Star Trek Movie Retrospective–Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

“‘Second star to the right, and straight on ’til morning'”

Captain James T. Kirk’s final course heading for the U.S.S. Enterprise-A

trek 6 poster 2The final Star Trek film to feature the entire original cast from the Star Trek TV show has many distinguished qualities such as a thrilling story, craftsman-like direction, solid acting and yes great special effects. But Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country will always be known for its parallels to the end of the Cold War and more importantly as the last hurrah for the original Enterprise crew.

When the film was released, the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union had ended bringing on a new uncertain era with ramifications still affecting us today. In Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, the long-running feud between the United Federation of Planets and the Klingon Empire comes to a peaceful end with adversaries on cast VIboth sides struggling to accept the new normal. This was done bravely with the main character Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) who expressed an unpleasant side with his unhidden bigotry towards the Klingons.

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country literally begins with a bang. A giant shockwave from an exploding moon reaches across space and slams into the Federation starship Excelsior. Commanded by Captain Hikaru Sulu (George Takei), the Excelsior rides out the shockwave’s destructive path. Sulu and his crew learn that the explosion came from the Klingon moon Praxis, which was overused as mining facility in an analogue to Chernobyl.

Months later, Captain Kirk and his senior Enterprise-A crew are summoned to a meeting at Starfleet Headquarters. To their surprise, their colleague Captain Spock (Leonard Nimoy) presents at the meeting not only the finding that the Klingons are dying out but that peace negotiations have begun between the two powers. Kirk is ordered by the Chief in Command (Leon Rossum) to have the Enterprise-A escort the Klingon leader Chancellor Gorkon (David Warner) to Earth for continued negotiations.

Kirk is angered that his friend Spock vouched for him to carry out this mission but Spock did so because Kirk’s reputation and antagonistic history with the Klingons will serve as an effective olive branch if he peacefully escorts Gorkon to Earth.

The Enterprise-A crew leaves Spacedock for its mission, but not before Kirk meets Spock’s protégé Lt. Valeris (Kim Cattrall), the ship’s helmsman. We later learn that Spock thinks highly of her and intends for her to succeed him as first officer of the ship.

enterprise and klingon

The Federation starship makes its rendezvous with Gorkon’s Klingon battle cruiser Kronos One and Kirk invites the chancellor over for dinner. Gorkon beams over with his entourage, which includes his daughter Azetbur (Rosana DeSoto) and General Chang (Christopher Plummer), a bald, crusty Klingon with an eye patch and an obvious dislike towards Kirk. He is practically chomping at the bit for the chance to engage the famous starship captain in combat and is clearly disheartened that he won’t get the chance.

chang and troop

The dinner held in the officer’s mess goes poorly. There is an uncomfortable tension as both Kirk and his senior officers and Gorkon and his entourage trade charged barbs at each other. The Starfleet officers, except Spock, can barely hide their contempt toward the Klingons. It was a bit jarring to see our heroes in a negative light, but it was very bold and dimensional because we see some flaws with our heroes. final dinnerThe only other person who tried to be polite and engaging was Gorkon. He is a clear reference for the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and exhibited a mature, open and statesman-like demeanor. David Warner was very memorable in this too brief but important role and made the leader seem sympathetic and noble.

After the uneasy dinner, the Klingons return to their ship while Kirk retires for the night nursing a hangover from drinking illegal Romulan ale during dinner. He has no time to rest when he is called to the bridge. These scenes were quite revealing; Kirk seems weary and ready to retire. But he is still the captain and acts as one when he instantly stops slouching after the turbo lift doors open to the bridge.

As he enters the bridge, the Klingons are attacked by an unknown source. The attack damages Kronos One’s gravity field, leaving the Klingons afloat and defenseless. Two men garbed in white Starfleet suits, garbed helmets and gravity boots beam aboard the Klingon ship and fatally shoot Gorkon.

Their work done, the assassins beam back out moments before the Klingons restore power. After answering the Enterprise-A’s hail, a furious Chang accuses Kirk of an unprovoked attack and begins a counterattack. Kirk, horrified and realizing the severity of what is unfolding, orders the Enterprise-A to surrender before an intergalactic war can begin.

Wanting to help, he and Dr. Leonard McCoy (DeForest Kelley) beam aboard Kronos One. They find Gorkon and McCoy desperately tries to save the chancellor’s life, but he is unsuccessful. Gorkon’s last words are to Kirk, a plea “Don’t let it end like this.”

