Monday, 14 February 2022

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

Nicholas Meyer's previous crack at Gene Roddenberry's science fiction series - Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan - introduced the idea of Starfleet cadets being trained, on enormous holodecks, to navigate a no-win scenario as a way of testing how they might react under incredible pressure. In that film, Kirstie Alley's Vulcan prodigy Saavik voices her frustration at being forced into a situation where, apparently, there is no correct answer. Later on in Wrath we discover that William Shatner's Captain Kirk had previously beaten this Kobayashi Maru simulation, doing so after reprogramming the game's parameters to allow this victory. Although Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country revolves around the gradual decoding of a convoluted (and not particularly entertaining) conspiracy, Meyer's film - co-written with Denny Martin Flinn - does offer its audience a first-hand glimpse of Kirk defeating a similarly intractable problem.  

Framed for the murder of a Klingon ambassador suing for peace with the United Federation of Planets, Kirk and crew find themselves seconds away from a suicidal confrontation with a glowering battle cruiser. Rather than raise their shields and indirectly submit to the idea that any attack originating from the Enterprise was a deliberate act of provocation, Kirk immediately surrenders and beams aboard the Klingon vessel, with DeForest Kelley's Dr McCoy, to attend to the wounded. Undiscovered Country's weakness then is that it never makes this incredible leap of leadership a crux for anything other than further hardship for the human side of the cast. We are given no insight into how individual, Federation sympathetic, Klingons perceive this obvious behavioural contradiction. Any private thoughts or feelings they may have are kept buttoned up. Previous Star Trek films have positioned Kirk as a figure of respect within Klingon culture; they seem to view him as a particularly deadly human warlord. Surely his honest attempts at de-escalation should inspire some, obvious, level of pause in the Klingon high command? 

Instead, Meyer's film concerns itself with rattling through a fragmented scheme that makes precious little sense even when all the pieces are revealed. For instance, if the phaser blasting assassins that murdered David Warner's Gorkon did originate from the Enterprise, why is their teleporter after-image red? Isn't that colour-coding usually associated with transportees originating from Klingon craft? It isn't commented on within the film so, presumably, this aesthetic decision was intended to signal something to the audience. A bread crumb to hint towards an as-yet-revealed invisible Bird of Prey stalking the Enterprise? Similarly, Kim Cattrall's Valeris, a treacherous element aboard the Starfleet vessel, is never organically threaded into the unfolding mystery. She's an observer then, suddenly, a solution. What Valeris does consistently provide though is an askew angle when appraising the strange sexuality of Leonard Nimoy's Spock. Their earliest scenes together feature an unusually relaxed Spock preparing drinks for the pair, lit by candlelight - alien ceremony with a hint of lumpen seduction. When Valeris' duplicity becomes clear, Spock's reaction is actually alarming. He strides over to his protégée - the frame itself rocking in time with his steps - then forcibly establishes a telepathic connection, one invasive enough that Valeris bares her teeth like an animal, tears streaming down her face. 

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