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Haunt the Future

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L.I. Underhill is a media critic and historian specializing in pop culture, with a focus on science fiction (especially Star Trek) and video games. Their projects include a critical history of Star Trek told through the narrative of a war in time, a “heretical” history of The Legend of Zelda series and a literary postmodern reading of Jim Davis' Garfield.

6 Comments

  1. Froborr
    August 19, 2015 @ 5:57 am

    You know, I never thought about that before, but you're right: the 25th Anniversary celebration was surprisingly willing to criticize the show it was celebrating. Not just this movie, though that was the bulk of it, but the 25th Anniversary game also had a bit of that, particularly in the way it would punish you for letting too many redshirts die on away missions.

    I really do love this movie, it is most definitely one of the best things TOS ever did. It is a beautiful passing of the torch from TOS to TNG–certainly a better one than the next movie, which does almost the opposite of what this one does: in this movie TOS gracefully retires because it realizes it is obsolete, and TNG's time has come. In the next, TNG kills TOS and then dies itself.

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  2. Jacob Nanfito
    August 19, 2015 @ 5:59 am

    Wonderful post, Josh.

    I remember loving that teaser trailer, too. I hadn't seen it in a decade or two — thanks for putting it up here.

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  3. Ross
    August 19, 2015 @ 6:00 am

    (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.)

    We all knew this, of course, but for me at least, very unlike Star Trek V, the way it was lit and filmed made it feel like an entirely different space. Kirk's Enterprise is so dark compared to the Next Generation. (I think this is a problem with both Star Trek V, which makes the Enterprise too bright inside, and the TNG movies, which all seem to be obsessed with showing off how much better movie cameras are at working in low-light)

    This is probably my favourite role of Plummer's, even counting his turn as Master Arngeir in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim that helped change the course of my life
    Even more than "Imperial Starship, stop the flow of time!"?

    (Also, it's General Chang, not "commander". Just like the chicken dish from the trendy Chinese Bistro.)

    I note that the reveal that Colonel West is dressed up as a Klingon was not actually in the theatrical cut of the film, which weakens that scene considerably (My dad was bothered by the assassin's blood being the wrong color).

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  4. K. Jones
    August 20, 2015 @ 7:38 am

    The Undiscovered Country is unreservedly my favorite of the Star Trek movies. For a couple reasons, but this first anecdote is the most novel.

    I did not know it existed.

    Through cable television I had seen many times Khan, Spock, and Voyage Home. I'd also seen Frontier at least and could remember bits of it, and I'd managed to catch The Motion Picture at least once.

    I had long since seen every episode but for a couple of The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, as well as all four TNG films, none of which are numbered of course.

    I was quite under the impression that there were nine Star Trek movies. And then one day, quite a few years after I'd covered almost all the ground to be covered, when I was well into my late teens and had already left college the first go 'round (the early 2000s), I stumbled onto Undiscovered Country on TV, roughly at the point where we first meet Kurtwood Smith's efrosian president (missing much of the set-up). No regulars were in the scene with him but I recognized Trek, and then quickly recognized Auberjonois. And in I went.

    Yes. The nuance is all in the actors, not the plot. But hey, this is TOS.
    Yes. They are all racist, albeit from a military "The Enemy" point of view. But hey, this is TOS.
    Yes. The budget is restricted. But this is TOS – and guys like Nimoy know that is its great strength, actually.

    There's a level of creative flourish. Of filling in the gaps. But this film, in spite of its world-builder stakes and beats that are pure passing of the torch, creates something new for everything that it retires. Plummer's bombastic Chang weds the era of Kor or Koloth to the era Christopher Lloyd to the era of Gowron. And frankly also we get some klingons who aren't warrior-caste, or wearing the same TMP costumes anymore. About time, right? We also get another appearance from David Warner, expertly utilized in a way that makes you rue the fact they didn't have him around to adapt Kitumba once upon a time.

    We get rubber masks on Rura Penthe. I love rubber masks.

    Doohan gets to be the last-minute action hero savior. Takei gets his own command and the whole tone of his ship and crew and unique style are established and made quite clear to us in a series of short b-plot scenes.

    We get tons of Bones McCoy. We get an active, and living critique of all the things we critique – the generational gap emerges. Even as Picard is rising above his generational gap, the weight of the Old Generation on TNG's presence lifts and makes way for its last few seasons (to an extent). There's one more ghost-thread linking the two, but that's Generations and Guinan and we'll get there when we get there.

    And we get Shatner facing down Shatner … who is also David Bowie's wife. Which seems wildly appropriate and recalls elements of the camp dragfest that was the accidental genius of some of that season 3 TOS.

    I'll certainly agree that Spock's forcible mind-meld was just god-awful. I mean what a sickeningly appropriate way to mark the story that's about the end of the Cold War and those "extreme circumstance" style hawkish justifications. I mean I can see the actors make elements of it work, beyond just Spock's closeness to Valeris. And it would have taken on an added poignancy if they'd followed through on the beat where she's you know … Romulan. The "V" name? The stunningly fast rise in ranks? Being part of a conspiracy with the Romulan Ambassador? Spock's interest? The fact this was created around the same time as Reunification, as well as Eye of the Beholder. I mean they dropped the dialogue and beats, but contextually, Valeris is totally a Romulan. She's a Romulan. Spock's mind-rape interrogation was meant to be as racist as Kirk's feelings toward the Klingons. (It'll be a while before the entity of Star Trek itself at least takes this notion of forcible mind-rape by Vulcans and reconciles it, not until Enterprise will they actually really explore those ramifications.)

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  5. K. Jones
    August 20, 2015 @ 7:39 am

    Last note from me is the lovely inclusion of William Morgan Shepard as the Klingon Commandant. Great as the just awful person Ira Graves, and a guy who turns up on Trek a lot, and in generally just a lot of great sci-fi (like in Doctor Who where he and his son Mark Shepard played the same guy at different points in time). I mostly want to mention him because though it's true Plummer's Chang really steals the damn show with Klingon Bombast that would make Kor turn pink with envy, Shepard's Commandant is no slouch in this department.

    Before I forget and I'll get on this more if the discussion pushes me in that direction – it was interesting that they framed the existential threat that finally forces this generation to go off into the night, as a conspiracy. Obviously for the 90s the fact that it was a conspiracy between secret factions in opposing militaries and intelligence communities is on-the-nose, but that it was a conspiracy between secret wings within Starfleet (who we've known is "wrong" since TOS, and who we REALLY know is "wrong" by now), as well as the IKF and presumably whatever the Tal'Shiar entity was called at that point.

    It's also somewhat interesting for me, who always sees the roles of the Klingons and Romulans as having been flipped for TNG, to see events play out here in a way that says "we're none of us all that different, though, are we?"

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  6. Daru
    August 31, 2015 @ 10:41 pm

    "Although I'm not sure if the sentiment is still there, some fans back in the day felt that the Enterprise crew wouldn't hold such bigoted views. The thing is though, in my view, they absolutely would."

    As a kid I enjoyed The Wrath of Khan, but when I grew up I saw it as pretty hollow and loved this movie utterly in how it exposed the attitudes of TOS characters, whilst combining this with a brilliant space romp which was very well filmed – and yes I agree, they would.

    Good post, cheers again Josh.

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