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The two Starfleet officers are arrested on the spot by the Klingons. Spock assumes command of the Enterprise-A and begins investigating what happened. According to their computer,  their ship did fire on Kronos One, but Chief Engineer Montgomery “Scottie” Scott’s (James Doohan) inventory reveals that all of the ship’s photon torpedoes are accounted for. Spock orders Valeris to continue investigating, convinced that the assassins are still onboard the starship.

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Star Trek Movie Retrospective–Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

“What does God need with a starship?”

Captain James T. Kirk questioning “God” on the planet Sha Ka Ree

trek V posterAfter the triumph of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, anticipation and demand was high for another Star Trek film. What audiences received was William Shatner’s directorial effort Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.

The fifth Star Trek film is an undeniable disappointment and it has many things going against it. Ranked by many as the worst Star Trek film, it’s hands down the weakest one to feature the original cast from the TV show. Let’s face it, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home was a difficult act to follow. It would’ve taken a master director and writer to deliver a worthwhile followup. But Paramount Studios wanted to placate William Shatner, who wanted his shot at the directing chair because his buddy Leonard Nimoy got to direct two Star Trek films. So in addition to paying him and Nimoy a high salary, they allowed him to direct the fifth Star Trek film.

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Now it’s easy to lay all the blame on Shatner but there are others to blame for this film. Notably Paramount Studios itself, who should shoulder the majority of the blame. In a foolish move, the studio severely slashed the budget, which resulted in the amateurish looking special effects that were horrendously bad and added to the film’s drawbacks. They also wanted a lighthearted romp similar to Star Trek IV because the studio felt that the comedy in that film made it such a success and wanted to repeat the formula. Instead of gentle comedy, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier came off as goofy and too heavy handed in the laugh-o-meter with our heroes behaving at times out of character. There were laughs alright, just unintentional ones. Who can forget the immortal line, “Spock, it’s me. It’s Sybok!” The Writer’s Strike in 1988 curtailed the film’s pre-production and didn’t allow time for a polished script. When you boil it down what the film needed most was a decent script doctor.

The film starts in a desert planet, Nimbus III, which has the so-called Paradise City colony set up by Klingons, Romulans and the Federation as a means of promoting peaceful coexistence. But the place is run down and practically forgotten. Out of the horizon, a mysterious stranger riding on a blue horse-like animal appears and promises to heal people of their painful memories through his empathic powers and in return asks for followers on a religious crusade. This person is a bearded Vulcan called Sybok (Laurence Luckinbill) and he needs a starship.

el capitan 2The film then switches over to Earth, where James T. Kirk (William Shatner), recently demoted from admiral to a captain, is spending shore leave mountain climbing on El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. After being saved from falling by his best friend Spock (Leonard Nimoy), he and Spock settle down for the night at a campfire with their other close friend Dr. Leonard McCoy (DeForest Kelley) and shoot the breeze. The genial banter between the three was the best thing about the film. It was genuine and funny without going overboard. Shatner conveyed a sense that the trio were close friends with a deep bond.

At this time on Nimbus III, Paradise City welcomes the newest Romulan ambassador (Cynthia Gouw), who is all full of energy and optimism. She is greeted instead by two surly and cynical ambassadors (David Warner and Charles Cooper), a human and Klingon respectively. Oddly enough, she and the Klingon are the only members of their race seen in the city, everyone else is either human or some kind of alien. These scenes with the ambassadors were interesting since the actors were good in their roles. The film presented a seedier side to life in the 23rd century, which was an interesting contrast to earlier films’ depictions of near-nirvana.  sybok and gangWe see drunkards (principally with Cooper playing the bitter and washed up Klingon general), cheap salesmen (watch the video monitors in Paradise City’s bar) wearing ugly plaid jackets and alien strippers. The latter being a feline-based alien with three breasts that predated the famous hooker seen in the original Total Recall. It was a refreshing change from the ethereal utopias from earlier films. Soon after, the colony is invaded and conquered by a literal rag-tag army from the desert led by Sybok, who promises to heal everyone of their spiritual pain.

