Just forget the words and sing along

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Fishing in the Discount Bin - Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

Welcome back to Fishing in the Discount Bin, that time of the week where I watch something in my DVD library and blog about it.  Back in the spring, I wanted to watch every Star Trek movie before Into Darkness came out, so that brings us to Part 6 of the 12-part series, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.  Confession of bias time:  this is my favourite film with the original crew.  This is dated in my notes at April 14, 2013.

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country Movie Poster

And we just keep trucking along with my attempt to watch every Star Trek film before the 12th (or second, depending on how you count) hits theatres. (That would be Into Darkness). And we've come to the point where it's time to finally bid farewell to the original crew and send them off into the sunset. And for their sunset, they got The Undiscovered Country.

So, #5 kinda tanked at the box office. However, Paramount knew it was still a profitable franchise, and with the 25th anniversary coming along in 1991, they knew they wanted another film to be part of the festivities. So, Paramount called Harve Bennett, the man in charge of the Star Trek film franchise since The Wrath of Khan, and asked him to start pumping out #6. Bennett laid out his idea for a sixth film. Bennett wanted to do...a reboot. A prequel. He wanted to tell the tale of Kirk and Spock first meeting in the Academy and having their first adventure together. That's right, he wanted to do what JJ Abrams eventually did 18 years later. Paramount just looked at him and said, "Uhh...we think, for the 25th anniversary, the fans will want to see the original crew in one last hurrah. Give us one more with the original crew, and then you can do your reboot for #7." Bennett said, "Ya know, I can't give you one more with the original crew on the deadlines you're giving me. I'm kind of burnt out on this franchise, anyway." So long and fare thee well, Harve Bennett.

To fill that void, Paramount turned to the one who gave them their highest grossing film The Voyage Home, Spock himself Leonard Nimoy. Nimoy had an idea, and he knew who could help him bring it to fruition. Nimoy sought out the man who wrote Star Trek IV and the director of Star Trek II, Mr. Nicholas Meyer. Meyer, again, not very enthusiastic about returning to the franchise, but Nimoy came to his house and gave him his idea. As Nimoy reasoned, Star Trek had always tried to be reflective of current events. And, in 1991, the biggest current event going on was the fall of the Berlin Wall, and it looked like the Cold War was finally coming to an end. So Nimoy sat Meyer down and said, "What if the Wall came down in space?" And with that statement, Meyer's eyes lit up, and the story just poured out of them. They had a story, the had a director, time to make magic!

With this great idea, though, the film did run into some problems during production. As we all know, part of Gene Roddenberry's vision for Star Trek is it's a bright optimistic future where racism and bigotry are a thing of the past. So, a lot of the cast members had a huge problem with how bigoted our familiar characters are in their dealings with the Klingons. And, if that weren't enough, Meyer thought it would be deliciously ironic if the African American characters had the most racist dialogue. Apparently, there were a few things that Uhura was supposed to say about the Klingons that Nichelle Nichols just flat-out refused to do. Brock Peters, reprising his role from Star Trek IV as Starfleet Admiral Cartwright, also had some very racist things to say, but being a professional actor, he tried to put his personal feelings aside and soldier on. Meyers admits on the DVD running commentary that Peters had a tough time with it.

But perhaps the most upset with it was Star Trek's creator Gene Roddenberry. Roddenberry saw the finished film a week before his death, and with his dying breath -- well, not his literal dying breath, but in his final days -- he made his distaste for the film quite well-known to the Paramount brass. Roddenberry probably hated that it wound up being dedicated to him.

Again, we have quite a batch of new characters introduced in this film. First up, we have the Enterprise's new crew member, Lt. Valeris, played by Kim Cattrall, after she was a 1980s sex symbol and a few years before she started having all that Sex and the City. Again, as the legend goes, the character was originally supposed to be the return of Lt. Saavik, not seen since her cameo in Star Trek IV. But, both of Saavik's actresses, Kirstee Alley and Robin Curtis, were unavailable. So they had to get another actress. Cattrall was interested, really wanted to do it, but she had no desire to be the third actress to play the character. So, they decided to replace Saavik with Valeris and have a new character for Cattrall. It's sad, because I think her betrayal would have had more impact if it were a character we knew and loved and were familiar with. But no, it turned out the betrayer was the rookie. How cliche.

