You have to hand it to Star Trek ,spanning 4 decades, 5 TV series, 12 films, countless books and tons of merchandise, its one of the longest and most successful sci fi franchises in history. Now I adore Star Trek -not as much as Star Wars mind –but I have enough knowledge of its universe to know a Dilithium chamber when I see one, tell the difference between a Romulan and a Cardassian, and why its always a good idea to eject the warp core if you want to make a speedy escape from certain death.
Ok the hard-core fans are a bit weird . Strange sorts who mostly live with their mums and have little or no knowledge of the fairer sex. I speak from experience here, having once worked as a barman at a Star Trek convention in Cardiff when I was student. The vision of a grown man strutting around dressed as TNG’s Commander William Riker –silly walk, beard and all – will never leave me. Nor indeed will the enormously pretentious conversation I had with one of the event’s organisers – a rather odd little person with a limp, who loftily seemed know most of the principal Star Trek actors on a personal level – even going so far as to comment with smug authority on the current rude health of (the now deceased) Deforest Kelly and annoyingly referring to him simply as “D”.
Anyway I’m getting off the point – namely the reason for writing this article. As mentioned there are 12 Trek films, 6 with the original cast, 4 featuring the Next Generation characters, the JJ Abram’s directed 2009 reboot and its rather splendid sequel (Into Darkness) that was released last year.
Now not all of them were that good – 1979’s ‘The Motion Picture’ was very inventive but deathly boring, the Shatner directed ‘Final Frontier’ was hampered by shoddy effects and a reliance on very silly humour (contrary to popular belief it wasn’t all The Shat’s fault -read Wikipedia for more). As for the TNG movies, whilst not bad in parts, they were never really that memorable, culminating in 2002’s rather poor ‘Star Trek Nemesis’ which effectively killed the franchise for nigh on 7 years.
As for the better entries -most people cite ‘The Wrath Of Khan’, the aforementioned 2009 reboot or the very good 4th feature – ‘The Voyage Home’ . All great films – especially ‘Wrath’ which is a absolute classic and JJ’s brilliant reboot, which mercifully tore up the rule book and turned out to be the best blockbuster released that year.
However, my all time favorite will always be the quite superb Star Trek 6: The Undiscovered Country (1991). A film that, despite being a sizable critical and commercial success , seems to have almost become the forgotten Trek.
Its plot centres around the Klingons, who have become desperate to broker a peace with the Federation after an environmental disaster on their home world threatens their very existence. Acting as a sort of galactic olive branch, the Enterprise and its crew (led by a very sceptical Kirk) are dispatched to agree a deal that will end years of hostility and potentially result in the dismantling of the neutral zone.
Naturally it all goes pear shaped. After a particularly frosty first meeting, all hell breaks loose when the Enterprise seemingly fires on the Klingon ship, and their High Chancellor (David Warner) is brutally murdered. Of course the finger of suspicion points firmly at Kirk and McCoy, who are duly arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment on the Rura Pente penal asteroid .
Back on the Enterprise, and smelling a rat, Spock, Chekov, Scotty et al, ignore orders from Starfleet, then set about attempting to uncover a huge conspiracy and save civilisation as we know it. After the disaster that was The Final Frontier, Paramount wisely went back to basics, hiring Wrath of Khan director Nicolas Meyer, and adapting a story by Leonard Nimoy.
Well written, action packed, sharply edited and brimming with top notch SFX, there really isn’t much wrong with this film.
Managing to be funny without being silly and incredibly for a Sci Fi, intelligently addressing issues of ingrained prejudice and immovable racism – even at one point riffing on Stanley Kramer’s 1967 classic ‘Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner’.
Acting wise its superb. William Shatner brings a hitherto unseen darker edge to the usually unflappable Kirk – still grieving after the loss of his son and unable to stem his hatred of the Klingons, referring to them as nothing more than animals who deserve their fate. Leonard Nimoy as Spock has never been better, refreshingly showing him as no longer a complete stickler for logic and embracing much more of his repressed human half than we have seen before.
The other original cast members have their moments to shine too – be it George Takei as Sulu -heroically arriving in the nick of time on the USS Excelsior, James Doohan’s Scotty ranting about the impossibility of a Klingon Warbird firing when cloaked, or Deforest Kelly delivering the mother all one liners whilst trying to hotwire a photon torpedo – to wit:
- Klingon General Chang : “I am constant as the northern star!”
- McCoy (muttering under his breath) “Id give real money if he’d shut up”
New additions the cast are equally impressive – Kim Cattrall is great fun as a sort of Vulcan Dr Watson to Spock’s pointy eared Holmes, plus the excellent Kurtwood Smith pops up in an extended cameo as the president of Starfleet. Best of all however, is the great Christopher Plummer as Chang, the chief Klingon baddie.
Hamming it up for all he’s worth and sporting an eye patch that’s looks like its been nailed to his head, Plummer is by turns hilariously bitchy and horribly pretentious(“you’ve never experienced Shakespeare until its been heard in the original Klingon”) . One particular standout scene has him endlessly quoting Shakespeare whilst engaging in a huge space battle with the Enterprise (“our rebels now are ended Kirk!”). Now God only knows how an actor of his stature was persuaded to appear in Star Trek –but all credit to him- he’s that good he almost steals the entire show.
Its also the overriding plus of this film that its just so much damn good fun. Whereas previous entries were sometimes a bit serious or played too much for laughs, this manages to remain just on the right side of funny, whilst successfully keeping the integrity of the original series. Its also seriously exciting – the final 15 minutes are jam packed with action – the aforementioned climactic space battle is just brilliant, and just when you’ve caught your breath there’s a thrilling final dash to stop a deadly assassin from offing the Federation President and the new Klingon High Chancellor.
Now upon reading all of the above you could all be forgiven in thinking that I’m an utterly sad geek who seems to view Star Trek as far more important than classics such as the Godfather or The Shawshank Redemption.
On this you would be wrong. I am of course fully aware that Trek can be a bit daft, is a very acquired taste and most certainly not for everyone. However, the fact is, that no matter what the genre, I love any film that strives to be entertaining, well made and intelligent, then goes ahead and hugely succeeds in being all three. The Undiscovered Country does this in spades and if you haven’t seen it already, then wait no more -stop what you are doing, raid your money boxes and boldly go to the nearest high street dvd retailer you can find– I promise you wont be sorry.
In summary – a cracking slice of Sci Fi brilliance, that rightly deserves to come out from the long shadow of the awesome Wrath Of Khan, and go down as the best of all the 12 Star Trek feature films.
May it live long and prosper.
Author: Will Strong