Thursday, May 16, 2013

Star Trek: Generations

So the original cast was retired after the end of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, which was a modest hit when compared to its predecessor. Now what? You begin working on a feature based on the next best thing – Star Trek: The Next Generation!

Just a measly six months before Star Trek: Generations was released theatrically the hugely popular syndicated series ended its seven year run. This flick was rushed into production (I read that the whole crew only received one day off in between the show ending and the start of filming the feature) and the story was to be a “passing of the torch” to bridge the gap between the two casts. While I did have a huge amount of love for this flick when it was first released in 1994 I have to admit that my feelings toward it have changed significantly over the years.
Captain Jean-Luc  Picard (Patrick Stewart), with the help of supposedly long dead Captain Kirk (William Shatner), must stop a madman willing to murder on a planetary scale in order to locate and enter a space bound phenomenon known as The Nexus.

The story is a convoluted mess. I was willing to make excuses for it back in the day, but now when I watch it my head hurts. The whole idea of the Nexus is dumb and is a cop-out writing device to get the two captains together. If the filmmakers just focused on making the best Next Generation movie they possibly could without having to resort to the lame crossover stuff I’m sure this could have been a winner. As it is the narrative is all over the place, there are jarring tonal shifts and some of the characters go through ridiculously stupid changes that come off as annoying instead of interesting (Data getting his emotion chip).
The cast is fine and give it their all, especially Patrick Stewart. The uber talented Shakespearean actor gets some truly heartbreaking moments where he mourns the loss of his only family (the episode “Family” which dealt with those characters is one of my favorites), and when the Nexus gives him a family of his own you see him act in ways that he never has before. His arc is one of the only aspects of the movie that truly works.

Brent Spiner, who plays my favorite character in this cast, just goes completely overboard once Data’s emotion chip is installed. We’re talking off the deep end overboard. He’s supposed to be feeling emotions for the first time, but all he really does is come off as an annoyingly bi-polar stand-up comedian. He just does and says stupid shit for the entire film; his Macaulay Culkin arm pumping “YES!” and when he sings while scanning for life forms are two of the dumbest moments in the entire franchise. And I’m sorry to point out, dear screenwriters, that finding something funny isn’t an emotional reaction, it’s an intellectual one.
The rest of the cast runs around like chickens with their heads cut off. There’s LeVar Burton’s Geordie being kidnapped and his visor used as a spying tool (an overused cliché from the series), Marina Sirtis’ Counselor Troi piloting the Enterprise during a Klingon assault (tying up a loose end from the series) and Riker doing some random stuff that isn’t important. It was a little strange that Worf (Michael Dorn) was dating Troi at the end of the final episode and here it's totally abandoned with no explanation.

All the guest stars are great, especially Whoopi Goldberg and Malcolm McDowell. We get a little bit of insight into what makes Guinan tick and some welcome backstory. Malcolm McDowell makes for a completely credible emotional villain. He’s been driven mad with sorrow from the loss of his family and will go to any length, including destroying entire solar systems, to be with them one more time in the Never-Never Land of the Nexus. He knows what people’s emotional weak spots are and exploits them to get what he wants (“Time is the fire in which we burn”), and when forced to fight he’s not unlike anyone else – he fights dirty. I bought into his plight and he ends up being one of the few things worth watching this movie for.
Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley weren’t interested in coming back once again, so Walter Koenig and James Doohan took their place alongside William Shatner one last time. They just do what they always do, play two small moons in orbit of the red dwarf known as Kirk. We get to see a different side of Kirk inside the Nexus, one who is desperate not to lose the love of his life like he did in reality years before. One who has given up on Starfleet and finally wants to do something for himself. It’s a nice change, but he goes back into swashbuckling mode once Picard throws his “duty” in his face. Shatner looks like he’s having fun riding horses, jumping across chasms and smacking punk bitches. He sells the bad crossover plot device, but his death scene (yes, a bridge falls on him) is kind of lame.

Director David Carson, who had helmed some of the better episodes of the series, was hired to take on the mammoth task of cranking out a major effects filled event film in under a year. Unfortunately he kind of failed. Sure the action is cool, the Enterprise gets destroyed and some of the players turn in amazing performances, but he seems to love awkward camera moves (all the bridge bound handheld panning from person to person in one take shots), dark and dreary looking sets, lame humor and overly melodramatic crap (Data finding Spot is more goofy than heartwarming). Sure most of it can be blamed on writers Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga, but he actually directed these bad ideas and somehow made them worse. There’s a reason he went from making a Hollywood blockbuster to cranking out direct to video garbage afterward.
Star Trek: Generations is not a complete disaster like The Final Frontier, but it’s definitely not a great entry in the franchise either. It’s just kind of there to let you know that the Next Generation crew had moved to the big screen and that the next sequel would (hopefully) be better. It’s watchable, but the good parts are few and far between.

2 out of 5

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