Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (United States, 1991)

A movie review by James Berardinelli
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country Poster

"Captain's Log, Stardate 9529.1:
This is the final cruise of the Starship Enterprise under my command. This ship and her history will shortly become the care of another crew. To them and their posterity we commit our future. They will continue the voyages we have begun and journey to all the undiscovered countries, boldly going where no man...where no one has gone before."

With those words, the baton has been passed. The old generation of Star Trek, reduced to a pale shadow of their former selves by age and weak scripts, have finally opted out of Starfleet, turning over the mantle to Patrick Stewart and his crew. Presumably, the members of The Next Generation will take the conn for Star Trek VII (or whatever it's eventually called), when that film is released (the television show is still going strong).

A decade-or-so ago, when the Star Trek movie series began, a great deal of excitement surrounded the release of each movie. For The Motion Picture, it was "What are they like now?" For Trek II, the question of Spock's survival hung in the air, and with the next sequel, everyone wondered how the Vulcan would be brought back (there was never any question whether or not he would return). Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home resolved all the loose ends left dangling by its predecessor. But with the 1989 installment (Star Trek V: The Final Frontier), much of the anticipation had slipped away. This was just another adventure (and not an especially good one, at that). Now, a similar atmosphere surrounds this latest voyage of the Enterprise, despite Paramount's statements that this is the last outing. The adventures of Kirk and Company have become routine. The spark is gone. The energy is fading. It's time for a change.

The premise of The Undiscovered Country is a timely one (perhaps too timely - the undisguised parallels to events in the real world occasionally seem contrived and forced - witness the Federation President's statement that "This President is not above the law."). The Klingon Empire, on the verge of disaster, is suing for peace. An Earth-based conference has been set up and the Enterprise, under the command of Captain James Kirk (William Shatner), must escort Chancellor Gorkon (David Warner), his battle commander General Chang (Christopher Plummer), and their entourage, through Federation space. Things don't go smoothly, however, and the Enterprise appears to open fire, unprovoked, on the Klingon battle cruiser. The Chancellor is severely injured and, when Kirk and Doctor McCoy (DeForest Kelley) beam over to discover what has happened, they are arrested. Meanwhile, Spock (Leonard Nimoy), now in command of the Enterprise, can do little more than sit and wait, for any decisive action would surely ruin all chances at galactic peace.

The allegorical nature of The Undiscovered Country is as clear as its message. The Klingon Empire represents the Soviet Union and the Federation, the United States. Peace, claims this film, is the only way. There will be obstacles but, in the end, all the struggles will be worth it.

For a movie that begins with such promise, The Undiscovered Country ends with a whimper. Most of the sixth big screen Star Trek adventure is well-plotted and tightly-paced, but it all unravels in the last twenty minutes, with too many trite resolutions to plot elements and a climax that fizzles when it should explode. Unfortunately, there isn't one situation for which The Undiscovered Country doesn't have a facile resolution.

In addition to the usual science fiction/adventure elements, this film boasts a mystery -- albeit a poorly-constructed one. Apparently someone thought the inclusion of this subplot was a clever idea, because it takes up an inordinate amount of time. That would be all right if the whodunnit was interesting, but it's not. And when the architects of the dastardly scheme are unmasked, the revelations aren't surprising.

The Star Trek characters are all present and accounted for, although somewhat older than in their last appearance (allowing the screen personalities to approach the ages of the actors playing them). The relationship between Kirk and Spock has cooled considerably since Star Trek V: The Final Frontier; at times, the friendship is strained. The venerable Captain is about to stand down, and Sulu has at last obtained a command of his own.

Few of the Trek actors, except perhaps Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley, are recognized as accomplished performers. Everyone does their usual, capable job filling the comfortable shoes of a character they've "lived in" for years. William Shatner, in a rare display of restraint, manages a surprisingly low-key and often effective performance. Christopher Plummer, the villain of the piece, gorges himself on the opportunity to go over-the-top spewing Shakespeare. Like Ricardo Montalban in Trek II or Jack Nicholson in Batman, he's fun to watch.

If The Undiscovered Country waxes nostalgic at times, it's understandable. The ending is oversentimental, but this is a final farewell to a group of people who have been with us, through first run episodes, reruns, and motion pictures, for a quarter century. What's a little unforgivable is that the filmmakers didn't give these characters a more triumphant exit. Star Trek VI is an improvement over its immediate predecessor, but it lacks the energy and thrills supplied by some of the lower-numbered sequels. The original crew of the Enterprise is apparently fated to fade away rather than going out in a proverbial "blaze of glory."

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (United States, 1991)

Run Time: 1:50
U.S. Release Date: 1991-12-06
MPAA Rating: "PG" (Violence)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1