I just realized there's a great Canadian contingency in the film. Shatner, of course, is Canadian. Cattrall is Canadian, and of course, for our villain, the legendary Canadian actor Christopher Plummer as the villain General Chang. He is just so darn good as the Klingon general who's fond of Shakespeare and tries to slip in Shakespearean quotes as often as possible. Needless to say, all of Plummer's experience on the stage in Stratford came in handy. He's such a great villain. He's the quintessential Klingon warrior. He doesn't want peace. He wants to war to keep going because he just loves it. He's a warmonger.

And, just as an aside, Marta, the alien who helps out Kirk and Bones on the prison planet of Rura Pente, played by legendary supermodel Iman. I just wanted to mention it because, apparently, the only reason why Iman did the film was because her husband, rock legend David Bowie, begged her to do it when the role was offered to her.

The film came out in December of 1991. I saw it on Boxing Day. I remember because I was still playing with the new watch I got for Christmas and I set the alarm to go off when the movie started. And since junior high was when I lived, ate, and breathed Star Trek, as Christmas vacation drew nigh, it was all I was talking about. I remember my teacher, Ms. Blerot, saw it opening weekend and had to make a point of it in class and stick out her youthful perky chest and announce that she saw it first. Man, some teachers can be jerks.

But I'll never forget. As you may recall, to help promote Star Trek VI, over on The Next Generation, they did Unification, the epic 2-part episode with Spock. At that time, there was a substitute teacher in my junior high, and all the girls in my class had a mad crush on him. And, as mentioned last time, in junior high, I had fully embraced my niche as "the weird kid." So, there we were, in class with substitute teacher Mr. Dreamy. It was time for USSR, so we all whipped out our books and started reading. Being a Trekkie, I was reading some Star Trek paperback. As I started reading, I suddenly felt a tap on my shoulder. I looked up, and there was Mr. Dreamy....flashing the Vulcan salute, and grinning like an idiot. I returned the salute, and he says, "Tonight's Part II of the Spock episode! How awesome is that going to be?" I nodded in agreement, and then we resumed our silent reading. I looked around the classroom and all the girls had gone pale. Mr. Dreamy was a Trekkie like the weird kid. Needless to say, a lot of fantasies shattered that day.

I've got to be thankful, though, for those teachers who tried to reach out to the weird kid.  Junior high was rough, and high school still had its problems.  A lot of my friends can't wrap their head around this concept.  My high school had no clubs, no organizations...outside of the sports teams, there were no extracurricular activities whatsoever.  But one of my teachers, Mr. Johnson, tried to get a movie club going.  We'd sit, watch movies, and talk about them.  And he kicked it off with Star Trek VI, because it did reflect the Cold War ending, which was still going on.  The idea never took off, because you know, it was just me and him, but darn it, he tried, and I thank him for it.

But back to the film. It opens with a bang. Literally, as a planet explodes sending out a massive shockwave through space. The shockwave hits the starship Excelsior, under the command of Captain Sulu, returning home after a 3-year mission in deep space. After doing their investigating, Sulu and his crew discover that the planet that exploded was Praxis, a moon of Klingon homeworld, and one of their key energy production facilities. The Klingons rebuff Sulu's offer of assistance, and Sulu reports what happened to Starfleet command.

In his book Star Trek Movie Memories, William Shatner recounts that, originally, right here, we were going to be treated to a montage of what the entire original crew is doing as they're essentially killing time before retirement, and as Starfleet agents begin rounding them up for one last mission. It was cut to help keep the budget down. We were going to see Chekov, hanging out in a chess club, trying to win using great Russian chess strategies, but they all blow up in his face. Uhura was going to be working for the Federation's radio service, doing a radio show. Scotty was going to be seen tinkering with the captured Klingon Bird-of-Prey from Star Trek IV, trying to reverse-engineer the cloaking device. Bones was going to be giving the keynote address at a medical conference, and after having one too many, going to go off on a rant on the evils of privatized healthcare. And Kirk was going to be seen having reconnected with Carol Marcus from Star Trek II, and they're settling into something resembling domestic bliss. It would have been neat, and lead into...

The briefing scene. Starfleet Command briefs the Enterprise crew on what's going on. Praxis exploded, and the environmental damage to the Klingon homeworld was devastating. The Klingons now want to negotiate peace because they're devoting all their resources to fixing the damage and, quite frankly, they can't afford the war anymore. Spock appears, and admits that he's opened a dialogue with Gorkon, the chancellor of Klingon Empire. The Enterprise's final mission will be to escort Gorkon and his party to Earth to begin peace negotiations. Needless to say, given his distaste for the Klingons, Kirk is pretty pissed at Spock that Spock volunteered the Enterprise for this mission.

