A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 327 – Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country – January 21st, 2011

After last night’s farce, it’s good to be back on track with a decent movie with a decent plot and decent writing and no fan dance. Oh, it’s got a moment or two that I quibble with, but I’ll get there. For the most part this is a nicely solid movie that slots in well with the timeline and continuity from the rest of the movies. Kirk’s antipathy towards Klingons is explored in depth, as is his reputation among them. The Excelsior shows up, there are familiar faces in Starfleet and in general it’s moving the whole wider universe along. It lays ground for a few things and explains other things and contains some nice moments for some of the crew (though I feel that, as usual, Chekhov is underused). Oh, and it’s got Kim Catrall and Iman in it, along with some familiar-to-Star Trek faces such as David Warner, Rene Auberjonois and Michael Dorn.

Let me get my quibbles out of the way first. There’s a scene where the Enterprise is en route to Rura Penthe and they have to communicate with some Klingons. On board the Enterprise the crew is frantically scrambling for paper copies of Klingon dictionaries so they can figure out what’s being said and respond correctly. It’s got some humorously mangled Klingon and forced laughter and helpless shrugging and it’s cute and all, but. In the movie’s trivia there’s a note that Nichelle Nichols protested this scene, saying that it would make more sense that Uhura would either speak the language or have the technology to look things up without resorting to hardcopy dictionaries. She was overruled, but I agree with her. I mean, hell, if I want to translate something into Klingon I’m sure there are computer programs out there and I sure as hell am not in the 23rd century. It’s a comedic anachronism and it serves that purpose well, but it sticks out like a Horta at a dinner party. My other quibble is with the Klingons’ response to Kirk holding a grudge after the death of his son. Granted, a lot of development has been done with the Klingons as a civilization since this movie was released, but the Klingons I know about would totally get someone wanting revenge or at least being irrevocably pissed off after someone murdered a family member. But I suppose that’s pretty geeky, even for me.

Quibbles aside (and no, I won’t go complaining about the purple blood), it really is a solid movie. Maybe not the best of the first six, but certainly a tighter story than the fifth movie. And it’s not just that I’m comparing it to the weakest of the bunch. It really does hold together well. With the explosion of their primary source of power, the Klingons are in a weakened position and unable to sustain a prolonged military opposition to the Federation. Talks are planned so as to reach some sort of peace accord between the two groups, but while accompanying the Klingon ambassador to Earth someone on the Enterprise shoots up the Klingon ship, killing the ambassador and some of the crew and framing Kirk and McCoy for it. They’re put on trial and sent to Rura Penthe, a prison planet, and the rest of the Enterprise crew has to figure out who the traitors in their midst are before Kirk and McCoy get themselves killed and the peace talks are completely ruined by more assassinations. It’s a sci-fi murder mystery with some big political concepts providing backdrop. Overall, while I think Star Trek has done philosophy fairly well at times, it does much better with politics.

And really, the political meanings here aren’t precisely difficult to grasp. After all, the whole thing was made not long after the fall of the Berlin Wall and it was released right at the end of the Cold War. The Klingon ambassador’s name (Chancellor Gorkon) is supposedly a portmanteau of Gorbachev and Lincoln. So really, we’re dealing with some political meanings that were, at the time, striking very close to home. And Star Trek does have a history of touching on political and social issues. There are nods to bigotry and fear of change, uncertainty over old enemies suddenly no longer being okay to hate. It doesn’t go too far in depth there. Not for many more than Kirk and Bones, who get a good deal of screen time, but it is touched on. And I like that the effort was made. One of the things I love best about Star Trek is its portrayal of the future as being one to hope for. I noted to Andy the other day that the casting for the movies was very nice indeed, putting both men and women as well as members of several different ethnicities on the bridges of starships in roles of command. The characters we see on screen are ones who acknowledge their own prejudices and face them, regretting that it took them so long to recognize them. Of course it could be handled better at times, but in this movie, as with the Trek universe as a whole, there’s true effort being put in and I like that.

I’m not usually a suspense or mystery fan, but there’s something about a sci-fi mystery that I enjoy. And in this movie there are so many great little exchanges and winks for fans to notice (like Sarek’s portrait in the dining room on the Enterprise and Bones saying ‘fascinating’ to Spock). It makes it all the more fun to watch to have it follow something dreadful, but even if it had followed The Voyage Home directly it still would have been just as good.

January 21, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | 3 Comments

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

January 21, 2011

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

I’m really enjoying watching this movie again. It’s a great movie. Not just in contrast of the train wreck that was yesterday’s movie. This movie is everything that is great about Star Trek: cool aliens, space battles, galactic conflict, barely disguised political allegory. It also has a cool murder mystery, which is something we haven’t seen before out of a Star Trek movie and effects miles beyond those in any of the movies so far.

The leap in the effects is surely a result of advances in affordable visual magic made to produce the Next Generation. By the time this came out I believe TNG was into season four or five, with an average budget of about 1.5 million dollars per episode, so they had a lot of experience making thrilling space adventures on what would be a shoestring in action movie terms. That’s not the only influence that TNG had on this movie either. The plot of this movie centers on the creation of peace between Humans and Klingons, something that was established to be history by the very presence of Lieutenant Worf on the Enterprise D. (A nod to which is the presence of Michael Dorn playing one of Worf’s ancestors in this movie.) There was even a kind of tie-in to the television show. Leonard Nimoy appeared as Ambassador Spock in a two part episode aired at the time of opening weekend for this movie – an episode revolving around a possible peace accord with the Romulans during which there was reference made to the events at Khitomer. The mystery of course was “what exactly happened at Khitomer?” and there were all kinds of hints that Kirk had died there (including a shot of him being disintegrated in the trailer for the movie.) Naturally the only way to find out the answer was to go to the theater and watch the movie.

The answers didn’t quite live up to the hype for me, but they were worth a trip to the theater nonetheless. As indicated this is the story of how peace with the Klingons first came about. It starts with the meltdown at Chernobyl. Which in this particular analogy would be the destruction of one of the moons of the Klingon home world. The Federation of Planets sets about the humanitarian task of evacuating the Klingons from their dying planet, and Kirk gets roped into a diplomatic mission to escort the Klingon supreme chancellor to Earth for peace talks. But Kirk harbours no love for the Klingons – particularly since one of them was responsible for the death of his son. Indeed prejudice and resentment run deep throughout both sides of the long running cold war. Then things go wrong for the peace process. Photon torpedoes, apparently fired from the Enterprise, disable the Klingon ship they are escorting, and two crewmen beam over and assassinate the supreme chancellor.

So the movie becomes a mystery. Who is responsible for the attack on the Klingons and why? Clearly Kirk never gave the order to fire, but all appearances seem to indicate that it was the Enterprise that committed this unprovoked attack during an escort mission. Spock must act as a detective to unravel just what’s going on while Kirk and McCoy attempt to escape from the Klingon penal camp they’ve been exiled to as punishment for their supposed complicity. It’s a fun plot full of tension, red herrings, humor and action. Everything that is good about the franchise.

In many ways this was clearly an intentional swan song for the old Enterprise crew. The closing narration acts as a heavy handed passing of the torch to the next generation. The closing credits, with the well practiced signatures of all the lead actors, are like a kindly farewell to the fans. Every cast member gets some great time on screen one last time performing these beloved characters. Tomorrow is the first movie involving a new Enterprise and a new crew (who were all quite familiar after seven years on television.) Tonight we bid a fond adieu to the crew of the NCC-1701 (no bloody A, B, C or D)

January 21, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment