Star Trek: Generations (1994)


Where the original Star Trek series kind of sputtered to an end after three seasons, Star Trek: The Next Generation became the highest rated syndicated show of its time and came to an artificial end in 1994.  It was brought to a close for a purpose: as the original cast had their last adventure in Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country, it was felt it was time for the crew of the Enterprise-D to move from the small to the big screen.  While the cast, and some of the producers, were a bit concerned with this and thought that the show should run parallel to the movies, Paramount (and its new owners, Viacom) decided that there would be plenty of Trek on television with the new show, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, which had debuted a year before.  

Despite the popularity of TNG there were those hardcore fans who still wanted to see more of Captain James T. Kirk.  For that reason, from the very beginning this was supposed to be a movie that symbolized the changing of the guard.  It was also something that writers Rick Berman and Ronald D. Moore could only get away with since Gene Roddenberry had passed away.  Roddenberry had made it clear that, other than Bones doing a brief tour of the new Enterprise during the pilot episode, "Encounter at Farpoint", he didn't want the cast of the two shows crossing over.  This edict was generally thrown out before his body was cold, as Scotty shows up in the fifth season, having survived by keeping his pattern stable in a transporter beam for 70+ years.  

That did leave a bit of a gap.  It's assumed Uhura went back to her broadcasting career after the last movie, while Sulu had command of his own ship.  Chekov probably went into retirement at some point, but what happened to Kirk?  Well, we get the answers early in the film, and a final answer toward the end.  Unfortunately, those answers were not well-liked by fans and, for that reason alone, what is a decent, if not outstanding, film debut for the TNG cast got a fan and critical drubbing when it was first released. 

With the Enterprise-A decommissioned after the events of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, most of the original Enterprise crew went into retirement.  However, a new ship, the Enterprise-B, is launched a few years later under the command of Captain John Harriman (Alan Ruck).  For a press event Captain Kirk (William Shatner), Scotty (James Doohan) and Chekov (Walter Koenig) show up for the initial run.  Things go awry when a distress call comes in after a ship carrying El-Aurian refugees is caught in a temporal disturbance, as is the rescue ship sent to get them.  While the new Enterprise is able to save some of them, Kirk is lost and presumed dead.

78 years later the Enterprise-D receives a distress call from a solar observatory that is under attack.  The only survivor is Dr. Soran (Malcolm McDowell), one of the El-Aurian survivors.  It turns out that he has made a deal with the Duras sisters (Barbara March, Gwynyth Walsh) to provide them his research in exchange for transport and protection.  Soran's goal is to re-enter the rift to reach a timeless realm called the Nexus, which allows inhabitants to live out moments of great happiness.  To do so he is willing to sacrifice a system with an inhabited planet, so it becomes the job of Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) and the crew of the Enterprise to stop him.  Along the way Picard discovers there maybe another that can assist if he can be persuaded to leave the Nexus. 

It has been quite a while since I've seen Star Trek: Generations, and I remember not loving it, but at least thinking it was a solid film at the time.  I have been going through Star Trek: The Next Generation for the first time in close to 30 years, and am part way through the last season, so this did have a few spoilers for me.  One thing that has surprised me is that a series that I remember being episodic, especially since the original didn't seem all that concerned with continuity, did a pretty good job with following canon.  It was not a straight series with plotlines running through each season like most shows are today, but it was more like The X-Files: threat-of-the-week combined with overall plot lines that evolved as the series did.  I think I appreciate this movie a bit more now because I see it tying up a number of plots left over from the show as well as setting up the later seasons of Deep Space Nine where it became more dependent on stories throughout the season than TNG or any of its other successors. 

From episode to episode on TNG the involvement of the main cast varied depending on the circumstance.  This meant that, other than having them pop in and earn their paycheck, it wasn't always necessary to make every single person in the main crew integral to that week's plot.  So, Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) could go on an adventure, Captain Picard could be abducted, Commander Data (Brent Spiner) could learn about being human, Geordie LaForge (LeVar Burton) could get in trouble for stalking someone, Lieutenant Worf (Michael Dorn) could learn about being Klingon and Councilor Troi (Marina Sirtis) could... well, let's just say that there are some severe issues with how Troi got handled in episodes not involving her mother.  In a movie like this, with an overcrowded crew roster, it is difficult for everyone to have their place.  Surprisingly, Berman and Moore manage to balance it, especially since this could have been heavily weighted with scenes of Picard and Kirk.  The only one that seems to get short shrift is Worf, and that's not surprising as the Klingons are not central to the plot.

Shatner is definitely toned down here, although the character of Kirk is still what can be expected.  One of my favorite lines is from Scotty, who asks Kirk if there is something wrong with his chair when he keeps fidgeting in attempts to keep from interfering with Harriman's command.  He gets a decent action sequence at the end (something that was reshot after the ending of the movie didn't go over well with test audiences) and, at least for me, his character arc is satisfactorily completed.  This entry also benefits from Malcolm McDowell giving us a good villain, motivated simply by a selfish pursuit of personal happiness rather than political or megalomaniacal motivations.

Star Trek: Generations, rather than being brought to us by those who made the previous movies or the original series, is purely a work by those involved with The Next Generation.  Director David Carson directed a number of episodes, and the look and feel of the show is kept intact.  However, there are some problems.  One is that it was made clear that this would be William Shatner's last appearance, in any media (save doing voicework), as Captain Kirk.  The argument about who was the better captain of the Enterprise had been raging for seven years and, no matter how things ended, hardcore fans of the show were going to be unhappy.  It was a no-win situation, with many fans thinking Kirk didn't get to do enough, some who thought he shouldn't have even come back at all and others that were upset that we even found out what happened in detail.  While I thought it was a decent conclusion for him I do agree that it wasn't spectacular, but it wasn't as anticlimactic as what was in the original script. 

The other problem is that this is not a movie to introduce a new viewer or a casual fan to.  One has to have watched at least a good portion of TNG to understand the characters at this point, as well as many of the plot points, including Data's emotion chip, Picard's family and even who the Duras sisters are and their motivations.  It helps to know just what the El-Aurians are fleeing from and what Picard's relation with Guinan is.  These are all things someone who was just dragged into the theater to see the movie would miss.  

The odd numbered Star Trek films have a reputation of not being as good as the even-numbered ones, and this is obviously the seventh in the series.  However, much like The Search for Spock I don't find it to be a horrible film.  It does have the same problem as that one in which the movie does not make a lot of sense unless the viewer is already invested in the whole Trek experience, and it is a lesser film when compared with The Undiscovered Country or First Contact, but is probably the best of the odd-numbered films in the original, pre-reboot run.  It has scenes of true emotional depth, largely for Picard, as well easy, unforced humor (although the emotion chip side plot can get annoying) and well-done action sequences.  This also has some great special effects sequences, with quite a lot of it still being models and miniatures.  I still find First Contact to be the best TNG film, but Generations is not far behind. 

Star Trek: Generations (1994)
Time: 118 minutes
Starring: Patrick Stewart, William Shatner, Malcolm McDowell, Brent Spiner, Marina Sirtis, LeVar Burton, Gates McFadden, Michael Dorn 
Director: David Carson 




 

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