Saturday, November 9, 2013

Nitpickery: The Undiscovered Country

Hey y'all.  Yeah, I know that Undiscovered Country is the sixth Star Trek, and does not come after The Search for Spock.  However, the availability of the movies isn't there.  Wrath of Khan and Search for Spock are on Netflix, and we own Undiscovered Country and Voyage Home on VHS.  Dad said he was in more of a Star Trek VI mood, so here we are.  It's not like I began with The Motion Picture, anyway.

So anyway, Star Trek VI: the Undiscovered Country is a metaphor for the collapse of the Soviet Union, which happened about the time the movie came out.  This actually makes a lot of sense, as one could argue that the Klingons were influenced possibly by the Soviet Union.  How the Klingons treated certain races certainly reflects how the Soviets treated several smaller countries here on Terra.

Anyway, a Klingon moon blows up, polluting the atmosphere of Qonos, their homeworld.  Kirk is called in to negotiate with the Klingon Chancellor, Gorkon.  However, through bizarre circumstances, the Klingon ship is attacked and Gorkon is killed.  Captain Kirk and Doctor McCoy end up captured and sent off to the penal camp Rura Penthe.  Spock must take charge and save them, all without hindering the peace talks between the Federation and Klingons.  Includes a new Vulcan, Valeris, a bird of prey that can fire when cloaked, and lots of Shakespeare quotes

----- Top Ten Comments on Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country -----

10. So many offensive lines!

There was a lot of protest from the actors over several lines.  One of my favorite actors, Brock Peters, plays Admiral Cartwright.  His character makes rather scathing remarks about using the Klingons' bad situation to make them more submissive to the Federation.  Peters was apparently so disturbed by these lines that he took several takes to finish them.  I'm really glad he managed it, because he had such a marvelous voice.  Cartwright really summed up the situation with the Klingons very well, and I get chills whenever he says his lines.  I dunno, maybe the fact he was so offended made him do better than he would have otherwise.

The second really offensive line is when Spock is talking to Kirk, and he says, "they are dying."  Kirk replies "Let them die."  William Shatner wanted there to be a shot of him gesturing as though he didn't mean it, and Nicholas Meyer promised him one -- only it was cut out of the final film.  Yikes.  Well, to be honest, I like this bit too.  After all, this is a film where Kirk realizes that he's been bigoted against Klingons, and if you don't show him before he learns his lesson, then that lesson is just a cheap theme device a la Saturday morning cartoons.  The conclusion Kirk comes to about himself is bitter and crisp because Kirk really did despise Klingons in the first place.

The third time was the only victory for the actors.  They wanted Nichelle Nichols to say "guess who's coming to dinner", but she refused.  That I agree with too.  See how agreeable I am today?  I've made it several paragraphs without bickering or blaming JJ Abrams for everything.

Anyway, it doesn't seem like something Uhura would say.  She's silly from time to time (see TOS), but not cheesy.  It is more Chekov's kind of thing to say, but in the end I don't really like the line at all.  Unlike Cartwright's or Kirk's line, it's not really all that impactful.  And it's a reference.  I'm not always fond of references, especially when the reference is a non-serious movie that came out hundreds of years before Star Trek VI is set.  I highly doubt that Chekov ever watched many mid 20th century movies.

I suppose I should make some kind of comment on offensive lines in movies.  I'm not the sort that believes that a film has to push "the envelope" (whatever the crap that means), or piss off as many people as it can.  I'm the Bollywood sort, where I like lots of people in colorful costumes having a good time.  However, what I do like are demonstrably devious villains, and each person's dark side eloquently portrayed.  One of this movie's themes, you see, is about everyone having a dark side - Federation, Klingon, random alien prisoners, upright Starfleet captains, and trusted comrades, and so forth.  To me, a marvelously crafted dark side is like really expensive cheese -- tasty and worth savoring.

Dang it, now I want some fancy know that mess costs too much.

9. Valeris doesn't bother me.

...Except for the part where she's standing in the middle of an open doorway to Kirk's quarters without him noticing.  That's just bizarre and highly improbable.  Surely he would have noticed the door opening, and that's assuming it didn't have some sort of alarm or beeper when someone approached it.

But anyway, some folk complain about Valeris because they think it should have been Saavik to betray the Federation.  It would have been more emotionally powerful if a character we knew and trusted betrayed us all, rather than some girl we've never met before and could be anyone in the universe.