Back on Earth, our heroes’ shore leave is interrupted by an urgent call from Starfleet. They rush back to their ship the Enterprise-A, a replacement of the ship lost in Star Trek III: The Search For Spock, to learn about their next mission. They are ordered to go to Nimbus III and save the hostages in Paradise City. But there’s a problem with the Enterprise-A. The new ship is a go climb a rocklemon. Why would Starfleet reward Kirk and company with a broken down ship after they saved the Earth is beyond me. Except maybe to provide a moronic venue for cheap laughs, such as Chief Engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott’s (James Doohan) tirades about needed repairs and sight gags such as malfunctioning turbo lifts. The plot point of a broken ship that in the end pulls through would’ve been an interesting story. But that gets lost in this film. As for the film’s desperate earning of laughs at this point, the funniest gag on the ship is Kirk’s reaction when he’s told by an admiral (producer Harve Bennett in a cameo) via viewscreen that Starfleet needs him. He turns away from his superior and makes an exasperated face. It’s a good way of acknowledging this common plot thread of the Enterprise crew being the only capable personnel in Starfleet. Seriously, why send the Enterprise-A? It’s undergoing repairs on Earth so why have it travel all the way to this distant planet? There aren’t any ships closer to the planet? Doesn’t Starfleet have its own version of SEAL Team Six for these kind of situations?

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Star Trek Movie Retrospective–Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

Dr. Gillian Taylor: “Don’t tell me. You’re from outer space.”

Admiral James T. Kirk: “No I’m from Iowa, I only work in outer space.”

Dinner conversation during a date at an Italian restaurant in San Francisco, circa 1980s

“Well, a double dumbass on you!”

Admiral James T. Kirk to a taxi driver on the streets of San Francisco, same time period

trek 4 poster 2Usually when the fourth film in a franchise comes around the franchise itself starts to show signs of fatigue. Thankfully that wasn’t the case with Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Unbelievably, the fourth Star Trek film reaffirmed the Star Trek franchise after its moribund predecessor. A lot of the credit goes to writers Nicholas Meyer, Harve Bennett (who was also the producer), Peter Krikes and Steve Meerson, and primarily, director Leonard Nimoy, who co-stars in the film as Spock. Nimoy found his footing with his second directorial gig and it shows in a big way.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home begins with a dedication to the lost crew of the space shuttle Challenger, which was appropriate and sincere being that the tragedy happened earlier in the year that the film premiered. After the credits, the  story begins with a Reliant-class starship encountering a humongous, shiny, black cylindrical alien probe that drains the starship of its power. Before anyone can say V’Ger, the story jumps back to Earth at the council chambers of the United Federation of Planets where audiences are brought up to date with what happened in the previous film. A Klingon ambassador (John Schuck) wants Admiral James T. Kirk’s (William Shatner) head for killing a Klingon crew and stealing their bird-of-prey ship and accuses the Federation of wanting to wage war on the Klingons with the failed Genesis terraforming process.

trek 4 cast

Kirk has violated nine Starfleet regulations, such as disobeying orders and stealing the starship Enterprise . He is on exile with his former crewmembers on the planet Vulcan. They include Dr. Leonard McCoy (DeForest Kelley), Chief Engineer Montgomery “Scottie” Scott (James Doohan), and Commanders Hikaru Sulu (George Takei), Pavel Chekov (Walter Koenig), and Uhura (Nichelle Nichols). After being on Vulcan for three months, they choose to return to Earth and face trial. Spock, who they risked their lives and careers for in Star Trek III: The Search For Spock, is recuperating from his resurrection and regaining his mental acuity. He is still confused about the nature of feelings, but elects to accompany his friends back to Earth.

probeMeanwhile, the alien probe approaches Earth and creates havoc as it drains away the energy of anything that it approaches. Starfleet is effectively crippled and Earth defenseless. The probe also emits a series of ear-piercing inhuman screeches and wails that no one can decipher. The probe arrives in Earth orbit and begins transmitting into the oceans. This creates a severe superstorm that covers the planet and the endangers all life.

Kirk and his crew leave Vulcan with the stolen Klingon ship (rechristened the Bounty) and on their way to Earth pick up a distress call from the Federation President (Robert Ellenstein), who is on Earth, warning away visitors because of the probe. Spock is able to decipher the probe’s transmissions and we learn that it is trying to contact humpback whales. Unfortunately, the species is extinct in the 23rd century, which forces Kirk to take the Bounty and time travel to Earth’s past and find whales to bring back to their time period.

After Kirk informs Starfleet Command of his intentions, the Bounty makes a time travel sceneslingshot maneuver around Earth’s sun. It’s a time travel procedure first done in the classic original episode “The Naked Time” but more ethereal with dream-like sequences showing morphing busts of the crew and whales. After that sequence the ship winds up in the latter half of the 20th century. After picking up whale songs transmitting from the San Francisco area, the ship lands cloaked in Golden Gate Park in the middle of the night. Scotty informs Kirk that in addition to refitting the ship’s interior to accommodate a whale tank, the ship’s dilithium crystals that power the warp core drive are drained and need recharging or else they’re stranded. With that, the now-Bounty crew disembark their ship and head off into the wild frontier of the 20th century.

trek iv cast

Then the fun begins.

