Welcome to Reel Rewind, a monthly column in which I’ll take a look back at some of my favorite films, bringing along artists that I can’t get enough of. We’ll team up for some fun collaborations and bridge the gap between film appreciation and art. To commemorate Star Trek Into Darkness, Matt Ferguson and I are looking back at the original crew’s first 6 films. Energize!
Director: Nicholas Meyer
Writer(s): Leonard Nimoy, Lawrence Konner, Mark Rosenthal, Nicholas Meyer, Denny Martin Flinn
Region of Origin: U.S.
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
35mm, Color, 113 mins
It’s hard saying goodbye, but all good things must come to an end. With the start of a new decade bringing changing cultural tastes, a rapidly aging crew and an upcoming 25th Anniversary, it was important for the original team of the Enterprise to go out with a bang — and believe me, that’s exactly what they did. Reunited again with writer/director Nicholas Meyer, the mastermind behind The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country is a brilliant send-off for characters that had meant so much to so many. Signaling the end of an era in the franchise but not the end of it’s legacy, the film is an action-packed genre bender, highlighting the relationships and core messages that had made Trek resonate for so long. Everything is in top form here from the ensemble cast, to the politically relevant story, and it still holds up today as one of Trek’s finest offerings.
The story picks up at the eve of the Enterprise’ actual, proper retirement. When a disaster on the Klingon moon Praxis leaves the race no choice but to initiate a peace treaty with the Federation (or suffer the extinction of their kind), Kirk and his crew are called in to escort the Klingon Chancellor Gorkon (David Warner) and his ambassadors to Earth for negotiations. But there are those who despise the warrior race, wanting to have nothing to do with them including Captain Kirk, who blames them for the death of his son. With tensions running high, things only get worse when the Chancellor is assassinated en-route to the negotiations, leaving the Enterprise framed for the treacherous act with Kirk and Bones being sentenced to life imprisonment in a Klingon gulag. With a deep political conspiracy at play, Spock and the team aboard the Enterprise will have precious little time to figure out the bigger picture in order to free his two best friends and prevent a war that could ruin a species’ only chance at peace.
In my humble opinion, The Undiscovered Country is the most intricately plotted and well-written entry in franchise history. It doesn’t have as much mass appeal as say The Voyage Home or The Wrath of Khan or even Abrams’ reboot, but it’s got the most powerful story and thought-provoking themes since the original series’ run. Taking to account the end of the cold war and the era’s socio-political/racial tensions, the film embodies Trek’s optimistic message of tolerance and optimistic hope at it’s most potent form. Seamlessly combining elements of a riveting intergalactic whodunit with a race-against-time escape thriller, the story never becomes cluttered, remaining focused in a perfect synergy of character trials and exciting adventure. Tying it all together is Meyer’s penchant for literary metaphor and parallels, utilizing a Klingon General named Chang (Christopher Plummer) who spews Shakespeare to create some great moments of theatricality and poignant depth. Like Khan, General Chang is driven and dangerous, with Plummer playing him with a gleeful ruthlessness, only this time replacing vengeance with stereotypical bias. It’s a sentiment further analyzed beautifully by sharing it with one of our heroes, Captain Kirk.
Speaking of Kirk and crew, this is again a chance for the entire ensemble cast to work as a complete team with everyone given their moment to shine. While we’re usually treated to the trio of Kirk, Spock and Bones, I like that the story has the ensemble working in groups, with Kirk and Bones stranded while Spock holds the ship down and solves a mystery with the crew. Even Sulu’s new role as Captain of the Excelsior is well played, allowing everyone one last chance to stick up for each other in the best way. Still, every scenario provides plenty of laughs despite the seriousness of what’s happening, again bringing to light Trek’s ability to balance fun with a serious message. Iman and Kim Cattrall turn in some memorable characters as well, portraying women who have more going on than they let on.
In addition to the great character work and story is a diverse amount of spectacle and set pieces to keep us on our toes. From the Klingon gulag located on an icy planet, zero-gravity murder, ship-wide manhunt throughout the Enterprise and a final showdown with a “cheating” Bird of Prey, the film wows visually as much as it touches with heart. For creature enthusiasts, this is probably the most creature-based installments, showcasing a wealth of aliens and even some shape-shifting action.
Empires and great men fall but a good story/legacy lasts forever, and that’s how these original films have captivated so many over the years, continuing to do so to this very day. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country is really sci-fi at it’s best, telling a relevant tale through a very relatable, entertaining and intelligent way. In having the crew confront the fear of change and racial bias for their last mission, it feels as if they’ve conquered the last great hurdle to invincibility and achieve something that we can all strive to recreate. The story of the original Enterprise crew is really the stuff of legend, it’s impossible to not be moved as they ride off into the unknown for the last time while the cast literally signs off with their signatures. Thank you Kirk and company for showing us the way to a brave new world, “second star to the right and straight on ’till morning”.
Crome Rating: 4.5/5
So here we are at the swan song! It’s been one heck of a wild ride and Matt’s art has been more than I ever could’ve dreamed of. From one Trekkie to another, this is been an incredible experience; one that I’m glad we both got to share with you. Enjoy this last poster, with Matt capturing the bang that brought the end to an amazing era! Also check out Matt’s website for more art, follow him on Twitter and read a bit about his process down below. Matt also did the art for the recently released Marvel Cinematic Universe: Phase One box set.
From Matt: The swan song and final proper Original Crew Star Trek film. I love everything about this film it hits all the right notes. For my poster I thought back to when I first watched The Undiscovered Country at the cinema years and years ago and I really remember loving the energy wave from the Praxis explosion… so that’s what I painted! Also it gave me chance to put in Mr Sulu’s ship the USS Excelsior!
I just want to say that this has been one of my favourite ever artistic endeavours and a real passion project for me. I am a life long Trekkie and it has been making me so happy to see the reaction my art has had online. Thank you to everyone who has blogged and tweeted about it!
See our entire Trek retrospective here: Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek III: The Search For Spock, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier and Star Trek (2009).