Everything that makes "Star Trek" a legitimate, long-lasting cultural phenomenon is present in spades in this sixth installment of the feature film series. A timeless, surprisingly evocative sci-fi neo-classic that counts both Shakespeare and the Cold War among its chief inspirations, "The Undiscovered Country" features the original crew (Kirk, Spock, etc.) at its finest, and the "Trek" lore at its most thrilling since "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan."
So is it any wonder that both films were co-written and directed by the same man? Nicholas Meyer, who was a "Trek" novice before "Khan," helped shape "Trek's" future by lending this film the kind of gravitas that became a hallmark of every "Trek" that followed on the big screen and the small.
Inspired by the events following the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident, Meyer and Leonard Nimoy (Spock) conceived this story in which the Klingon empire begins to crumble after a huge power-facility explosion destroys a Klingon moon, poisoning the atmosphere of the warlike race's home planet.
With uneasy peace negotiations about to commence, the starship Enterprise is sent to escort the Klingon high chancellor to Earth, but his ship is attacked -- apparently by Enterprise -- and the diplomat is assassinated, bringing the galaxy to the brink of war while Captain Kirk and Dr. McCoy are tried in a harsh Klingon court for conspiracy and murder.
"Star Trek VI" has several logical gaffes in its plot. The Enterprise surrenders to the Klingons after the assassination -- how and when was she released? Why is Klingon border technology so primitive that it can't distinguish between a Federation ship and one of their own? Why is the security around the peace summit planet so ridiculously lax?
But its shortcomings are countered by its insights into politics and human nature, and by its memorably inventive secondary characters -- Klingon General Chang (an absolutely commanding Christopher Plummer), cunning Vulcan lieutenant Valeris (a pre-"Sex and the City" Kim Catrall), shape-shifter Martia (Iman) -- who truly challenge our heroes' intellects as well as being the catalysts for fantastically tense battle scenes and an escape from a frozen Klingon prison planet.
"The Undiscovered Country" not only makes up for everything that went so horribly wrong with the putrid "Star Trek V: The Final Frontier" (one of the worst movies ever made, ineptly directed by star William Shatner), it's also one of three truly great "Star Trek" films (the others being "The Wrath of Khan" and "First Contact") and arguably the most influential.
Once you get past the rather silly Klingon-courtroom menus, this new 2-disc release absolutely measures up to the rest of the "Star Trek" Special Editions that Paramount has been putting out in the last year or two.
The commentary with director Meyer and screenwriter Denny Martin Flinn is fascinating in its own right, as they talk about all the technical elements, money-saving tidbits and inspirations for the film, including Shakespeare and other classical literature, "The Manchurian Candidate," "Seven Days in May," Agatha Christie mysteries and several trial movies. These two relative outsiders to "Star Trek" really delve into the meat of their creative process and the blessings and restrictions of working within the "Trek" canon. Sometimes, however, they don't say anything for minutes at a time.
As with the other "Trek" DVDs, there is a text commentary by the authors of the "The Star Trek Encyclopedia" that is a geek's delight, full of wonderful minutia and in-jokes, noting gaffes in the film and playfully mocking whatever absurdities they see.
But those tracks are just the tip of the bonus-feature iceberg. There's a mini-doc about the history of Klingons, footage of Meyer's 1991 convention appearance at which he showed a sneak peek of the film, a short featurette on actors who have appeared in several "Trek" incarnations, another with the "Trek" props queen touring her toy box on the Paramount lot. A tribute to DeForest Kelley (Dr. McCoy) shows clips from his many other roles, but the praise of many interviewees is played over the top of them, which is very annoying because it essentially means we don't get to experience his acting in these clips.
Other notable features include trailers, still and storyboards.
The menus are well-designed, although some of them have display problems (at least they did on my laptop), and most multi-featurette areas include a "play all" option, except the cast interviews -- 8 separate items you have to cue up separately.
SOUND & PICTURE
As with all these reissues, the transfer is from an imperfect print, but there are no video artifacts bad enough to interfere with enjoying the film. The 5.1 Dolby sounds great (2.0 surround is also an option).
1.85:1 ratio (16x9 enhanced)
DVD RATING: ***1/2
THE FILM: ***1/2
-- By Rob Blackwelder