Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country Studio: Paramount Year: 1991 Rated: PG Length: 113 minutes Aspect Ratio: 2.0:1 Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, English and French Surround English Subtitles Special Features: Director / Writer Commentary, Text Commentary, 12 featurettes, DeForest Kelley tribute, cast interviews, Trailers, storyboards, production gallery Release Date: January 27, 2004 Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country is the original Trek’s redemption after the lackluster outing that was The Final Frontier. VI isn’t without its problems, certainly - but the cast manages to say their farewells with some semblance of style. The Undiscovered Country opens with a Chernobyl-like disaster on Praxis, a Klingon moon that houses the Empire’s key energy production facility. At first, the Klingons downplay the “incident,” much as the Soviets downplayed Chernobyl - saying that everything was under control and they needed no outside assistance. Time passes, and the Federation discovers that the Klingon Empire is dying (paralleling the disintegration of the power structure in the Soviet Union of the 80’s). It is decided that it is in the Federation’s best interest to pursue peaceful relations after years of a cold war. The Empire, it seems, can no longer afford its aggressive, militaristic expansions - and so the Federation need not dedicate resources to defend itself against the Empire. Kirk seems the logical choice to extend the olive branch and escort Chancellor Gorkon (can you say Gorbachev?) safely through Federation space to the peace summit. Of course, there are conservative elements in both the Empire and the Federation that don’t want peace. This leads to the assassination of Chancellor Gorkon, and the arrest and conviction (in a show trial) of Kirk and McCoy for the murder. It’s up to the crew of the Enterprise, with help from Captain Sulu and the crew of the Excelsior, to expose a conspiracy, rescue Kirk and McCoy, and prevent further bloodshed by the powerful forces who wish to keep peace from becoming a reality. Now, I know that Star Trek isn’t real science fiction. The first Trek outing on film, Star Trek: The Motion Picture , had the strongest science fiction element. I’m very likely in the minority of Star Trek fans when I say the first film was my favorite. It was followed up with an exciting adventure based on an original series episode. The third and fourth films in the series were continuations of that story. The fifth was a forgettable stand-alone. This, the sixth film, while an improvement over the fifth, seems more interested in reflecting the geopolitical realities of 20th century Earth in the guise of “sci-fi” than in telling us an interesting story. Another bothersome issue is the excessive borrowing from old Earth literature... this just doesn’t belong in a Space Opera. While I don’t mind slipping an occasional line of Shakespeare into any film, The Undiscovered Country wields Shakespeare like a sledgehammer instead of a fine quill pen. While the antagonist Chang reciting Shakespeare during battle makes for a delicious performance by Christopher Plummer, it makes little sense in context. And Spock claiming to be a descendant of Sherlock Holmes is puzzling, to say the least. Other things that seem out of place include the use of hard-bound books to translate Klingon, and an unlocked armory located in the galley. Perhaps the cook needs to defend against midnight snackers. The Undiscovered Country isn’t a bad film, but the issues I’ve described were distractions for me. I like the film in spite of them, but I think I would have preferred if the writers were a little less concerned with putting the film into a 20th century Earth context. That’s not where futuristic “sci-fi” belongs. Star Trek VI sits in the middle of the pack of Trek films, for me... an entertaining romp, and a fond farewell to the original crew of the starship Enterprise. It should be noted that this is not the original theatrical cut of the film. This has the scenes that were added for the home video release, as well as a few minor re-edits for this DVD. All the new scenes and edits are noted in the text commentary. The changes include: the addition of the "Operation Retrieve" scene, a brief re-edit in the torpedo bay at 43:00, a re-edit of a scene with commander Scott alone in the mess hall, a re-edit of the Valeris confrontation on the bridge, and the additional Colonel West reveal. A Word on the Packaging My screeners are usually identical to the retail sale versions, so I have to assume the same is true here. Usually, I care little about the look of a package. I’m more concerned with functionality. In the case of a series (Star Trek VI is the sixth in a series of Collector’s Editions on DVD), I do like to see some consistency in packaging. Some consumers were a bit put off by the change from TMP, with its gold spine, to the brushed metal appearance of the rest of the series. Star Trek VI continues the brushed metal appearance of the last four films - but instead of the usual black double keepcase, my copy arrived in a white case. Additionally, there is no insert. Again, usually the presence of an insert is of little consequence to me - and the inserts in the previous Trek movies were minimal - but for consistency, I would like to have seen an insert included. The Video The Undiscovered Country comes to you in anamorphically enhanced widescreen. The aspect ratio appears to be approximately 2.0:1. While previous Star Trek films have been released at 2.35:1, there is no conclusive evidence that I have seen that indicates this should be a 2.35:1 release. The film was shot on Super 35, which doesn’t lead to any firm conclusions on aspect ratio. The framing looks good to me. There is no unusual cropping present, and composition seems balanced. I’m working on the assumption that the aspect ratio of this film is as the director, Nicholas Meyer, intends it to be seen. UPDATE Word from Paramount indicates that the transfer was supervised and approved by Nicholas Meyer. The 2.0:1 aspect ratio is at his direction. A 70mm print served as a guide for the transfer. This is the best looking of the new Trek transfers. Contrast is excellent, with solid black levels