Sympathy For The Devil? Star Trek The Undiscovered Country’s General Chang

Christopher plummer st undiscovered country

“Guess who’s coming to dinner?”

The Klingon General Chang may be a deep space cold warrior, a warlord “frightened of change” as Kirk puts it, but as portrayed with deft skill by Christopher Plummer, issuing silken, veiled threats with poker faced guile, he is deliciously cultivated.

Chang quotes Shakespeare at the drop of a Bat’leth, be it at a jagged diplomatic dinner party with his Enterprise hosts, or spinning crazily in his command chair while loosing photon torpedoes to stave off Kirk’s attempt to save the Khitomer peace conference. While everyone else reinterprets Glasnost and the fall of the Berlin Wall, Plummer gets to ham it up with glee. If the devil gets all the best tunes, he also gets the Bard’s lines.

But you haven’t heard Shakespeare until you’ve heard it in the original Klingon, as peace broker Chancellor Gorkon (David Warner) tells his hosts (a great line Plummer was jealous he didn’t get). Chang further elucidates in his own forked tongue: “To be, or not to be, that is the question that occupies our people, Captain Kirk. We need space, breathing room!” “Earth, Hitler, 1938,” Kirk snaps back.

As the late watch bell sounds on the Klingons return to the transporter room to beam back to their own vessel, Chang smiles, gesturing, “Have we not heard the chimes at midnight?” Noting not just the lateness of the hour, but that time is running out for Gorkon and his peace initiative. Like Macbeth with Duncan, Chang will soon dispatch assassins to his chambers,

Plummer requested his character be bald with less pronounced forehead ridges. He wanted Chang to stand out from the other Klingons so that his Shakesperian turns of phrase sounded more natural, coming from a more humanly relatable antagonist. The bolted on eye patch is a nice indicator of his toughness too! Chang looks and sounds impressively regal and calculating in the low light and shadows of the Klingon courtroom, where he prosecutes Kirk (William Shatner) and Bones (DeForest Kelly) in a show trail for the murder of Gorkon. He is masterly at creating a mood, drawing the gallery in, hanging on his every word.

“Let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the deaths of kings, ” he begins. He gradually builds up, by way of questioning McCoy’s medical competence (“Your hands, doctor, do they shake?”) to a furious broadside at Kirk, accusing him of the murder in revenge for his son David’s death at the hands of another Klingon on the Genesis planet. The script here echoes Adlai Stevenson’s impatient fusillade at the stonewalling Soviet ambassador Zorin in the U.N during the Cuban missile crisis – “Don’t wait for the translation, answer me now!” Chang certainly seems to be a student of Human history; one of his personal maxims must be, Know your enemy.

Christopher Plummer st Undiscovered Country 3

Throw Milton into the cultural melting pot too. Chang’s desperate desire to cling to his warrior’s coda, his rejection of appeasement and a soft existence find expression in that epic poem, Paradise Lost: “Better to reign in Hell, than to serve in Heaven.”

Chang re-quotes Hamlet’s most famous line as Enterprise and Excelsior lock weapons on his cloaked ship, in a more melancholy mood as he stands and stoically meets his fate. He has played his last “dishonest game of dice.” For Chang, “The play’s the thing,” and finally, “Our revels now are ended.”


Originally posted 2013-06-01 15:44:40. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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