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Best of Trek: Star Trek VI // The Undiscovered Country

July 19, 2014

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Plot: The Klingons have over-mined their moon, Praxis, making half of it blow up and endanger their home planet somehow. According to the UN, they have 50 years before it becomes uninhabitable [judging by how smoggy it looks in TNG episodes, I’d say Klingons can tolerate quite a bit]. Spock volunteers Kirk to escort the Klingon Chancellor to peace talks on Earth, and Kirk invites everyone to dinner so he can insult the eye-patch commander with a Hitler reference. Before long, the Chancellor is dead, the Klingons are angry and Kirk is arrested for assassination. McCoy is also arrested due to gross incompetence. Chekov is Russian.

Subplot: Spock is training Samantha from ‘Sex and the City’ to be the new Spock. Scotty, Uhura and Chekov do their jobs, the same jobs they’ve always done. Sulu is captain of a ship he’s willing to fly apart to get more screen time.

What’s so good about it?

After Star Trek 5, Kirk meets Howard the Duck would’ve been regarded as a step up, but this one goes way beyond that. I don’t like to do comparisons because most of the Trek films are shit, but this one is definitely in the top three, probably behind ‘Wrath of Khan’ and ‘Insurrection’.

Insurrection?

Yes. The one in my head where there’s an actual insurrection, preferably involving Romulans or Klingons, and not just Picard and other old people running away from flying robots trying to transport boring people onto a ship neither deadly nor particularly dirty and…it wasn’t even their home planet, why couldn’t they just…

The Klingons

If you’ve read ‘The Final Reflection’, which was the first book to flesh out Klingon Culture, you’ll know how interesting they are. They’re not as one-dimensional as the Original Series often paints them to be…yes, they like to fight, but they also like to strategise, drink, fuck, laugh etc., and some of them even like to do these things with other aliens.

In this movie, you get one guy [the Chancellor] who is quite charming and respectful, and you get another guy [Chang] who is a wolf in wolf’s clothing. I really don’t know why Kirk doesn’t suspect him as one of the traitors as soon as he steps off the transporter pad. He looks like a killer, and every line he says is laced with threat. Not sure about the Shakespeare quotes though…

Klingons Vs Shakespeare

It’s pretty typical of Trek to romanticise human culture instead of exploring an alien one. DS9 tried to redress the balance a little, with Garak lending Bashir some Cardassian literature and Worf listening to Klingon rock, but TNG and the movies tended to look back at human history and pick ‘art’ at random. Look:

Movies

Khan quotes Moby Dick in ‘Wrath of him’ – understandable as he was from the 1990’s.

Klingons quoting Shakespeare – makes no sense at all. Why would a race as xenophobic as the Klingons bother learning texts by a human author centuries old? Just to try and wind up Kirk and co.? I don’t buy it.

Picard listening/singing to ‘Gilbert and Sullivan’ with Data in ‘Insurrection’.

TNG

Picard and Shakespeare – Okay, he’s human, but if the Trek universe is a metaphor for the different countries and cultures we have on this planet then wouldn’t it make more sense if he was a fan of some other race? E.g. I’m not Spanish, but I like Spanish culture, so why is there no one in Trek who embraces Breen culture, for example?

The closest I can think of is Dax from DS9, who loves Klingons. But in TNG, there’s no one far as I can remember…not even Data, who as a machine, should be equally curious about all cultures.

Picard: ‘Data, don’t you see? You’ve just moved a step closer to being human, to understanding humanity.’

Data: ‘Really, Captain?’

Picard: ‘Yes.’

Data: ‘But I cooked and ate Spot. Is this not bad?’

Picard: ‘You made a mistake, Data. To err is to be human.’

Data: ‘I felt nothing.’

Picard: ‘To feel nothing can also be human. Basically, everything you can possibly feel or not feel is human. We own it all. Embrace it.’

Data: ‘I admit, I am confused.’

Picard: ‘To be confused is also to be human. It’s…human.’

Data: ‘Captain…you are sweating.’

Picard: ‘Sweating is also…’

Data: ‘Sir, are you okay?’

Picard: ‘Ah, forget it. You’re dismissed.’

Data: ‘What about the sermon?’

Picard: ‘Go. Leave. Get out, you pasty bastard.’

Then there’s Kirk’s line in this film: ‘You know what? We’re all human, Spock.’ To be fair, Spock does call him on it, but the word is still there. Human. Humanity. Why do they need to use it so much? I don’t get it and I cringe whenever I hear someone say it, especially Picard, a guy who is so thoughtful the rest of the time.

