There was a time when being the sixth film in a motion picture franchise would have been the subject of mockery. Once considered a laughingstock, a movie with five sequels all set in the same continuity is completely unheard of nowadays, being as we are in an era where it’s rare to go two films without getting a full-on “reboot” or “reimagining” with a new cast and director and suspiciously returning everything else.
So Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country feels oddly and quaintly dated today. It’s a film that sets about closing a story decisively for no other reason than it’s the artistically and creatively right thing to do, and that’s just something you won’t see today in the age of Cinematic Universes that are unfinished by design and consecutive reboots within three or four years of one another that all tell variations on the same stock plot. And make no mistake, it absolutely is and does: In 1991 there were not yet any plans for a second Star Trek film series, so this was a movie made for the express purposes of thanking the fans for their support and bringing the Original Series story to a dignified close. A lot of received fan wisdom seems to posit this film was greenlit to “make up” for Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, which would otherwise have been the final Trek movie, but from the studio’s perspective the past *three* Star Trek movies had all underperformed at the box office and they didn’t see much difference between them one way or the other. But this was the 25th Anniversary, and the Star Trek film team felt something needed to be done.
(This also explains why the movie looks somewhat stunningly cheap: While I remember the VFX shots having been breathtaking and they’re certainly impressive when it counts, everywhere else the fact Paramount only allowed this movie to be made if it was produced on the thinnest of shoestring budgets plainly shows. Most notably, while I slagged off Star Trek V: The Final Frontier for reusing the sets from Star Trek: The Next Generation, it’s actually way more egregious in this movie. I mean, they didn’t even try to hide the fact the transporter room, corridors, observation lounge and ten-forward are painfully obviously from Captain Picard’s Enterprise. More on that later, actually.)
You might think a movie with that pedigree would be cripplingly fanwanky, and there are a whole slew of references on display here. But none of them feel like forced name-drops done simply for the sake of pandering. Everything feels organic and freeform, with the grand finale that takes centre stage flowing seamlessly into a prequel for the story that’s playing out for us elsewhere. Leonard Nimoy and Nicholas Meyer are back behind the camera, and the end result is much of what you would expect from the team: It’s Meyer’s name on the director’s chair, but it’s clearly Nimoy’s deft eye for cinematic photography that elevates the look and feel of The Undiscovered Country *substantially*: There was a chance the film could have worn its bargain-basement trappings a little too obviously, but Nimoy gives the movie a grandiose, epic sense of scale befitting the send-off of such iconic folk heroes of modern myth.…