Everybody knows Star Trek.
I haven't been able to find the exact quote on the Internet, but I seem to remember reading somewhere that when plans were announced for a new Star Trek TV series that would be subtitled The Next Generation, Leonard Nimoy publicly denounced the move, implying that it was a cynical attempt by Paramount Studios to further cash in on the beloved science fiction franchise. Well, of course it was! As was the Saturday morning animated series. And the paperback novels and comic books. And if Nimoy had really been honest with himself, the feature films, two of which he directed. For that matter, back in the 1960s when Gene Roddenberry brought the idea for a science fiction TV series to Lucille Ball, or more likely the person Ball hired to run Desilu on a day-to-day basis (before Paramount got into the act), that person probably thought to themselves that maybe it could be another Lost in Space, which at the time was doing reasonably well in the ratings. Maybe it could sell a few toys (which in fact it did.) That's just the nature of pop culture, mass media, mass entertainment, whatever you want to call it. It exists to make money. At least that's how the owners of the means of production--the television networks, movie studios, record companies, comic book publishers, etc--view it. The creative people that they hire--"hacks", I believe, is the proper term--are there to make sure it does make money. But every so often--and this is part of what fascinates me about pop culture--a hack decides to approach a product to be marketed not as a product to be marketed but as art meant to elevate. No one knows exactly why this happens. Did the hack have a nervous breakdown? Was the hack struck by lightening on the way to Damascus? Hard to say, but it happens. This is especially true of Star Trek, which seems to have a mesmerizing effect on any hack that gets too close to it. So it came to pass that a hack named Roddenberry and a hack named Gene L. Coon and a hack named Harve Bennett all took turns assuming the role of creative visionary, crossing their fingers that the suits wouldn't mind terribly much. After all, if the Medicis supported Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci...OK, so it's Hollywood and not medieval Florence, but I hear both places have similar climates. Anyway, the suits at Paramount picked a guy named Rick Berman to get the new Trek show off the ground. As was arguably the case with Roddenberry, Coon, and Bennett, there was really nothing particularly visionary about Berman's resume. He had started out making industrial films, segued into documentaries, became a producer for PBS, and then jumped from public to commercial television, from education to entertainment, from highbrow to lowbrow, and, naturally, from a lower tax bracket to a higher one. And he became a suit himself, Vice-President of Something-or-Other at Paramount Television (formerly Desilu Productions.) One conspiracy theory goes that he took a demotion of sorts to keep an eye on Executive Producer Roddenberry, who by 1987 saw himself as the Dali Lama of the entertainment industry. Whatever his motives, or those of the studio he worked for, Berman seems to have caught the same art-for-art's-sake bug as all the other hacks that booked a flight on the starship Enterprise. After a slow (sometimes literally slow) start, Star Trek: The Next Generation became one of the classiest, most well-written, most well-produced science fiction shows in the history of the medium, one that earned a following all its own. Well-acted, too, with a cast that included Michael Dorn as the proud Klingon Worf, Brent Spiner as the amiable android Data, and, best of all, the Shakespearean-trained Patrick Stewart as the no-nonsense Starfleet captain Jean-Luc Picard. Stories differ, with everyone wanting to take credit, but Berman is said to have pushed to have Stewart, a well-regarded but at the time largely unknown British actor, cast as the lead in the new version. So, Berman, you done good. That said, I have to admit that I've never quite accepted or related to TNG as a continuation of the original '60s show. A point I've tried to stress throughout these series of posts is that for me personally, it's the characters, and the actors that bring those characters to life, that make Star Trek Star Trek. I like The Next Generation, but it has different characters played by different actors, so I've just always seen it as fundamentally different.
Except on the rare occasion that a cast member from the original series guest-starred on the new one. It actually happened in the very first TNG episode, titled "Encounter at Fairpoint", originally early in the series premier's second hour (early in Part II if you watch it in reruns.) The medical facilities of the newest starship--it's the 24th century now--to be called U.S.S. Enterprise undergoes an inspection by a 137-year-old Admiral whose name is never actually uttered, but the actor playing the Admiral is DeForest Kelley, under a mountain of makeup. True to form he bitches about the transporter--which in his old age he now refuses to use--and compares Data unfavorably to a Vulcan. Five seasons later in an episode titled "Relics", the Enterprise comes across a 75-year-old ship that's crashed into a Dyson sphere (kind of a sci-fi greenhouse built around a star), apparently killing everybody aboard, until Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes), Worf, and Lieutenant La Forge (LeVar Burton) investigate and find the transporter has been jerry-rigged to keep a life-form's molecules indefinitely scrambled. They unscrambled the said molecules and find it's none other than Scotty (James Doohan), looking much like he did back in the 23rd century. A passenger rather than a crewman on the ill-fated starship, he and one other person survived the crash. Unfortunately, the other person didn't survive the 75-year molecule scramble. But Scotty did and he's eager to see all the technological advances that has occurred in his absence, which gets him in the way and on the nerves of the latest Enterprise's latest Chief Engineering Officer, the usually easygoing La Forge. Nevertheless, he redeems himself in the end by helping to dislodge the Enterprise, itself trapped in the sphere. Another character from the original show to make the transition to the new was the computer. Or rather, the voice of the computer, Majel Barrett Roddenberry. Her other character, Nurse Chapel, never appeared on the new show, but the actress does pop up several times as Lwaxana, the flamboyant mother of telepathic therapist Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis). The Vulcan ambassador Sarek (Mark Lenard) who appeared just once in the original series, then in three of the feature films, is seen twice on The Next Generation, and dies in his second outing "Reunification: Part I". It's at the very end that Sarek's son makes an appearance, and then goes on the dominate " Reunification: Part II". That would be Spock, played, of course, by the aforementioned Leonard Nimoy.
My favorite part of "Reunification" is not the intrigue, skullduggery, and pyrotechnics, as entertaining as all that may be, but this simple exchange between Spock and Data:
SPOCK: He intrigues me, this Picard.
DATA: In what manner, sir?
SPOCK: Remarkably analytical and dispassionate, for a human. I understand why my father chose to mind-meld with him. There's almost a Vulcan quality to the man.
DATA: Interesting. I have not considered that. And Captain Picard has been a role model in my quest to be more human.
SPOCK: More human?
DATA: Yes, Ambassador.
