written off the old Trek crew. Instead of going out with a whimper, they went out with a whimper in one of their best adventures yet. No wonder Star Trek - Generations, which introduced the Next Generation crowd to the big screen, was such a disappointment . . .

Copyright © July 2000  James O'Ehley/The Sci-Fi Movie Page



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