It never bothered me that Valeris was a newcomer.  I always assumed that Spock was doing other things on his own time, which happens to include training another Vulcan.  After all, he obviously had time to speak to his father about arranging peace talks with the Klingons.  Maybe Valeris' friendship with him was what enabled her to be able to learn what she needed to know to tell her co-conspirators what was going on.  So I can buy that he and Valeris hung out.  After all, he went to Starfleet academy as well, and he probably sympathizes with her plight as a minority race in a huge organization.

I do admit it would have been better if Valeris had been introduced in a previous film.  That way we could know why Spock trusts her so much.  However, this isn't really all that much of a problem, unless you're just a Saavik fanboy or something.

But they couldn't get either of Saavik's previous actors to reprise the role.  Why would anyone want to be the third?  That's just ridiculous.  Besides, while it would be more emotional if Saavik was the traitor, is she the sort of person that would do so?  Nope.  She's a grown Vulcan, who trusts in logic. Surely any truly logical being would conclude that the Klingon's bad position makes it easier for them to accept negotiating for peace, and that this opportunity is unparalleled.

Valeris works for me because she's a little bratty upstart fresh from the Academy, and doesn't understand that it's not logical to conspire with the Klingons.  Her Vulcan self-control inflates her ego to the point where she's willing to go against her mentor Spock and think that her way is better than his.  Even if it's just for a short time, and she was always planning on just being a dutiful little apprentice after that, she believed she was more intelligent then her master.  And therefore made a foolish, ego-driven choice.

But for what purpose would Saavik betray Spock or the Federation?  Saavik appears to be the type to accept her circumstances and adapt to them with minimal complaint.  After all, she put up pretty well with that pompous captain in the Search for Spock.  Besides, you remember the pon farr scene in Search?  Not only did this (in books) get her pregnant, but it establishes a level to trust between the two.  It's highly unlikely that Saavik, even if she did disagree with Spock, would be willing to betray the efforts he specifically made to bring a future of peace.

8.  Does Nicholas Meyer have a problem with Nichelle Nichols?

It just looks like Nichelle Nichols as Uhura doesn't get to do anything when Nicholas Meyer directs unless it's something that makes her look stupid.  Nicholas Meyer also directed the Wrath of Khan, and there he made her try to contact the scientists' space station for several minutes when it was insanely obvious she should have stopped after the first minute.

In this movie, Uhura is put into a position where she doesn't know any Klingon, and she and several other crewmen are searching through translation books to figure out what to say to a Klingon listening post they pass.  It's a cute little scene, and adds a bit a humor to an otherwise tense segment. Yeah, sure, it's a bit silly, but you try to recite klingonese on the fly.

However, it makes no sense.  Why wouldn't Uhura know klingonese already?  It's not like they're some obscure race that no one sees all that much.  The Klingons have been hostile to the Federation for 70 years at this point.  Surely Uhura would know at least a few more common phrases for emergency purposes.  And if not her, surely one of the other hundreds of crew members on the Enterprise could speak some of it.

Oh, and by the way, apparently the Nicolas Meyer knew about the plot holes I mentioned in the Wrath of Khan, and he deliberately ignored them for the purpose of getting Chekov and Terrell into harm's way.  I suppose this bit was done in similar fashion.  It's just another example of how Meyer substitutes logic for entertainment value.  Only it doesn't work so well this go-round.

I don't know, maybe Meyer doesn't have it out for Nichelle.  After all, she got a lot more lines in this movie than she usually does.

6.  It's nice that Kirk and Bones are off the ship.  But mostly Kirk.

One of the problems with the original series of Star Trek is that many times, it's the Kirk show.  How many times has Kirk been duplicated, or stranded with an alien, or flaunted his "political superiority" to other cultures?

Now, I realize a lot of this had to do with the general culture of TV at the time.  There were a ton of shows where one person was the focus, and everything that happened generally revolved around one character.  Like Perry Mason, the Dick van Dyke show, and stuff like that.  The idea of the ensemble cast wasn't fully developed yet, probably due more to the expense of keeping so many actors so well paid, or something like that.

The leading man approach works well with some shows, particularly sitcoms.  However, I would argue that this approach never at any time worked for Trek.  Well, it worked in the sense that Trek gained a fanbase, but it still feels odd to the original series viewer who really wants to learn more about the lesser used characters.  I don't mind a little extra time being given to the starship captain, as captains make huge decisions for the rest of the crew, but Star Trek did not need to be the Kirk show, especially since most of the fanbase attached to Spock initially.  Star Trek is a world that is meant to include everyone of every race and culture -- infinite diversity in infinite combinations -- and you can't make that work if Buck Rogers has to save the day in every episode.  That was what made Trek different from earlier sci fi, after all.

