Friday, June 6, 2014

Film Review: STAR TREK VI: THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY (1991, Nicholas Meyer)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 113 minutes.
Tag-line: "The battle for peace has begun."
Notable Cast or Crew: William Shatner, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, Walter Koenig, David Warner (TITANIC, TRON, TIME BANDITS), Kim Cattrall (BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA, POLICE ACADEMY), Mark Lenard (STAR TREK III, STAR TREK IV), Grace Lee Whitney ("Janice" from the original STAR TREK series), Brock Peters (TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, SOYLENT GREEN), Kurtwood Smith (THAT '70S SHOW, ROBOCOP), Christopher Plummer (THE SOUND OF MUSIC, STARCRASH), Christian Slater (KUFFS, TRUE ROMANCE), Iman (David Bowie's wife, HOUSE PARTY 2), Rene Auberjonois (MY BEST FRIEND IS A VAMPIRE, EYES OF LAURA MARS).
Best One-liner:  "To be... OR NOT TO BE!"

STAR TREK VI is the only film in the series that I saw on the big screen, and I hadn't yet seen it again in the intervening twenty-three years... until now.  And it's good!  It's very good.  It's more of a murder mystery/political thriller than a sci-fi film, and timely, too (for 1991), given that its about the ensuing mistrust between two (Cold) warring cultures as they draw back the Iron Curtain and see what happens.

I remember thinking the movie was pretty solid but had no memory as to why, except for a vague remembrance of Captain Kirk being on an ice planet and kicking an alien in the knees, only to discover he'd kicked it in its (alien) nuts.

Now that's the sort of artistic expression worth remembering!

So here are my Fourteen Favorite Things about STAR TREK VI: THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY that I did not fully appreciate as a kid:

#14.  Captain Sulu (George Takei).  He finally got that promotion!

This leads to some great moments where his new ship can team up with the Enterprise and he and Kirk can take turns screaming "Fire!" as they zap the bad guys with space lasers.  Unfortunately, they're on different ships, though, so they can't high-five afterward.

#13.  Janice is back!

Janice Rand (Grace Lee Whitney)– star of many TREK episodes from the original series, best known for her occasional near-romances with Kirk and her bitchin' beehive hairdo– shows up on Sulu's crew.  It's been a while, Janice, good to see ya!  Who else do they have room for on that zany crew?

#12.  ...Yes, who do they have whose job it is to wake up Sulu in the middle of the night and give him somewhat unnecessary status reports?  Who could it be...?

 Why, Christian Slater, of course!
 Slater, veiled in shadow, in a failed attempt to diminish The Slater Factor.

This, naturally, has nothing to do with the fact that the casting director was his mother, and everything to do with his claim that his Jack Nicholson-style arched eyebrows were the ill-fated result of shaving them to be Spock for Halloween once.

 #11.  Legendary character actor Kurtwood Smith as the "President of the Federation"

complete with wicked Fu Manchu mustache and Wild West sunglasses.  Wait, WHAT?!

#10.  The return of David Warner.  Here, he plays the actual Klingon ambassador, instead of a human associate of the Klingon ambassador, like in Part V.  Weird.
But I can always use some Warner, especially when his acting talents are put to use, lending pathos to a leader of a belligerent race of aliens.  Also, that is an incredible jacket you've got on there, David.  Who got to keep that thing when filming wrapped?  Somewhere, is David Warner at home, lounging in that jacket, listening to– I don't know– an Iron Maiden album?  Inquiring minds want to know.
Anyway, he gives a great toast with Romulan Ale (not to be confused with blue Kool-Aid) where he quotes Shakespeare ("...the undiscover'd country") and then insists that "You haven't experienced Shakespeare until you have read it in the original Klingon," a humorous line that prompted a thousand nerds to pull out their Klingon-English dictionaries and almost causes a Shatner spit-take.
Nobody claims false ownership of the Bard on the Shat's watch!

#9.  Spock's rockin' bachelor pad.

Sure, he doesn't really put it to use, but this is truly a Spock for the 90s, lounging around in a luxurious robe and surrounded by altogether too many candles and silken sheets.  (I'm sure it serves some Vulcan meditative purpose.)  All we need is some sexy saxophone and a 90s babe, like Demi Moore or Madonna or Sharon Stone or Kim Cattrall...

#8. Kim Cattrall?

Well-played, STAR TREK VI.  I like what you've done there, with the Spock-ears and the haircut and the futuristic headband.  And all nerdery aside, she does a pretty good job!

#7.  Poor McCoy (DeForest Kelley).  He gets put through a lot in this movie.  All he ever wanted was a drink.  And not just blue Kool-Aid.

I go back and forth on my favorite STAR TREK characters, but I think the good Doctor might be my favorite, with his curious blend of indefatigable humanism and curmudgeonly fatalism.  Age has only made him more of a badass– and more of a terrific crab. 

#6.  The hilarious globules of purple CGI Klingon blood as the delegation is murdered by the guys from Daft Punk.

This shoulda been in 3-D!

#5.  Sherlock Holmes.