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Star Trek Movie Retrospective–Star Trek III: The Search For Spock

“Because the needs of the one…outweigh the many.”

Kirk to Spock on Vulcan

spock posterAfter the rousing Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan, its sequel Star Trek III: The Search For Spock feels like a bit of a letdown. It’s an entertaining film but it could’ve been a lot better and the cast and crew give it a good try. It can be difficult to state exactly what is wrong with film. It’s not dull like Star Trek: The Motion Picture and moves along at a brisk pace. More than the other two films, this one feels more like an episode of the original series thanks in part to director Leonard Nimoy’s obvious familiarity with the characters and situation. But a careful examination would have to conclude that the script needed another pass before filming began. The film feels disjointed at times and seems to be in a rush to go from one plot point to another; in the meantime some unanswered questions pop up about plot developments.

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The film begins not long after Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan, the Enterprise is heading  back to Earth after Khan (Ricardo Montalban) and Spock’s (Leonard Nimoy) death. Commanding officer Admiral James T. Kirk (William Shatner) is visibly depressed over the loss of his friend. Most of the young cadets onboard the ship during the last film have been transferred elsewhere. Saavik (now portrayed by Robin Curtis because Kristie Alley and the producers couldn’t agree on a salary) has been assigned to a science vessel called Grissom orbiting the new Genesis Planet (after Khan detonated the stolen Genesis Device, it created the planet). Assisting her with researching Genesis is Kirk’s son, Dr. David Marcus (Merritt Butrick), developer of the rapid terraforming process that created the planet. Even though his mother, Dr. Carol Marcus (Bibi Besch), was a major character in the previous film, her absence in this film is never explained at all. In reality, writer and producer Harve Bennett needed to make budget cuts and felt her character wasn’t essential to the story. That was the first clue that the script was off.

Meanwhile, Dr. Leonard McCoy (DeForest Kelley) is behaving strangely, actually he begins acting like Spock and even sounds like him. But there isn’t any effort to get him any help.

excelsior

The Enterprise arrives at a huge Spacedock orbiting Earth and sees the next generation of starships, the Excelsior, whose commandeered by an arrogant Captain Stiles (James Sikking). He would’ve been a good foil for Kirk but that is never explored. Throughout the film, members of Starfleet show an obvious disregard and disrespect toward Kirk and his crewmates that is a bit baffling and undercuts their supposedly legendary status. Perhaps they weren’t that highly thought of in their time.

Kirk and his crew learn from the commander of Starfleet, Admiral Morrow (Robert Hooks) that the Enterprise will be decommissioned because of its age. They are also ordered not to discuss the matter of Genesis, since it has become a political hot potato.

meldSpock’s father, Sarek (Mark Lenard) visits Kirk at his apartment and demands to know why he left his son’s body on Genesis and didn’t bring back his katra or his spiritual essence to Vulcan. According to Vulcan belief, when a Vulcan is dying, he or she mind melds with a close associate so that the katra can be transferred into that person. Both the katra and body are needed to give a proper burial and that if the katra remains with the associate it will mean that person’s death. The entire matter isn’t properly explained but that is the script for you. After looking at the Enterprise’s video logs, Kirk discovers that right before he died, Spock quickly performed a mind meld with McCoy. This explains the doctor’s odd behavior since he has Spock’s katra.

Kirk decides to risk everything to retrieve Spock’s body and soul because of his friendship. However, Admiral Morrow forbids Kirk from returning to the Genesis Planet and won’t budge. Kirk gets annoyed and resolves to go anyway as he tells the Enterprise helmsman Sulu (George Takei), “The word is no. I am therefore going anyway.”

escapeHe frees an imprisoned McCoy slated to be turned over to a “Federation funny farm” because he tried to hire a ship to go to Genesis and his behavior has people convinced he’s insane. Kirk also steals Enterprise out of the Spacedock with the help of his crewmates Sulu, Scotty (James Doohan), Chekov (Walter Koenig) and Uhura (Nichelle Nichols). Apparently the only other ship in Spacedock that can pursue the Enterprise is the Excelsior, which is stopped dead in its track thanks to some sabotaging from Scotty. It seems odd that in such a space faring society, Kirk is unable to procure a private ship to go to Genesis. Stealing a badly damaged starship while fun to watch, fails to quell the question of why do it? The Enterprise needs repairs and will make an easy target. It would’ve made more sense if they quietly took another ship and snuck away.

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Star Trek Movie Retrospective–Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan

Spock: “The needs of the many …”

Kirk: “…outweigh the needs of the few.”

