I'm sorry, but when I see this film's title, I just can't help but think about the discovery of America or something, and it doesn't help that, by this time, there "Star Trek" film plots had gotten so lazy that they may as well have revisited the time travel aspect of "The Voyage Home" and traveled back to the days of Christopher Columbus. Don't worry, people, this film's plot isn't quite that silly, though, as one to get annoyed by glaring common misconceptions, I am disappointed to see that Spock didn't look at the "Indians" who Columbus thought he found on his adventure to Asia and point out the lack of logic in calling some of the most American people to ever walk American soil Asians. I joke, but this film's score composer, Cliff Eidelman, did work on "Christopher Columbus: The Discovery" a year after this project, so apparently the guy was really into putting together soundtracks for the foundation of countries. He certainly couldn't have been doing films of that type for the money, because "The Discovery" was by no means a commercial or, for that matter, critical success, whereas this film was always going to be a hit, because, come on, it's "Star Trek", something so big that it had no trouble giving DeForest Kelley a whole million dollars to show up. Wow, now that really does sound like it could make for a comfortably retirement, though I'm don't agree with Wikipedia's constantly proclaiming, of all things, that this film is the last in which Kelley "appears", ostensibly trying to make sure that you forget about how the last thing that Kelley did before he died was voice a character for "The Brave Little Toaster Goes to Mars". Jeez, forget Cliff Eidelman's interest in films about the discovery of a country, Kelley was pretty into space travel, though I'd imagine that as far as the people who didn't care for "The Brave Little Toaster Goes to Mar" are concerned, this was Kelley's big farewell. If that's the case, then this is a relatively satisfying farewell for Kelley and the "Original Generation Star Trek" film series, though it's not all that terribly rewarding, thanks to some shortcomings.
Underdevelopment has been a sporadic issue within this film series, because we all know this mythology, and many of these films, counting on that, put little effort into fleshing out recognizable characters and story elements in the context of a particular venture for the crew of the Enterprise, with this film unfortunately being among the undercooked installments within the "Star Trek" film series, offering only so much expository depth to obscure natural shortcomings. Now, there's a lot more meat to this film than I expected, and considering how rewarding something like "The Wrath of Khan" is, these films don't exactly boat a low standard in compelling story concepts, but there are still plenty of thin areas in this film's promising conflict, and they go emphasized by the undercooking, as well as conventional spots. The film isn't quite trite, as it feels inspired enough for you to forgive many of the formulaic aspects, but the formulaic aspects still stand, and often firmly, because even when you take the familiarity of the "Star Trek" mythology out of account, certain elements to the sci-fi theme to this film are particularly conventional, though not as conventional as a relatively basic "framed by murderous opposers of peace" type of plot concept, which is nothing short of pretty predictable. It's easy to see where this film is going, and it gets to that point with only so much development and only so much kick, yet you can say just that about "The Wrath of Khan", which was also formulaic, with natural shortcomings and, in certain areas, even less meat, but still came out rewarding, so for all extents and purposes, director Nicholas Meyer should deliver on yet another relatively upstanding "Star Trek" film. However, what really undercuts this film and sends it into underwhelmingness is its simply being just too darn slow, because even though "Khan" wasn't exactly moving at a thrilling clip, there's something kind of cold about this film, whose quietness and often overly subtle attention to sparse storytelling dry things up to a rather bland point which challenges your investment, and is too recurring to disregard. Rises and falls in this film's intensity are here, but they're few and far between, going bridged by storytelling that still could have easily been rewarding, but end up being too tainted by dry spells, thin areas, conventionalism and undercooking for the film to stand as truly rewarding on the whole. That being said, the film comes about as close to rewarding as it can, being ultimately held back by more than a few undeniable shortcomings, but not so far that you don't get glimpses of thorough compellingness to break up a consistent degree of engagement value, reinforced by anything from highlights in storytelling to highlights in musicality.
This franchise's musical aspects may be iconic, but they've never been especially unique, and this film's score is no exception, offering only so many refreshing elements, and even being kind of unevenly used, yet for the "Star Trek" series' musical tradition, Cliff Eidelman's efforts here are genuinely distinguished, with a bit of a heavy, maybe even darker soul that was pretty new for this series at the time and is very much lovely on a musical level, as well as complimentary to the heavier tone of this particular film, much like nifty visuals. The film gets around to more environments than your usual "Star Trek" film, and it makes the dynamic tastes in setting really count by delivering on lavish locations, brought to life by sharp cinematography by Hiro Narita, whose stylish tastes in tight framing and warm tastes in lighting and coloring prove to be pretty eye-catching and complimentary to the immersive locations, as well as certain other aspects to art direction. Yeah, yeah, we can go on about how well-produced the film is, like just about every other "Star Trek" film, but production designer Herman F. Zimmerman makes good and sure that a then-pretty respectable budget of $27 million doesn't go to waste, bringing the distinctive world of the 23rd century to life about as well as any other production designer for a "Star Trek" opus, while throwing in some refreshing touches that are additionally fun to behold, especially when accompanied by visual effects that have gotten to be rather dated, but are still pretty dazzlingly well-conceived, with relatively convincing moments that really flavor things up. The film, at least at the time, was about as sharp as any "Star Trek" film on a stylish and technical level, and is still pretty impressive, yet what really brings the final product to the brink of rewarding is the very aspect that is too tainted for the film to be truly secured as rewarding. Like I said, this film's substance is tainted, being formulaic and somewhat thin in concept, and undercooked and draggy in execution, but there's still quite a bit of potential to it that writers Nicholas Meyer and Denny Martin Flinn really do give justice more often than not, delivering on decent dialogue and even enough intelligence to evade much of the fluffiness that corned up previous "Star Trek" films, while taking some unexpected audacious approaches to rather weighty subject matter that go anchored by engaging performances, but are truly brought to life by inspired direction. Nicholas Meyer is one of the better directors the "Star Trek" film series has every had, but where Meyer was able to nudge "The Wrath of Khan" to rewarding, his atmospheric coldness nudges this film short of rewarding, a status that is still almost achieved mainly because of what Meyer does so well, gracing atmosphere with a subtle intensity that is often to subtle, but almost just as often keeps intrigue alive, generally to the point of keeping entertainment value from slipping too much, and sometimes to the point of bringing pretty solid effectiveness to moments of tension which stand on a level that was not seen by the series up to this point, and gives you some mighty flavorful glimpses into what could have been. Meyer's atmospheric steadiness distances you just enough to notice the other shortcomings in storytelling and leave the final product to fall short of its potential, yet such potential wouldn't be so easy to detect if it wasn't for what Meyer does right, because even though I seriously wish that this film was more, it offers just enough to get you by as at least borderline rewarding, and therefore quite engaging.
Overall, underdevelopment emphasizes natural shortcomings and conventionalism reinforces predictability, thus making for a somewhat thin thriller that comes close to rewarding, but is ultimately just barely driven into underwhelmingness by bland atmospheric dry spells, though not so deeply that fine score work, cinematography, production value and visual effects, and meaty story concept areas - brought to life by some clever writing, decent acting and often effectively inspired direction - don't bring "Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country" to come close enough to a rewarding point to stand as a pretty enjoyable conclusion to the original "Star Trek" film saga.
2.75/5 - Decent