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Non-Review Review: Star Trek – Generations

This August, to celebrate the upcoming release of Star Trek: Into Darkness on DVD and blu ray, we’re taking a look at the Star Trek movies featuring the original cast. Movie reviews are every Tuesday and Thursday.

There are lots of problems with Star Trek: Generations. It feels too much like a two-parter from the television show. It tries to fit in a laundry list of demands from the studio. It wastes Malcolm McDowell. It decides that the only part of the original series deserving a send-off is James T. Kirk, and then pushes him off-screen for an hour before dragging him back into the movie to kill him off in the most ironic and anti-climactic manner possible.

Yet, despite these considerable flaws, Generations also has a lot to recommend it. Although the script occasionally feels a little overcooked, the themes concerning mortality lend it a serious amount of weight. Director David Carson demonstrates that he can work wonders on a tiny budget. Cinematographer John A. Alonzo finds a way to shoot familiar sets in a way that makes them look incredibly beautiful. None of these strengths can fully compensate for the very fundamental flaws with the seventh Star Trek cinematic outing, but they do mitigate them somewhat.

Generations isn’t a great Star Trek film, and it isn’t even the best odd-numbered Star Trek film, but it is far from an unmitigated disaster. Well, except for the way it treats Kirk.

Riding the wave...

Riding the wave…

The most obvious problem with Generations is the way that it tries to tie together Star Trek: The Next Generation with the original television show. To be fair, it’s easy to understand why Rick Berman wanted to do a story featuring both casts, but it feels a little misjudged here. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country was already an effective farewell to the classic crew, allowing them to ride off into the sunset. It dealt with their advancing years, but afforded them one last “hurrah.”

In short it did everything you might reasonably expect of “the last Star Trek film.” So Generations has a different role. We’ve already sat through an effective farewell film for Kirk and company, so the primary objective of Generations should be to introduce us to the cast of The Next Generation on the big screen. It should be about transitioning the crew from weekly television to biennial feature film, in the same way that Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan demonstrated that the rules had changed for the original crew.

All he needs now is a star to steer it by...

All he needs now is a star to steer it by…

The biggest problems with Generations stem from the fact that it completely messes up the simple task of getting us to invest in the crew of the Enterprise-D as heroes capable of carrying a motion picture franchise. This is most obvious in the way that it tries to tie back to the classic Star Trek television show. We can understand the temptation to do a crossover. After all, barring the occasional guest shot from James Doohan, DeForest Kelley, Leonard Nimoy or Mark Lenard, The Next Generation has remained quite distinct from the original Star Trek.

However, even if we allow that the crossover is a good idea for the first feature film starring the cast of The Next Generation, Generations makes several mistakes. For one thing, it assumes that the only member of the original crew that we care about is James Kirk. While Kirk was one of the faces of Star Trek, there’s an argument to be made that bringing Kirk back for this film is only barely a bigger deal than getting Leonard Nimoy back for Unification, a two-part television episode.

"What do you mean Paramount aren't optioning The Return?"

“What do you mean Paramount aren’t optioning The Return?”

Spock is just as iconic as Kirk, and he did a guest shot on the show. So making a movie that centres on Kirk and Kirk alone feels like it undersells the potential for a crossover. The crew of the Enterprise-D completely disappear from the last half-hour of the film, with a subplot involving the Klingons in the jungle completely deleted from the final cut. As a result, the movie’s climax hinges on Kirk and Picard teaming up to beat the bad guy in what amounts to little more than a fist-fight.

To describe it as anti-climactic is an understatement. “We’re running out of time,” Picard gasps as events build to a crescendo. “Look! The control PADD is still on the other side.” Kirk offers, “I’ll get it. You go for the launcher.” Picard cuts across, as if realising that the audience doesn’t want to watch Picard and Kirk doing separate action stuff in the middle of the desert. “No, you’ll never make it by yourself,” he insists. “We’ve got to work together.”

He certainly left a hole in the franchise...

He certainly left a hole in the franchise…

It feels like it’s building to some nice cheesy dramatic moment where the duo punch out Soren in tandem. Then they’d high-five and finish each other’s awful action movie puns. Yes, it’s incredibly cheap and more than a little silly, but that’s the entire point. You’ve brought back James T. Kirk, so it stands to reason you want some of the geeky fanboy thrill of the two actors and characters kicking ass and taking names. Instead, Kirk tries to assure Picard, and the audience at home, “We are working together. Trust me.”

That’s the moment where you realise that this is as good as this team-up is going to get. In fact, it will get worse quite quickly, when Kirk is killed by a falling bridge. I understand what Braga and Moore were going for, but a cruel and ironic twist feels like a cynical conclusion to what is supposed to be a celebration. Everybody involved seems ashamed of how it played out.

Between a rock and hard place...