STAR TREK VI being a bit of a murder mystery, the game is soon afoot and Spock takes over, putting on his theoretical deerstalker cap– and even insinuating that the original Holmes is a distant ancestor! 

This is the doing of director/writer Nicholas Meyer, Holmes aficionado and author of three Holmes novels (THE SEVEN-PER-CENT SOLUTION, THE WEST END HORROR, and THE CANARY TRAINER), all of which transcend the trappings of fan-fiction, becoming labyrinthine literary pastiches that are genuinely great novels in their own right.  Good show.

#4.  Shapeshiftin', cigar-chompin' Iman!
High fashion model, David Bowie missus, and cosmetics tycoon Iman shows up on a Klingon Ice Prison-planet as a cell mate of Doctor McCoy and the good Captain Kirk.  It's not long before the latter works his charms on her:

She always did go for those those Major Tom-types.

Although I wish she'd waited to make out with The Shat till she had transformed into him, as depicted in the following, well-acted screen grabs:

I think a Shat-on-Shat makeout 'sesh would have been more to his (ego's) liking, and it might've really pushed this movie over the edge.  A bit of a missed opportunity, there.

#3.  And seriously, when are they going to put seat belts on the Enterprise?


One errant laser and everybody's flying around willy-nilly.  The Bureau of Worker's Comp at Federation Headquarters must have their hands full.

#2.  Shakespeare slummer Christopher Plummer!

Spoilers to follow:

The final space battle is a three-way between George Takei, The Shat, and powermad Klingon-in-pursuit-of-an-acting-paycheck, Christopher Plummer.  What follows is the most insane and spectacular use of Shakespeare quotes as one-liners since Vincent Price in HIS KIND OF WOMAN or THEATER OF BLOOD.

 It's absolutely bananas, and I love it beyond words.  Of course they save the best for last:
 "TO BE...

 "...OR NOT..."

"...TO BE?"


#1.  Because of course it all ends with a slow clap, like in ROCKY IV.  (I feel like I mention ROCKY IV at least once in every review.)  I believe that the slow clap has become the only way to resolve a movie about Cold Wars or diplomatic détante.

 This is truly the 'It's a Small World' of the Star Trek universe.

The Klingons are clearly half-assing their slow clap.

Conversely, those dudes on the far right are kind of overdoing it.

Who the hell are these guys?  Aliens?  Humans with cargo net mesh draped over their hockey masks?

Don't stop clapping.  Don't ever stop. 

In closing, this is a fine send-off for the original cast, and one of the better films in the series.  Four stars.

–Sean Gill

P.S.– I also see that this is the 1,000th post here at Junta Juleil.  I wish I could've done a Carpy or a Bronson or a Van Damme review, but these things just sneak up on you, I guess.  Thanks to all of my readers who have stuck around!


Anonymous said...

Forgive me if I've mentioned this before, but there was a short while right around this time when a big second-run $1 multiplex opened up across the street from my Memphis apartment complex, and as a broke youngster just hitting my teens I ended up absolutely wearing out the movies that played there. I would go see anything, and I do mean anything, multiple times over there in between bouts of Street Fighter II in the theater's lobby. Did I see the terrible ensemble comedy "Once Upon A Crime?" YOU BET. "The Cutting Edge?" REGRETTABLY! Did I see the first "Addams Family" movie? FIVE TIMES! Anywho, one of the films I wore out was this here "Star Trek VI," and I absolutely loved it, even though I had scarcely seen any other Trek-related things at all. I too recently caught it on TV and was SHOCKED to see how badly those CGI blood bubbles had aged since I was wowed by them all those years ago. Also suffice to say that I had not a clue that ANY of those quotes were Shakespeare references, but when Kirk blew up the ship at the end it was just about the coolest thing I had ever seen. It's great that it has such appreciable weirdness in it, like Slater and Iman, so that it remains endearing today. Not much else to add, really, but congrats on hitting 1,000 posts, and here's hoping we get to see 1,000 more!

Jack Thursby said...

If only the Slow Clap had been utilised back in the 50s/60s. We could have completely avoided the Cold War!

Sean Gill said...


I, too, saw this at a second-run theater with basically no knowledge of STAR TREK up to that point (maybe I'd seen some of WRATH OF KHAN on TV?). Thanks for sharing your very humorous and nostalgic remembrances. And thanks for the kind words!


Indeed! I think "Slow Clap Diplomacy 101" should be a required course in most political science programs.

J.D. Lafrance said...

Ah, congrats on hitting such a milestone. But hey, it seems rather fitting that it would be achieved with such a Shatner-rific film such as this one.

Speaking of the man, if you want to get a real dose of the man in all of his glory check out THE CAPTAINS, a documentary that features Shatner interviewing all of the other STAR TREK captains (even Chris Pine). There is a fantastic moment where Shatner is interviewing Patrick Steward and he launches into an epic question cum story that would even make Charlie Rose green with envy!

Sean Gill said...


Thank you, my friend. And I'll have to check out THE CAPTAINS– it sounds pretty amazing!

Anonymous said...

I finally see where Tarantino got his Kill Bill Pai Mei character makeup from... Kirkwood Smith in Star Trek VI.


Sean Gill said...


You could be right!