After the complete and utter disappointment of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, directed by Captain Kirk himself, producers of the series turned The Undiscovered Country back over to Nicholas Meyer, longtime friend of Star Trek. Meyer wrote and directed Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and co-wrote Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home—both of which are seen as high points in the franchise.
Meyer might not quite have hit those high-water marks here, but he came pretty darn close. He was involved with every aspect of the film, even co-writing it with Daniel Martin Flinn. This deep involvement gives the film a cohesive tone that is sorely missing in the previous entry in the series.
Of course, not everything was perfect. Meyer came in frequent conflict with the production studio over the film's budget, and he even butted heads with series creator Gene Roddenberry over the direction of the film's story. Nevertheless, Meyer's ease with the series makes The Undiscovered Country a welcome return to form.
The script for The Undiscovered Country was written by Nicholas Meyer, longstanding jack-of-all-trades for the Star Trek film series, and Denny Martin Flinn, a writer and director who primarily works in theater.
Although the story also features contributions from Mark Rosenthal and Lawrence Konner, the real cred belongs to Leonard Nimoy, who also plays Spock. It was Nimoy who came up with the idea of mirroring the fall of the Soviet Union in the Star Trek universe. He even hired Meyer for the job.
Six films in, the writing process was more complicated than ever. Meyer and Flinn wanted to focus on how the crew of Enterprise has adapted to retirement in a long, elaborate opening sequence. This was shot down by the production studio, who were looking for any excuse to cut costs.
And that's not all. Several story ideas were shot down by the actors. Similarly, the character of Valeris was originally meant to be Saavik, a Vulcan Starfleet officer we met in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. This idea was shot down by series creator Gene Roddenberry, however, who didn't want to see a fan favorite turn bad.
You might say that the writing process of The Undiscovered Country featured as much weird tension and intrigue as the movie itself.
There are six films in the original Star Trek series, and every stinking one of them was produced by Paramount Pictures, whose television subsidiary also produced the original television series.
Despite this long relationship, things were tense in Star Trek Town during the making of The Undiscovered Country. The previous film, The Final Frontier, was the first real flop of the series, earning disappointing box office results and an unrepentant evisceration by movie critics. With this failure in mind, producers exerted strict control over the film's development and frequently butted heads with director Nicholas Meyer over financial matters.
This marks the last time the studio would work with Gene Roddenberry, the creator of the series. Roddenberry was involved in the initial development of the film, as he had been in previous ones, but he died soon before the film premiered. Although the relationship between Paramount and Roddenberry wasn't always gravy, together they helped create one of the most iconic series of all time.
In keeping with its focus on military conflict, The Undiscovered Country has a more epic feel than its immediate predecessors did.
The film is darker than usual. And no, we don't just mean that in terms of tone—this thing is literally dark. It's a deliberate choice on director Nicholas Meyer's part: Enterprise is usually brightly lit, in keeping with its sleek futuristic aesthetic, but here, the darker Enterprise makes us feel the tenseness of the situation much more viscerally.
Similarly, Meyer decided to make the hallways of Enterprise smaller than usual to give them a claustrophobic feel. Both of these choices heighten the intensity of the film, specifically emphasizing the fear and tension associated with war.
Another consistent production choice is the use of tight close-ups on faces. This choice ties in with the film's use of lighting: characters' faces are often framed with dramatic shadows. Again, it's a way of heightening the film's dramatic intensity and establishing a darker tone than its predecessor, The Final Frontier, had.
The Final Frontier featured rocket boots and a group singalong of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat," for Spock's sake. You've got to put in twice the work to makes things feel dramatic after that.
The Undiscovered Country's story is all about military intrigue, so it's only right that it features an appropriately intense score.
Although the composer, Cliff Eidelman, scored his first feature film in 1989 with Magdalene, The Undiscovered Country was his first real shot at the big leagues. The dude was only twenty-six years old.
Of course, the classics are all here. We have several variations on the main Star Trek theme, though it's used perhaps less prominently than in previous entries in the series.
The score is most similar to that of The Wrath of Khan—which makes sense, given that both were directed by Nicholas Meyer. But that's not the only similarity. Both films lean toward the "military" side of Star Trek, and consequently they feature scores that set a martial tone.
For example, the film's overture might sound like a death metal song if you recorded it with electric guitars. Likewise, "The Final Battle for Peace" provides an aural interpretation of Enterprise's final battle with Chang. On the other side of the fence, we have tense tracks like "Assassination" which mirrors the plot's slow-burning political intrigue.
In other words, this is not music to chillax to. If you want that, stick with your Jack Johnson, folks.
People like Star Trek, right?
Um, yeah, all you need to do is go to any gathering of nerds to find the answer to this question. Although the original series bombed when it first debuted, it became a cult phenomenon in the years that followed. Emphasis on "cult." As evidence of their dedication, fans single-handedly got the Star Trek film series made based on a letter-writing campaign.
Most Trekkies consider The Undiscovered Country to be a solid entry in the original film series, even if it doesn't reach the same heights as The Wrath of Khan or The Voyage Home. Legit Trekkies see this as evidence of the famous "even-odd" curse on the original series: the even-numbered films rule, while the odd-numbered ones drool. Science.