"taH pagh, taH be'?"
The infamous social experiment is now at an end. All 6 original Star Trek movies are done...finally. As always, I remain a skeptic of the impact these movies really had on the movie business, while my friend Edwin Chen continues to steadfastly transform me into a Trekkie:
GREG: Well, here we are. The end. The finale. The final frontier. After five movies of varying quality, I’ve finally made it to the last Star Trek movie in the marathon. And after the garbage heap that was Star Trek V, I was honestly happy to end this social experiment. The only thing that allowed me to keep moving forward was the idea that there was NO WAY this movie could be as bad as the last one. Right?
ED: Yes, here we are, at the end of our Star Trek marathon. Yes, I know there have been some ups and downs, but I hope by the end of this movie, you’ll feel as I do, saddened that we must say goodbye to our beloved galactic friends. Sniff… dammit, excuse me, there must be some space dust in my room…
GREG: As the opening credits begin, a sigh of relief leaves my mouth as I notice that William Shatner is NOT directing this movie. Thank you God. And not only is the Shat not directing this movie, but Nicholas Meyer is. This is the man who directed Star Trek II, easily the best movie of the bunch thus far. With my spirits lifted, the lights turned down, and my bag of Ruffles in hand, I am ready to put this series to bed.
ED: I think a little historical context is important here. When this movie came out in 1991, I think it’s fairly safe to say that Star Trek was the most popular it had ever been, before or since (and that’s including the recent J. J. Abrams movie). The entire year was meant to be a celebration of the 25th Anniversary of Star Trek, and entire Toronto Star entertainment sections and movie magazines were wholly devoted to the franchise (I remember because I collected them!). “Star Trek: The Next Generation” was a massive hit and had followed its predecessor to become the most successful syndicated show on television. So with Star Trek VI, everyone knew this would be the last, a passing of the baton to the next generation of sorts. It was to be a monumental occasion. Indeed, prior to the release of the movie, “The Next Generation” TV series had devoted a special 2-part episode called “Unification” in which an aged Mr. Spock guest starred in the show in an attempt to forge peace between the Federation and the Romulan empire, a parallel to the attempt to forge peace with the Klingons which would underpin this movie. And then, less than 3 months before this movie was released, something else happened which rocked the Trek-verse. The father and creator of Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry, died. I remember watching the movie in a packed theatre, and when the “In memory of Gene Roddenberry” dedication appeared at the beginning of the movie, it elicited one of the two applauses of the evening. I was never prouder to be a Trekkie.
GREG: Hmmm…I did not know that. I mean, the movie definitely has a “finale vibe” throughout, but I didn’t realize it was the 25th anniversary or that The Next Generation had already started. So what is the thinly-veiled, real-world situation that the characters have been put into this time around? The story involves The Federation attempting to come to peace with the Klingon nation, in what is clearly and obviously an allegory to the end of the Cold War. Both sides want peace and probably need peace, but as always, there are those in both camps who do not desire it.
ED: What?! I thought this was an allegory about Star Trek fans versus Star Wars fans? Of course, you George Lucas-ites are the dastardly Klingons! Okay, yeah, as I’ve mentioned before, sometimes Star Trek can be rather obvious with its symbolism, right down to the Praxis equals Chernobyl bit. But to be fair, the Wall had only come down about two years prior, so the topic was indeed of its time. At least they decided to cut out the scene where Bones yells: “WOLVERINES!!!” when he sees the Klingons for the first time (I miss you Patrick Swayze!)
GREG: Don’t you ever refer to us Star Wars fans as Klingons. That’s hugely disrespectful. The movie examines the crew of the Enterprise, and even some crew members of the Klingon ship as they evaluate their own prejudices, their own misconceptions, and their own lives and what they stand for personally. And I’m telling you dear readers, it kinda works. As obvious as the story is, it plays out quite nicely, thanks in no small part to the deft work of its director. In particular, Captain Kirk must examine his own feelings towards the Klingons. We see him looking at a picture of his son early on in the picture, mourning his death, and still obviously blaming the Klingons for his death. Now, while it’s kind of stupid to return to this plotline after completely ignoring it for the last two movies, it does give the story a personal touch that is needed.
ED: “I’ve never trusted Klingons, and I never will. I’ve never been able to forgive them… for the death of my boy”. Yes, I’ll give you that the return of this plotline was merely a plot devise to give the Kirk character an excuse to hate the Klingons, but that line is so powerful, I’m willing to forgive the somewhat lazy plot development.
GREG: Side thought: what the hell ever happened to the mother of Kirk’s son, i.e. the woman he apparently loved?
ED: What in the moons of Nibia and Perdition’s Flame are you talking about, man!? You can’t tie James Tiberius Kirk – the greatest galactic man-whore of the 23rd century - down to just one woman! I’m amazed it took him until the sixth movie before he got some action!
