108. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
FORMULA: The Search for Spock + The Conscience of the King + Journey to Babel
WHY WE LIKE IT: The links to The Next Generation are well done and appreciated. All the Shakespeare references. Good jokes, cool action and an intense political backstory. A great farewell to this cast of characters.
WHY WE DON'T: The racial slurs levied at the Klingons.
REVIEW: I won't hide it - this is my favorite of all the Star Trek films. It manages to be funny and tense at the same time, brings back the Klingons in full force, yet bridges the gap between the original series and The Next Generation in which the Klingons are our allies, and gives us a few surprises along the way. The political plot gives weight to the film, a real sense that things matter.
The opening, for example, is great. We get the usual credits over music, music that builds a tension, suddenly stops, and BAM! A Klingon moon explodes. Great way to start the picture, immediately followed by the revelation that Sulu has made it to captain (with a cameo by Janice Rand). "Do we report this, sir?" "Are you kidding?" Only the first of many memorable exchanges throughout the movie. We'll be returning to Sulu's Excelsior now and again, keeping him part of the story, whether it's to accomodate a fun Christian Slater cameo, or be the cavalry, saving the day at the end.
As for the other cast members, they're off meeting the Klingons under a flag of peace, and not liking it one bit. They'll remain involved in the story, even once Kirk and McCoy are sent to Rura Penthe, and they'll all get some good lines to say or bits of business to do. Chekov may be the exception, as I find him pretty useless, once again, delivering clichés and boring one-liners. Taking Saavik's place in the group is Valeris, a saucy little Vulcan played by Kim Catrell. She's searing hot and makes the character quickly come into her own. The final mindmeld violation is one of the best (and most disturbing) scenes in all of Trek. Spock is back in top form, finally, and his "I've been dead before" is another great moment for me. I could quote various moments all day.
Speaking of quotes, the Klingons, and Christopher Plummer's Chang particularly, often steal the show. The conceit that Shakespeare was originally Klingon literature is used to push Kirk's buttons, but I'm a big Shakespeare fan (HUGE!) so I'm not complaining, and quite like Chang's overdoing it at times. It's perfectly in tune with Star Trek to date, which has always been big on referring to Shakespeare, using Shakespearian actors, etc. (Before you ask, yes, I own a copy of the Klingon Hamlet.)
The bits on Rura Penthe, fun. Seeing the Romulans again, fun. Michael Dorn playing Worf's grandfather, fun. The riffs on Kissinger's cold war talks at the UN, fun. The battles (including a zero-G assassination), fun. Not using the universal translator, fun. You can see where this is going. There are flaws, like the various racist comments made by the crew that just don't ring true (one from Scotty uses rather harsher language than, say, "Denebian slime devil"), and the purple blood that has caused so many continuity problems since then, but nothing too, too bad.
By the time it's over, the movie's done it's job, and the cast has said its goodbyes, leaving the stage for The Next Generation (already going strong for about 4 years on tv). In particular, I love the idea of the Enterprise just disappearing into the stars rather than reporting to starbase, and Kirk's final line, changing "where no man has gone before" to "where no one has gone before". Solid, and Kirk himself completes the personal journey he began in The Wrath of Khan.
A quick note on the various versions floating out there. The theatrical release was missing the revelation that the final assassin was Colonel West, for example (or any mention of West, actually), and these scenes are more than padding. They work to inculpate many more Starfleet officers, and answer some questions. One television edit I once had on tape kept those in, but tightened up on the conference footage, creating a lot more tension. For example, a Klingon torpedo shot followed Sulu's order to "Fly her apart then!" So I miss that energy when I watch the film uncut. But what are you gonna do...
LESSON: Klingons may be Klingons, but one of them managed to write A Midsummer Night's Dream ;-).
REWATCHABILITY - High: After the failure of The Final Frontier, this was the only Star Trek movie I didn't go see in the theaters (except The Motion Picture, which premiered when I was too young). So I only later fell in love with it, and at one point, even became obsessive about it, running the last hour every day for a couple weeks. Well, I'm over that now, but the movie still resonates very strongly with me, and has a lot going for it.