More noise than signal

Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country

Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

Nicholas Meyer’s back in the director’s chair for the last of the full original cast’s outings. The idea appears to be a take on Perestroika, and while it’s by no means the obvious vehicle for a Cold War analogy, I’ll take what I can get.

When the Klingon’s main energy facility on their homeworld’s moon explodes, taking most of the moon and the homeworld’s ozone layer with it, they reluctantly come to the conclusion that the situation is so precarious that they can monger no further wars, and sue the Federation for peace.

This is a shock to all concerned, and hardliners on both sides urge caution to the other’s motives, with some Federation voices firmly on the side of letting the Klingons die rather than aid them. To no great surprise, given what Christopher Lloyd did to his son, Kirk’s on Team Genocide.

For reasons I either weren’t given or I can’t remember, Kirk and the Enterprise are tasked with escorting Klingon Head Dude Gorkon (David Warner)’s ship to Earth for a pow-wow, going so far as to share a meal with Gorkon and General Chang (Christopher Plummer) which apparently some people found to be amusing, in a awkward way. I do not hold myself amongst them.

At any rate, such frivolity is cut short when it appears that the Enterprise fires a couple of missiles at Gorkon’s ship, and two suited up Enterprise crew members assassinate Gorkon. Kirk and McCoy attempt to stop this, but are unable to save his life, and are arrested for the assassination. Chang puts them on trial and sentences them to life imprisonment at a frozen mining colony. There’s some hijinks before they escape, or more accurately are busted out by Spock and the Enterprise, but then it becomes an investigation to find out who on board the Enterprise sabotaged their mission, leading to a conspiracy at the highest levels of both Governments.

So there’s two threads running through this, the murder-mystery of the assassination and subsequent investigations, and also Kirk’s changing attitude to the Klingons and the possibility of the peace in the future that by this point The Next Generation was already depicting. Confusingly TNG’s Worf (Michael Dorn), or an identical ancestor thereof, shows up as a lawyer, which is another silly little in-joke in a film that for my money lets its desire to be a lighthearted knockabout get in the way of the drama of the piece.

For a film that wants to play at the high stakes table, there’s never any sense of risk or danger, even when Kirk and McCoy are surrounded by a planetful of their most deadly enemies. I’m not quite sure what the creative process was behind having Christopher Plummer belch out Shakespeare quotes almost entirely at random, but if it was an attempt at grafting some more meaning on to this it’s not worked at all.

There’s less to complain about in Undiscovered Country I suppose, certainly compared to Final Frontier. The effects work is rather more reined in, in terms of quantity, which allows them to be increased in quality. Lets face it, it’s not like it could have gotten worse. In general the performances are fine, although I don’t at all like the dialogue Plummer’s been saddled with, which in turn means I don’t at all like Plummer’s character. I’ll leave that as an exercise for the interested to work out where the fault in that lies.

I’ve always been left a little cold by this film – perhaps because it’s talking influences from genres or sub genre’s I’m quite fond of – at points this feels like Len Deighton re-writing The Hunt for Red October – but seems to treat them with no respect whatsoever, as though their silly space nonsense was an inherently more worthy genre, which is a ludicrous inversion of reality.

I feel that I should like this film a great deal more than I do, and by any rational standard it’s a better film than The Motion Picture, The Final Frontier, and The Search For Spock. But, well, I don’t. Which puts it in the same broad “not recommended” bucket as those three, so the odd / even : good / bad thing rather starts breaking down at this point – we’ll deal with those pesky Next Gen outings sometime down the line, but it doesn’t hold true there either.