The end of this long-running Friday series is here. But just as These Are the Voyages comes to a close, the new crew takes the helm with this weekend’s release of Star Trek Into Darkness. I’m betting you’re as anxious as I am to get to the theater, so let’s put all this original crew nostalgia to bed.
After the unforeseen destruction of the Klingon moon, Praxis, the Klingon Empire broach the Federation for peace. Starfleet tasks Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and the crew of the USS Enterprise to be the proverbial “olive branch” and escort Klingon Chancellor Gorkon (David Warner) and his entourage to the peace talks. When the Enterprise crew is implicated in the Chancellor’s assassination, the bad blood between Kirk and Klingons marks him as the primary suspect in the eyes of Klingon General Chang (Christopher Plummer). Kirk and McCoy (DeForest Kelley) undergo a mockery of a trial and are expeditiously sentenced to prison on Rura Penthe. Aboard the Enterprise, Captain Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and Lt. Valeris (Kim Cattrall) lead the search to find the true killers, thus absolving Kirk and McCoy and hopefully thwarting further attempts to derail peace.
Releasing at the height of Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s popularity, The Undiscovered Country was to be the final voyage for the Enterprise‘s original crew. Nicholas Meyer returned to helm their last big hoorah as both director and co-writer; his proven talent as scribe on The Voyage Home and writer-director of The Wrath of Khan necessary to lift the franchise above the failure of The Final Frontier.
The Undiscovered Country, the end result of these changes, begins as a dark chapter in the franchise’s history. After three minutes of an ominous score playing over the cast and crew credits, audiences’ attention is captured by a cacophonous explosion and an impressive shockwave that engulfs the nearby USS Excelsior. Of course, this energetic hook is immediately followed by a bureaucratic briefing, but the exposition succinctly details the central plot instead of dragging the story into extraneous deliberation.
The Undiscovered Country is filled with notable appearances. The original crew reprise their roles; the exception being George Takei now helms the USS Excelsior as Captain Hikaru Sulu, with Kim Cattrall’s Lt. Valeris taking over as Enterprise helmsman. Christopher Plummer chews up the scenery as the slick-pated, one-eyed General Chang. Kirk and crew don’t seem to stand a chance against his Shakespeare-qouting ass, but we all know they will inevitably pull out an over-the-top win.
Michael Dorn from The Next Generation appears briefly as Worf’s grandfather, Kirk and McCoy’s defense attorney. David Warner, who’d portrayed Ambassador St. John Talbot in The Final Frontier, portrays Klingon Chancellor Gorkon while many other notable actors such as Brock Peters, Mark Lenard, and John Schuck reprise their roles from previous films. Iman makes quite the impression and even Christian Slater pops in to mug for the camera, but my favorite of the who’s who is Kurtwood Smith as the pimpest Federation President this side of the Milky Way! I’m not sure if it’s his makeup or just Kurtwood’s aura of awesomeness, but you can’t deny his minor role is unforgettable.
The murder mystery aspect of The Undiscovered Country is its weakest element. Although much time is spent scouring every nook and cranny of the Enterprise, little is done to obscure the obvious culprit. The mystery’s saving grace is it being part of a larger conspiracy and not a singular vendetta. Also, it allows time for Doohan, Koenig, and Nichols to individually shine and yuck it up as audiences have come to expect. Kirk and McCoy’s abridged incarceration allows for added wit and hijinks. Shatner pulls double duty by portraying Kirk and a conniving Kirk doppelganger. It gives Shatner a chance to do some light-hearted self-deprecation amid all the tension.
As The Undiscovered Country wraps and the curtains close on the crew’s last romp through the heavens, we’re left with plenty of memorable moments. For me, I’ll always remember the intergalactic president of pimpitude, but the coolest scene is the assassination in zero gravity. The floating globs of pink Klingon blood is a impressive and ingenious scene even today. For others, it may be Chang’s gleeful warmongering or seeing Sulu in the captain’s chair. The point is, The Undiscovered Country strives, and succeeds, at giving the original crew a worthy final voyage.