I know what you’re thinking: they’re all about old age. From The Motion Picture to whatever the last one was called (Nemesis – I checked), every Star Trek film before the re-youth-boot was part of a slowly building canon of middle-aged types clinging on (see what I did there?) to their jobs in space. They were still skinny in the first one, then the outfits had to get baggier. William “The Shat” Shatner’s Captain James Tiberius Kirk hit fifty in Wrath of Khan. So, by number VI, he must be, what, 65 or something? But, here’s the thing… Old Jack slapped this on one Monday night, the visitors gone, the women at their Japanese bending class, the men enjoying the relief of some innocent science-fiction, and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country gave us a bittersweet, funny two hours of proper insight into the challenges of dropping old prejudices and edging into retirement. With ray guns and a mountain of Shakespeare quotes.
Admit it, The Shat delivers on allegory, metaphor and telling-insight where ninety percent of the real-life movies drop the bollock. And 235% of soaps. Shout it loud, people – The Undiscovered Country is really good. Not perfect, mind, because the parallels can be a tad heavy-handed (only Nixon could go to China) and the bad guys get telling close-ups all the way through.
Here’s the story: the Klingons (foreheads, shouty, confuse honour with angry) are fucked. They’ve had a Chernobyl-like breakthrough special effect and the empire is now dead minus fifty years. Their Chancellor (David Warner as Gorkon) suggests peace. Spock wants it too and has offered up Kirk and crew to go get the important Klingons ahead of negotiations. They have a hideously racist evening on the Enterprise, then, after Gorkon and buds have gone back to their own ship, appear to blow holes in it. Two mysterious figures, also plainly from the Enterprise, teleport aboard and attempt to assassinate Gorkon. Kirk, afluster, surrenders (cos, you know, he’s not ordering the things his ship appears to be doing), and rushes to Gorkon’s side with old Bones McCoy. Gorkon dies. Kirk and McCoy are arrested.
Now, that’s the shocking and interesting bit of the film. The racist evening is fascinating for what it shows about getting old. Kirk can’t forgive the Klingons for the death of his son four films ago. Scotty, Chekov and various old crew members hiss and spit with awkwardness at the Klingons (and, be fair, vice versa). Nichelle Nicholls as Uhura refused to use a racially charged line in the film, so Walter Koenig‘s mightily bequiffed Chekov gets to mutter, “guess who’s coming to dinner…” All is moral siege, intransigent views and – as Kirk much later says to Spock – dining on ashes. Well, the moral and ethical ashes you felt burning when your grandparents said bad things about good people.
And then it goes a bit Crown Court and Agatha Christie. Kirk and McCoy have a bad trial; the remaining crew of the Enterprise, under the calm power of Leonard Nimoy‘s Captain Spock, hunt down the clues of their betrayal. Who faked the missile logs? Where are the boots used in the assassination? Who is good and who is bad?
And then there’s Christopher Plummer. He is Chang, the metal eye-patched Klingon warrior, desperate to cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war. He is terrific and a splendid balance to the Shat’s effortless Kirk. Shakespeare helps – a lot – because every other line is a quote. But it all works. Old friends, older quotes, a none-too-subtle attack on prejudice and encrusted thinking, Rosanna deSoto in a fantastic design as Gorkon’s daughter taking the message to the next generation, and Iman just being shape-shiftingly shifty in the Klingon prison colony of Rura Penthe…
Great fun. As their signatures popped up through the end-credits, the old men in this TV room didn’t want our old friends to leave. What’s the point of going if you’re not dead yet?
So…if you are trapped by them, beam your prejudices up your arse and watch some star trekking excellence…
Chekov: Course heading, Captain…?