However, with Kirk and McCoy off in a penal camp, the smaller roles get a chance.  Even with big namer Spock still on board, and with newcomer Valeris taking up time, it never felt like Scotty, Uhura, Chekov and Sulu were neglected.  Chekov had lots of cheesy lines, but that was his TOS persona, so it worked.  Uhura got lots of lines, and she looked lovely as always.  Sulu got his own ship, and Scotty was so much fun to watch when the crew deliberated together on the bridge after Kirk's trial.  I just loved everyone giving input as the investigation continues.  It felt like everyone belonged, which is especially important in the last movie for the original series.

5. There's lots of sleight of hand in this movie.

Surely you noticed.  For example, at the beginning of the movie, we actually get to see Gorkon's killers before they go and kill him.  And we promptly forget about them until we see their dead bodies several scenes later.  Then, in a bit that I know I missed my first several viewings, Spock places the veridium patch on Kirk's shoulder just as Kirk is going to beam aboard Gorkon's ship.  It's just a small patch, very subtly placed on Kirk early on.  It's never mentioned or explained until, again, several scenes later.  What makes this really good is that during your second viewing, you begin to look for it throughout the movie, and it's actually there.  The costumers didn't forget about it.  Kirk has it on his shoulder during his trial, and you feel like a doofus for not catching it the first go-round.

Of course, the problem here is that I first saw this movie as a child, and there was a lot I didn't catch until I was old enough to understand.  So I have no idea if people who watch this as an adult get tricked or catch these sleight of hand tricks before their conclusions.  Still, I quite like it, and while it's a bit gimmicky, and the veridium patch itself is kind of a cheat, it's still pretty cute.

Still, if Kirk was wearing a device that sent a subspace signal constantly to the Enterprise, is it impossible for a Klingon to trace it?  And what if the Klingons discovered it when they did a search of their prisoners?  It's pretty obvious once you look that Kirk has a fuzzy black patch on his jacket, and that's even assuming they let him keep the jacket.  In Soviet countries, and this movie is after all a Soviet metaphor, sometimes the interrogators just took a prisoner's clothes, and there's nothing the zek can do about it.

4. Why did they cut the Rene Auberjonois scenes from the theatrical version?  And why did that add that nonsense in the DVD version?

Seriously, it was really good.  Except for the part where they let the Romulan ambassador watch.  Let me back up: there's a small scene where several Federation officials come to the president of the Federation and present him with a plan for rescuing Kirk and McCoy from the Klingons.  Rene Auberjonois, who would later play Odo in Deep Space Nine, is here Colonel West, and explains their plan to the president.  It's a nice bit, and adds a lot of flavor to the movie.

Except, again, they let the Romulan ambassador see these plans.  Who in the crap would do that? Especially since the ambassador first counseled the president to allow the Klingons to put Kirk to trial.  Now, only a few minutes later, he gives a word of encouragement to the president about sending in a military operation.  Weird.

Thing is, whoever saw this in the original theater never got to see Auberjonois.  They cut his scenes, for no reason I can discern.  They're really good.  Especially at the end, when we get to see an apparent Klingon attempting to assassinate the president, and then it turns out to be Colonel West. Without his bit, we'd never know who that Klingon was or why a Klingon was attempting to assassinate the president.

Whatever.  He's on the DVD, and there you go.  Oh, and speaking of the DVD, the "special" edition put something entirely unnecessary in.  What I always appreciated about Star Trek VI is that it was always intelligent.  It never made things too obvious to the audience, and there were several lines I didn't get on my earlier viewings.  Okay, fine, I was still a kid, but the movie didn't try too hard to make it obvious what was going on.  I really appreciate that in films.

However, some dork thought it appropriate to assume that people in our country have gotten dumb in the subsequent 20 years and suddenly needed little "flashback" pictures when a caught Valeris is forced to cough up their names.  Thing is, as much as I like Colonel West and Admiral Cartwright, the fact of the matter is that they're just not the major focus of this movie.

We don't need to be reminded of who they are, because it's not really important who they are.  It's just important that official looking people get arrested for treason.  If Cartwright and West had been important characters, then it becomes emotionally impactful to the viewers to see them revealed as traitors.  But they're just bit parts, so the audience doesn't care.  That, and the overly-dramatic cut-ins were grating as they didn't match the comparatively relaxed cinematic style of the rest of the film.