SPOCK: Fascinating. You have an efficient intellect, superior physical skills, and no emotional impediments. There are Vulcans who aspire all their lives to achieve what you've been given by design.
DATA: You are half-human.
DATA: Yet you have chosen a Vulcan way of life.
SPOCK: I have.
DATA: In effect, you have abandoned what I have sought all my life [...] Ambassador Spock, may I ask a personal question?
DATA: As you examine your life, do you find you have missed your humanity?
SPOCK: I have no regrets.
DATA: No regrets. That is a human expression.
SPOCK: Yes. Fascinating.
The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Assuming they have grass on Vulcan. Or, for that matter, fences.
The above appeared on the screen at the very beginnings of Parts I and II of "Reunification". The Star Trek creator had died a few weeks earlier.
"It was I who committed Captain Kirk to that peace mission, and I who had to bear the responsibility for the consequences to him and to his crew."
And just what was that peace mission and the consequences thereof? Read on.
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991) We open with Captain Hikaru Sulu. That's right, the former Enterprise helmsman got a promotion three years earlier and now has a starship of his own, the U. S. S. Excelsior. A couple of thoughts here. This is the first feature film since The Motion Picture to indicate that a substantive amount of time has passed since the last Star Trek adventure. The Wrath of Khan, The Search for Spock, The Voyage Home, and The Final Frontier may have been made over a period of seven years, but as each of the latter three begins very soon after the previous one ends, in Trek time it would have been more like seven weeks! Obviously, it was a very stressful time in their lives, and they deserved the three-year respite (unless there were life-and-death adventures we just don't know about.) The other thing is, I'm very happy Sulu got his own command, but what about Scotty, who in this film is still Chief Engineer of the Enterprise? Remember all those episodes where he was left in charge of the starship while Kirk and Spock were away? He did an OK job, didn't he? And what about Spock? Why is he still on the Enterprise? It might be voluntary, as the man just refuses to leave Kirk's side. Well, we're wasting time with these unanswerable questions. Lets get back to Sulu and the Excelsior. He's enjoying a cup of coffee when there's suddenly a huge explosion. The Klingon moon Praxis has exploded, sending faster-than-the-speed-of-light shock waves throughout this particular section of the galaxy. Excelsior Communications Officer Janice Rand (another promotion, but this one far more understandable--that woman's been ignored far too long) radios the appropriate Klingon with an offer of assistance, and is rebuffed. The Klingons can handle this little problem themselves, thank you very much. Except it turns out they can't. As is revealed at a Starfleet Command meeting in San Francisco, the exploding moon, the site of a key, and apparently very combustible, Klingon energy production facility, has, among other things, knocked out the homeworld's ozone layer. The Klingons have only fifty years left, unless they spend a lot of money fixing the problem, money currently being spent on their military. To that end, they want to hold peace negotiations with the Federation. Technically, they're already at peace with the Federation, but it's a Cold War-type of peace, which is still costly. Most of those present at the Sam Francisco meeting believe the Klingons are sincere, and that the peace offer is worth pursuing. Admiral Cartwright (Brock Peters) believes otherwise, and says so. Captain James T. Kirk also believes otherwise, and says so, too. So imagine his surprise when Spock volunteers him and the Enterprise to accompany the Klingon delegation to the peace conference! Once the two of them are alone, the following edgy exchange takes place:
SPOCK: There's an old Vulcan proverb, "Only Nixon could go to China."
KIRK: How could you vouch for [volunteer] me? That's an arrogant presumption.
SPOCK: My father requested that I open negotia--
KIRK: I know your father's the Vulcan Ambassador, for heaven's sake, but you know how I feel about this. They're animals!
SPOCK: Jim, this is a historic opportunity here.
KIRK: Don't believe them! Don't trust them!
SPOCK: They're dying.
KIRK: Let them die!
GORKON: (holding up his glass) The undiscovered country--the future!
ALL: The undiscovered country!
SPOCK: Hamlet, act three, scene one.
GORKON: You have not experienced Shakespeare until you have read him in the original Klingon.
See? Even the future has a future. Unfortunately, that toast turns out to be the high point of the evening. Things soon deteriorate, with both the Klingons and the Enterprise members exchanging digs with one another. Not personal insults, you understand, just cultural ones. Kirk later blames all the bad manners on the Romulan ale served that night. Bad manners will get steadily worse, as well as steadily mysterious, as the night wears on. The Klingons return to their own spacecraft, only to have it fired upon by the Enterprise! At least that's what the starship's own computers are reporting. The photon torpedo knocks out the artificial gravity on the Kronos One, causing the stunned Klingons to float helplessly about the ship. At this point, two men in closed helmets and Starfleet uniforms beam aboard. As they're wearing gravity boots, they themselves aren't floating, allowing them to walk around the place firing at every Klingon they see, causing one poor chap to lose his arm (interestingly, no one is out-and-out disintegrated, as phasers have been known to do in the past.) Back at the Enterprise Kirk does a surprising thing, until you realize he's hopelessly trying to avoid an interplanetary incident--he has Uhura contact the Kronos One with notice of his surrender. Before he and McCoy beam aboard the Klingon ship to find out just what went wrong, Spock slaps a small, black patch on Kirk's back, and there's not even any holes in his uniform! The first Klingon Kirk and McCoy run into once they've materialized aboard the Kronos One is an aide-de-camp named Kerla, who greets them with an "Are you crazy?!" Kirk assures, or tries to assure him, that he only wants to help. Kerla reluctantly takes him and McCoy to the grievously wounded Gorkon. As the Kronos One medical team has also succumbed to the massacre, it's up to McCoy to save the dying Chancellor. Unfortunately, the Enterprise doc knows nothing about Klingon physiognomy, and Gorkin dies, his last words to Kirk, "Don't let it end this way!" General Chang is determined to let it end that way, and orders Kirk and McCoy to be placed under arrest. A short time later, in Paris, in France, on Earth, the President of the Federation--well, let's stop right there and take a closer look at this so-called Federation.
The flag of the United Federation of Planets, first seen draped over Spock's coffin in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. As for the organization it represents, that was first mentioned in the February 1967 episode "A Taste of Armageddon", about three-quarters of the way through season one of the original TV version of Trek, though the more simple term "Federation" is mentioned a few times before that. Now, compare the flag to that of the...
