8/2/07

R022 Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

(1991, SciFi, color)

Riffers:

Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett, and Kevin Murphy.

You can't use “Star Trek” and “Dignity” in the same sentence.

Rating: **1/2

In a nutshell:

Captain Kirk is framed for the assassination of the Klingon High Chancellor.

Summary:

Star Trek VI: The Unresearched QuotationSulu has left his position on the Starship Enterprise to helm his own vessel, surveying gas giants in the neutral zone. Suddenly, an energy wave engulfs his ship! The pratfalls, warning sirens, and pseudo-science babble eventually subside, and we learn that a nearby Klingon moon has exploded due to a lack of safety regulations and a collapsing infrastructure. This turns out to be a harbinger of the end for the once-great Klingon Empire, unless...

Unless moderate political elements seize control of the Klingon government, allowing them to disarm and join the Federation. This is revealed in several long, expository meetings, during which we learn that more conservative political elements on both sides would rather start a war—the Federation conservatives because they’re certain to win, and the Klingon conservatives because they’d rather go out in the blaze of glory than give up the more warlike aspects of their culture.

Captain James T. Kirk is a Federation conservative who would rather start a war because he doesn’t trust the Klingons, and (of course) because they killed his son. Nevertheless, Mr. Spock volunteers his ship to escort the Klingon Chancellor to Earth for the upcoming peace conference. This leads to an awkward dinner party on board the Enterprise where we meet Chancellor Gorkon, his daughter Azetbur, and his aide General Chang (Christopher Plummer). Food is gobbled; Romulan ale is slurped; Shakespeare, Doyle, and Hitler are badly misquoted; racial epithets are exchanged; and the whole affair ends with bruised egos and hurt feelings on all sides. Later, Kirk narrates his disdain for all things Klingon into the ship’s log while he tries to recover from his hangover.

We’re almost an hour into the movie now, and this is where it finally kicks into gear. Photon torpedoes are fired, apparently from the Enterprise, crippling the neighboring Klingon vessel and shutting down its gravity control. A pair of masked assassins beams aboard Gorkin’s ship; they stomp through the halls in magnetic boots, blasting everyone in their path till they finally reach the Chancellor. Having blasted him as well, they return from whence they came.

The Klingons restore their power and gravity; they turn their ship around to fire back at the Enterprise, where the crew scrambles madly while they try to figure out what’s going on. Kirk decides to surrender rather than engage them. He beams aboard the Klingon warship with Dr. Bones, who tries and fails to revive the mortally wounded Chancellor. Azetbur assumes the title in her father’s place, while General Chang arrests Kirk and Bones for the assassination.

Their trial is short, and an excerpt from the Enterprise’s ship log (you know, the part where he expresses his disdain for all things Klingon) is introduced as evidence. They are convicted, but as a gesture of goodwill to the Federation—which Azetbur still hopes to join—the Klingons commute their sentence of execution to hard labor for life.

Spock assumes command of the Enterprise in Kirk’s absence. With the help of Scotty and a hot new Vulcan crewmember named Valeris (Kim Cattrall), he turns the ship upside down looking for an explanation for the attacks. His databanks say they fired on the Chancellor’s ship, but all of his torpedoes are accounted for. Bloodstained magnetic boots are found in the locker of a crewmember whose feet are the wrong shape to wear them. Eventually (and I’m still not sure how Spock managed the drastic leap of logic required to come to this conclusion) they determine that the offending torpedoes must have been fired by a Klingon warship that can fire while cloaked.

Edelwiess, edelwiess; every morning you greet me.Meanwhile, on an ice planet that seems like it ought to be called Hoth, alien refugees from the Mos Eisley cantina slave away in the Klingon prison mines. Kirk fights to gain the other workers’ respect, and then smooches with the beautiful Martia (Iman). She offers to get them out of the prison if they’ll take her with them off the planet. Soon they’re shuffling through secret tunnels and trekking across snow-covered plains to get outside the prison’s anti-teleportation shields. (I kept expecting Kirk to kill a tauntaun, slice it open with his lightsaber, and stuff Bones inside. No such luck.) They make it outside the shield, and Kirk signals the Enterprise with his tracking beacon.

