Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.0:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the widescreen image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Note that the disc presents an aspect ratio different than that of the flick’s theatrical exhibition. Country ran on the big screen at 2.35:1, but it has always been opened up moderately for home video; the 1992 laserdisc and widescreen VHS along with the 1999 DVD all used the same ratio found here. Others will argue whether or not this is a good or a bad thing, but at this point, it seems moot. Clearly director Nicholas Meyer prefers the less wide ratio, and it appears extremely unlikely that we’ll ever find a release of Country with different dimensions.
In any case, the new transfer of Country improved a little upon the old non-anamorphic one. Sharpness mostly looked positive. At times, wider shots came across as a little iffy and ill defined, but those instances didn’t cause significant concerns. Instead, the majority of the flick appeared tight and detailed. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and I noticed only a smidgen of light edge enhancement.
Though not major, source concerns created most of the transfer’s distractions. I noticed occasional examples of specks plus a small hair or two. Country displayed surprisingly high levels of grain, but those likely emanated from the original photography. Super 35 flicks often suffer from excessive grain, so it didn’t seem like a surprise that this occurred here. Nonetheless, the graininess of the image made it look murkier than I’d like.
On the other hand, colors seemed strong. The film presented a nice array of hues and made them look bright and vibrant. From the deep reds of the uniforms to the purple Klingon blood to the green lighting of the Klingon bridge, all the tones were detailed and concise. Blacks also seemed dense and tight, while low-light shots appeared detailed and well depicted. While most of Country looked quite good, all that grain made it look messier than I’d expect, so I felt it deserved a good but unexceptional “B” for picture.
Though a little stronger than the old non-anamorphic transfer, this new one didn’t blow it out of the park. Both really looked quite similar. The new image was a little tighter due to the anamorphic enhancement, but otherwise, I saw very little to distinguish the pair. Of course, viewers with widescreen TVs will discern bigger differences, but on a 4X3 set – even one with the “anamorphic squeeze”, like my WEGA – I didn’t witness a big change between the pair. The anamorphic version looked better, but not to a huge degree.
Back in 1991, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country was the first film to run theatrically with Dolby Digital 5.1 encoding. It did so unofficially as a test; Batman Returns enjoyed the first formal release as a Dolby Digital title. Though not a spectacular track, the mix continued to work well after more than 12 years.
The soundfield presented a nicely smooth and seamless affair. The score offered nice stereo delineation, while effects appeared logically placed and they meshed together accurately. Throughout the different settings, the elements popped up in natural locations and created a great sense of atmosphere. From more subtle moments like the Klingon trial to louder ones such as the explosion at the flick’s start, the track provided an active and involving feeling.
The surrounds only sporadically gave us stereo imaging, but they seemed like a reasonably active affair. The back speakers offered a lot of reinforcement of the front and kicked in nicely during the action scenes. They added a solid sense of involvement to the piece.
Audio quality also was excellent. Speech consistently came across as distinctive and natural, and I noticed no signs of edginess or concerns connected to intelligibility. Music was dynamic and bright, with a good sense of range. Effects really excelled throughout the flick. They always were crisp and clear, and I thought they represented the material well. Bass response seemed particularly terrific. Low-end was always deep and impressive, and those elements lacked distortion or boominess. Ultimately, the audio of Country provided a fine piece of work.
Fans of the prior five Star Trek 2-DVD special editions will know what to expect from this set. On the first disc, we open with an audio commentary from co-writer/director Nicholas Meyer and co-writer Denny Martin Flinn, both of whom sit together for their running, screen-specific track. They cover subjects such as the historical subtext of Country - particularly how it connects to the early Nineties Soviet Union – as well as variations from the original script and the writing process, approaching Trek as outsiders, and dealing with the series’ mythology. The conversation occasionally becomes enlightening, but it drags too frequently and suffers from too much dead air. The pair provide a moderately useful chat but not a terribly strong one.
In addition to this piece, the DVD provides a text commentary written by Michael and Denise Okuda, the authors of the Star Trek Encyclopedia. If you’ve checked out Okuda’s text tracks for the first five Trek special editions, you’ll know what to expect here. The pair provide a wealth of interesting notes. They detail lots of connections between Country and other Trek efforts as well as locations, sets, and production design. We find out about many of the guest supporting actors and learn of trivia bits, inconsistencies and goofs. The commentary mentions variations among the 1991, 1992 and 2003 cuts of the flick. As with most of the prior text commentaries, it’s a good exploration of the different topics.
After this we head to DVD Two and its supplements. These start with a documentary called The Perils of Peacemaking. In this 26-minute and 31-second piece, we get movie clips, various production and historical photos, and interviews. We hear from Meyer, actor/executive producer Leonard Nimoy, Georgetown University professor Dr. Angela Stent, and Ambassador Dennis Ross of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. They discuss the historical context of the film, particularly as it connects to the Soviet Union of the era in which they flick was made. They also discuss diplomatic endeavors in general, as they apply to modern times, and get into how all these thoughts affected the story and characters. Ross’s insight seems especially valuable, but all the participants go over the material well in this unusually intelligent and insightful discussion.
Although Stories from Star Trek VI breaks down into six smaller programs, we can view it straight through via the “Play All” option, so I decided to examine it as one long documentary. Taken that way, they run a total of 57 minutes and 18 seconds. These incorporate movie snippets, archival materials, and comments from Meyer, Nimoy, Flinn, co-producer Ralph Winter, Star Trek V screenwriter David Loughery, co-producer/second unit director Steven-Charles Jaffe, cinematographer Hiro Narita, editor Ronald Roose, production designer Herman Zimmerman, scenic art supervisor Mike Okuda, Paramount project coordinator Penny Juday, composer Cliff Eidelman, and actors William Shatner, Christopher Plummer, and Todd Bryant.