...United Nations. Similar, huh? Can we assume then that the Federation is modeled after the UN? Maybe, maybe not.
As the scene opens, the Klingon and Romulan ambassadors (John Schuck and Darryl Henriques) are present in the President's office. That right there makes it a bit different. Neither the Klingons nor the Romulans are members of the Federation, whereas just about every nation in the world is a member of the United Nation. Indeed, it never seems to occur to a nation-state NOT to be a member of the United Nations. Actually, and I had to look this up, there are currently three self-proclaimed nation-states that are not members of that august world body: Kosovo, Taiwan (which also self-proclaims itself China), and Vatican City. Of those three, only Vatican City is intentionally not a member of the United Nations. The other two would very much like to be, but the UN won't let them, as a few members object to their presence. Nevertheless, Kosovo, Taiwan, and the Vatican are hardly "empires" in competition with the Federation, as is said to be the case where the Klingons and Romulans are concerned. Yet interplanetary law is said to have been broken, meaning that the Federation is not the sole arbiter of galactic right-or-wrong, unlike the UN, which is in regards to international law. And that's not the only thing that makes the Federation different from the United Nations.
The Federation President shuts the door on Kirk and McCoy after the new Klingon Chancellor, Gorkon's daughter Azetbur, inform him the peace talks are still on as long as there's no rescue attempt. So the Enterprise captain and the doctor both stand trial. It looks like it might be a kangaroo court. Not so much because anybody's habeas corpus is being denied, but that all the courtroom spectators (or jurors) are jumping up and down like kangaroos (OK, that joke should be jumped up and down on.) The prosecuting attorney is General Chang. The defense attorney is one Colonel Worf, played by Michael Dorn, who also played a Klingon named Worf on The Next Generation, and, later, Deep Space Nine. Presumably, the two are related. More importantly, for purposes of extending the franchise, it establishes a more solid relationship between the two Trek entities, as up to that point the creative teams of each had occasionally been at odds with each other. The Klingons are certainly at odds with Kirk and McCoy. Guilty as charged! Nevertheless, Worf manages to get them life in prison as opposed to the death penalty. The two are sent to do hard labor on the Rura Penthe asteroid (named after a Siberian penal colony in War and Peace.) Meanwhile, back on the Enterprise, Spock had seen Worf on TV (or something like TV) theorize during the trial that someone or someones may have slipped aboard the Klingon ship wearing gravity boots. Find those boots and you might find the real killers. A search is conducted aboard the Enterprise, turning this part of the movie into a detective story. (A genre director and co-screenwriter Meyer knew well, having penned several best-selling, albeit non-canonical, Sherlock Holmes novels. Not only that, but in The Undiscovered Country, Meyer seems to have made Holmes a part of the Star Trek canon with a line that comes directly from Arthur Conan Doyle himself--"An ancestor of mine maintained that when you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."--implying that Spock is a descendent of the great consulting detective, presumably on his mother's side.) The boots are found, but one pair don't fit the webbed feet of the crew member whose quarters they were found in. As for the One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich part of the movie, Kirk gets into a fight with a blue-faced inmate the size of a vending machine. Kirk wins, of course. Things brighten up further when he meets Martia (Iman), a beautiful female prisoner. She's not always beautiful, however. When the three try to make their escape to the prison planet's snowy surface, she turns into a hairy behemoth, in order to sneak onto an all-male work crew, much to Kirk and McCoy's surprise. Turns out Martia's a shapeshifter, a creature heretofore thought by Kirk to be mythical (he must have forgotten he once met one in the original series episode "Whom Gods Destroy" which also took place on a prison planet.) Once they are on the surface, Martia conveniently finds some warm clothes, as well as a flare gun to make a fire. Kirk now realizes what she's up to. She led him and McCoy into a trap so they'll both be shot trying to escape, thus earning her a full pardon. Kirk and Martia start fighting, but before they do, she turns herself into a duplicate of Kirk! The commandant and the guards show up but shoot and kill the wrong Kirk. Shapeshifting isn't as safe as it looks. Realizing his mistake, the commandant is about to kill the real Kirk but decides there's no harm in telling him who's behind the frame-up. Kirk doesn't find out as the patch Spock slapped on his back way back when (that apparently went undetected by the various Klingons that had him in their custody) has now been activated. It acts as a tracking device for starships. A pissed-off Kirk and a largely confused McCoy are beamed back aboard the Enterprise. Spock tells Kirk about the boots and his additional theory that the Klingons have a bird-of-prey that can fire torpedoes even when invisible and thus responsible for the one that hit Chancellor Gorkin's ship. The plot thickens once two crewmen are found dead, the same two crewmen guarding the transporter room when the assassins beamed aboard the Kronos One to commit their bit of mayhem. Apparently they were killed to keep them from talking. Kirk decides it's about time he set a trap and announces over the intercom that the two men weren't killed but just injured, and as soon as they're feeling better will name names. That night Valeris sneaks into the sick bay with phaser in hand to finish them off, and find Kirk and Spock there instead. Spock, angry at himself for letting his pro-Vulcan bias blind him to the fact that the mastermind behind the Gorkin's assassination was working along side him the whole time, mind-melds with Valeris against her will, and finds that renegade Klingons and Starfleet members had conspired, and are still conspiring, to derail the peace process. Valeris doesn't know where the secret summit is being held but Captain Sulu--remember him?--fortunately does know and the starships Enterprise and Excelsior race to the planet Khitomer before it's too late. General Chang's bird-of-prey is there to meet them. After an exciting space battle--BAM! BOOM! POW! BANG-BANG! KAPOW! KABOOM! RAT-A-TAT-TAT! THUD! KERPLUNK! SLAM! ZAP! CRUNCH! SIZZLE!--a Shakespearean-quoting Chang is defeated (his last words: "To be or not to be.") But the day is not saved yet. Kirk, Spock, and just about everyone else beam into the peace conference, shoot those who were about to shoot, thus saving the Federation President and the Azetbur's lives. Then, in a scene right out of Scoopy Do, Where Are You? our heroes begin unmasking the living and dead--well, I guess unmasking the dead isn't really out of Scoopy Do--and discover the other conspiracy members: Admiral Cartwright, Colonel West, and Romulan Ambassador Nanclus. After all the proper arrests are made, the summit goes on as planned. As for Kirk and co, once they're back aboard their ship, they find a message waiting for them. They are to return to Earth, their beloved Enterprise--their second beloved Enterprise, actually--is going to be decommissioned. Spock's response:
SPOCK: If I were human, I believe my response would be, "Go to Hell."
