Film Review: Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)

Release Date: December 6th, 1991
Directed by: Nicholas Meyer
Written by: Nicholas Meyer, Denny Martin Flinn, Leonard Nimoy, Lawrence Konner, Mark Rosenthal
Based on: Star Trek by Gene Roddenberry
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, Kim Cattrall, David Warner, Christopher Plummer, Iman, Brock Peters, Kurtwood Smith, Mark Lenard, Grace Lee Whitney, John Schuck, Rosanna DeSoto, Christian Slater, Michael Dorn, Todd Bryant, René Auberjonois

Paramount Pictures, 110 Minutes

Review:

“Captain’s log, stardate 9522.6: I’ve never trusted Klingons, and I never will. I could never forgive them for the death of my boy. It seems to me our mission to escort the Chancellor of the Klingon High Council to a peace summit is problematic at best. Spock says this could be an historic occasion, and I’d like to believe him, but how on earth can history get past people like me?” – Captain James T. Kirk

Something has to be said for the quality that Nicholas Meyer brings to a Star Trek movie, whether as a director or a writer. He directed two of the very best films with Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and this one. He also was involved in the writing of my personal favorite film in the franchise, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

While most fans consider The Wrath of Khan to be the very best, this chapter in the franchise is equal to it. Again, I like The Voyage Home the best overall but Khan and this film are very, very close seconds.

Where Star Trek V: The Final Frontier was almost the death of the franchise on the big screen, this was a breath of fresh air and a proper swan song for the original Enterprise crew, as it was the last time they would all be together. It also sort of closes a major chapter in Trek lore, as the Federation and the Klingons, after decades of conflict, agree to try their hand at peace.

It is that attempt at making peace between the two governments that brings out the worst in some of the characters in this film. People on both sides of the coin don’t want to trust each other and some of them conspire to kill the opportunity for peace. In fact, this is more of a political thriller and a conspiracy movie than just some fantastical sci-fi adventure.

Following a diplomatic dinner between the Enterprise crew and the Klingon Chancellor, the Klingon ship is attacked and the Chancellor assassinated. Everything is set up to look like Captain Kirk orchestrated the attack. As he and McCoy are framed for the assassination, they are sentenced to hard labor on a Klingon prison planet. All the while, Spock heads up an investigation on the Enterprise itself, in an effort to solve this mystery, save his friends and to win the trust of the Klingon Empire and bring forth much needed peace.

The Undiscovered Country isn’t just a great Star Trek movie, it is a great political thriller. It feels real and gritty, even if it takes place in outer space of the future. The experience of the cast really shines through here. Spock takes charge of things on the Enterprise and its really the first and only time we see him truly step into the role of leader. Nimoy knocks it out of the park and his chemistry with the other Vulcan on board, played by Kim Cattrall, was incredible.

We also get to see Sulu as a star ship captain and not only that, he is the captain of the Excelsior, a ship he greatly admired in Star Trek III and Star Trek IV. Seeing Sulu get his moment to shine in the captain’s chair was fantastic for those of us who have been fans of this series for decades.

Another highlight was Christopher Plummer as the Klingon villain General Chang. Plummer is the greatest villain in the film series after Khan from Star Trek II. While I loved Christopher Lloyd’s Kruge in Star Trek III, Chang is the best Klingon commander in the franchise. He’s a character I’d love to read more about, assuming he’s got a novel out there.

The Undiscovered Country is Star Trek at its best. It stands well above any of the modern films, as well as The Next Generation movies that would follow for a dozen years after it.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: Star Trek‘s IIIII and IV.

Film Review: Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)

Also known as: Star Trek IV: The Adventure Continues (working title)
Release Date: November 26th, 1986
Directed by: Leonard Nimoy
Written by: Harve Bennett, Leonard Nimoy, Steve Meerson, Peter Krikes, Nicholas Meyer
Based on: Star Trek by Gene Roddenberry
Music by: Leonard Rosenman
Cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, Catherine Hicks, Majel Barrett, John Schuck, Brock Peters, Grace Lee Whitney, Michael Berryman, Jane Wiedlin (cameo)

Paramount Pictures, 122 Minutes

Review:

“They like you very much, but they are not the hell your whales.” – Spock, “I suppose they told you that?” – Dr. Gillian Taylor, “The hell they did.” – Spock

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home was the perfect film to follow the emotional roller coasters that were Star Trek II and Star Trek III. It was lighthearted, a ton of fun and I guess, the first and only Star Trek comedy film. However, it is still grounded in its roots and the comedy is mostly because of the crew we know and love finding themselves having to adapt to 1987 San Francisco culture in an effort to blend in and accomplish their time traveling mission. It’s actually cool seeing all these confident, savvy crew members, who are always at the top of their game, suddenly being awkward fish out of water in every situation they encounter.

This is also the third and final part of the trilogy of pictures that I like to refer to as The Genesis Trilogy. They aren’t officially a trilogy but all three films share a common plot thread and happen literally one after the other.

Like the previous film, this one is directed by Spock himself, Leonard Nimoy. This is also a superior film to the previous installment, even though I like Star Trek III a great deal. I feel like Nimoy really learned a lot on Trek III and took the lessons of that experience, better honed his skills and turned out this science fiction masterpiece.