Between a rock and hard place…

Malcolm McDowell initially boasted in Shatner’s Movie Memories that he was thrilled at getting to kill Kirk (“I’d immediately become a trivia question at ‘Star Trek’ conventions all over the globe,” he joked), but has since admitted disappointment with the scene. Brannon Braga himself has joked that it was all down to a script typo:

It was a script typo. We accidentally wrote: Killed by ‘Bridge on Kirk’ instead of ‘Kirk on the Bridge.’

Even director David Carson, who does a wonderful job with the material and restrictions handed to him, has conceded that Kirk’s death was far from the movie’s finest moment.

"I still like Braga more than Abrams..."

“I still like Braga more than Abrams…”

It just feels profoundly unsatisfying to bring Kirk back, to marginalise him for most of the movie and then to kill him off by dropping a bridge on him. That said, it’s more than the rest of the original Star Trek cast get. Reportedly the crew tried to recruit the rest of the ensemble to appear, and even to get Leonard Nimoy direct. Nimoy turned it down, feeling that it was unnecessary and that his character contributed nothing to the script.

Getting the rest of the cast to appear might have made Generations feel like more of a proper (but still unnecessary) send-off. Unfortunately, a brief opening scene with Scotty and Chekov doesn’t quite give the impression that we’re passing the baton from one generation to the next as much as “it’s all about Shatner.” (To get a sense of how interchangeable the script views the original Star Trek characters, note that Chekov seems to be reading lines originally intended for McCoy, recruiting nurses to help with triage.)

Show me heaven...

Show me heaven…

In a way, you could make a serious argument for Generations as a spiritual successor to Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, which is not a good thing. Both movies centre on Kirk as the most important character of the original Star Trek show, although Nimoy and Kelley were able to temper the Kirk-centricism of The Final Frontier a bit. Soran’s conversation with Picard about time echoes Sybok’s philosophy regarding pain. Picard’s “it’s our mortality that defines us, Soran – it’s part of the truth of our existence” feels like a companion to Kirk’s “I need my pain.”

Even on a superficial level, both films feature somewhat gratuitous Klingon villains – complete with equally gratuitous Klingon periscopes. (Ronald D. Moore points out the absurdity of this in his commentary.) There’s also a climax in the desert and some nice shots of Shatner riding a horse – included in The Final Frontier because he was the director and the guy responsible for the story, and included here as a way of trying to lure him to take part in the film. Both films feature Kirk encountering an item of religious significance. In The Final Frontier, it’s God. Here, it’s the Nexus, which is very close to heaven.

Thinks can only get B'Etor...

Thinks can only get B’Etor…

To be fair to writers Ronald Moore and Brannon Braga, they inherited a lot of the problems with Generations. Both were television writers having their first crack at a big screen movie, but at the behest of studio executives. Star Trek on television is very different from Star Trek on the big screen, and Generations doesn’t quite account for this. Take out all of the problematic Kirk stuff, and it works quite well as a enjoyable two-part adventure. The runtime would even be close.

On the commentary, Moore jokes that a lot of the big moments from the movie came from Moore and Braga’s pitch for the sixth season cliffhanger, and it feels like this would make a pretty fun two-parter. The movie leans incredibly heavily on continuity from the show. It brings back Lursa and B’Etor, for crying out loud. I don’t mind the duo, but they felt stretched a little thin when they guest-starred on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. They don’t make convincing heavies for a big screen adventure.

"Well, there goes the budget..."

“Well, there goes the budget…”

That said, Moore alludes to a cheeky “Roman orgy scene” that the duo pitched on the Bird of Prey, which sounds ridiculously absurd. Then again, it’s arguably a consistent extrapolation of B’Etor’s sort of creepy sexuality which we catch a glimpse of here. B’Etor did hit on Picard back in Redemption, and she seems to flirt with Soran here. “I hope for your sake you were initiating a mating ritual,” she coos, wiping her blood on his lips.

While there’s no way that a scene like that would have made it to the final cut of the movie, it would have at least given the duo some definition and character. As it stands, the cinema-going audience really has no reason to invest in them beyond “they were in Star Trek a couple of times.” And that doesn’t really work when you’re bringing Star Trek to the big screen. The dialogue alludes to the most generic of motivations – their “plans to reconquer the Klingon Empire” – but there’s no reason to care.

Picard's in the field...

Picard’s in the field…

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan featured the return of a villain from a first season episode, but the script was careful to paint his motivations so clearly and so compellingly that he worked without any context. Generations seems to drop in plot points from the show without any real care that the audience has no investment. There’s a brief appearance of the Romulans which is contextualised within the show’s framework of galactic politics (Picard dreads “a new Romulan threat in this sector” while Soran knows they’re hunting for stolen “trilithium”), but none of this really matters to the audience who just want to watch a science-fiction adventure.

Similarly, the whole subplot with Data feels like it’s paying off seven years of character development from the television show. It feels like his emotion chip should have been covered as a character arc in the final year of the show, rather than shoved into the franchise’s first trip to the big screen. It’s a huge piece of his character arc, but it doesn’t work outside the context of the character’s seven-year quest to become more human.