3.  This is the most brilliant portrayal of Klingons ever.

I read that both Roddenberry and Leonard Nimoy thought that this film made Klingons too simplistic as bad guys.  That is clearly untrue, as there are tons of examples where Klingons are far more simplistic.  In fact, this film shows that they have a complex society and political tensions of their own.  They have courts, they have traitors, they have loyalty to their parents, idealism, and rationality.

One of my favorite parts of this film is where Ezetbor, upset at her father's death, chooses to set aside her emotions and let Kirk's punishment satisfy her need for vengeance.  She knows that the Klingon race's survival and her father's ideals are more important than bloody revenge.  Ezetbor is willing to accept less than proper vengeance, because surely she knows that even if Kirk is responsible, it wasn't actually him that pulled the trigger -- the real killers escaped into far space, as far as she knows. Some things are just more important than perfect justice.

Also, I love that Colonel Worf (Next Gen's Worf's grandfather) appears to genuinely want to defend Kirk and McCoy at their show trial.  Maybe it's only his own professionalism, or they hired him to make the show trial look legitimate, or maybe he really does think Kirk and McCoy got a raw deal. And, for that matter, it was great to see Michael Dorn adding to Worf's character heritage.

In any case, there are both good elements, bad elements, and anarchist elements.  This gives a depth to the Klingons that we've never had before.  Heck, even the fact that they're pursuing peace rather than fighting wars means they're growing another dimension.  It's pretty sad that no movie or show in Star Trek really got into the transitional period from being at war with the Klingons to having one serve on a starship without complaint from the non-Klingon crew.  That seems like it would make an interesting story.

2. Where are all the other ships?

This is my biggest problem with this story.  There only very few spacecraft in this movie, when really it makes no sense.  If the Federation wanted Enterprise to come back to Earth, why didn't they send a fleet to run and go get them?  Surely they would have done so.  If the Enterprise could talk to Excelsior, surely they're still in Federation space.

And why was only the listening post there to intercept the Enterprise as it went into Klingon space? Maybe there should be some patrols, or a ship guarding Rura Penthe.  Even if there isn't a ship normally guarding the prison world, surely there would be if they had Kirk and McCoy as prisoners.

And finally, why aren't there any guarding spaceships at Camp Khitomer?  Gee, it's only the location for talks between two factions that have been at odds for over 70 years.  What with the Klingon chancellor being assassinated, protecting these politicians must be a clear priority.  Why then can the Enterprise and the cloaked bird of prey fight each other without anybody noticing and all the speeches going on like normal?  Wouldn't there at least be the ships that the delegates flew in on?

Bah, whatever.

1. There are a lot more cheesy moments than I remember.

It's true.  The problem is, I watched the review of this movie by the Geekvolution Treksperts couple, and the wife of the couple did not like this movie.  I was mad at her at first (well, "mad" as one should be about something as silly as a film), but then I started to see all the little dorky bits. Nicholas Meyer directed both this and the Wrath of Khan, but this movie doesn't live up to its predecessor's level primarily because of its cheesiness.  There's the goofy lines, the avoidable plot holes, that mentally impaired explanation for a painting in Spock's room, and that really dumb part where Kirk kicks another Rura Penthe prisoner in the man-parts.

Still, while I admit this is not as good as Wrath of Khan, it's still a nice film, one that brings me back to my childhood.  One that reminds me that Hollywood wasn't always dumbing things down to an insultingly low level.  One that can be watched on VHS instead of whatever digital nonsense the videophiles dream up next to burn out your eye sockets better.  The cinematography was pleasant and dramatic without reminding people we're watching a movie by shaking the camera about.  It's a fun, adventurous time, especially for a young person like I was when I first watched this film, dreaming of being involved in these sorts of adventures.

So Hollywood, stop being jerks.  Us hicks ain't as stupid as you think we are.  Make movies more fun, less stupid, and with camera movements that are about telling a story, not impressing the people who already shoot films.  Newsflash: most of the country are not professional cameramen.  Your little tricks don't impress us.

Best actor: Hm...this one's hard.  All the main cast are magnificent as always, but nobody stands out as super amazing and fun to watch.  Kim Cattrall does decently in her role, and the antagonists are okay.  I guess if I have to choose, it'll be Brock Peters as Admiral Cartwright.  His role might not have been large, but it was still superbly acted and very creepy.

This movie is for:
- Trekkers
- Cold War readers (seriously, this movie is so much creepier after reading The Gulag Archipelago)
- People stuck in the nineties
- People not quite into sci fi and want to give it a try
- Thinkers

This movie is not for:
- Chicks.  i.e. women who think chick flicks are the bee's knees.
- People who hate talking during the movie
- Action film aficionados.

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