I think it must be down to laziness. Or audience recognition. Most people haven’t read the books, or probably haven’t seen much of the TV series, so it’s a dangerous thing to include references to made up things from made up cultures in a movie. It disorientates people. I guess that makes sense. But still, I’d rather have no references than human ones…or any reference except Shakespeare…

Klingons [again]

Going back to this point, Klingons used well equals this movie. Klingons used badly equals ‘Generations’. In that piece of shit [that somehow Ron Moore was involved in], the villains could’ve been anyone…there was no friction between Klingons and humans at that point, so the motivation was…money? Power? I can’t remember. Whatever it was, they didn’t need to use Klingons.

Star Trek 6 is different though. It has Klingon villains because it’s about the Klingons. It’s their story, really. It’s their future on the line, not Earth’s. That’s why Chang is so effective – he’s the Klingon version of Kirk, the guy who just can’t let go of the past, and it’s no accident that it’s only his ship in the way of Kirk getting to the peace conference. This is what you must overcome to reach a better future – a stage-trained actor with an eyepatch.

Obviously, reality is not quite the same. Blowing up one guy and his ship won’t magically get rid of others like him, but in a Trek movie, it’s forgivable.

The last battle

I said I wouldn’t do comparisons, but I can’t help it: the final battle in this movie is a hundred times better than any of the battles in the last two Trek movies. The fucking reboots. Not that I hate those movies…they’re watchable as long as you’ve never heard the words ‘nuance’ or ‘alien cultures have some depth, this isn’t Star Wars’…but the idea that you need constant explosions to keep an audience interested is insulting.

Actually, the two reboots and this one are quite similar when you think about the final battles. Come to think about it, all Trek movies are. They all end with one ship against one ship, with the occasional addition like in ‘Nemesis’.

Star Trek 11 [reboot 1] – The Enterprise Vs Nero’s Ship

It’s one against one, no other ships.

Star Trek into Darkness [into Space, basically. The Space around Earth.]

Also one against one, and like the movie before it, the enemy ship is much bigger and darker than the Enterprise.

Star Trek 6

It’s one against one, until Sulu arrives…then it’s just cheating.

The only difference I can see is: Star Trek 6 shoots its battle scene like Das Boot, while the other movies shoot it like Transformers.

Also, the other movies rely on pure luck more often than not. That or sudden stupidity from characters who are supposed to be smart.

You wanna check those stasis pods for bombs, Khan? No? Okay then. Carry on.

You wanna hire workers who can shoot, Nero? Yes? Sorry, we’re all out. Here, take these extras from ‘Awakenings’ instead.

In Star Trek 6, Chang does everything that he could logically do. He ceases fire when Kirk backs off to see if they’ve been detected. He waits to see if the torpedo has been fired randomly or not.

The only thing you could say against him would be that he underestimated his enemy. Or he genuinely didn’t know that his ship had an exhaust.

I suppose he could’ve at least raised shields…

The point is: the battle at the end of Star Trek 6 is tense and exciting because, although you know Kirk will win, you don’t know how he’s going to win. Okay, it does depend slightly on Chang not predicting such a torpedo…but it’s logical enough.

Star Trek into Darkness, on the other hand, has Khan transporting bombs onto his own ship, and Scotty magically disabling the weapons on the giant ship at just the right time. It’s watchable, but it won’t stick in your head for more than a day after it’s done.

In short: nothing is earned.

I can’t forgive them, Spock, for what they did to my son [that I only met once and didn’t really know at all]

Just like ‘Wrath of Khan’, this film is actually about something.

The Klingons are on the verge of extinction so, just going on the plot alone, it has some depth to it. The status quo is going to change and things will definitely be different at the end of this thing. Who wants a film where everything just resets at the end?

To be fair, the first Star Trek reboot destroyed Vulcan, so Abrams isn’t afraid of making big decisions…the problem is, he never really explores them much afterwards. One reference to New Vulcan and it’s forgotten.

Beyond the plot, you’ve got the characters. The supporting cast are as token as ever, put to shame by the great detail written into the side characters on DS9, but Kirk and Spock are given something to do, something which comes from their characters.

Spock vs trust/ Kirk vs prejudice

Spock puts a lot of faith into two people: Kirk and Samantha from ‘Sex and the City’. One of them is his best friend, the other is his protégé from…from the academy, I guess. For Kirk, he forces him into taking a mission he wants no part of due to his hatred of Klingons. For Samantha, he tells her she will succeed him as First Officer [which is a little inappropriate…surely she can’t be promoted that far that quickly?] because her logic is top of the class. Kirk repays him by overcoming his prejudice towards Klingons, Samantha betrays him by trying to kill important Klingons.

There’s a nice scene before the big battle at the end, where Kirk and Spock reflect on all the mistakes they’ve made…specifically the mistakes they’ve made in this film. They don’t praise themselves for all the great stuff they did in the previous five movies, I don’t know why.

Kirk: ‘I couldn’t get past the death of my son. I hated them. It’s my fault we’re in this mess.’

Spock: ‘I can’t believe she fucked half of New York.’