Unlike the directing situation, the film’s music was created by newcomer to the series, Leonard Rosenman. While I much prefer the James Horner scores of TrekII and III, Rosenman created a bold and beautiful theme for the picture and it is still one of my favorite pieces of film music from the era. The overall score is fairly redundant, especially if you’ve watched the movie nine dozen times like I have, but it works well and captures the right kind of emotion for this picture.

The writing on this was absolutely fantastic. It had to have been a fun project to work on, as the Trek writers got to explore new territory in a new way. It was probably a nerve-racking task, to some degree, as there was really no way to know whether or not the fans were going to take to this drastic change in tone. However, in the end, Star Trek IV is a defining milestone in the franchise and also changed how future Star Trek stories were written. Humor became much more apparent in the television series that followed this film. The Next Generation, which came out a year later, was full of humor and fun adventures that took its crew out of their comfort zones. I don’t think that show or anything after it would have existed in quite the same way if it weren’t for Star Trek IV. Also, had the film not been a huge success, we might not have had new Star Trek projects for later generations.

The thing I love most about this movie, is every character has a purpose and their own mission to accomplish. We get Kirk and Spock on a mission, Bones and Scotty on another one, Uhura and Chekov go their own way and Sulu gets to fly an old school helicopter. The Bones and Scotty material is comedic gold, as is Chekov asking where to find the “nuu… clee… ar… wessels”.

A real highlight though, is Catherine Hicks joining the cast in this film. Her chemistry with Shatner, who she shares almost all of her scenes with, is great. I love the restaurant scene between the two where Kirk reveals who he is, where he’s from and why he’s there. It’s kind of a shame that we never got to see Hicks return after this film, as I feel like she had a lot to offer the franchise beyond just this one appearance. Plus, she was incredibly likable and witty.

When I was a kid and I had a bad day, I gravitated towards this movie. It was the right mixture of badass sci-fi and wholesome humor. It always sort of put me in the mood I wanted to be in. It still works the same way for me and honestly, this is the Star Trek movie I have seen the most. I’ve owned them all, pretty much my whole life, but this is the one that just resonates with me more than any other.

While most people will see this now and probably find flaws and be able to pick it apart, it has always been a film that is a true classic, in my eyes. It has just about everything I want: action, adventure, humor, William f’n Shatner, a Klingon Bird-of-Prey, a good environmental message, camaraderie between beloved characters, a deep dish pizza, outer space, a powerful score, good special effects and redemption for the crew.

I don’t care what anyone else thinks; this movie is absolutely perfect.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: The other Genesis Trilogy films: Star Trek II and III. Also goes good followed up with Star Trek VI. Maybe it’s best to ignore Star Trek V.

Film Review: Demon Knight (1995)

Also known as: Tales From the Crypt Presents: Demon Knight (complete title)
Release Date: January 13th, 1995
Directed by: Ernest R. Dickerson
Written by: Mark Bishop, Ethan Reiff, Cyrus Voris
Music by: Edward Shearmur
Cast: Billy Zane, William Sadler, Jada Pinkett, Brenda Bakke, C. C. H. Pounder, Thomas Haden Church, Dick Miller, John Schuck, Gary Farmer, Charles Fleischer, Chasey Lain, Traci Bingham, John Larroquette (cameo), John Kassir

EC Comics, Universal Pictures, 92 Minutes

Review:

“Fuck this cowboy shit! You fucking ho-dunk, po-dunk, well then there motherfuckers! All you had to do was give me the goddamn key! Then we could get on with our lives. [cuts his hand to make new creatures] Alright… this house is hereby… condemned…” – The Collector

As a horror loving kid in the ’80s, I used to watch the shit out of HBO’s Tales From the Crypt. So when the show ended but they turned to producing movies, I was saddened but also kind of stoked.

I saw Demon Knight when it first came out in my local theater and I even got a copy of it on VHS when it was released later that year. It has been a really long time since I’ve seen it, however. Actually, the last time I saw it was when I still had a working VCR. Seeing it now, I forgot how absolutely insane and fun this movie was.

The film is directed by Ernest Dickerson, who started his career doing the cinematography in Spike Lee’s earliest films. Before directing this, he was in the director’s chair for Juice and Surviving the Game, two films I really liked as a teen and still enjoy today. Dickerson was a young, up and coming filmmaker when he got this gig. I feel like his work on Demon Knight enriched his oeuvre.

It didn’t hurt that Dickerson had an all-star cast in this thing. The two top roles went to William Sadler and Billy Zane. To be frank, this is still my favorite role that Zane has ever played. The film is rounded out by Jada Pinkett, Thomas Haden Church, C. C. H. Pounder, Dick Miller, Brenda Bakke and Roger Rabbit himself, Charles Fleischer. As a huge Dick Miller fanboy, I love him in this and he got his just desserts, at this point in his long career, as he gets to star opposite of a horde of big breasted naked ladies in his final scene.

This is a film that pulls no punches and just goes for it and that’s why it works so well, has held up nicely and is infinitely more fun and entertaining than 99 percent of modern horror. The demons are cool, Zane is cool, Sadler is cool, Dick Miller is Dick f’n Miller and this is just a bonkers movie in the greatest regard. In a lot of ways, Dickerson out Joe Dante’d Joe Dante.

I’m glad that I revisited this, which also has got me enthused about revisiting that other Tales From the Crypt movie, Bordello of Blood.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Anything related to Tales From the Crypt.