Directed by Nicholas Meyer
An accident on the moon of Praxis threatens the Klingon people but presents an opportunity for peace with the empire. Forces on both sides conspire to prevent this opportunity from being successful and now the crew of the Enterprise on the eve of retirement is swept up into events and must stop the conspirators and solve a mystery before it’s too late.
Captain Kirk (William Shatner) after being ordered to escort Klingon Chancellor Gorkon (David Warner) to Earth and then framed for his murder must confront his own biases. He has been holding in a lot of pain over the death of his son David and blames all Klingons, and not just those that were present at the Genesis Planet, for his death. This is coupled with decades of mistrust built up from his interactions with them as captain of the original Enterprise. He realizes that on some level he doesn’t want change. He can’t picture things being any other way. They have always been the enemy and they always should be in his mind.
George Takei got the promotion for Sulu that he had been supposedly begging for the character to get for years. This is something that could only work in a send-off film. On a side note, I really wish they had done an Excelsior series. Instead they decided to do Enterprise rather than what the fans had been begging for. And his turn as captain of the cool looking Excelsior did get fans jazzed for one. What a missed opportunity.
This might have been only the third time up to that point in Star Trek canonical lore that Spock (Leonard Nimoy) had anything equivocal to a love interest. There was Leila Kalomi (Jill Ireland) in the TOS episode “This Side of Paradise” and the never named though central to the story Romulan commander in “The Enterprise Incident” and finally here there was Valeris (Kim Cattrall.) It’s clear that there is some kind of feeling between Valeris and Spock. In the film they communicated a Vulcan attraction on the part of Spock towards her. And I think at a minimum Valeris respected him. Even though she was involved in the conspiracy, that she cared about Spock is clear.
This is how you do Vulcan romance. Even if it’s with a non-Vulcan this is how you do it. You don’t do it in that childish high school romance thing that the reboot films did with Spock and Uhura. What was done here is mature and adult and I dare say sophisticated. And it’s some pretty fine acting too.
Kim Cattrall is an okay actress. She is not the worst, but she is not the greatest but what she did here was create a Vulcan character on par with Mr. Spock in their depth. Too often actors when cast as Vulcans are cold and stiff. Vulcans suppress their emotions, but they are not machines. She keeps the character of Valeris cool without being stiff.
Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) contributes to the resolution of the movie. In Star Trek III she did get the crew on to the Enterprise with the transporter but then was gone from the film. That was probably the first time she did something other than answer the phone or observe the action. In Star Trek V she got a little more involved in things by doing the sexy dance against the moon on Nimbus III but here during the battle at Khitomer she’s the one that figures out how to lock on to the cloaked Klingon Bird of Prey that can fire when cloaked. Her character never really did too much. It was just a reality of the times and of the series. She is a good actress and did a lot with her part, but she was never too much a part of the action.
In total everyone gets a little something in this movie. Nobody was just “there.” They all get a scene and they all help out in unraveling the mystery and exposing the plot. McCoy (DeForest Kelley) is front and center through most of the film with Kirk during the trial and while they are both imprisoned on the Klingon penal colony. Scotty (James Doohan) finds the assassins’ uniforms while reading schematics in the dining hall of the Enterprise. Chekov (Walter Koenig) finds the blood that lets the crew know the assassins are on the ship. Sulu even gives aid with the Excelsior to the Enterprise at Khitomer.
The story here is much more of a political thriller than Star Trek had ever done before. You have the side that wants peace and the side that wants to maintain hostilities for their own bigoted reasons. There are twists and turns throughout the story. In something a bit unusual for Star Trek at the time there are even duplicitous Starfleet officers. It’s not one or two bad apples but a large number plotting AGAINST the Federation. That was a bit of a new thing for Star Trek at the time. It had been flirted with but not to the level it is here. Vast conspiracies were just not done then.
It’s as sophisticated as anything Star Trek has done. And the parallels between the fall of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Klingon empire can’t be missed. Supposedly the idea that Leonard Nimoy came up with was “What if the Wall came down in space?” They then tossed in the Chernobyl like accident of the explosion of the Klingon moon of Praxis and continued to draw real world parallels by making references to the politics of the time.
This was the swan song for the original crew of the USS Enterprise. And it is one of the best possible sendoff films you could ask for. This is the way you send a group of beloved characters that were featured in stories about real world issues off.
Nicholas Mayer is a director that gets Star Trek. He understood the concept at least when it came to the original crew. He was the perfect director for these films at that time. He here crafted a classic Star Trek tale that stands tall among all the others.
The Undiscovered Country looked better than the previous film. Star Trek was never really about big budgets. Rather it was about good stories, yet it still had to look acceptable. The special effects look pretty slick to me. They are a definite step up from the last film. I’m not sure if they spent more money on them or it was just that they got a better special effects house for this film but there is a definite improvement here.
I’m not keen on the design for the bridge they used in this movie. The bridge went from being kind of spacious to quite cramped. I’m not sure why they felt the need to make it smaller or even redesign the set. If they felt the need to make it darker because of the plot of the movie then color the previous set design darker. It’s a minor quibble but it has bothered me since 1991.
I know the darkness of the film score has been talked about many times before, but I need to throw in my two cents as well. It was ridiculously dark for a Star Trek film. It was bordering on the silly in how dark it was. I say to producers let James Horner‘s score for Star Trek II and Star Trek III be your guide. Those are the two greatest films scores in Star Trek movie history. They get the tone and the feel of Star Trek and their respective films right. What they did here while not bad was not that good.
This movie did what Star Trek should do: it was character driven with a message and it didn’t hit you over the head with that message. This movie is a worthy sendoff. When it’s time to send characters into the sunset this is how you do it. You give them one last hurrah that’s an enjoyable and rousing end to their adventures. This is one of the best Star Trek films and will be enjoyed by anybody.