Kirk: ‘Huh?’

Both of them realise they’ve been blinded by strong beliefs, and you get the impression that this is really a watershed moment, that Kirk will finally let go of his hate, and Spock will finally do background checks on potential recruits.

Okay, Spock’s arc is not as strong, but it’s still something. And he does get quite a creepy scene near the end, where he mind rapes Samantha in order to pull out info on the saboteurs. It’s weird, mind rape only ever seems to be an issue when Troi is involved. Spock doesn’t even get a hearing, far as I know.

To sum up the character stuff:

Kirk hates Klingons

Kirk meets a nice Klingon.

Nice Klingon dies.

Kirk kills Klingon version of himself.

Kirk overcomes prejudice and saves the peace process.

Kirk has sex with Klingon Chancellor in Khitomer hotel room.

It’s not the most surprising character arc in the history of Trek [that award goes to either Dukat or Damar in DS9], but it does tie in well with everything that Kirk’s experienced in previous films/the TV show.

And Spock…

Spock tells Samantha that she’s going to replace him.

Spock gets DVD box set of ‘Sex and the City’

Spock feels ill.

Again, not the greatest arc ever, but it’s enough.

Okay, just one more comparison. Let’s look at Kirk in ‘Star Trek into Darkness’:

Kirk saves Spock from a volcano.

Kirk watches Pike die, feels angry.

Kirk chases Khan, wanting to kill him.

Kirk arrests Khan, controlling his impulses [kind of].

Kirk doesn’t know what to do when Peter Weller attacks.

Kirk doesn’t know how to be captain [again].

Kirk works with Khan because the plot says so.

Kirk makes a joke while standing next to Khan, the guy who murdered his mentor.

Kirk dies.

Kirk comes back.

Kirk is captain again, with exactly the same experience of not knowing how to be captain as before.

Can you see the problem?

It’s a total mess. There’s no consistency at all. How can you make a joke in front of the man who murdered your mentor?

How can you beam to the Klingon home world?

Why the fuck is the ship underwat-…

The weird thing is: Kirk’s arc starts in a similar way to Kirk in Star Trek 6. He hates someone, but is forced to overcome his hate for the good of the ship, and justice in general, I guess.

The difference is: Kirk in Star Trek 6 has hated Klingons his whole life. There’s a history to his prejudice. Kirk in ‘Into Darkness’ hates Khan because he killed his mentor. Then 20 minutes later, he’s over it. Because of plot.

I guess it’s not as bad as I’m making out…it’s just not as good as Kirk in Star Trek 6. And that comes from the writing. Damn you, Orci.

The Bird of Prey that can fire while cloaked

Whatever happened to this idea? The Klingon ships in TNG can’t fire while cloaked, nor can the ships in DS9. Did they lose the blueprints? Why would they not continue development or production of this model?

The only valid reason I can think of is: the exhaust pipe flaw was unsolvable. Or perhaps the Federation insisted on the Klingons scrapping the idea as part of the peace treaty?

Purple Blood

I refuse to get worked up over this. Klingons can have whatever colour blood they like, I don’t care.

The Universal Translator

A tale of two halves. I’ve never really been able to understand how the universal translator works and the dinner scene in this film doesn’t help. Are the Klingons speaking English or Klingon? I know the translator can be put in your ear, but, in that case, why do Klingons speak Klingon sometimes and English the rest of the time? Far as I know, even if the Klingons turned off their own translators, Kirk and the others would still be able to understand what they’re saying.

On the flip side, I love the way McCoy and Kirk have huge brick translators against their ears at the trial. Also, the way Chang [Lawyer/General/Part time actor] starts in English and then switches to Klingon…it makes you realise that he’s speaking Klingon all the time, and the English part is what the translator is telling Kirk and McCoy.

Which brings me back to the dinner table…

From what I know, Klingon is a very blunt, direct language, not heavy on poetics…or not human style poetics anyway…so why would the universal translator translate Chang’s lines in such a lyrical way?

It must be an AI translator, as only a human translator can cope with that degree of complexity. E.g. Google translate can’t even handle basic idioms. It is whatever it has programmed into it. A human translator can do so much more…so how exactly do these translators work?

I’m not sure why I care so much…it might be the effect of reading ‘Babel 17’ recently, and my continuing struggles with Cantonese…it just seems like such an easy solution to have a universal translator, especially when it’s not explained in any great depth.

Or maybe it was…in one of the novels that I never read…

Sisko’s Dad…

…is a traitorous Starfleet commander!

Picard’s Cardassian torturer…

…is a Klingon hippy!

I love the way actors can be such different characters in Trek.

Ice Prison

Either a homage to or a rip off of Hoth. Not sure which, but an alien with his balls on his knees is pure Star Wars and should’ve been dropped straight after it was shot.

Worf the lawyer

Michael Dorn loves to cash cheques.

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