Kirk does a double-take
SPOCK: (somewhat apologetically) ...If I were human.
That's the most you're going to get out of that guy. Of course, Spock's not human. Not 100%, anyway. And, be honest, do you really want him to be?
OK, so much for the synopsis. Now for the critical evaluation.
The acting. Of the non-regular cast members, I was most impressed with Kim Catrall. The film doesn't make it easy for her character, as her character originally was supposed to be another character, Saavik of The Wrath of Khan and The Search for Spock (and, very briefly, The Voyage Home.) This explains why everybody on the Enterprise instantly takes to Valeris, and why she seems to instantly take to them. Because as Saavik, they're all familiar with her. Except she's Valeris, so they're in fact meeting her for the first time. Got all that? Why didn't they just have Saavik as Saavik? Gene Roddenberry. The one perk he still retained as Executive Consultant was that he was allowed to read the screenplay and give his opinion. His opinion could be ignored, but there was always the fear he could take his complaints to a sci-fi fanzine like Starlog or Cinefantastique where some Star Trek fans who still held him in high regard might read them (indeed, there are Trekkies or Trekkers who believe only the original Trek episodes written by Roddenberry himself--11 in all--are "canonical", meaning they actually happened, and all others are spurious.) Roddenberry's complaint this time was that Saavak was now one of the bad guys. Meyer's response: "I created Saavik. She was not Gene's. If he doesn't like what I plan on doing with her, maybe he should give back the money he's made off my films. Maybe then I'll care what he has to say." Whether he created Saavik or not, and whether he spent the money he made on someone else's creation or not, Roddenberry did have a point. Saavik bonds with the Enterprise crew in the first two films her character appears, and thus it would seem odd that she should frame that crew's captain for murder. Nevertheless, Meyer would have had Saavik do that anyway, except that the first actress to play her, Kirstie Alley, now ensconced on Cheers, wasn't interested in reviving the character, and he didn't think much of the second film's replacement, Robin Curtis. Rather than have a third actress play Savaak, thus turning her into a female version of Felix Leiter, Mayer created a whole new character. So Catrall basically ended up playing this new Vulcan Valeris as exceedingly outgoing, whether that was logical or not, so as to gain immediate acceptance from the Enterprise crew. Actually, it was logical, as, being part of a conspiracy, she needed to earn their trust. But it's when Valeris' role in the plan is found out that Catrall does her best acting. Watch that tear slide down her face not from grief but in futile defiance of Spock's mind-meld.
Now on to the original cast. Let's start with George Takei. As I said earlier, the character he portrays, Sulu, is no longer assigned to the starship Enterprise, but I think this has actually resulted in more screen time for Takei! He's the very first character we see in this movie, sipping on what I presume is coffee, and is seen at critical junctures all throughout the thing. His ship is the first to detect the explosion of the Klingon moon. He provides cover for the Enterprise after Spock fails to return to Earth as he's been ordered to. His ship takes part in the battle raging high above the planet Khitomir. And Sulu beams down into the peace conference to help out his old commanding officer Kirk. Sulu's boyishness has finally dissipated. It only took six feature films. Can't say the same for Walter Koenig's Chekov, but what can you expect? He's still serving under Kirk. Nichelle Nichol's Uhura has a cold warrior mentality here, the character's earlier coquettishness finally dissipated. Which doesn't stop her from showing a bit of leg throughout this film (at the actress's own insistence; she thought Uhura was more a skirt person.) James Doohan's Scotty is good for a few laughs. Deforest Kelley's McCoy is good for twice as many laughs. Once again he gets most of the film's funniest lines (though not the funniest line; more about that in a bit.) Leonard Nimoy as Spock is once again the conscience of the starship Enterprise, his character exhibiting the utmost dignity in the face of boorish adversity, much like Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird. Except Peck was that film's protagonist. Unlike in earlier outings, even when he was technically a supporting player, Nimoy simply doesn't carry this movie this time around, nor does he try to. So the Best Actor award instead goes to...
Now, don't take this to mean that being in Kirk's presence throughout this film is nothing less than heavy-duty dramatic gravitas. There are moments of lightness, too. In fact, despite McCoy getting the laughing hyena's share of funny lines, with Scotty and possibly Chekov a distant second, the movie's most hilarious moment belongs solely to Kirk. Before I tell you what that is, a bit of background.
James Kirk didn't write the above book, but he most certainly could have. The one thing that the TV Kirk and the movies Kirk do have in common is his way with the ladies. In the vernacular of the era in which Star Trek first appeared, Kirk scored, and he scored a lot. Originally Janice Rand (Grace Lee Whitney) was intended to be his main love interest. She appears in seven episodes of the original series. In "The Cobermite Maneuver", the first of those seven to be filmed, Kirk seems more annoyed with than attracted to Rand (KIRK: When I find the headquarters genius that assigned me a female yeoman. MCCOY: What's the matter, Jim? Don't you trust yourself? KIRK: I already have a female to worry about. Her name's the Enterprise.) In "The Man Trap", the first of those seven to actually go on the air, Rand seems more interested in Sulu. The title character in "Charlie X" has a crush on Rand, but when she demurs, and then later slaps him, the lovesick teen disintegrates her, which surely upsets Kirk and he's pleased when she later rematerializes, but that merely signifies concern for his crew and not necessarily affection. "The Naked Time"--now we're getting somewhere! An affliction that causes its victims to act out their deepest desires has Kirk fighting his own deep desire to cop a feel at his "beautiful yeoman", Rand. In "The Enemy Within" a malfunctioning transporter splits Kirk into two, one of whom tries to rape Rand! In a much more genteel vein, Kirk and Rand reach out to each other during a Romulan attack in "Balance of Terror". In "Mira", Rand admits to Kirk that she always hoped he would notice her shapely legs but not now that they're covered with unsightly blotches (don't worry, they clear up.) "The Conscience of the King", was the last we saw of Rand for a while. Why did she disappear from the series? Explanations vary. One is that the part of McCoy was beefed up, meaning DeForest Kelley got an increase in salary, and the extra money needed for the tightly-budgeted show had to come from somewhere, and that somewhere was Whitney's paycheck. It also freed up the Kirk character to romance a different scantily clad guest star each week. Whatever the reason, Rand wasn't seen again until Star Trek: The Motion Picture, where Kirk consoles her after a transporter she was operating melts two unfortunate passengers. In The Search for Spock, a brown-rather-than-blond-haired Grace Lee Whitney watches the return of the Enterprise through a window in the Spacedock cafeteria. Is it Rand? She's merely listed in the screenplay as "Woman in Cafeteria". There's a Commander Rand at Starfleet headquarters reporting to a superior about the possible end of the world in The Voyage Home. And, as I said earlier, Rand is serving along side Sulu on the Excelsior in The Undiscovered Country. She might still be carrying a torch for Kirk as she's seen shedding a tear during his televised trial.
