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Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
Special Collector's Edition - 1991 (2003) - Paramount

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country - Special Collector's Edition Film Rating: A-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/A/B+

Specs and Features

Disc One: The Film
113 mins, PG, letterboxed widescreen (2.0:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at ??), dual keep case packaging, audio commentary (with director Nicholas Meyer and Denny Martin Flinn), subtitle text commentary by Michael and Denise Okuda (coauthors of The Star Trek Encyclopedia), animated film-themed menus with sound and music, scene access (15 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 & 2.0 Surround) and French (DD 2.0), subtitles: English (for the hearing impaired), Closed Captioned


Disc Two: Supplemental Material
The Perils of Peacemaking documentary (27 mins - 4x3, DD 2.0), 6 Stories from Star Trek VI featurettes (all 4x3, DD 2.0): It Started with a Story (10 mins), Prejudice (5 mins), Director Nicholas Meyer (6 mins), Shakespeare & General Chang (6 mins), Bringing it to Life (24 mins) and Farewell & Goodbye (7 mins), 5 Star Trek Universe featurettes (4x3, DD 2.0): Conversations with Nicholas Meyer (10 mins), Klingons: Conjuring the Legend (21 mins), Federation Operatives (5 mins), Penny's Toy Box (6 mins) and Together Again (5 mins), DeForest Kelley: A Tribute featurette (13 mins - 4x3, DD 2.0), original interview featurettes (with William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelly, James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, Walter Koenig and Iman - 50 mins total, all 4x3), teaser trailer and theatrical trailer (both 4x3, DD 2.0), 1991 Convention Presentation by Nicholas Meyer featurette (10 mins - 4x3, DD 2.0), Production Gallery featurette (3 mins - 4x3, DD 2.0), storyboard gallery with art for 4 scenes including 1 deleted scene (all 16x9), animated film-themes menus with sound and music, subtitles: English and French


"Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war!"

When the Klingons suffer an ecological disaster that threatens to destroy their empire, the President of the Federation sees an opportunity to forge a lasting peace. Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and the crew of the Enterprise are sent to escort the Klingon leader, Chancellor Gorkon, to a peace conference on Earth. But Kirk, whose son was killed by Klingons, has trouble accepting the idea of peace with them. And certain members of Gorkon's staff are equally leery.

The prospects for peace dissolve instantly, however, when the Enterprise appears to fire on the Klingon ship, damaging it heavily, and a pair of assassins in Starfleet uniform kill Gorkon. Desperate to avoid an interstellar war, Kirk surrenders the Enterprise. He and McCoy are taken prisoner and placed on trial for murder. With their lives hanging in the balance, it's up to Captain Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and the rest of the Enterprise crew to save their comrades from the Klingon's barbaric justice, and to uncover a deeper threat that could bring the galaxy to its knees.

Why is it that Nicholas Meyer seems to be the only person who can put together a decent Trek flick? If you doubt me, consider this: Meyer was the on-set furher who gave us Wrath of Khan, the best of the series bar none. The story here is the real deal, conceived by Nimoy and penned by Meyer himself with the help of Denny Martin Flinn. It's basically an outer space analogy for the end of the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. The plot doesn't lag too much and, thankfully, there's only a few moments of typical Trek hokum - the space bimbo of the week, or otherwise silly-looking alien T&A that sinks the good ship Enterprise faster than the iceberg did the Titanic. What's good here is very good. In a brilliant story move, one of the Klingons in this film (played with great zeal by Christopher Plummer) recites Shakespeare as well as Patrick Stewart. Let's face it - the very best Trek has always been about ideas, lean and mean. Trek VI goes a long way in returning to the formula that made the series so successful. Which is good, because the previous film (directed by Shatner) was absolutely awful. And given that this was the last chance for the original cast to take the helm on the big screen, it's a satisfying swan song indeed. Not bad for a bunch of old guys.

When this film was first released on DVD in 1999, I was disappointed by the fact that it arrived without an anamorphic widescreen transfer. I'm very happy to say that this injustice has been rectified in a big way. The sparkling new anamorphic video on Disc One of this set looks simply awesome. This may be the best looking of the new Trek film transfers yet. The contrast here is excellent, with deep blacks and nice shadow detailing. Colors are vibrant and accurate and the print looks to be in very good condition. There's light to moderate film grain visible, which you'd expect, and the occasional bit of dust, but nothing to write home about. I'm very pleased with the picture.

I should note here, because fans will care, that this is the same longer (133-minute) version of the film that was on the original DVD release (with a few scenes and moments that weren't in the theatrical version). There is one issue related to the video, however, that may cause a little confusion. The original DVD's non-anamorphic, letterboxed widescreen video was framed at an aspect ratio of about 2.0:1, meaning that you're seeing a little more on the top and bottom of the frame. How is this possible? According to the IMDB, the film's original theatrical aspect ratio was 2.35:1, but it was shot in Super 35 format. For this DVD release, the new anamorphic transfer is again framed at about 2.0:1, so that when watching on a properly calibrated anamorphic display (of aspect 1.78:1), the image completely fills the screen. There are no slight black bars, as there would be on a true 2.35 formatted transfer. This is obviously deliberate, the result of the director's own preference for the film's home video presentation (no doubt one of the reasons Super 35 was chosen in the first place). So there's no need to get upset and starting complaining to the studio - the transfer here is exactly the way the film should be presented on DVD.

The audio on these Trek film DVDs is usually excellent as well, and again I'm happy to say that it's absolutely outstanding here. There's wonderful ambience created in the sound field. When the film's opening explosion happens, you'll hear the blast wave approach, then rumble over and past you. In chapter 3, as Kirk and company enter the Bridge, you can hear the sounds of activity in all directions: computer chips, intercom signals, the deep bass thrum of the ship's engines. Try chapter 5 (the attack on the Klingon ship), and you'll hear great directional sound effects with phaser fire and explosions. Even the trial scene impresses - you can almost feel the breath of angry Klingons on your neck as they chant and shout all around. This is the way it should be, and its only made better by Cliff Eidelman's wonderful and aggressive score.

The main extra on Disc One is another great audio commentary with Nicholas Meyer and his co-writer Denny Martin Flinn. Meyer shows once again that he has a clear and keen insight into what it is that makes Star Trek work on film. He's got lots to say about the story and the characters, making the commentary interesting and well worth a listen for fans. Those same fans will also be happy to see yet another subtitle trivia track from Michael and Denise Okuda.

As always, Disc Two holds the lion's share of the bonus material. I have to say right up front that I'm rather disappointed by Paramount's decision to present all of the material here (including the trailers, but save the storyboards) in full frame, 4x3 format. This is particularly disappointing because most of the previous Trek special collector's editions have been entirely anamorphic (I'll pick my last nits here as well - there's no insert booklet and they seem to have screwed up the disc art too). The reason for the lack of anamorphic may have been that so much of the on-set and archive footage for this film was in 4x3 format. Still a shame. Now that I've said that however, I have to also say that I think these featurettes and documentaries are among the best yet on any of these recent Trek DVDs. This isn't going to win any awards or anything, but there's real depth here, along with genuine detail, thoughtfulness and emotion. So if you can get past the anamorphic thing (and it does take a minute), you should really enjoy most of the bonus offerings on this set.

I'll just give you a quick rundown here to give you a taste of what you're in for. Disc Two starts with The Perils of Peacemaking, which is a documentary look at the intentional historical parallels between the story of this film and real past events. The director and Leonard Nimoy in particular are interviewed, along with historians and others. It's a nice way to kick off the disc. Stories from Star Trek VI is a nearly hour-long documentary on the making of the film, composed of 6 featurettes, which takes you behind the scenes on various aspects of the production from start to finish. You can watch them individually or with a "play all" option. The story development is highlighted, along with the Shakespearean elements, the director's involvement, and even what it was like on the last day of filming of the last Trek film to star the original cast. There's both new and vintage interviews with most everyone involved, and plenty very cool footage shot on the set. The Star Trek Universe section includes 5 more featurettes on various aspects of the franchise. There's a conversation with the director, there's a look at the development of the Klingons, there's a look at some of the guest actors here who have been in other incarnations of Trek. My favorite of this bunch is Penny's Toy Box, which is another great trip into Paramount's Star Trek archives for a look at cool props from the film.

Without a doubt the most moving of the featurettes on this disc is the 13-minute 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. For you life-long fans of Star Trek, this tribute is really better experienced than described, so enjoy.

Wrapping things up is a section of promotional materials, which includes the teaser and theatrical trailers for this film (sadly non-anamorphic) and a brief video the director made to tease convention goers in 1991. Finally, the archives section includes another brief behind-the-set featurette and storyboard sequences for 4 scenes from the film, including one that was scripted but not filmed (showing the crew coming back to board Enterprise a final time before the ship left Spacedock). There's probably an Easter egg hidden in here somewhere too.

Star Trek VI is one of the best of the Trek series, second only perhaps to The Wrath of Khan. You've got interstellar treachery, you've got warp speed action, you've got Klingons spouting the Bard. You've got the original cast and a real plot, with half the hokiness of your regular Trek. What more do you want? Best of all, you've finally got a great version of it on DVD to enjoy. So grab your copy of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Klingon language edition) and strap on your phasers, 'cause this is as good as it gets.

Bill Hunt
billhunt@thedigitalbits.com


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