"You have not experienced Shakespeare until you have read it in the original Klingon."
After the abject failure of 'Star Trek V: The Final Frontier,' everyone associated with the franchise knew that they had a limited window of opportunity to set things right. The series' original cast was rapidly aging beyond the point of plausibly carrying another big sci-fi adventure, yet nobody wanted 'The Final Frontier' to be their swan song. Also, 'Star Trek' was approaching its 25th Anniversary, and that was a promotional opportunity too good to pass up. Paramount greenlit another film. Leonard Nimoy, who'd be Executive Producing the next entry, approached 'Wrath of Khan' director Nicholas Meyer. Together, they developed a story idea in which the longstanding conflict between Starfleet and the Klingon Empire would function as a political allegory for the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union.
'Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country' opens with a (literal) bang. On a routine scientific expedition, the starship Excelsior is rocked by an energy shockwave originating from a massive explosion near the Klingon homeworld. It turns out that the Klingons' chief energy production facility on their moon of Praxis has experienced a Chernobyl-style disaster. The alien race initially refuses Federation help, but is soon forced to admit that their empire is crumbling in the wake of economic ruin and public unrest. Their current leader, Chancellor Gorkon (David Warner, who had last appeared as a human in 'Star Trek V'), initiates talks to end hostilities with the Federation. A new age of Glasnost (however that may translate in Klingon) is emerging.
As their first olive branch, Starfleet assigns its flagship, the U.S.S. Enterprise, to greet the Chancellor and escort him to a peace conference. Captain Kirk, whose son was murdered by Klingons, grudgingly accepts the assignment and attempts to suppress his deep-seated prejudice against the species. He assumes that an awkward diplomatic dinner will be the hardest part of the mission. But then, inexplicably, the Enterprise appears to open fire on the Klingon vessel without his authorization. General Chang (Christopher Plummer), the Chancellor's hard-line second-in-command, has Kirk and McCoy arrested and put on trial for war crimes. While that happens, Spock and his new Vulcan protégé, Valeris (Kim Cattrall), must search the Enterprise to root out a conspiracy attempting to disrupt the peace process.
Though I hadn't been too impressed with Meyer's script for the series' fourth movie, 'The Undiscovered Country' is a welcome and much needed return to form for the 'Trek' franchise. The man who made 'Wrath of Khan' is back at the top of his game. The film incorporates not just the expected sci-fi action, but also elements of political thriller, murder mystery, courtroom drama, and prison camp escape movie. Somehow, they mesh beautifully with all the spaceships, photon torpedoes, and latex makeup.
The director keeps the pacing snappy and the production values high. Desperate not to repeat the laughable special effects from 'Star Trek V' (which had been outsourced to the lowest bidder), the wizards at Industrial Light & Magic were brought back into the fold. Their work here returns to the franchise's previous standard. The shockwave blast from the Praxis explosion proved so influential that the visual (thereafter known as the "Praxis Effect") was later reused in numerous sci-fi movies, including George Lucas' wretched 'Star Wars Special Editions.' In his most ambitious sequence, Meyer stages a zero-gravity assault inside the Klingon ship. The CG globules of floating blood were quite impressive in their day (if a little dated now), as were the morphing effects (all the rage at the time) of a shapeshifting alien played by model/actress Iman.
Gone is any of the goofy comic relief that had plagued the last two installments. 'Star Trek VI' has a focused and thematically-rich screenplay with crackling dialogue and multi-dimensional characterizations. Plummer's Shakespeare-spouting Chang is a juicy villain. In a nice touch, the often underutilized Sulu, who coveted after the Excelsior in 'Star Trek IV,' has been promoted to captain of that ship, and plays a critical role in the movie's climax. The rest of the main cast, who'd been really showing their ages in recent entries, seem especially spry and energized here, no doubt responding to the better material they had to work with.
Acknowledging that this was to be the original crew's last adventure, the film has many themes of retirement, outliving one's usefulness, passing of the torch, and death, all handled eloquently and with proper respect. Wrapping up 25 years in their company, 'Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country' makes a very classy send-off for our beloved heroes of the starship Enterprise.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country' is available on Blu-ray exclusively as part of the 'Star Trek: Original Motion Picture Collection' box set from Paramount Home Entertainment.
The Blu-ray marks the first time that the film's 110-minute theatrical cut has been released on home video. All previous VHS, laserdisc, and DVD editions of the movie offered only the 113-minute 'Director's Cut'. (The Blu-ray packaging lists the 113-min. length in error.) That longer version added a few extra character and plot moments that were fairly worthwhile, but also a rather silly 'Scooby Doo'-style revelation at the end that really wasn't. On balance, the theatrical cut works better. The Blu-ray only contains the theatrical cut, not the 'Director's Cut.'