They stop for the night, and Kirk punches Martia in the mouth. He’s somehow figured out that she’s a traitor, plotting to kill him for a reward. As a shapeshifter, Martia changes her form several times, and ends up looking like Kirk. There’s some smarmy banter between the two Kirks while they fight, and then the prison guards show up to vaporize the false one. In true Talking Villain™ style, the warden spills details of the plot to frame Kirk and start a last, glorious war with the Federation. He is about reveal the name of the Klingon conspirator, but the Enterprise arrives to beam its lost crewmembers aboard.

Kirk bemoans his lost opportunity to discover the conspirators’ names, but it doesn’t matter much. The real assassins are discovered shortly thereafter anyway, though in less than vital states. One painfully transparent ruse later, they discover the on-board mastermind—Valeris. She refuses to identify her superiors, but a Vulcan mindmeld takes care of that. It’s General Chang, working in conjunction with a Starfleet admiral. Not only that, but there’s another assassination set up for the new peace conference.

The Enterprise rushes to the rescue, only to find General Chang’s ship barring their way. Chang misquotes Shakespeare at the top of his lungs while firing at will. Unable to fire back at the cloaked Klingon warship, they take a beating until Spock gets the bright idea to use their gas giant surveying equipment to target the enemy ships exhaust ports. (At this point you could say to yourself, wasn’t it Sulu’s ship that was doing that at the beginning? I thought the Enterprise was just an escort. You could say things like this, but it wouldn’t get you anywhere.) They blow the traitorous Klingons out of the sky, beam down into the peace conference, stop the assassins, and arrest the traitors while everyone applauds.

Back on the Enterprise, Kirk receives orders to return to Earth so that his ship can be decommissioned. The assembled cast members decide to take one last joyride before they retire. Kirk misquotes J.M. Barrie, and then, for some reason, they fly into a star.

Thoughts:

I don't know why you say goodbye; I say hello!Star Trek has always enjoyed making literary allusions, but boy howdy, does this entry take the cake. I say “misquoted” a lot in the above summary, but you should not take this to mean that they get the words wrong. I didn’t look any of them up to check, but I assume that the movie’s writers had access to reliable reference material, and that they used it. Rather, the characters seem to throw quotations around just for the sake of hearing familiar words, with little to no regard for what they mean. The Hitler quote is particularly innocuous; a few words about “needing space,” spoken completely out of context and for no discernable reason. The movie’s subtitle, “Undiscovered Country,” is obviously from Shakespeare, and just as obviously refers to the unknown destination of Hamlet’s soul after death, but these people all talk as if refers to the possibility of a future peace between warring nations. At one point, Spock quotes Sherlock Holmes as if he were a) a real person, and b) a Vulcan.

(Also, why, in movie set in the far-flung future, does everyone quote 16th and 20th century Europeans? Have there been no great writers since then? Don’t the Klingons and Vulcans have writers of their own?)

The first hour of the movie might actually be kind of accurate, in that depicts the peace process as a lengthy series of boring, suspicion-laden meetings. Once we get past all that, it goes right into the traditional Star Trekian strengths of narrow escapes, fistfights, and photon torpedoes, leading to the goofy, dumbed-down space opera we’ve all come to know and love. Problems are encountered, clever solutions (or rather, solutions which are presented as clever) are found, unsurprising plot twists are revealed...

(I’ve always wondered: Do they actually expect us, the audience, to remain in suspense every time they discover the existence of an unknown saboteur aboard the Enterprise? Decades of television shows and feature films have established the core cast members as mildly flawed but otherwise unassailable paragons of virtue, so it can’t be any of them. Could it maybe, possibly, perhaps, just maybe be the only new cast member on board?)

The Rifftrax commentary has the full MST3K graduating class of Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett. Bill summarizes the first part of the movie perfectly by calling it, “C-Span without the pacing.” When Kirk raises his glass of pale blue Romulan ale, Mike says, “This is a ‘93 Windex.” When Spock and company engage in goofy camaraderie while they scour the Enterprise for saboteurs, Kevin notes that they have “all the dignity of Three’s Company: The Later Years.” Also amusing are Bill’s constant attempts to work a Uranus joke into the track somewhere, regardless of context, and Mike’s description of the Klingon language as low-level vomiting. It’s a decent film, competently mocked.