Spock: “Or the one.”

An exchange between Spock and James T. Kirk onboard the Enterprise

khan posterStar Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan was a radical departure from its predecessor Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which is what Paramount Pictures wanted. Even though Star Trek: The Motion Picture made money it was perceived as a failure. Many people complained that it was dull and pretentious. In other words, they wanted action! And that is what director Nicholas Meyer delivered with Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan, only he added a human element that elevated the film to classic status.

This film is the most personal Star Trek film out of the many that have come out. Its main characters go through some intense and heartfelt emotional journeys and are changed forever. Admiral James T. Kirk (William Shatner in his best performance as Kirk) faces the prospect of middle age and looking back at his life. His best friend Captain Spock (Leonard Nimoy) faces his mortality with a sense of bravery and nobility that touched audiences’ heart in a way that would have been more lasting if his fate had been final. On the other side of the coin, the main villain Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalban) is wracked with bitterness and hate over his lot in life and in the end this anger consumes him.

trek 2 crew

In the original Star Trek episode “Space Seed” Khan was part of a group genetically enhanced despots from Earth’s violent past found hibernating by Kirk and his crew. After briefly capturing the Enterprise, Kirk defeats him and exiles him and the other superhumans to an uninhabited planet.

In between that episode and the film, the planet. Ceti Alpha V, underwent an environmental disaster that made it practically unlivable. Think of Tatooine on its worst day with blistering sandstorms. Most of Khan’s people didn’t survive, including his wife. Now, Khan is a seething cauldron of fury out to annihilate the one he blames for his predicament: James T. Kirk.

Even though the film is a sequel to “Space Seed” it skillfully brings viewers up to speed with only a few lines of exposition regarding Khan, who is portrayed magnificently by Montalban. The actor originated the role of Khan in “Space Seed” and testmade a solid impression in that episode but by the time that the first Star Trek sequel came around, Montalban was more known for his role in the show Fantasy Island. His performance as Khan demonstrated the true nature of his acting prowess thanks to his bringing to the role a sense of regal eloquence, animalistic charisma, and maligned fury.

The film opens with the Enterprise, commanded by a young Vulcan  named Saavik (Kristie Alley in her first role), being attacked by Klingon ships and losing the battle with main characters like Spock being killed. But it was a simulation at Starfleet Academy. Some time has passed between Star Trek: The Motion Picture and this film. One noticeable difference is that the Starfleet uniforms are now bright red jackets with black pants giving its personnel a more militaristic look. The filmmakers wanted to convey a sense of naval conditions with this film since they saw it as a retake of Horatio Hornblower. In fact, the feel of Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan feels more grounded, less lofty than in the first film. Sets look more cramped and a bit more lived in although not as severe as with Star Warsor Alien. A good eye will spot a No Smoking sign on the set, which alarmed some fans who hoped that the awful habit would’ve been gone by the 23rd century.

The actual Enterprise is now training vessel commanded by Spock for young cadets and officers, including Spock’s protogé Saavik. Kirk is no longer commanding a starship and feels like a relic, in spite of the fact that it’s his birthday. Gifts from Spock and Dr. Leonard McCoy (DeForest Kelley) do little to cheer him up, prompting McCoy to urge him to do something with himself and stop living in the past.

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Around this time, the starship Reliant approach the barren Ceti Alpha V, which is to be used as a testbed for the Genesis science experiment. Kirk’s former lover Dr. Carol Marcus (Bibi Besch) and her son David (Merritt Butrick) have developed the Genesis Device, which can initiate rapid terraforming on inhospitable worlds for colonization. The Reliant’s captain Clark Terrel (Paul Winfield) and first officer, the former Enterprise navigator Pavel Chekov (Walter Koenig) beam down to the planet investigate life signs only to find Khan and his people marooned there. After capturing the two men, Khan and his genetic superhumans gain control of the ship and set out on a mission of vengeance.

khan castKirk joins Spock onboard the Enterprise with his original crewmates to assist with a training cruise for Starfleet cadets. They receive a call from Dr. Marcus wanting to know why Kirk is taking the Genesis Device. What she and Kirk don’t realize is that Khan is trying to lure Kirk by manipulating a brainwashed Chekov into stating that Admiral Kirk wants the Device. Kirk takes the bait and orders the Enterprise to head out to Marcus’ science station Regula I, which orbits an asteroid the station is named after, and investigate. In a preemptive move, Spock relinquishes command of the Enterprise to his friend because as he famously said, “Commanding a starship is your first, best destiny; anything else is a waste of material.”

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