Thursday, January 22, 2004

Two new elements were entering visual effects at the time of Star Trek VI: the beginning of computer generated imagery (CGI) and “morphing” to show transformation. This movie made good use of both. The most impressive visual effects scene—and the one that took up most of that budget---was the assassination sequence. After the disastrous dinner party, Spock calls Kirk back to the bridge because of unusual radiation outside the Enterprise, just in time to see torpedoes hit the undefended Klingon ship, apparently launched by the Enterprise.

When artificial gravity is disrupted on the Klingon ship, Star Trek’s first zero gravity scene begins. Two assassins in spacesuits and wearing gravity boots beam in, shoot phasers and draw globules of Klingon CGI blood. It’s probably the most impressive and effective action sequences using visual effects in all the Trek movies.

The assassination horrifies Kirk. He and McCoy beam over to the Klingon ship, but not before Spock claps a conspicuous black patch on his back. It turns out to be a homing device that apparently nobody else notices. Gorkon’s last words are a plea to Kirk, “don’t let it end this way, Captain.” Chang arrests Kirk and Spock and they are placed on trial on the most elaborate set made for the movie although not much of it shows up in the film.

Before the trial, there are a couple of scenes with the Federation president that make their point, but are otherwise fairly slipshod in terms of credibility and continuity. The trial itself unleashes Christopher Plummer, and both Shatner and DeForrest Kelley also acquit themselves well (although Kirk and McCoy couldn’t possibly get acquitted.)

Kirk and Bones are taken to the penal mining colony on the ice and snow planet of Rura Penthe, where they are greeted by the warden. On the DVD commentary, Nick Meyer admits that the device of the warden getting up on a box to make his speech was stolen from the 1957 David Lean classic, “The Bridge on the River Kwai.” What he doesn’t reveal is that much of the speech itself is taken directly from the Japanese warden’s “welcome” in that film.

As Kirk and Bones meet up with a helpful alien named Martia (played beautifully by the beautiful Somali model Iman, who turned in a perfect performance in this film), Spock is busy in command of the Enterprise trying to discover how Gorkon was actually assassinated.

Spock had taken command before, but never as energetically. Leonard Nimoy often says that he was able to define Spock’s character in contrast to Shatner’s Captain Kirk. As Kirk did everything with breezy speed and energy, Nimoy could give Spock a contrasting stillness and deliberateness. But both Spock and Nimoy had had difficulty when he had to command in Kirk/Shatner’s absence. However, after his five-film journey, especially his death, rebirth and second life, he was in this film both more confident and more vulnerable. The confidence showed in his command scenes. He was frequently in motion, and his words were unhesitating. This forward momentum kept this element of the story moving at the same accelerating pace as the rest of the film.

Back in the mines, Kirk articulates his own change which began at Gorkon’s assassination. It is one of those moments of self-revelation that characterize Star Trek. Kirk has realized he is prejudiced, that he denied every individual Klingon a possibility of being judged by their own actions and qualities. “It never even occurred to me to take Gorkon at his word,” he says.

But admitting his own prejudice has revealed something else to him. He understands that it involves a fear of a future different from the reigning assumptions he knows and has learned to live by. It was his own fear of the future that gave him insight into the assassins. “Don’t be too hard on yourself,’” McCoy tells him. “We all felt exactly the same way.” “No,” Kirk. “Somebody felt a lot worse.” Some of those who feared the future even more.” They are the conspirators, and Kirk is convinced they will assassinate someone else, at the peace conference.

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