GREG: Good point. If he had a steady girlfriend, it would’ve seriously wrecked his mojo. Well, wrecked it maybe a little less than the task the Enterprise is given in this movie: to transport a Klingon ship through space (a Klingon ship with major politicians aboard, no less!). The main question the movie seeks to answer is obvious at this point: will Kirk and the rest of the crew be able to suppress their hatred? And will they be able to possibly forgive, or even come to terms with the Klingons?
ED: “They’re dying Jim.” “LET THEM DIE!!!” Another great line, I think. I think what was nice about this movie is that instead of a lot of exposition about why Kirk and company may hate the Klingons, they showed it to us. Their prejudices. Their animosity. Their discomfort around them. For example, that dinner conversation in particular was a very nice scene, successfully showing the tension which still lingered between humans and Klingons. Although I will say, one of my pet peeves is the incorrect usage of the term “Undiscovered Country”, which was used in this movie to represent some kind of unknown future, while in Hamlet, it clearly meant death (“But that the dread of something after death/The undiscovered country from whose bourn/No traveler returns”). It just felt poorly done that something so prominent – it was the frigging title - to be so utterly wrong.
GREG: Yeah, I completely agree with that. Before the movie started, I assumed that “The Undiscovered Country” simply referred to a new planet they were going to discover, not some vague idea about an unknown future. But nevertheless, the story devolves into a mystery for a good hour, after some members of the Klingon party are murdered by some members of the Enterprise. Kirk and McCoy are blamed, given a trial, and sent to a wasteland of a prison planet. It is then up to the remaining members of the Enterprise to both solve the mystery and save Kirk and McCoy. While the prison planet scenes add basically nothing to the story (other than to allow us to ogle supermodel Iman), the mystery on the Enterprise is good, old-fashioned story telling. My money was on the newest member of the Enterprise, a vulcanized Kim Cattrall, since conventional movie rules dictated that it be her.
ED: Yes, sadly, upon my rewatch, I too found the prison scenes on Rura Penthe the slowest and least enjoyable. And it was practically stolen out of Empire Strikes Back; I half expected Kirk to gut McCoy open and climb into his belly like a ton-ton at one point. But yes, at least there was Iman.
GREG: Another side note: why not bring back Lt. Saavik for the role that Kim Cattrall occupied in this movie? What ever happened to her?
ED: Actually the plan was to get Robin Curtis back for this movie, but I seem to recall that she was pregnant at the time or something. So they recast the character. In the end, Kim Cattrall was a little too non-Vulcan for my tastes. Yeah yeah, I know I complained that Curtis was too Vulcan, but Cattrall was practically winking at the camera after delivering her one-liners. Seems like I’m a bit of a Goldilocks when it comes to my Vulcans – they need to be just right.
GREG: Well, you are picky, but we can all agree that Kim Cattrall sucks. But the movie was easily saved by a Shakespeare-spouting, eyepatch-wearing Christopher Plummer as the ultimate bad-ass Klingon. He was easily the best villain in the movie series since Khan. Why do villains who know Shakespeare always seem so much scarier? Is it because we assume that they’re “smart”?
ED: Especially if they know Shakespeare in its original Klingon! Is it weird that I also want my last words to be: “taH pagh… tahBe’” But speaking of guest stars, did you notice Christian Slater’s guest appearance in this movie? And what about Admiral Cartwright, Brock Peters, who was Tom Robinson in the great film “To Kill A Mockingbird”?
GREG: I certainly did not notice Christian Slater. Did he even speak a line? Also, who cares?
ED: Okay, first of all, Christian Slater was in “Heathers”. ‘Nuff said. But in one of the oddest cameos in movie history, he’s this ensign or yeoman or something and shows up in Sulu’s quarters to announce that they’ve arrived at the designated coordinates. Very weird.
GREG: Anyway, it turns out that there were high-ranking members of the Federation behind the plot to assassinate the Klingon delegates, since they wanted peace no more than many members of society. But all is well. The rescued Kirk, McCoy, and the rest of the Enterprise save the day, yet again.
ED: Maybe it’s hard to appreciate seeing it on the small screen, but you have to imagine how it was in the theatre for that final ship-to-ship fight. The Enterprise takes a pummeling! That photon torpedo that goes straight through the saucer section?... my God, we had never seen anything like that before. And then Captain Sulu to the rescue (although I was wondering how good a captain he was after he joins the fight and the first thing is he says is: “Alright, let’s give them something else to shoot at”. Uhhh, isn’t your job as captain to protect your crew, for which getting shot at is counterproductive to that goal?). When that Klingon bird of prey gets destroyed, that was the second cheer that erupted in that theatre twenty years ago. Oh and surely props need to be given to that epic slow clap at the end at the Khitomer peace accord, no? In my opinion, the second best (worst?) slow clap in motion picture history, behind only “Lucas” (I miss you Corey Haim!).
