In his review of “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country,” the late film reviewer Roger Ebert clearly enjoyed the movie. This was the sixth and final installment of the movie series based on “The Original Series” crew and ship, but Ebert wondered why that had to be.
“Why on earth (or anywhere else) would Paramount want to retire this crew, which is as familiar and comforting as old family friends, and which does its job with the effortless grace of long familiarity?” wrote Ebert in his 1991 review of the movie.
“In Shakespeare, the ‘undiscovered country’ is death,” Ebert wrote. “And elsewhere the bard refers to one who dies as being like an actor who goes off to ‘study a long silence.’ I don’t know if that will work here. I doubt frankly that the crew of the Enterprise can stop talking long enough to die.”
But this was the end for that crew and those stories. “Star Trek Generations” represented the transition from TOS to the crew from “The Next Generation” and the death of Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner).
Ebert said that “Star Trek” had taken an “epic quality over the years,” and “The Undiscovered Country” built on this. Writer Darren Mooney noted that this installment rejected “comfortable nostalgia” and put the crew in new and challenging situations.
‘Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner’
One of the film’s most interesting and tension-filled scenes was when the Klingons came aboard the Enterprise for a state dinner. Chancellor Gorkon (David Warner), who was in charge of the Klingon peace proposal, was there, and at his side was General Chang (Christopher Plummer). The scene was full of awkward comments, stunted conversation, and blue food and drink.
The Enterprise crew seemed not to be enthusiastic about the food, while some Klingons began to eat immediately. This could be because, much like the fear of snakes, it is thought that humans avoid eating the color blue because “blue coloring in food is often a sign of spoilage or poison.”
It turns out that this reluctance to eat was not just acting. Thanks to the special features on the “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country” Blu-ray, we now know that the actors present in this scene did not want to eat the blue food.
“I had a moment of great elation,” said Shatner on the video. “Other than playing this wonderful part with these great actors and actresses and this wonderful director… I got mine back. The prop people colored whatever they had purple.”
Producer Ralph Winter said that the actors did not want to “consume” or “swallow” any blue or purple food that was part of that dinner scene.
“That blue dinner with those weird creatures … some of which were supposed to be alive,” remembered Plummer. “Uhhh… didn’t sit well with me.”
In the video, Shatner explained that the prop team explained that much of the food was actually squid, and they dyed it blue.
Winter said that it turned into an “ongoing joke” throughout the filming process. Shatner noted that actors, as a rule, avoid actually eating when the cameras are rolling.
“Because, once you’ve got this in your mouth,” Shatner explained on the video, “then the closeup, the medium shot, the long shot, the side shot … the ‘this’ shot, the ‘that’ shot… the 17 shots that you’re going to be in, you have to eat.”
“So even if you get one mouthful in, it means 17 mouthfuls during the day,” Shatner said. “Now, what happens if you really go at it enthusiastically? Like somebody who was hungry would? You’re dead. Not because of the time or the energy, [but] you’re dead because of the amount of food inside you when you go home… you’re dead. You may not come up the next morning because of the purple squid you had.”
Shatner explained that director Nicholas Meyer realized that the ‘blue food problem’ was becoming an issue. He decided to include some extra incentive for the actors who would eat the alien cuisine.
Chekov Didn’t Approve
“Nick, recognizing this, said, ‘To any actor who eats, I will give $20,’” Shatner recalled on the video. “That’s all I needed to know.”
He then described how he ate some of the food and ensured that it was part of the 17 additional shots required. Shatner said that he would get $20 per shot, which would mean about $300 per bite.
“So I began to eat squid,” said Shatner. “I was the only one who tackled that purple squid and shoved it in my mouth. And to the consternation of everybody else who refused their 20 bucks, I made hundreds of dollars … which I forced that lying director to pay.”
“I got mine back,” Shatner said with a wry smile.