Through all of these pieces, we learn of many different areas. The featurettes cover possibilities for a new Trek direction, the origins of the story, issues about the film’s racism and militarism, working with Meyer and his approach to Trek, the movie’s use of Shakespeare and Plummer’s work, details of the production design and effects, the score, and concluding the original cast’s run. Some of the material repeats information heard elsewhere, but that doesn’t occur too frequently. Instead, we get good notes on the creation of the film, as “Stories” largely acts as a reasonably comprehensive examination of the flick. It’s a solid program overall that seems consistently entertaining and informative.
Within “The The Star Trek Universe”, a mix of featurettes appear. Conversations with Nicholas Meyer runs nine minutes, 31 seconds, and presents his thoughts on subjects such as films in general, working with actors, and his place in the Trek world. It’s a reasonably good piece, though some of the notes from the commentary reappear here.
Klingons: Conjuring the Legend lasts goes for 20 minutes and 43 seconds. We get the usual behind the scenes shots, images from movies and shows, and interviews. We hear from Nimoy, Next Generation and DS9 makeup supervisor Michael Westmore, TNG and DS9 costume designer Bob Blackman, production designer Lee Cole, TNG and DS9 special effects producer Dan Curry, author Michael Jan Friedman, New Books editor Marco Palmieri, Klingon Language Institute founder Dr. Lawrence M, Schoen, and actors Plummer, William Campbell, and Michael Dorn. In this fun and informative program, we learn about the origins of the Klingons and their development through the movies and various series. We find out about the conjuring of the language and the changes in physical appearance. We also get good notes from the actors about their approaches to the roles; since he played the most prominent Klingon in Trek history, Dorn’s remarks become especially useful. Overall, “Legend” provides a tight and entertaining synopsis of Klingon history.
Many actors portrayed different roles in various Trek incarnations over the years. The four-minute and 51-second featurette Federation Operatives details the ones who appear in Country and elsewhere. It shows their Country roles and parts in other series and movies. Oddly, it misses a couple – we don’t hear of the other characters played by Todd Bryant and Mark Lenard – but it’s still a fun and informative piece.
Paramount archivist Penny Juday reappears in Penny’s Toy Box. For this six-minute and four-second program, she leads us into the vaults and shows us many of the props from Country. Nothing special shows up, but Juday gives us a fairly interesting little tour of the materials and adds enough information about their creation and use to make the journey worthwhile.
For the final component of “Universe”, we find Together Again. In the four-minute and 55-second program, we learn through interviews with them that actors Plummer and Shatner knew each other in their early days. We hear about their interactions back then in this short but cute featurette.
Two pieces appear in the “Farewell” domain. DeForest Kelley: A Tribute goes for 13 minutes and 18 seconds as we see clips of the actor’s work and hear others discuss him. We find reminiscences from Plummer, Nimoy, Meyer, Winter, Campbell, Juday, Okuda, Loughery, Zimmerman, Shatner, producer Harve Bennett, and producer AC Lyles. They give us a minor career overview and some personal thoughts on Kelley. It’s a sweet and touching send-off to the actor.
Original Interviews presents comments circa 1991 from actors William Shatner (five minutes, three seconds), Leonard Nimoy (6:24), DeForest Kelley (5:01), James Doohan (5:31), Nichelle Nichols (5:37), George Takei (5:26), Walter Koenig (5:29) and Iman (5:05). Except for Iman, each one tells what they think of this being the last voyage – most don’t believe it. Otherwise they mostly go over general Trek topics, with a couple of specific subjects as well; both Nichols and Shatner discuss their famous kiss on the original series. Frankly, I expected these interviews to offer little more than promotional fluff, but they’re actually fairly introspective and intriguing.
Inside the “Promotional Material” area, we get both the film’s teaser and theatrical trailers. We also locate a 1991 Convention Presentation by Nicholas Meyer. This four-minute and 48-second clip appeared at a convention to act as a teaser for the upcoming theatrical release. Meyer offers a fairly literary interpretation of the Trek mythos and we see a little behind the scenes footage from the flick. It doesn’t tell us much, but it’s an interesting historical curiosity to find it here.
Lastly, we head to the “Archives”. Though I expected the Production Gallery to present stills, instead it mostly shows behind the scenes footage from the set. The three-minute and 20-second compilation seems moderately interesting but no better than that. Storyboards presents art for four scenes: “Praxis” (18 stills), “Assassins” (37), “Rura Penthe” (37), and the
”omitted” sequence “Leaving Spacedock” (28). These accumulate a decent little collection of art.
Footnote: as always with Paramount releases, most of the video extras include subtitles. Other than the trailers, we find English and French text for all the materials. This continues to be a helpful feature.
Arguably the best Star Trek flick, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country has lost a little luster over the last 12 or so years. Nonetheless, most of it works nicely, and it remains probably the most exciting and fun of the series’ movies. This new DVD presents fairly solid picture quality plus very strong sound as well as a long list of good extras. With a list price of less than $20, this one’s a no-brainer for Trek fans. Even those who own the prior disc will want to upgrade to the new one, and those who possess no version of Country definitely should grab the Special Collector’s Edition. It’s a fine movie and a terrific DVD.
To rate this film, visit the original review of STAR TREK VI