Annoyingly, every single disc in the set automatically starts with a very loud trailer for the 2009 'Star Trek' feature film and an ad for the Blu-ray release of 'Star Trek: The Original Series – Season 1' before the main menu.
As I wrap up the final review of the 'Original Motion Picture Collection,' it strikes me just how differently each movie in the box set looks than all the others. Most of them have some issues, and 'The Undiscovered Country' is no exception, but no two are quite alike.
In addition to being the first home video release of the movie's theatrical cut, the Blu-ray is also the first time that it's appeared in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. 'Star Trek VI' is the only 'Trek' picture to date photographed using the Super 35 format. For previous video editions, director Nicholas Meyer instructed that the mattes be lifted off the top and bottom, exposing some extra picture information for an aspect ratio of approximately 2:1. I guess he felt that the theatrical framing was too tight. The mattes have been put back in place for the Blu-ray. To my eye, the framing looks perfectly fine here, and too loose on the earlier DVD.
Despite all these firsts, the Blu-ray is quite obviously sourced from an older master. I assume that it's either an old broadcast master for the theatrical cut, or that Paramount has simply edited their DVD master to take out the 'Director's Cut' bits, and then applied electronic blanking to the top and bottom.
Of its positive aspects, the 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer is quite sharp and detailed. It exhibits a more consistent high-def appearance than some of the earlier entries (notably 'Star Trek IV'). It also has nice depth and dimensionality, and vivid colors. That blue-skinned alien in the mining camp really pops off the screen.
Unfortunately, Digital Noise Reduction is once again a problem. Facial features sometimes take on a rubbery texture (though not as severely as 'Star Trek III') and grain patterns freeze in place (still, not as badly as 'Star Trek V'). Yet, even with overzealous Noise Reduction, the picture is still very noisy, especially in shadow areas. At the time of this movie's production, Super 35 was known for being a grainy film process. It appears that the grain left after DNR has not been well digitized, and comes across blocky and electronic. Some edge enhancement ringing is visible, no doubt added to sharpen the picture back up after it was softened by the DNR. The transfer is also riddled with aliasing in fine details, which point to it being sourced from a 1080i master that's been deinterlaced at the studio.
Although certainly better than the older DVD, the video on 'Star Trek VI' is another mixed bag, some positive qualities balanced by some negatives. I wish that all of the last four movies in the box set could have lived up to the standard of the first two.
The lossless Dolby TrueHD 7.1 audio sounds pretty good, though I have to admit that I expected a little more from it. The opening explosion of the Praxis moon ought to slam the soundstage with thunderous bass, but instead is only a fair rumble. Likewise, the shockwave barraging Excelsior is reasonably aggressive in surround activity (more so than most films in the series), but still seems a bit subdued.
In other respects, Cliff Eidelman's resonant score is reproduced with satisfying fidelity. Sound effects are crisp and suitably loud. Phaser blasts and photon torpedoes deliver the desired impact. The surround channels are pretty active overall.
This is a solid soundtrack, if not quite an exceptional one.
A few scenes in the movie have subtitled alien dialogue. The subtitles are all contained within the Scope movie image, and are safe for viewing on 2.35:1 Constant Image Height projection screens.
The Blu-ray carries over almost everything from the 2-disc Special Collector's Edition DVD released in 2004.
HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?
The Blu-ray also includes several new features.
Will Work in Any Blu-ray Player
BD-Live: Requires Profile 2.0
The Cutting Room Floor: What Didn't Make the Blu-ray?
The only item missing from the 2-disc Special Collector's Edition DVD released in 2004 is the text trivia commentary by Michael and Denise Okuda. The information in that track was mostly consolidated into the new Library Computer feature.
The 'Star Trek: Original Motion Picture Collection' contains six feature films and an almost overwhelming volume of supplemental content, both old and new. Although the video quality of some of the later movies in the set is a bit uneven, all are significant improvements over their old DVD editions. Even with its high list price, the set is an easy recommendation for fans.
'Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country' is a welcome return to form after the failure of 'Star Trek V,' and a worthy swan song for the original Enterprise crew. Too bad the producers couldn't resist bringing Kirk back for the disappointing 'Star Trek: Generations,' but we'll get to that in a future review. It stands to reason that Paramount will eventually re-release the film in its longer 'Director's Cut' form. How long that will take, I can't say. To be honest, the theatrical cut is superior, if only for the removal of the dumb plot twist at the end. Even so, this Blu-ray's video quality is problematic. I would welcome any excuse for a fresh remaster. The audio is pretty good, though, and the disc has plenty of bonus features.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.