Directed by Nicholas Meyer
Written by Nicholas Meyer & Denny Martin Flinn
As predicted, the last and final film of the original series is a good one. It should be no surprise then at this point that Nicholas Meyer is the common thread through the three good movies, while being noticeably absent from the three bad ones (I actually didn’t mind The Search for Spock, so bad would be too harsh for that one, though it doesn’t measure up to the other three). I’m not sure why he kept coming in and out of having his hand involved in this series, but I wish he would have stayed. It’s clear to me now that he was just concerned with coming up with good stories that fit into the Star Trek universe. Of course, with this being the last of the original series, it’s a little bittersweet coming to the end of it all. There are still The Next Generation and Reboot series films to discover, but The Undiscovered Country does mark the closing of one chapter of the saga, and with it comes a bit of reflection.
One thing The Undiscovered Country does well is recognize that the series’ time with the original crew is coming to a close, but does it without making it overly sentimental about it. Captain Kirk, Scotty and Bones are at Starfleet headquarters, on the eve of retirement, but Spock decides to volunteer the crew for the task of escorting a diplomatic Klingon party to a special peace conference, where the Kilingon’s hope to win the sympathy of Starfleet in order to for their species to survive after a disaster on their home planet which threatens their very existence. After dining with Kirk and his crew after a rendezvous, the Klingon vessel is fired upon, and the diplomatic Chancellor killed. This egregious act kicks off a conspiracy within Starfleet to incite and trap the Klingon, as some dissenters of peace view the current condition one which proves to be the perfect opportunity to decimate the notoriously violent Klingons.
I’ve already commented on how I love that Star Trek is adaptable to various different genres while being able to stay within its science fiction lane. The Undiscovered Country continues that tradition by essentially being a political thriller by building very real stakes at the heart of the narrative. Starfleet, at least to me in my limited exposure to the organization, is a group meant to explore the universe peacefully, to better humankind by learning and discovering, not by battle and conquest. So this mission for peace is right in line with that sentiment, even if it is with the Klingon, whom Kirk swears he will never be able to trust after they killed his son (which is such a small part of this series that it’s hardly a believable reason; instead, I buy that the Klingon are not trustworthy simply based on reputation and wish they would have left the dead son motivation out of it altogether). What then unfolds is a very taught murder/mystery with galactic political implications and as such plays pretty fun and also pretty serious, a deadly combination.
There are more than a few sequences here which are top notch, including the dinner between the Klingon and crew of Enterprise, which features some fumbled manners and heated debate. It shows the Klingon in a positive light, capable of civil discourse and discussion. This is extremely important to believing that they are capable of peace, otherwise the conspiracy falls apart. But I also loved the sort of back and forth which took place directly before and after this encounter. The two parties very clearly do not care for each other, which affords the crew some quippy one liners. There is also a sort of fun sequence inside a well thought out prison planet, and an assassination attempt akin to some of the good political thrillers from the decades previous. But more than a series of fun sequences, the film features strong characters too.
I was admittedly disappointed when the film begins and ends without Sulu on the Enterprise, but I suppose I can forgive the film that since he is given command of his own ship, the Excelsior, and comes to the rescue and aid of the Enterprise. I’ve always liked Sulu and felt he is far too often underutilized, especially given George Takei’s charisma. Over the past six films I must admit I have become quite connected with the crew, some more than others. Of course characters like Chekov, Sulu and Uhura are often sidelined and don’t get much time on screen. I still enjoyed them nonetheless. Even Scotty to some extent is this way. But Bones, Spock and Kirk are the three stars of the show, and I tend to like them to varying degrees. Shatner at the very least has the arrogance and confidence to play Kirk as we know him. His acting chops are lacking, and I hardly ever enjoyed his performances, but I can still appreciate Kirk the character. Bones as the sidekick works best when he is interacting with both Kirk and Spock. His humor is his best trait and DeForest Kelley is fairly consistent in his portrayal.
Spock on the other hand is easily the best character in the series for me. Leonard Nimoy gives him just enough personality underneath his calculated delivery, and obviously as the only non-human main crew member, his character is afforded the most unique personality traits. That he is half-human only adds to the intrigue in how he reacts to certain things. Essentially, what I most got out of watching these six films was that I can totally buy into the fandom on display for the brand and especially the original cast. I can see how people had become attached, how they geeked out over the actors, the characters, their adventures. Credit goes to Gene Roddenberry of course, who developed the original series, but this series of films is quite good, even for a new fan like myself who is getting to know the crew for the first time. I can see how repeated viewings of any or all the films would be a welcome chance to spend more time with these people, on these adventures.
But back to the film at hand a little bit, I loved the conflict at the center of the film. I loved how Kirk is forced to face his nemesis the Klingon, forced to behave, and yet the mystery that unfolds is quite good. I can’t say the reveal is all that surprising, but the whodunit aspect of the story certainly carries the tension and suspense through out most of the film. Christopher Plummer was surprising to see turn up as the main villain as well. I can’t say Plummer is the type I would expect in a role like this, but he fits fairly well as the Shakespeare reciting Klingon. Kim Cattrall is in the same boat as a surprise, perhaps because I know her as Samantha from Sex and the City, but she actually works here too. Generally, The Undiscovered Country, what with its eyes to the future, peace, political harmony, is a pleasant surprise all around and a fitting close to the original series of films. I look forward to picking up with the new crew and new adventures, but make no mistake, this crew will be missed, even if their tenure in the series was often hit or miss along the way.