Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

There's a reason why South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut is so incessantly raunchy: the South Park guys felt that if they were going to make a movie that people would have to pay to see in a theater then they needed to tell a story that their audience would never be able to see for free on television. And indeed, the movie they made wasn't TV friendly at all - it featured a talking clitoris, depictions of Satan engaging in anal sex and an unholy amount of f-bombs, particularly in the "Uncle Fucker" musical number. It's fair to accuse the movie of being excessive, but you can't deny that it was ambitious.

I wish that the makers of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country had been similarly inspired, because they were also trying to make a movie based on a TV show, but alas, they were content to tell a story that could have easily been shortened by an hour and broadcast for free on the small screen. Everything about this film feels minor: the stakes aren't compelling, the plot is predictable, and the characters are static, frozen in their established patterns.

Star Trek VI opens with a gigantic explosion in outer space, and shortly thereafter it is revealed that the Klingon homeworld is in danger of dying. This forces the warlike Klingons into a position where if they don't make a peace treaty with their long time rivals the United  Federation of Planets then they will all die, and our heroes on the Starship Enterprise are volunteered to help broker the deal. Now, in theory this set up should be very dramatic - it does, after all, concern the death of an entire planet. But there's a massive hurdle in the way: it's hard to make hypothetical peace negotiations between imaginary societies feel like they are grounded in reality, and if they don't feel realistic then it's hard to care about them. Smart fantasy scripts can sometimes sell this sort of storyline by pitting mischievous schemers against each other in a battle of wits, but Star Trek VI's script isn't smart enough for that sort of chess game. The instant it establishes the entire crew of the Enterprise as noble spirits it ruins any legitimate chance for intrigue, and that in turn reduces the peace negotiations into a bland formality between anonymous diplomats.

 What the hell is this? No. Just... no.

What the hell is this? No. Just... no.

Actually, I just overstated my claim a bit: this movie doesn't establish the entire crew of the Enterprise as noble. You see, the second act of the story is kicked off when the Enterprise fires at a Klingon spaceship, an act of war that endangers the fragile peace process. However, the Enterprise is actually innocent - no one on board ordered the attack and all of their photon torpedoes are accounted for. This creates a mystery where Captain Kirk has to find out who actually attacked the Klingons and why or else an interstellar war will break out. But it's not much of a mystery, because the entire crew of the Enterprise has been stable for decades, minus one Vulcan who is appearing here for the first time. Hmm. I wonder if the one person we've never seen before is responsible for the act of sabotage that's unlike anything that's ever happened on the Enterprise before? (Spoiler alert: yes. Yes she is.)

The main appeal of this movie is obviously that it's built around characters people are already predisposed to like. Kirk, Spock, Bones - everyone's old favorites are all here, and Star Trek VI focuses on their complex inter-relationships a lot more than it does on it's uncomplex plot. And I don't have much to complain about that; the scenes where Bones and Kirk are ribbing each other about their past exploits are charming, and the scenes where Kirk mourns his son (who I gather was murdered by a Klingon at some point) add some depth to his character. But if the movie's main appeal is that it features people you like then it's not much of a movie. That sort of character-driven story works a lot better in a television show, where the expanded format allows you to keep delving deeper into the personality quirks of each cast member as they breeze through multiple predictable story arcs.

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country isn't terrible - it's just unnecessary. The parts of this story that work well have been done before - over and over again, actually, in a TV series and in five previous movies. The parts of this movie that don't work well - like the scenes where a Klingon warrior recites dialogue from several of Shakespeare's plays for some reason (because of course aliens from another planet would really care so much about 800 year old literature from another world that they would bother to memorize it and quote it at length at dinner parties) - well, those bad parts are unique to this movie. I'm not saying that an an anal sex scene with Satan or an Uncle Fucker song would have made sense in this context, but I am saying that if they had done something bold in this movie that the franchise had never done before then you would at least have some reason to specifically watch this movie. As it is, however, why would you go out of your way to watch Star Trek VI when it's a minor variation on a major theme that's been expressed better elsewhere?

Winner: The Cat

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country on IMDB