Once Rand was out of the way, James Kirk truly had a hard time keeping his Starfleet-issued trousers zipped. Actually, this happened even before Rand left when she walks in on Kirk and a Shakespearean actor's daughter in "The Conscience of the King". Kirk is very possessive of a different blond female yoeman in "The Squire of Gothos" and demands she gives back some gloves given to her from some God-like Lothario. Kirk dallies with both versions of Marlena Moreau in "Mirror Mirror". Kirk falls in love with the unwittingly world-historical Edith Keeler in "The City on the Edge of Forever." Kirk falls in love with an Indian maiden in "The Paradise Syndrome". Kirk both successfully fights and woos the green-haired Shanna in "The Gamesters of Triskelion". Kirk's wooing of Kelinda makes her fellow Alpha Centaurian jealous in "By Any Other Name". Kirk's wooing of Rayna makes Flint jealous in "Requiem for Methuselah". A Roman consul lets Kirk avail himself of a slave girl the night before an important gladiator match in "Breads and Circuses". Even though Miranda only has eyes for the theoretically homely Kollos--well, she's blind so whatever senses she makes up for eyes--Kirk offers her a rose anyway in "Is There No Truth in Beauty?". Kirk passes along a deadly virus to an uncomplaining Odena in "The Mark of Gideon". Kirk doesn't romance anybody but is quite into ogling belly dancers in "Wolf in the Fold". Old flames show up. Areel Shaw prosecutes him for murder in "Court-Matial" but, after he beats the rap, the two share a kiss to show there's no hard feelings (unless there's hard feelings of a different kind!) An elderly Kirk pours out his heart to Dr. Janet Wallace, who still retains a certain fondness for him, despite his many wrinkles, in "The Desperate Years". Dr Janet Lester so misses Kirk's body she inhabits it in "Turnabout Intruder." An old flame, Carol Marcus, pops up in the movies, as Kirk reunites with his long-lost son (his only long-lost child?) in The Wrath of Khan. Also in the movies, Kirk charms Gillian Taylor out of a couple of humpback whales in The Voyage Home.
KIRK: I can't believe I kissed you!
KIRK: Must have been your lifelong ambition.
As Tom Petty once sang, the waiting is the hardest part.
OK, now that I got that off my chest, let's discuss what this screenplay, and thus the film, is all about. As I told you earlier, The Undiscovered Country was inspired by the biggest news event of the late 1980s-early 1990s, the resolution of the Cold War. But those of us who were around back then saw it all play out on our television sets. Did we really need to see it again in a movie, except that this time the politicians all wear weird makeup? What more could this film tell us that CNN didn't? To answer that and other questions, we'll have to take a closer look at those rascals, the Klingons.
The Klingons make their debut in "Errand of Mercy", late in Star Trek's first season. They appear three times in the second season. "Friday's Child" has the Klingons trying to coax an unaligned planet into joining their empire as Kirk, Spock, and McCoy run around the countryside with a pregnant woman. "The Trouble with Tribbles" has many of the title creatures succumbing to a cargo hold of grain poisoned by a Klingon saboteur. The Klingons instigates an arms race amongst a bunch of cavemen in "A Private Little War". The Klingon appear or otherwise play a part three more times in the third and final season. The Klingons join forces with Kirk to laugh off some alien troublemakers in "Day of the Dove". You don't see the Klingons themselves but their warship in "Elaan of Troyius". Klingon Founding Father Kahless is one of the baddies conjured up by the rock-like Excalbians in "The Savage Curtain". Now on to the feature films. The Klingons seen early on in Star Trek: The Motion Picture look a little different. They now have backbones that begin at the bridges of their noses. You can't call these guys spineless! They skip the Wrath of Khan but show up for The Search for Spock where they kill a bunch of people including Kirk's son. They've never been more brutal, before or since. However, the Klingon ambassador seen at the beginning of The Voyage Home seems to regard Kirk as the brutal one! Kirk and the Klingons put their differences aside and fend off an angry God, boozing it up together afterwards in The Final Frontier. And the next time they're seen again is in the film we're discussing, The Undiscovered Country.
Of the seven original Trek shows involving Klingons, the first, "Errand of Mercy", written by Gene L. Coon, is easily the best. Relations between the Federation and the Klingon Empire have broken down, and war is imminent. In a plot device that will be used a few more times in the life of the series, Kirk has to secure a planet called Oragania that's strategically located near the Klingon space border (I've never know a planet located near the Klingon space border that wasn't.) Kirk feels he is doing the Organians a favor by claiming their planet for the Federation, hence the episode's title. When he and Spock beam down to the medieval-looking planet, the human-looking leaders of the planet's government want nothing to do with them. Kirk argues with them about this for a bit, until he finds out a Klingon fleet has entered the star system. Kirk orders the outnumbered Enterprise to skedaddle, stranding him and Spock on the planet. Despite not wanting Kirk and Spock's help, the Organians decide that, what with Klingon soldiers beaming down and what not, Kirk and Spock could use their help, and disguise the former up as one of their own, and the latter as small-time trader so as to escape detection. They're detected, anyway, mainly due to Kirk's grimace, so strikingly different from Organians dopey smiles. However, Kor, the newly-installed Klingon governor, doesn't suspect Kirk is a starfleet officer, just that he's brighter than all the rest and makes him a liaison to the government. Spock, meanwhile, is taken away and subjected to a "mind-sifter" to see if he's as harmless as he claims. And he is indeed deemed harmless, as the Vulcan psyche, unbeknownst to the Klingon, is resistant to such devices. Free to go, Kirk and Spock now wander about the village committing acts of sabotage, such as blowing up munition dumps. Back in the Organian town hall, the heads of government, or whatever they are, complain to Kirk and Spock vigorously about their guerrilla tactics. Kor has the place bugged, and now knows who's behind all the sabotage. He enters the room, and orders one of his minions to take Kirk and Spock out to be killed. At this point, the Organian head of government known as Ayelborne--likely the most important head of government as he does most of the talking--informs Kor that these aren't two disgruntled natives of the planet that he's about to execute, but James T. Kirk and Mr. Spock. Kor's heard of Kirk and is deeply impressed, and it's hinted that the Enterprise captain has some sort of reputation as a war hero (these hints continue throughout the course of the TV series and the '80s feature films, but we never learn exactly what war it was.) Kor has Spock locked up somewhere, and then proceeds to both flatter and threaten Kirk, eventually giving him a 12 hour deadline to cough up details about Starfleet battle plans. Kirk is then thrown in the same cell as Spock but both are easily rescued by Ayelborne, despite there being ten Klingon guards on the outside. Kirk is less grateful then completely baffled by Ayelbourne's and the Organians behavior.
