Leave it to Capt. James T. Kirk and his intrepid crew to end the Star Trek series at warp speed. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country is one of the finest installments in the saga. Directed by Nicholas Meyer, it has the same urgency and superbly orchestrated battle scenes as Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, which Meyer also directed.
This final chapter finds the cast that has carried the TV and movie series for 25 years playing host to their mortal enemies, the Klingons.
Politics and environmental disaster have conspired to change the stellar scheme of things, and Kirk's orders are to escort the Klingon ambassador to peace talks that will result in the assimilation of the Klingon empire into the Federation.
Kirk, whose son was killed by Klingons, is opposed to the Federation's unification efforts following a Chernobyl-like explosion that rips apart a Klingon planet and poisons the surrounding space.
He is not the only officer against the plan, as he discovers when the USS Enterprise purportedly disables the Klingon flagship and two Federation assassins beam aboard to murder the ambassador.
The story, conceived by Leonard Nimoy, Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal, takes the collapse of communism and the unification of Europe and expands it to an interstellar scenario.
It addresses, among other issues, racism, xenophobia and medical malpractice. The movie's subtitle, The Undiscovered Country, relates to future frontiers that civilizations must chart for better or worse.
Star Trek VI has none of the philosophical mumbo-jumbo of its immediate predecessor, which was directed by William Shatner. Rather than being concerned with God, it is about more tangible matters, notably mankind's and the Klingons' fear of change.
Shatner, as Kirk, projects more complexity with his bitterness over his son's death. There is the characteristic authority, but also a sense of warmth and humor. His dinner for the Klingons' diplomatic corps could stand as a comic primer on botched intergalactic relations.
Leonard Nimoy's Spock has a smaller role than in recent adventures, partially because he chooses a Vulcan, Lt. Valeris (Kim Cattrall), to succeed him on the Enterprise. He, too, has softened over the years and delivers Vulcan truths _ "Logic is the beginning of wisdom, not the end" _ with a welcome charm.
Kirk, Spock and the remaining principals also are due for retirement as the story begins. They are trimmer and livelier than in their last adventure. James Doohan's Scott no longer is in danger of becoming the Michelin man. George Takei's Sulu now captains his own starship with Kirklike command.
Star Trek VI 's special effects are limited _ this installment cost the same as the last one _ but they are Terminator 2 quality.
The assault on the Klingon vessel is made in a weightless atmosphere, so the victims and their blood float like blobs inside a lava lamp. On a Klingon-held planet, Kirk meets a creature that metamorphoses into different beings in front of his eyes.
The score, cinematography and makeup effects are first-rate.
Best of all is Christopher Plummer as Chang, a Klingon warrior with a metal eye patch riveted to his skull. Plummer's Chang is even more malevolent than Ricardo Montalban's Khan.
Chang's flashes of anger and his penchant for quoting Shakespeare in the midst of battle make him a formidable opponent for the cooly controlled James T. Kirk.
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
Director: Nicholas Meyer
Cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nicols, George Takei, Kim Cattrall, David Warner, Christopher Plummer
Screenplay: Nicholas Meyer & Denny Martin Flinn, adapted from a story by Leonard Nimoy and Lawrence Konner & Denny Martin Flinn, based on Star Trek created by Gene Roddenberry
Rating: PG; violence
Running time: 110 minutes