The Enterprise warps off to meet Gorkon and his party, which includes General Chang, his chief of staff, and Azetbur, his daughter. They have a dinner party that...really doesn't go well, because, after decades of warring, they just don't trust each other. After that disaster is done, Kirk is trying to unwind in his quarters when Spock calls him to the bridge, having detected a strange radiation surge. And then, boom. A torpedo is launched at Gorkon's ship. Two assassins beam over from the Enterprise, gun down several Klingons, and then blast Gorkon. Gotta love it...that early 1990s computer animation representing the Klingon blood floating in weightlessness.

All evidence says the Enterprise launched the torpedo, but Kirk knows they didn't. Kirk and Bones beam over to the Klingon ship to render aid, but despite Bones's best efforts, Gorkon dies. Chang promptly has Kirk and Bones arrested for the assassination of the chancellor of the Klingon Empire.

Spock takes command of the Enterprise, and requests further instructions from Starfleet, while Spock and Scotty begin pouring through the Enterprise's computers and torpedo inventory to figure out why the computer says they fired those torpedoes. Negotiations begin right away. Azetbur is proclaimed the new chancellor of the Klingon Empire and while they want the peace talks to continue, the Klingons now request it be done at a neutral site. Also, the Klingons intend to put Kirk and Bones on trial for the assassination.

The trial begins, and we're treated to a gratutitious cameo by Michael Dorn, Worf from The Next Generation, playing Kirk and Bones's defense attorney. All the materials released along side the film at the time maintained that the character was Worf's great-grandfather. I've got to admit, the trial is a great scene. Chang is the prosecutor. During the trial, Bones gets in a good zinger, and one person in the audience laughs. While Bones grins because he got a laugh, we see an unimpressed Chang who says, "You have a singular wit, Doctor."

Of course, it's a show trial, and Kirk and Bones are declared guilty. Rather than put to death, with the peace talks forthcoming, they are sentenced to life at Rura Pente, the Klingon penal colony. With the evidence that came out at the trial, Spock channels his ancestor Sherlock Holmes to begin the investigation on the Enterprise to find the true assassins. Seriously, Spock says, "An ancestor of mine once maintained that, once you've eliminated all possibilities, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth." And since that was Sherlock Holmes' old mantra, we can deduce that Spock is a descendant of Holmes. But I digress. Since the Enterprise didn't fire the torpedoes, it must have been another ship. Since no one saw it and it didn't turn up on any scanners, it must be a cloaked ship. But ships can't fire when they're cloaked...so this must be a new kind that can. They know the assassin must be on the Enterprise because they had to forge the data entries in the computer that say the Enterprise fired. So, the search is on for the incriminating evidence...the magnetic boots the assassins used to get around the Klingon ship, because it had no gravity.

Meanwhile, we catch up with Kirk and Bones on Rura Pente. As soon as they arrive, they befriend a fellow inmate named Marta, who warns them that there's a bounty on their heads. Needless to say, they need to escape and help find the true assassins. Marta offers to help them out. It's revealed that she's a shapeshifter (ILM had just perfected morphing a few months earlier with Terminator 2, and needless to say, they wanted to show it off some more), and with her shapeshifting skills, they manage to escape into the frigid tundra of Rura Pente. They need to escape the magnetic shield that surrounds Rura Pente so the Enterprise can beam them out. Of course, once they escape, Kirk and Bones figure out that Marts is in league with the conspirators and is going to kill them. Marta morphs into Kirk, and Kirk gets to fight his evil double once again. And I do love this variation on the "villain outlines his plan before attempting to kill the heroes" cliche. So Kirk defeats Marta, the commandant of Rura Pente shows up to finish the job, and as the commandant begins the monologue explaining the whole evil plot, Kirk and Bones are beamed out and miss it.

I should mention that, in order to sneak into Klingon space and rescue Kirk and Bones, we wound up with this very famous scene.

Apparently, Nichelle Nichols hated filming that scene. She argued that a communications officer of Uhura's skill and experience would at least have a working knowledge of the language of the Federation's greatest threat, but Meyer overrode her with, "But...it's funny!"