KIRK: Is that all you can do, smile?
AYELBORNE: You are free, Captain.
KIRK: I want to know how I'm free and why.
SPOCK: Indeed, there are several questions I would like to ask as well.
KIRK: This idiotic placidity of yours. Your refusal to do anything to protect yourselves.
AYELBORNE: We have already answered that question. To us, violence is unthinkable.
KIRK: Even if you have some power that we don't understand, you have no right to dictate to our Federation.
KOR: Or our Empire!
KIRK: How to handle interstellar relations!
They also offer up excuses:
KOR: You've tried to hem us in, cut off vital supplies, strangle our trade! You've been asking for war!
KIRK:You're the ones who issued the ultimatum to withdraw from disputed areas!
One final excuse:
KIRK: We have the right--
AYELBORNE: To wage war, Captain? To kill millions of innocent people? To destroy life on a planetary scale? Is that what you're defending?
KIRK (chastened a bit): Well, no one wants war. But there are proper channels. People have the right to handle their own affairs. Eventually, we would have--
AYELBORNE: Oh, eventually you will have peace, but only after millions of people have died. It is true that in the future, you and the Klingons will become fast friends. You will work together.
Before Kirk and Kor can dispute that, the two Organians reveal their true selves:
SPOCK: Fascinating! Pure energy. Pure thought. Totally incorporeal. Not life as we know it at all. [...regarding the Organians earlier conventional appearance] Created so that visitors such as ourselves could have conventional points of reference. [...] We have seen it with out own eyes. I should say the Organians are as far above us on the evolutionary scale as we are above the amoeba.
And with that, the Organian Peace Treaty between the Federation and the Klingon Empire comes into being.
Now, I'd like to go back and examine a bit of dialogue from earlier in the episode.
KOR: You of the Federation, you are much like us.
KIRK: We're nothing like you. We're a democratic body.
KOR: Come now. I'm not referring to minor ideological differences. I mean that we are similar as a species. Here we are on a planet of sheep. Two tigers, predators, hunters, killers, and it is precisely that which makes us great. And there is a universe to be taken.
49 years before Star Trek first went on the air.
Now that we've established that the 20th century Cold War was fueled at least in part by ideology, what about the 23rd century Cold War on Star Trek? Just what was the Klingon ideology?
Are the Klingons communists? Despite their being widely seen as stand-ins for the Russians, I would say no. Klingons dress too gaudily.
And they're certainly not Chinese communists.
(Meanwhile, in the movie Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Captain Kirk remarks that people in the 20th century are "still using money" implying that's no longer the case in the 23rd. Could it be, then, that it's the Federation that's communist?)
Are Klingons fascists? It's possible. They're very militaristic, a key characteristic of fascism. The problem there is that most of the Klingons we see in both the TV series and in the movies are members of the military, and militaries tend to be, well, militaristic. Even if the actual countries in which they serve are democracies, a military always functions, unto itself, as a dictatorship, what with the constant saluting, standing at attention, yes, sirs, no, sirs, and strict codes of conduct. And as the members of such organizations collect medals and, in one country I know of, stars, they can end up looking pretty gaudy, too. See how that might skew our image of Klingons? Imagine if all some alien from outer space knew about the United States of America was George C. Scott's opening monologue in the 1970 film Patton:
. The Nazis are the enemy. Wade into them. Spill their blood. Shoot them in the belly. When you put your hand into a bunch of goo that a moment before was your best friend's face, you'll know what to do. Now there's another thing I want you to remember: I don't want to get any messages saying that we are holding our position. We're not holding anything. Let the Hun do that. We are advancing constantly and we're not interested in holding onto anything except the enemy. We're going to hold onto him by the nose and we're going to kick him in the ass. We're going to kick the hell out of him all the time and we're going to go through him like crap through a goose. Now, there's one thing that you men will be able to say when you get back home. And you may thank God for it. Thirty years from now when you’re sitting around your fireside with your grandson on your knee, and he asks you: 'What did you do in the great World War II?' You won't have to say, "Well, I shoveled shit in Louisiana." Alright, now, you sons-of-bitches, you know how I feel. Oh... I will be proud to lead you wonderful guys into battle anytime, anywhere. That's all"
Why, that alien would think the U.S. was fascist, which of course it's not (at least not until after the upcoming election.) Either that, or George C. Scott was a Klingon. The helmet is to protect the spine.
On the other hand, maybe the reason we never see any Klingon civilians is because there are no Klingon civilians. For that matter, maybe there are no good Klingons, either.
Unless the person writing and directing the movie does the picketing himself. And in The Undiscovered Country, Nicholas Meyer does just that, except instead of holding a sign he sheds some light on the Star Trek stock villains. Oh, sure, they still sneer and snarl and growl and grimace, but now there are hints that there may be more to them than that.
