Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Star Trek VI—and a Tribute to the Original Cast

Does this sound familiar? After the last Star Trek feature under-performed, Paramount executives decided to reboot the franchise with a new young cast in a movie about young Kirk and Spock. Kirk would be brash and rebellious, Spock cold and arrogant. They would clash, come together and become young heroes in a climactic space battle. It would be Top Gun in outer space. It wouldn’t be your father’s Star Trek.

Right, but this was 1989, and the box office disappointment was Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. After considering a proposal for this Starfleet Academy movie, Paramount was persuaded to instead celebrate Star Trek’s 25th anniversary with Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, the last movie to feature the entire original cast.

So perhaps it’s fitting that on the eve of the new movie with a new cast that will play these now mythic characters, we pay tribute to the original cast and remember their last big screen adventure.

Star Trek VI continued several Star Trek traditions. For instance, it had a story dealing with contemporary issues. Series producers Gene Roddenberry and Gene Coon created the Klingons as, among other things, a parallel to the Soviet Union in the 1960s. So this film’s executive producer, Leonard Nimoy, and its director, Nicholas Meyer, developed a story that dealt metaphorically with events almost as they were happening, while the Soviet Union’s new leader pursued a more peaceful relationship with the West, before the USSR dissolved completely into separate countries.

I won’t go into detail here about the real world parallels and specific line references--I've already done that elsewhere on this site, with more detail also on the movie's story and backstory. But the outlines of history repeat themselves, so this movie’s themes remain important: the difficulties yet the need to get beyond enmities, and the dangers of prejudices that demonize an entire race or people. Championing diversity and equality was a Star Trek stand from the beginning.

Director Nick Meyer again placed his personal filmmaking stamp on the style (including bits from classic movies: in his DVD commentary he admits that the warden’s speech to new prisoners on the Rura Penthe ice planet was visually copied from a similar scene in Bridge On the River Kwai. What he doesn’t say is that the speech itself is also taken from that movie almost word for word.)

But for all the Cold War metaphors and the Shakespearian actors under Klingon makeup quoting Shakespeare, Meyer kept the movie moving forward with the driving plot of a murder mystery: Who Killed Chancellor Gorkon?

Meyer did this before: in directing Time After Time and writing The Seven Percent Solution, he used established and historical characters (H.G. Wells and Jack the Ripper, Freud and Sherlock Holmes) in crime stories. This time he used Star Trek characters: while Captain Kirk puzzles things out in action, Spock remains on the Enterprise to become Sherlock Holmes (even quoting Holmes as “an ancestor of mine.”)

[continued after photos]

No comments: