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‘Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country’ (PG)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
December 06, 1991

"What are we doing here?" asks William Shatner, a k a Captain James T. Kirk, as the aging starship commander leads his veteran cronies into a meeting at Starfleet Headquarters.

It's a good question. "Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country" marks a quarter-century of Trek culture. This includes endless reruns of the original TV series, worldwide Trekker conventions, cartoon versions, gadgets, accessories, a spinoff series ("Star Trek: The Next Generation") and, let's not forget, the five "Star Trek" movies before this one.

As now-white-haired engineer Scotty might put it, the crew's getting a wee bit long in the tooth.

Not to mention waxy in the skin and rickety in the bones. The fake-hairpiece count also seems to be rising. But none of this matters. The seven hoary principals, Spock et al., could be dead, stuffed and mounted. "Star Trek VI" barrels along on industrial special effects and a 25-year momentum of good-willed, witty, human-interest sci-fi episodes.

It's suffused with classical quotations from Shakespeare and 20th-century references to Stealth bombers, Adolf Hitler, Russian gulags and Emily Post. It exudes that timeless, conventional wisdom about universal suffrage, mutual understanding and environmental cleanliness.

It has Klingons -- the enemy all Trekkers love to hate. It has an array of memorable guest stars, including Klingon peacenik David Warner, Vulcan lieutenant Kim Cattrall, metamorphosing bombshell Iman and Bard-spouting, Dayan-eye-patched Christopher Plummer.

Above all, it brings back the well-known crew for one last hurrah -- or so it would seem. We are talking, of course, about Leonard Nimoy as half-Vulcan, half-human Spock; DeForest Kelley as Dr. "Bones" McCoy; James Doohan as Scotty; Walter Koenig as Chekov; Nichelle Nichols as Uhura; and George Takei as Sulu.

In this Cold War update, the Federation (that's us years from now) and the Klingons are about to do something unthinkable: sign a peace treaty. It's as hard for Kirk to contemplate as it is for the belligerent Klingons. Three months away from retirement, the Enterprise's captain is ordered to escort Warner and his friendless race to this unprecedented event.

Things will go wrong, of course. An insidious chain of events leads the Enterprise to an apparent, unprovoked attack on the Klingons. Kirk and Bones find themselves facing death in the Klingon equivalent of a kangaroo court. The Federation recalls the Enterprise and Spock has some serious figuring to do.

The usual character traits apply. There's Shatner's campy, staccato delivery, for instance. When Nimoy tells Shatner he has personally vouched for Shatner to go on this escort mission, the appalled commander repeats, "You . . . have personally . . . vouched."

Spock employs that eyebrow-raising logic. Chekov continues to talk like a Siberian chipmunk. Scotty has trouble with the warp drive. And Kirk has his usual dalliance with an extraterrestrial beauty. "What is it with you anyway?" asks Bones, after the intrepid commander has puckered up for Iman.

Later in the movie Kirk says, "Everybody's human."

Replies logician Spock, "I find that remark . . . insulting."

Director/coscripter Nicholas Meyer, who helmed the popular second "Star Trek" movie ("The Wrath of Khan"), moves this vehicle efficiently. He employs some tremendous visuals. At one point, the gravity stabilizer goes off in the Klingon spaceship. Invaders come aboard and start firing laser-type weaponry. The Klingons' spilled blood floats in the air in eerily beautiful purplish globules; it's space-age Sam Peckinpah.

A final word for "Star Trek" founder Gene Roddenberry, a cheerful, abundantly inspiring personality who beamed out of this life earlier this year: By getting people where they live -- i.e. television and the movie screen -- his contribution to the pop culture is practically statesmanlike. This movie, so many years after the whole thing began, still bears the entertainment and humanistic values he imposed on every silly little storyline.

Copyright The Washington Post

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