and good shadow detail. Color is beautifully saturated in neutral palettes. Skin tones are accurate, and colors are vibrant. Mild to moderate grain is present throughout, as it was on the original prints. Only an occasional speck of dust is visible, and there is nary a scratch on the print. The picture is sharp without any obvious haloing or sharpening artifacts. Detail is very good. No obvious compression artifacts are present. The layer switch, for those interested, is at 56:14. In short, I’m quite pleased with this transfer. The Audio This is an incredibly open and active soundtrack. Frequency response is excellent. The score sounds wonderful and mysterious. Ambient and directional effects are ever-present. Bridge sounds can be heard all around you. Battle scenes will give your subwoofer a bit of a workout. The explosion of Praxis and the resulting shockwave are impressive, as is the trial, and the final battle sequence. LFE isn’t exceptionally strong, but it is adequate. This is a fine sounding Dolby Digital 5.1 track. Special Features Disappointingly, the special features are not anamorphically enhanced. Disc One Commentary by Nicholas Meyer and Denny Martin Flynn The commentary focuses mainly on the construction of the story - origination, plotting and pacing. Much of the commentary is nonspecific to the scene in progress, but some scene-specific points are made at times - as in the second unit and location shooting used for Rura Penthe. Meyer and Flynn rarely get into the mechanics of making the film, which is a bit disappointing. Text Commentary by Michael and Denise Okuda This is the usual trivia-filled text commentary we’ve come to expect from the Okudas. While I think their commentary on the earlier films was better, the later commentaries are still interesting. Combining this with the audio commentary in the same viewing may be the way to go. Disc Two The Perils of Peacemaking (26:31) This featurette compares the world of 20th century Earth and the world of Star Trek VI . Interviews with Nicholas Meyer and Leonard Nimoy are featured. Political scientist Dr. Angela Stent and Ambassador Dennis Ross, Washington Institute for Near East Policy, also contribute. Stories from Star Trek VI (6 featurettes with a “Play All” option) It Started With a Story (9:44) William Shatner, Ralph Winter, Leonard Nimoy, Nicholas Meyer, David Loughery, Denny Martin Flynn, Christopher Plummer and others talk about how the story for Star Trek VI came about. Prejudice (5:02) The cast’s discomfort with the pervasive prejudice in The Undiscovered Country is discussed. Brief outtakes are included. Director Nicholas Meyer (5:57) Cast and crew talk about working with Nicholas Meyer. With behind the scenes footage. Shakespeare and General Chang (5:52) Christopher Plummer talks about playing a villain, and the distinctive Shakespearean flair with which he played it. Other cast and crew talk about working with Plummer. Bringing it to Life (23:25) This is an outstanding piece about the production design (by Herman Zimmerman) and the music (by Cliff Eidelman). Includes comments from Zimmerman, Eidelman, Shatner and many others. Farewell & Goodbye (7:03) Cast and crew talk about the last day of filming, and the end of the “original” Star Trek. The Star Trek Universe (5 featurettes) Conversations with Nicholas Meyer (9:31) Meyer talks about movies and the art of filmmaking, in general as well as specifically toward Star Trek . He also talks about first getting involved in Star Trek . Klingons: Conjuring the Legend (20:44) The history and evolution of Klingons, from the 60’s to the present. With William Campbell (Koloth), Michael Westmore, Dan Curry and Michael Dorn. Discussion includes the changes in makeup over the years. This is an interesting piece spanning the entire history of the Star Trek franchise. Federation Operatives (4:52) This featurette lists a host of actors in Star Trek VI who also appeared in other Star Trek productions. They include: David Warner, Kurtwood Smith, Brock Peters, Michael Dorn, René Auberjonois, Darryl Henriques, John Shuck, Morgan Sheppard, Grace Lee Whitney, Michael Bofshever, Jeremy Roberts, Tom Morga. Penny’s Toy Box (6:05) Archivist Penny Juday gives a tour of the props department. Together Again (4:56) Christopher Plummer and William Shatner talk about working together in radio and theater in Canada long before going on to film. Farewell DeForest Kelley: A Tribute (13:18) A wonderful tribute to the Western and Star Trek star, with fond remembrances from Christopher Plummer, Leonard Nimoy, A.C. Lyles, Nicholas Meyer, Ralph Winter, William Campbell, Penny Juday, Michael Okuda, David Loughery, Harve Bennett, Herman Zimmerman, and William Shatner. Included are clips from many of the westerns and pre-Trek projects that DeForest Kelley worked on, as well as clips from Star Trek, Star Trek: The Next Generation , and the Star Trek feature films. Original Interviews Clips from period interviews on the set of Star Trek VI . Included are interviews with William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, Walter Koenig and Iman. Most of the interviews last 5 - 7 minutes. Promotional Materials Teaser Trailer Theatrical Trailer 1991 Convention Presentation by Nicholas Meyer Archives Production Gallery (3:24) plays as a video, showing action on the set. Storyboards (Praxis, Assassins, Rura Penthe, Leaving Spacedock) Final Thoughts Paramount serves up an impressive set of special features for this Collector’s Edition of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country . With excellent video and audio, an audio commentary, a text commentary, and over 3 hours of featurettes, it’s sure to keep any Trekkie happy for hours. Even for those who don’t count The Undiscovered Country among their favorite Star Trek film, many of the special features are genuinely interesting. The only thing really missing is current input from many of the regular cast members (Nichelle Nichols, James Doohan, George Takei, Walter Koenig). One thing that impressed me was the quality of the recent interviews... especially those with William Shatner. Usually, I find his interviews boring and pretentious. Here, he seemed genuinely enthused, and had interesting things to say. This is a “must buy” for any Trekkie. Recommended.