GREG: Ha ha ha! Yes, the slow clap was awesome. You just don’t see that in enough movies, especially when you can see it coming from a mile away. Oh, and for the record, that peace accord was damn cheesy. Thankfully, it was about the only cheesy part of this movie. Yes, some traditional and clichéd plot lines exist in this movie, but as I said before, it worked pretty well here because of the reasoning behind it; had this been a straight-forward assassination-mystery story, it would’ve been boring. But because of the over-arching story behind Federation-Klingon peace, it gave the story a much heavier feel. Plus, this movie was very clearly a send-off movie. You get the sense that everyone on screen knows that this will be their last time together, and so it layers on a feeling of melancholy (in fact, the movie’s end credits even include each member of the original cast signing their signature).
ED: Not to mention Kirk's cosmically epic final Captain's log: "Captain's Log, stardate 9529.1. This is the final cruise of the Starship Enterprise under my command. This ship and her history will shortly become the care of another crew. To them and their posterity will we commit our future. They will continue the voyages we have begun, and journey to all the undiscovered countries, boldly going where no man... where no one has gone before." Didn't it make you want to cry? But the reference at the end to "where no one" instead of "where no man" is yet another example of the passing of the baton to the Next Generation, in which the monologue was changed to be more gender-neutral.
GREG: Did it make me want to cry? C'mon Edwin. It's not THAT good. However, this was easily the second best Star Trek movie in the series, right behind Star Trek II. I almost want to give them a tie, to be honest. So I will: 8/10. Done.
ED: Yes, I agree, this was the second best of the franchise. And in the end, I can finally divulge my rankings for the six Star Trek movies: 2,6,4,5,1,3. So now here’s a question for you: do you think the recent J.J. Abrams reboot of the franchise is consistent in tone with these six Star Trek movies? (and you’re not allowed to say “No, because it was actually good”!) But is my whinging a bit more understandable now?
GREG: I guess I would rank them as 2, 6, 3, 4, 1, 5 (I would put a HUGE space between 1 and 5…just to show my disdain for that movie). And to answer your question, no, I guess the J. J. Abrams movie was not consistent in tone with these original six movies. But I still don’t care – I thought it was an excellent movie, and I still do. In fact, I would rather re-watch the new Star Trek movie before I’d rewatch any of these original six movies. If you don’t like the new direction J. J. is taking the franchise, then simply feel free to opt-out. You already have your 6 movies, and you can watch them whenever you want.
ED: KHAAANNNN!!! That’s not really fair, I don’t think. That’s like me watching the prequel trilogy of Star Wars first, and then complaining that the “Empire Strikes Back” wasn’t goofy enough or that it was too sombre. I’m not saying that Abrams isn’t allowed to take the franchise into whichever direction he wants, and in the end, it’s the almighty dollar or pound that will dictate whether he’s right or wrong. But I couldn’t help but feel like I got a royal middle finger shoved in my face for his lack of respect to the existing fans.
GREG: Get over yourself. Most of these movies kinda sucked. Thus, the ultimate question: after viewing these movies, would I consider myself an official “Trekkie”? The simple answer is no, I would not. Out of the six movies, there are only two that I would ever even consider watching again. Now, that being said, I can somewhat appreciate the Star Trek universe now, and can kind of understand why people love the franchise so much. Allow me to clarify: had I watched these movies at a younger age, in the time frames that they were originally released, then I’m willing to bet that I would’ve been a lover of all things Trek. But I didn’t; I’m older, the movies are older, and there are far too many better movies (sci-fi or not) out there for me to consider these movies “classic.” However, I do appreciate Edwin pushing me to do this little experiment, and at least now I know the meaning of things such as “pon-farr”, what a Klingon is, and what the “Kobayashi Maru” scenario is all about. I highly doubt that I’ll watch the original television series, or any of the other Star Trek related series’, but it was fun while it lasted.
ED: Wait a minute, so you’re saying I got this extra Starfleet uniform for the upcoming Star Trek convention for no reason? But I spent all night making it smaller just so our bellies will protrude! Well, if you can begin to understand why some of us Trekkies love the franchise as much as we do, that’s a step in the right direction. And perhaps you’ll also better understand why I was flipping out last year when I got to do the Vulcan hand signal with the legend that is Leonard Nimoy. Either way, this was fun. And I think Chekov put it best when he opined so melancholically: “So… this is goodbye…”
GREG: I would say “I have been, and always will be, your friend”, but I’m pretty sure that after my comments about the new Star Trek movie, you’ll never lower yourself to talk to me again…
ED: Ah, it’s all good. You can’t help being such a redshirt. My hailing frequencies are open for when you want to get started on the 4 Next Generation movies! In the meantime, I have to go toast some marshmelons and duct tape some warp nacelles on the back of my bike. Peace and long life.
GREG: Live long and prosper.