With Kirk and Bones back on board, Scotty finally uncovers the incriminating magnetic boots and Klingon-blood-stained uniforms. But, as soon as they're found, the assassins are found dead. Kirk and Spock set a trap for the conspirator, and they discover that it's Valeris. Valeris says she had to, because it's foolish to being talking peace with the Federation's greatest enemy, and that Klingons feel the same way, so it was, in fact, a conspiracy between Federation and Klingon officials to assassinate Gorkon, and they're preparing to assassinate the Federation president at the peace talks. She then chooses to shut up, so Spock gets the rest of the information out of Valeris with a mind meld. they learn that the conspirators are Admiral Cartwright, General Chang, and the Romulan ambassador Nonclus. She doesn't know where the peace talks are being held now, but luckily, Captain Sulu does, as he bring the Excelsior to the aid of the Enterprise. Sulu reveals that it's on the planet Khitomer, and every Trekkie in the audience went, "Hey, that's Worf's home planet! And the peace treaty between the Federation and the Klingons is called the Khitomer Accords. CONTINUITY FTW!"

And you've got to hand it to Leonard Nimoy in his scenes interrogating Valeris. Even though he's being the emotionless Vulcan we all know and love, you can just tell that there's rage boiling just beneath the surface. As Spock said, he sponsored Valeris's entry into the Academy, watched her career with great interest, and fully intended to give her his position on the Enterprise when he retired. He feels thoroughly and utterly betrayed.

The Enterprise warps off to Khitomer, but General Chang is laying in wait, commanding the Bird of Prey that can fire while cloaked. A space battle erupts, but of course, the Enterprise can't fire back, because they don't know where it is. Finally, Spock figures out that Bird of Prey is still leaving an exhaust trail, and Uhura suggests that the equipment they're carrying to catalog gaseous anomalies could be used to modify a torpedo to find it. Of course, this does leave the audience scratching their heads as, at the opening of the film, a big deal was made about the Excelsior's primary mission being cataloging gaseous anomalies, so why didn't Sulu fire the torpedo? According to George Takei's memoirs, that was the original plan in early versions of the screenplay, but William Shatner said, "Fuck that, Captain Kirk doesn't need anyone to come charging to his rescue." So it was changed. And we got the really cool scene of Spock and Bones modifying the torpedo.

The torpedo is launched, it finds the Bird of Prey, and now that it's location is known, the Enterprise and the Excelsior blow it away. They beam down just in the nick of time to save the Federation president and arrest the conspirators. Throughout this whole experience, Kirk is finally able to let go of his hatred for the Klingons. Our favourite crew bids good-bye to Sulu, and he takes the Excelsior off to have many adventures in the expanded universe. The Enterprise is recalled home. It's time for everyone to retire, and the Enterprise is to be decommissioned. Kirk gives the heading, "Second star to the right, and straight on 'til morning."

Yeah, I know I got a little clip-crazy in this entry, but I love this one.  This is my favourite of the original crew films.  I proclaimed it as such when I saw it in the theatre.  It knocked me on my ass, I thought it was so good.  I love this one because it's so different compared to the other Star Trek films.  You can tell any kind of story in the Star Trek universe, and rather than the usual space opera we've had, we got a political thriller.  I remember when I first saw it, I was a little bit disappointed that there weren't many space battles, but it doesn't need it.  The action and the excitement comes from the mystery.  Again, it's just the most different Star Trek film.

And the music!  I love the music!  Cliff Eidelman's score is phenomenal.  Again, it's the most different soundtrack for the Star Trek movies.  No bombastic marches, just moody, intense stuff.  Hands down, my favourite Star Trek soundtrack. 

And just to date it as being the product of the late-1980s/early-1990s, I have to mention the gratuitous cameo from the teen heartthrob of the day, Christen Slater.  He plays a young officer on the Excelsior who was to wake up Sulu in the middle of the night.  Again, it's one of those things I really remember about seeing the film in the theatre.  The gasps of surprise when he showed up.  It was so unexpected. 

And that's the key word here, unexpected.  This is a very unexpected Star Trek film.  And because it is so unexpected, it's my favourite.  Don't get me wrong, it's still Star Trek, but it's not your typical Star Trek story.

But sadly, there was always the general feeling over this film that it was going to be the last one for the original crew.  They knew it was time to retire.  Bennett was right, the film franchise was ready for a reboot.  They did their reboot by graduating the Next Generation crew to the movies.  Next time, we do Generations

--Edit on April 15--

Ooo!  There's something I forgot.  When the film came out, I remember reading Marc Horton's (the Edmonton Journal's film critic) review, and there's one observation he made all those years ago that I still agree with.  Star Trek VI has the best Bones.  Dr. McCoy is always quick with a one-liner and his sardonic wit in this film.  DeForest Kelly just goes above and beyond in what he proabably knew would be his final outing.

No comments: