If you unspooled every Star Trek video now on the shelves — the 79 classic TV episodes, the newer Next Generation vids, the six feature films, the special anniversary boxed sets-you’d probably have enough tape to reach Rigel 7, wherever that is. Twenty-five years after its debut, this quirky sci-fi series endures as a pop-culture colossus, the most beloved and profitable cult franchise since the Dawn of Television.
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country caps off Trek’s silver-anniversary celebration (a TV special also arrives on video this week, but more on that later), and it should instantly dispel those painful memories of the Enterprise’s last cinematic voyage (William Shatner’s critically lambasted directorial debut). Like the best of the Trek films, this one has tons of gaudy alien effects, in-your-face acting, and high-minded messages. It does what Trek has always done exquisitely well: makes us feel like 13-year-olds again.
In previous Trek films, our heroes have saved the whales, hunted for God, and blown up Ricardo Montalban. This time the mission is merely intergalactic peace. A Klingon moon has exploded, blasting a hole through the evil empire’s ozone layer. Accordingly, the alien bogeymen are finally forced to make nice with the Federation. But space glasnost hits a snag when Captain Kirk (Shatner) and Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley) are wrongly implicated in the assassination of a Klingon chancellor. The two old space pals are banished to a snowy prison planet, and it’s left to the rest of the clubby Enterprise crew to put peace back on course.
Unlike most sci-fi films, Trek movies don’t lose much on video. In fact, Undiscovered actually comes out ahead, with the small screen reducing its worst flaws. That lame-o We Are the Galaxy scene during the Klingon-Federation peace confererence, for instance, doesn’t look quite so glaringly rinky-dink on video. Neither does that silly Federation President with the Colonel Sanders ‘do. And you hardly even notice how frayed all the old uniforms are. The only disadvantage is that the battle sequences lose a bit of their FX punch.
Undiscovered was directed by Nicholas Meyer (who also did Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan), and he keeps the action zipping along at impulse power. He has also masterminded a truly brilliant bit of casting: Opposite Shatner is Christopher Plummer (The Sound of Music) as Chang, an anti-peace Klingon with a studded eye patch and a deep affection for the Bard. Putting these two old hamosauruses on screen together is like putting Delta Burke and Dom DeLuise in ( charge of the Twinkies. By the end of the film, chunks of scenery are practically dribbling out the sides of their mouths.
There are also fun performances by Kim Cattrall as a voluptuous Vulcan, David Warner as the Klingon chancellor (trivia alert: He also played a Federation ambassador in Trek V), Iman as an alien shape shifter, and in a phaser-fast cameo, Christian Slater as a Star-fleet extra. Unfortunately, the Trek oldsters (there’s also Leonard Nimoy, James Doohan, George Takei, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, and in another cameo, Grace Lee Whitney, Kirk’s old flame Yeoman Rand) are looking ever more ripe for warp-powered rockers. Undiscovered may not be the Enterprise’s last trek, but it’s probably the final stop for the original crew. The inevitable Star Trek VII will likely star a younger, leaner cast. Rumor is that Star Trek: The Next Generation will be tapped for the Enterprise’s next big-screen launch (Next Generation is scheduled to leave TV in 1994). B+