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Star Trek VI:
The Undiscovered Country
cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, Kim Cattrall, and Christopher Plummer

director: Nicholas Meyer

109 minutes (PG) 1991 widescreen ratio 2:1
Paramount DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Christopher Geary
Following a catastrophic industrial accident, the belligerent Klingon Empire sues their long time enemies in the Federation for peace. Captain Kirk (Shatner) feels betrayed by his Vulcan friend Spock (Nimoy), when it's suggested that Enterprise should escort the Klingon ambassadors to the official signing of a new treaty, but tragedy strikes when a Klingon ship is attacked, and Kirk and Dr McCoy (Kelley) are convicted of murder...
   A great deal of science fiction reflects the political and social backgrounds of whatever era it was written in. This is not a flaw in the genre, but a virtue of its ability to address and explore contentious issues, and to reconsider important historical events, in a narrative framework that entertains while also, hopefully, teaching us a thing or two about the world, ourselves, and our roles or positions in society. Contradictory worldviews are something that Star Trek has examined well - often with good humour. Written during the turbulent years of Glasnost, Perestroika and Chernobyl, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of Soviet communism, this sixth cinema outing for the original crew of starship Enterprise is full of densely woven, inescapably biased, analogies to the political upheavals of the Thatcher, Reagan, and Gorbachev period. Somewhat surprisingly, though, this frequently impressive drama carries all these weighty issues without any sign of strain on its familiar SF milieu, and it never undermines the roles of the iconic, yet aged, main characters.
   Part whodunit, part prison breakout, part conspiracy thriller, this is an astutely conceived blend of space opera and political intrigue, and it's one of the best Trek adventures. Co-written and directed by Nicholas Meyer - the maker of H.G. Wells meets Jack the Ripper movie Time After Time (1979), nuclear war TV drama The Day After (1983), and unusual comedy Volunteers (1985) - who made the second big screen Trek, Wrath Of Kahn (1982), and provided the script for fourth movie, The Voyage Home (1986), it benefits from Meyer's acquaintance with the lore of the Trek universe, and his enthusiasm for bringing resonant non-SF elements to Gene Roddenberry's enduringly popular and wholly successful franchise, in time to celebrate Star Trek's 25th anniversary in grand style.
   Failing to recast Kirstie Alley (from Wrath Of Kahn) as Spock's protégé Saavik (or even Robin Curtis, who played the character in the third Trek movie), director Meyer and his co-writer Denny Martin Flinn, created a new female Vulcan played by Kim Cattrall (now famous, and very rich, after the Sex And The City TV series), who does a terrific job in her pivotal role as a Starfleet traitor. David Warner and Christopher Plummer bring guest star power to the Klingon side of things, while the other Trek regulars (James Doohan, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei) all get their moments, even if it's only delivering a few characteristic lines of dryly amusing dialogue.
   Overall, the film inevitably combines the best elements from Meyer's previous Trek work, spiking the high frontier melodrama of Wrath Of Kahn with the engaging humour of The Voyage Home.
   The slipcased special edition DVD has a fine anamorphic transfer of the main feature - with Dolby digital 5.1 audio, in English and German, plus subtitles in 15 languages including English (and English for the deaf). The commentary track is by Meyer and co-writer Flinn, who reveal the movie's development from script to screen with agreeable candour about all the problems they had sneaking this tale of political skulduggery and racial intolerance under studio bosses' critical radar, while noting the constraints and compromises facing any new contribution to the Trek universe. There's also a text commentary, with lots of fascinating Trek trivia provided by Michael and Denise Okuda (authors of The Star Trek Encyclopedia).
   The second disc contains over three hours of additional material, the majority of which is all brand new. The Perils Of Peacemaking (26 minutes) is a featurette discussing the film's story in a real world historical context. It's an intelligent and considered documentary item comparing The Undiscovered Country's characters with noted visionaries and assassinated leaders, but it's self-serving in retrospect. A seven-part series looking at the key aspects, people and essential themes of this Trek milestone, Stories From Star Trek VI (57 minutes, with outtakes and behind the scenes footage) includes: Prejudice (Kirk's bigotry, the darkly racist subtexts), Shakespeare And General Chang (Meyer's passion for literature), and Farewell & Goodbye reviews this final roundup for the 'classic' Trek crew. Throughout, there are reminders of how art imitates life, as Trek VI echoes the end of the Cold War, but a welcome focus on this drama's "introspective re-evaluation" of Trek's aged central characters, mitigates such pretensions.
   Highlights of The Star Trek Universe are the short but excellent interview with Meyer (nine and a half minutes) and a succinct yet bizarre history of the Klingons (21 minutes). Federation Operatives (nearly five minutes) has pictorial reportage about varied supporting roles in Trek as portrayed by several actors, Penny's Toy Box delivers a guided tour of the Trek props warehouse, and there's five minutes of anecdotal interviews with old chums Shatner and Plummer, reminiscing about the early days of their careers, acting in Canadian theatre. There's a posthumous tribute to DeForest Kelley (13 minutes), which could so easily have been dreadful but - happily - is not overly sentimental, and a batch of contemporary interviews with all the bridge crew cast, plus supermodel Iman (who plays a shape-shifting, exotic alien). The Archives showcases a gallery of design works, storyboards and photos, while further promotional stuff includes a couple of trailers and the 1991 Trek convention presentation by the director.

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