For starters, we learn the Klingon emperor doesn't actually refer to himself as an emperor but as chancellor. That's a small-r republican term, similar to "president" or "prime minister". Now, that doesn't necessarily make the Klingon home world a democracy. Police states all over the world use such titles when referring to their leaders. No dictator has ever called himself a dictator. "Police state" and "dictator" are terms used by outsiders. Still, that no dictator wants to be called a dictator or his police state a police state is the tribute that totalitarianism pays to democracy. Also in the Klingons favor is that David Warner's makeup is said to have been modeled on the visage of Abraham Lincoln. You know, the guy who said "government of the people, by the people, and for the people." Warner's character also a suffers a similar fate as Lincoln.
In the original series episode "Errand of Mercy", Kor does acknowledge, after much macho posturing and babble about the glory of war, that the Klingons may have more practical concerns ("You've tried to hem us in, cut off vital supplies, strangle our trade!") Well, during the state dinner that takes place aboard the Enterprise in The Undiscovered Country, we see that there's enough practical, as well as impractical, concerns to go around:
CHANG: Tell me, Captain, would you be willing to give up Starfleet?
SPOCK: I believe the Captain feels that Starfleet's mission has always been one of peace.
KIRK: Far be it from me to dispute my first officer. Starfleet has always been--
CHANG: Come now, Captain, there's no need to mince words. In space, all warriors are cold warriors.
UHURA: Er, General, are you fond of Shakes--
CHEKOV: We do believe all planets have a sovereign claim to inalienable human rights.
AZETBUR: Inalien...If only you could hear yourselves. "Human rights" Why, the very name is racist. The Federation is no more than a "homo sapiens only" club.
CHANG: Present company excepted, of course.
KERLA: In any case, we know where this is leading. The annihilation of our culture.
MCCOY: That's not true!
CHANG: "To be or not to be?" That is the question which preoccupies our people, Captain Kirk. We need breathing room.
KIRK: Earth. Hitler. 1938.
CHANG: I beg your pardon?
GORKON (a bit dismayed): Well, I can see we have a long way to go.
OK, then, so The Undiscovered Country illustrates the difficulties involved in ending the Cold War. Nevertheless, the Cold War did end, and ended quite some time ago. Does the film still have something to say to us, lo these many years later? I believe it does. More than ever, in fact.
If Spock was the Atticus Finch of To Kill a Mockingbird, then through much of The Undiscovered Country, James Kirk is the Go Set a Watchman Atticus. But Kirk evolves, so much so that prior to the film's exciting climax, he and Spock have almost switched places (or Harper Lee novels):
SPOCK: But Captain, we both know that I am not human.
KIRK: Do you want to know something? Everybody's human.
SPOCK: I find that remark...insulting.
Don't be insulted, Spock. I think what Kirk means is that we're all sentient beings, even if we don't use that sentience as often as we should.
(Which reminds me, if we ever do come across intelligent life on other planets, we're going to have to come up with a replacement for the word "humanity". Maybe sentientity?)
So, Nicholas Meyer, you done good (even if I wish there had been more scenes with Kirk, Spock, and McCoy as a trio.) You figured out what Star Trek, at it's very best, could be all about. I just found out Meyer has joined the staff of yet another Trek series, due out in the fall. That certainly bodes well for the future, fictional and otherwise.
"There was no Spock role in that script... there were five or six lines attributed to Spock [...] but it had nothing to do with Spock... I said to [producer and co-writer] Rick Berman 'You could distribute these lines to any one of the other characters and it wouldn't make any difference.' And that is exactly what he did. There was no Spock function in the script. I have always tried to make a contribution to these movies. There was no contribution to be made in that movie."
That just left William Shatner, James Doohan, and Walter Koenig (if you don't count Majel Barrett, who returned not as Nurse Christine Chapel but as the voice of the computer.) Shatner was asked if he had any trepidations about working with Next Generation lead Patrick Stewart:
"I was a lot more worried about working with Walter Koenig and Jimmy Doohan, two men who have made it clear on any number of occasions that my name is generally near the top of their shit lists."
"I didn't want anything to do with a group of obsessives who paid to get together to talk incessantly about a TV show that had been cancelled."
I've seen Shatner on numerous talk shows over the years, and he basically comes across as likable. Still, I can't help but notice a certain swagger (which I suspect Nicholas Meyer and Harve Bennett took note of when reinventing the character of Kirk for The Wrath of Khan.) In the dictionary, "swagger" is defined as "to walk or behave in a very confident and typically arrogant or aggressive way." In recent years, the young have taken to calling it simply "swag". It's not always a bad thing. Over the years, such movie stars as Douglas Fairbanks, James Cagney, Clark Gable, Errol Flynn, John Wayne, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Clint Eastwood, Burt Reynolds, Jack Nicholson, John Travolta and Vin Diesel have all projected swag, and they're very entertaining to watch. Unfortunately, that drunk at the end of the bar drowning out Patsy Cline on the jukebox may also have swag, and he's no so entertaining to watch, and certainly can't compete with Cline's vocals. The husband or boyfriend who mentally abuses you may have swag. Or the boss who constantly reminds you of your expandability. Or the cop who clocks you going 42 in a 35 and can't just write the ticket but feels he has to get all Dirty Harry about it. Or the star of a TV show who wants to be the center of attention, as Koenig put it, a camera hog, at the expense of all the other actors.
(Takei admitted in his autobiography that he at first felt threatened by Walter Koenig's hiring, though the two became fast friends. I haven't done a line count, but I think the addition of Chekov may have actually increased Sulu's visibility, as the two occasionally served as a Greek chorus, talking among themselves about the events unfolding around them.)
Or, maybe Shatner was the dick they said he was. I don't know. I never had to work with the man. What's important to me is now how he was in real life (since I--ha, ha--never see him in real life) but how he played his character, and what was in store for that character.
And now, the end is near
And so I face the final curtain
My friend, I'll say it clear
I'll state my case, of which I'm certain
I've traveled each and every highway
But more, much more than this
I did it my way
--Frank Sinatra (with a little help from Paul Anka and Claude François)
In Star Trek: the Motion Picture, Shatner is good as a man going through a midlife crises. However, he's overshadowed by Nimoy, who's great as a man going through an identity crises. Kirk's problems with middle-age is a major theme of The Wrath of Khan, but, as I said in an earlier installment, that theme is subverted a bit by also having Kirk play the swashbuckler. He tells Carol Wallace that he's feeling "old...worn out" but then a few minutes later, pulls out his communicator and triumphantly announces "I don't like to lose!" The mid-life issues are basically ignored in The Search for Spock, The Voyage Home, and The Final Frontier. The Undiscovered Country ends with the prospect of Kirk facing retirement. Not that something like that should stop him from taking command of the Enterprise one final time.
