Release Date(s)1991, 1999 (September 6, 2022)
Studio(s)Paramount Pictures (Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: B
When the Klingon Empire suffers an ecological disaster that threatens to destroy their homeworld, the leaders the United Federation of Planets see an opportunity to forge a lasting peace. Against his own better judgement, Captain James Kirk (William Shatner) and the crew of the Starship Enterprise are sent on a mission to escort the Klingon leader, Chancellor Gorkon (David Warner), to a diplomatic conference on Earth. But Kirk, whose son was killed by Klingons, has difficulty accepting the idea of a truce with his life-long adversaries. And certain members of Gorkon’s entourage, including the hawkish General Chang (Christopher Plummer), are equally leery.
But after making the rendezvous, the prospects for peace quickly evaporate when Enterprise appears to fire on the Klingon flagship and a pair of assassins in Starfleet spacesuits phaser Gorkon. Desperate to avoid an all-out war, Kirk surrenders and beams aboard the D-7 with McCoy, hoping to save the Chancellor’s life. Instead, Chang places the pair on trial for murder and imprisons them on the frozen mining colony of Rura Penthe. With their lives hanging in the balance, it’s up to Captain Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and the crew of Enterprise to save their comrades and uncover the real threat to peace in the galaxy. But to do this, they’ll need a little help from an old friend… Captain Hikaru Sulu (George Takei) of the Starship Excelsior.
While creator Gene Roddenberry was reportedly no fan of his ideas, there can be little doubt that director Nicholas Meyer delivered two of the finest films in the Star Trek franchise. The very best Trek has always been about ideas, and The Undiscovered Country embraces that notion wholeheartedly. Conceived by Nimoy and penned by Meyer with the help of Denny Martin Flinn, the story here is basically an outer space analogy for the end of the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. What’s good here is very good. The guest cast, including Warner, Plummer, Brock Peters, Rosanna DeSoto, Kurtwood Smith, Leon Russom, and even Kim Cattrall all add much to the mix. Trek regulars René Auberjonois and Michael Dorn contribute as well (though in different parts that they played on The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine). There’s even a brief cameo by longtime fan Christian Slater. The action scenes are surprisingly stirring and Chang’s fascination with William Shakespeare is a brilliant story touch. There are a few cheesy elements to be sure, including Iman’s shape-shifting Martia and a Cinderella-inspired scene involving a pair of Enterprise’s alien crewman. (“If the shoe fits, wear it!”) But all in all, Star Trek VI delivers taut drama, genuine suspense, and the intellectual heft appropriate to the best entries in this series.
Star Trek VI was shot by cinematographer Hiro Narita (Never Cry Wolf, The Rocketeer) on 35 mm photochemical film (in Super 35 format), using Panavision Panaflex Gold II and Platinum cameras with Panavision Primo lenses. Much of ILM’s visual effects work was also shot using VistaVision cameras. The film was ultimately finished photochemically at the 2.39:1 aspect ratio for theatrical release (as well as 2.20:1 for 70 mm blow-up prints). For its debut on Ultra HD, Paramount has completed a new 4K scan of the original camera negative and master interpositive elements to produce a new 4K Digital Intermediate, complete with color grading for High Dynamic Range (both HDR10 and Dolby Vision options are available). While the film’s use of Super 35 results in a little more grain and a slight reduction in image detail, this presentation still represents a massive improvement over the 2009 Blu-ray. No longer is the image plagued by edginess, compression artifacting, and the dreaded Digital Noise Reduction that made the previous Blu-ray image so appalling to watch. Skin and costume texturing is nicely refined and the grain is organic at all times. Most of the large format VFX footage looks absolutely spectacular—the arrival at Spacedock for example, as well as the exterior matte shot of Camp Khitomer, the entire battle with Chang’s Bird-of-Prey, and the stunning shot of Enterprise and Excelsior orbiting into the sunset. It should be noted though that the opening shot of the subspace wave hitting Excelsior is still very soft looking, which has always been the case (it was an early use of CG by ILM). Colors are vibrant, more nuanced than ever, and a bit more natural. Blacks are deep, with decent shadow detailing, and bold highlights that stop shot of eye-reactivity. All in all, this is a significant visual upgrade. It’s a pleasure to see Trek VI looking like a proper film once more.
Much like the earlier sequels, primary audio on both the 4K UHD and remastered Blu-ray is included in English 7.1 surround in lossless Dolby TrueHD format, the same mix found on the 2009 Blu-ray. While it’s disappointing that there’s not a new Atmos mix, the TrueHD remains a fine sonic experience. In terms of overall quality, the mix is very similar to the one on the Trek II 4K release, just a bit more lively and immersive. The soundstage is medium-wide across the front, with more active use of the surrounds for panning (spacecraft flyovers benefit from this in particular), music, and ambient/immersive effects (computer sounds, Klingon chanting, com calls especially aboard the D-7, etc). Bass is robust, dialogue is clean at all times, and the Cliff Eidelman score—long a personal favorite—is offered in excellent fidelity. Standout moments include the explosion of Praxis and subsequent sub-space energy wave, the Klingon trial, and of course all of the space combat. Additional audio options include German 5.1 Dolby TrueHD (German 5.1 Dolby Digital on the Blu-ray) and Spanish, French, and Japanese 5.1 Dolby Digital. Subtitles on both the Blu-ray and 4K are available in English, English for the Hearing Impaired, Danish, German, Spanish, French, Japanese, Dutch, Norwegian, Finnish, and Swedish. There are even subtitles for the commentary tracks (including the text commentary) in English, German, Spanish, French, and Japanese.
