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Category:    Home > Reviews > Science Fiction > Adventure > Space Opera > Star Trek VI - The Undiscovered Country (Paramount DVD set)

Star Trek VI – The Undiscovered Country (remastered set)


Picture: B     Sound: B     Extras: B     Film: B



With Nicholas Meyer’s Star Trek VI – The Undiscovered Country (1991), Paramount finally let go of the original cast once and for all.  When William Shatner’s Star Trek V – The Final Frontier (1989) was released, it really was supposed to be the end, but another surprise ending occurred shortly after the film’s release that could not have been scripted.  The Soviet Union collapsed.


Since the franchise did more than just about any other commercial entity to inspire the idea of world piece and took the Cold War into space in a relatively more realistic and honest way than anything until Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), this was unfinished business that no spin-off, revival, or later generation of the franchise could handle.  Thus, a film about Kirk and Spock (et al?) in their early days in Starfleet Academy was dropped and has sadly not resurfaced since.


In an echo of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, the Klingon’s industrial moon explodes (shades of the TV hit Space: 1999, reviewed elsewhere on this site), leaving hardly any of it left.  The Klingons themselves, in true militarist/isolationist style, tell the other federation (read Allied) ships to stay away because they have “everything under control” and trying to help would be an act of war.


This eventually gets back to al of the Federation and specifically Kirk (Shatner), who has become a bit more embittered than we have ever seen him.  The loss of his son has grown darker to him, despite the resolution he thought he had found a few films ago.  Spock (Leonard Nimoy) advises him of his options and an uneasy meeting takes place between Enterprise crew and a group of Klingons represented by a high-ranking member among them (Christopher Plummer), who is still hateful of Kirk and what his people represent.


Of course, this will lead to a few space wars, but also features some mysterious assassinations, including one of an entire chamber early on with an absolute zero device that is most devious.  When I first saw the original theatrical cut of the film, I liked it, then all the video versions came out and extra footage was added that was small, but seemed to throw off the pace a bit.  Seen now, the film runs into many repeats of better, earlier films and episodes of the classic show, but there are enough original moments that it is worth seeing again.  The one factor that has it hold up is its smart handling of the fall of the USSR, something all other franchises either ignored or dealt with less directly.  In comparison, the Pierce Brosnan James Bond debut film Goldeneye (1995) is more explicitly haunted with this theme, even though issues of prejudice are by passed due to the multi-national heritage inherent in that franchise.


Paramount wanted a better link between the original and new configurations of the franchise, especially how Shatner’s last film did so poorly with critics and audiences, who missed the point of his contempt for the franchise so explicit throughout his often funnier-than-many-want-to-admit film.  There is humor here, but the film is more serious like no installment since the third feature film.  It also starts the sad gap of the franchise drifting too far away from Gene Roddenberry’s original ideas, into a pseudo-militarism that Meyer began lightly in the classic Star Trek II – The Wrath of Khan (1982), which recently came back to haunt the series in Star Trek – Nemesis (2002, reviewed elsewhere on this site, and featured as part of my analysis of the influence of F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922) in our essays section).


Even with that in mind, the cast said goodbye and they went out with a bit more dignity, not because this film had more money in it, had better visual effects or was more serious, but because they had lived to see the menace of the USSR collapse and were commercial television and motion pictures ultimate survivors.  When it came to offering a positive, progressive alternative to the future and hope for a better tomorrow in the face of the evil of the East Bloc Warsaw pact countries, the original Star Trek cast and crew finished what The Beatles began and lived to see it through in their lifetimes through their art.  It is a recognition they never get, but because Gene Roddenberry was willing to take endless risks in the original show and the cast, directors and writers backed him through the years, a greater good really did withstand an intolerable evil.  The franchise has become battered and played out since, but whenever it wants to make a comeback, all it has to do is remember its roots; the kind that are something to be very proud of.


The anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image is more like 1.81-ish, because the person operating the telecine film-to-tape transfer machine did not understand how to transfer a Super 35 frame correctly, so a small-but-noticeable sliver of picture information is missing on the left-hand side throughout.  Like the previous five films shot with real anamorphic 2.35 X 1 scope lenses and issued in theaters that way, Star Trek VI was shot with the scope frame in mind and released that way.  To do the full frame from the camera negative has happened on DVD accidentally (initial copies of Silverado) or intentionally (see my review of The Two Jakes elsewhere on this site for more details).  This is still looking as good as any of the previous Star Trek films on DVD, and Meyer approved of this transfer before realizing the mistakes.  He is supporting it in vein, ready to sign copies like crazy, but the problem will always remain, no matter how much denial is employed.  Another oddity is that the subtitles of the Klingon language were not redone, suspended in mid air just above where the line for the bottom of the scope image would run when recut for that framing.  That line would be slightly lower for the 70mm blow-ups of the film that used more of the Super 35 frame.  This is a classic of odd picture transfers on DVD.


The Dolby Digital 5.1 AC-3 mix is not bad, with the real test being when the Klingon moon blows up, but sounds very similar to the 5.1 on the previous, basic Star Trek VI DVD.  This still does not offer the impact it did when I saw it theatrically.  This was an experimental Dolby Digital film in a couple of bookings and test screenings, though it also had 5.1 on the 70mm blow-up prints through their magnetic 6-track sound.  My theatrical screening was in Dolby’s advanced analog SR process in 35mm, which often seems to have some sound missing in their digital mixes, something that would have likely been in a DTS mix.  The first six Star Trek films have only known Dolby sound technology and that is a shame.


The extras begin on Disc One with commentary by Meyer and screenplay writer Denny Martin Flinn, and more text commentary (i.e. another set of subtitles) by Star Trek scholars Michael and Denise Okuda.  Disc two has six featurettes making on the film, five on the world of the film that serves as a final look at the vintage voyages of the original crew, two farewell segments (the great DeForest Kelley passed away not too long after this film was made), promo materials, storyboards, and a look at the real life events that shaped this film.  There is some overlap in this section, but not too much, and we see much more of what went into saying goodbye.


Star Trek VI may not be the best film in the series, but it is one of the more undervalued and this set should help to correct that, even with its picture problem.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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