Catching up to the Bird-of-Prey in the Veridian system, Picard contacts the Dura sisters--they stole the trilithium from the Romulans--and offers himself in exchange for La Forge, but only after he's first transported to Soran's location. Soran, who has promised the Duras sisters that he'll help them use the trilithium to take over the Klingon Empire, must not mind, as the deal goes through. La Forge is returned to the Enterprise, but, unbeknownst to him, the visor that keeps the otherwise blind engineer from bumping into the furniture has been technofiddled with by Soran. The Dura sisters can now see what La Forge can see (if only he could see) and discover a way to penetrate the Enterprise's shields, which they do to devastating effect. The disk-like part of the Enterprise separates from the rest of the starship, but before, or just as (I may have to watch this again to get my timeline straight) it does, Commander Riker with the help of La Forge, gets in one final, lucky blow that destroys the Bird-of-Prey. The Enterprise disk crash lands on the Veridian planet. On another part of the planet, Picard has beamed down onto the same mountain top as Soran, but can't get to him as the scientist is inside a force field, from which he plans to launch the trilithium solar bomb. As Soren putters away at the controls, Picard walks around the force field, throwing rocks at it , hoping to find an opening. He finds one, and sneaks through. He and Soren tussle, but the latter manages to launch his projectile. The Nexus engulfs them both. Picard finds himself in what appears to be a Victorian household, with a wife and a brood of kids, including his deceased nephew, who's now his very alive son! He also runs into Guinan. Or a version of Guinan from her time in the Nexus. The other Guinan had warned him about the seductive nature of the Nexus, but it takes Picard only about a minute to decide that he doesn't want to stay. He's told he can check out anytime he wants, but he can never leave. No, wait, that's Hotel California. He's actually told that he can go back in time and stop Soran, but he's going to need some help. Guinan leads him to Captain Kirk, who's just arrived, or think he's just arrived (timelessness can be confusing.) Picard introduces himself to Kirk, whom he regards as a historical figure. Picard explains his predicament, and asks Kirk for help. But Kirk wants to stay where he is and doing what he's doing, chopping wood outside an old flame's house. This flame must have burned more brightly than all his other ones because he plans on asking her hand in marriage. When Picard objects, Kirk shoots back:
"I don't need you to lecture me! I was out saving the galaxy when your grandfather was in diapers. Besides which, I think this galaxy owes me on. I was like you once. So blinded by duty and obligations I couldn't see anything past this uniform. And in the end, what did it get me? An empty house. Not this time."
Kirk doesn't mean it. After he jumps over a ravine with his horse--the old flame apparently forgotten about--he decides he doesn't want a life where the outcome is always assured. He wants to make a difference, and the Nexus won't let him. So he and Picard leave, and go back to the mountain, right before Soran is about to launch his missile. They easily overpower Soren and throw him off a cliff, though the scientist manages to grab onto a rope that's hanging from, um, the cliff itself I think. Soran proves to be quite adept with his one free hand. He both vaporizes a bridge plus cloaks--basically turns invisible--the rocket launcher. He does drop the cloaking device on what's left of the bridge. Kirk seizes it, and uncloaks the launcher. The rest of the bridge falls down the mountain taking Kirk along with it. Soran meanwhile gets the drop on Picard and orders him away from the launcher. Picard complies, and scrambles down the mountain. It's too late for Soran to do anything, though. Picard has locked the missile in place. It explodes on itself and Soran (given trilithium can blow up a star, you'd think it would do more damage then it does here, but I'm not a 24th century explosives expert, so what do I know?) Picard reaches Kirk, who is dying but has no regrets. His last words:
"It was fun."
Picard buries the fun-loving Kirk, and then goes off to find his friends. They're all in a surprisingly good mood considering the Enterprise was just destroyed. But maybe that's because they survived the destruction with nary a scratch. Even Data's pet cat still has all its fur.
All and all, a very odd movie. Producer Rick Berman, director David Carson, writers Brannon Bragg, and Ronald D. Moore were all veterans of The Next Generation TV series, yet the parts of the film that focuses exclusively on the 24th century characters isn't nearly as strong as the 23rd century opening, which is right out of the Harve Bennett-Nicholas Meyer playbook. The Las Vegas look of the Enterprise. Kirk, Scotty, and Chekov as aging misfits. The slightly cynical humor, including an irreverent attitude toward Starfleet (whenever Kirk asks why the new Enterprise is missing this vital feature or that, Harriman replies, "Next Tuesday.") And, of course, the ending can't help but be attention-getting. It's the middle that's muddled. Though the Data-and-the-emotion chip subplot doesn't advance the main storyline beyond much more than a light-minute, I wonder if it's not there to serve another purpose, to prove a Next Generation feature film can be every bit a rollicking good time as the Trek movies that proceeded it, and the original TV show that spawned them. You might not think such proof would be needed, but the two television series have always had a slightly different tone, different mood, about them. The first Star Trek was part-Arthur C. Clarke/Frank Herbert and part Flash Gordon/John Carter of Mars. It was intelligent, but that intelligence was strung with multicolored Christmas lights. Or, as Rod Serling once said, it was "more carnival-like." Serling meant that disparagingly, but for me personally, it's what put the fun in profundity. The Next Generation, by contrast, was 100% Arthur C. Clarke/Frank Herbert. Not that it also couldn't be fun, but first you had to finish your homework. As Picard buried Kirk, I imagined him saying to himself, "I must hide all evidence of the pulp!"
As for James Kirk's demise, I can't honestly say I was all that affected by it. Not that I wanted it too happen, it's just that after all the hairbreadth escapes, I didn't quite buy it (since it's now been 22 years since William Shatner last played Kirk, maybe I really should have bought it.) Truth be told, I never bought Spock's death, either, but the other characters bought it, and I in turn could buy into their grief. Picard doesn't know Kirk well enough to grieve over his death. He's more like the Vice-President attending a foreign dignitary's funeral.
In a sense, though, James Kirk doesn't stay dead. Unlike The Search for Spock, however, this resurrection will be a bit different.
The Grim Reaper has never been more forgiving.
NEXT: Out with the Old, In with the New...with One Notable Exception