Paramount’s new Ultra HD release is a 2-disc set. Note that the UHD disc includes both the Theatrical Version (109:56) and the slightly-longer Director’s Cut (113:21) in 4K, while the Blu-ray offers only the Theatrical Version in fully-remastered HD. The differences between the two are modest, including more of the Federation President and his Starfleet advisors conferring, as well as Spock and Scotty checking the torpedo inventory, slight editing and framing differences, insert shots of the conspirators during Spock’s mind meld with Valeris, and the Klingon assassin being exposed as Colonel West near the end.
[8/27/22 UPDATE: For those who may be wondering, the Star Trek VI: Director’s Cut was released previously on disc framed at 2.00:1, but both the DC and Theatrical Version are now framed at 2.39:1 on 4K Ultra HD & Blu-ray. Director Nicholas Meyer has kindly confirmed to me today that 2.39:1 is his preferred framing for this film. I hope that resolves any lingering concerns about this issue.]
Each disc offers a simple menu interface featuring the John Alvin poster artwork. The UHD disc includes the following special features:
- Audio Commentary by Nicholas Meyer and Denny Martin Flinn (Theatrical Version Only)
- Audio Commentary by Larry Nemecek and Ira Steven Behr (Theatrical Version Only)
- Text Commentary by Michael and Denise Okuda (Director’s Cut Only)
To this, the Blu-ray adds the following legacy extras:
- Audio Commentary by Nicholas Meyer and Denny Martin Flinn
- Audio Commentary by Larry Nemecek and Ira Steven Behr
- Library Computer (HD)
- The Perils of Peacemaking (SD – 26:30)
- Stories from Star Trek VI
- It Started with a Story (SD – 9:46)
- Prejudice (SD – 5:02)
- Director Nicholas Meyer (SD – 5:57)
- Shakespeare & General Chang (SD – 5:53)
- Bring It to Life (SD – 23:26)
- Farewell & Goodbye (SD – 7:04)
- The Star Trek Universe
- Conversations with Nicholas Meyer (SD – 9:33)
- Klingons: Conjuring the Legend (SD – 20:43)
- Federation Operatives (SD – 4:53)
- Penny’s Toy Box (SD – 6:06)
- Together Again (SD – 4:56)
- Tom Morga: Alien Stuntman (HD – 4:57)
- To Be or Not to Be: Klingons and Shakespeare (HD – 23:04)
- Starfleet Academy SCISEC Brief 006: Praxis (HD – 2:38)
- DeForest Kelley: A Tribute (SD – 13:19)
- Original Interviews
- William Shatner (SD – 5:05)
- Leonard Nimoy (SD – 6:26)
- DeForest Kelley (SD – 5:00)
- James Doohan (SD – 5:33)
- Nichelle Nichols (SD – 5:39)
- George Takei (SD – 5:28)
- Walter Koenig (SD – 5:28)
- Iman (SD – 5:04)
- Production Gallery (SD – 3:24)
- Storyboards (HD)
- Rura Penthe
- Leaving Spacedock (Omitted)
- Promotional Material
- Teaser Trailer (HD – 1:28)
- Theatrical Trailer (HD – 2:23)
- 1991 Convention Presentation by Nicholas Meyer (SD – 4:43)
The special features include another great commentary by Nicholas Meyer and co-writer Denny Martin Flinn. Meyer shows once again that he has a keen insight into what makes Star Trek work on film. The pair has plenty to say about the story and characters. The second commentary features author Larry Nemecek and Deep Space Nine scribe Ira Steven Behr, who deliver lots of context, background information, and trivia. In a nice touch, the Okuda text commentary from the 2003 DVD release is also included on the 4K as well. The legacy featurettes are also worth your time. The Perils of Peacemaking is particularly fascinating, as it examines the real world historical inspirations for the film’s story—the fall of the Soviet Union, Nixon’s visit to China in 1972, the Chernobyl disaster, etc. Stories from Star Trek VI is a nearly hour-long documentary on the making of the film, in six parts, which takes you behind the scenes on various aspects of the production. There are vintage interviews with the cast, a piece on the film’s use of Shakespeare, and Penny’s Toy Box, which is a visit Paramount’s Star Trek archives for a look at cool props from the franchise (prior to all of this material being auctioned off to fans). Without a doubt the most moving piece is DeForest Kelley: A Tribute. As Dr. McCoy, Kelley was the heart of this series for many years, but he was also its most accomplished cast member. There’s also additional promotional materials, including the film’s trailers in full HD.
Unfortunately, there is one legacy extra that’s missing here, which is the excellent Roger Lay, Jr. documentary that was created for the 2016 Star Trek: 50th Anniversary TV and Movie Collection bonus disc: End of an Era: Charting the Undiscovered Country (HD – 28:30). So if you have that box set, you’ll probably want to hang on to it to retain the bonus disc. (Note that it also includes The Dream is Alive: The Continuing Mission (HD – 29:54), which was missing from the new Star Trek IV Blu-ray/4K special features as well.) This package does, at least, include the usual Digital copy code on a paper insert.
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country is among the best of The Original Series films, complete with interstellar treachery, galactopolitical intrigue, warp speed action, and Klingons spouting the Bard. It also serves as a worthy send off for the classic Enterprise crew, and Paramount’s new 4K Ultra HD release presents the film in best-ever image quality. So grab a copy of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare: Original Klingon Edition and strap on your phasers, ‘cause this is as good as it gets.
- Bill Hunt