Lighten up...

Lighten up…

To be fair to Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga, it seems like the studio pretty much just gave them a checklist to run through when producing the film:

As I recall, it was a difficult genesis for this project. There were a series of requirements that this film sort of had to have that we thrashed out early on. We wanted this to – like I said earlier – to bridge the two generations. … We wanted it to… There was a requirement from the studio that the original series cast members only appear in – what was it? – the first ten or fifteen minutes of the film?

Right.

Captain Kirk could then recur and come back at the end of the motion picture and have an adventure with Picard, but this was very much supposed to be a Next Generation film. They also wanted a very large villain, sort of an arch-nemesis that would be our antagonist throughout the film, á la Khan, who was in the most successful – creatively successful – of the Star Trek films, The Wrath of Khan.

And they also wanted some Klingons. Because everyone likes Klingons. And then they also wanted sort of a Data comedy runner to go through the whole thing. So with those sorts of requirements in mind, we started crafting a story. And I remember early discussions about what the film would be.

It’s quite difficult to imagine any writers making all of that work much better than Generations ultimately turned out.

A caged beast...

A caged beast…

Although this points to what is probably one of the biggest problems with The Next Generation movies. When the original Star Trek came to the screen, there was a rather conscious shift from television to film. In particular, when the movie series started working, it was clear that the movies were the product of particular individuals and teams, distinct from those who had worked on the television show. Harve Bennett and Nicholas Meyer are the most obvious examples, imposing their own vision of what Star Trek should be that was quite distinct from that seen on television. Which is a good thing, because cinema is more than just television on a larger budget.

The first three Next Generation movies were driven by a lot of the same talent responsible for the television show, and working under the same sort of network and studio structure. However, what works for television doesn’t necessarily work on film. For example, Moore did an exemplary job on Deep Space Nine. One of the show’s strongest seasons – the fourth season – was the result of a network edict to more heavily feature antagonistic Klingons. With a team of writers thrashing out ideas and stories and arcs, it’s easier to work through notes than it is as two individual writers working on the first feature film.

Picking Data's brain...

Picking Data’s brain…

On the commentary, Moore and Braga make the argument – and it’s hard to disagree – that most of Generations feels like an extended episode of the show. It was famously written around the same time that Moore and Braga were working on All Good Things…, and it’s not too difficult to imagine the two scripts could have been swapped around easily enough, with Generations making a solid finalé:

I think in many ways that this was the most true to what the show was of the Next Generation films. First Contact is a big gigantic adventure, but we never really did that in an episode. We never really had an episode like that.

And because you’re in a different time period, it just sort of felt… you’re right.

This is sort of the show. For good and bad, this is what the show was really.

And we were writing the show. It was so funny to be writing both the final two-hour and this, because they were in a sense both movies. And I remember thinking, “Oh my god, All Good Things is better!”

I did too!

Being honest, as brilliant as All Good Things… was, I suspect it wouldn’t have worked as well on the big screen. Which ever idea had been chosen as the feature film would suffer, because both ideas were very solid television ideas.

Space, man...

Space, man…

To be fair, this television criticism is also a problem with Star Trek: First Contact and Star Trek: Insurrection. First Contact is a brilliant sequel to The Best of Both Worlds with fantastic direction and thrilling cinematography. Insurrection feels like it could have worked as a two-parter in the show’s somewhat fatigued final season. I think First Contact works better than any of the other Next Generation movies because the concepts are a lot smarter and a lot more brilliant, but the first three Next Generation films could easily have been made for television with slightly cheaper special effects.

The films really lack a strong vision that’s willing to push the concept and cast of The Next Generation beyond the television show, in the same way that The Wrath of Khan pushed the original crew of the Enterprise out of their comfort zone. The Wrath of Khan felt almost like a bizarro reboot, where once young characters were replaced with older and wiser leads in familiar roles. Given Patrick Stewart was hardly the youngest of performers when he signed on to the show, it’s hard to imagine how the crew might have been reimagined for the big screen.

He is the monarch of the sea...

He is the monarch of the sea…

The only real shift seen in the films – and one that arguably begins here – involves the attempt to reinvent Jean-Luc Picard as an action hero. Stewart reported demanded more action sequences in the film, echoing his complaint from the show that Picard doesn’t do enough f$@!ing and fighting.” Turning Picard into an action hero worked for First Contact, given the personal stakes involved and the sheer desperation Stewart conveyed, but it feels like a step in the wrong direction for the other films.

While the big screen saw the original cast of Star Trek grow up, the Next Generation films seemed to see the cast of the spin-off regress, play-acting at being younger and more dynamic than they had been on television, but without scripts strong enough to support that shift in characterisation. What’s interesting is that there’s a clear reversal of the technique that made the classic Star Trek movies work so well.It’s as if the writers looked at what worked in the films starring the original crew, and decided to do the opposite.

As villains go, I'm not sure he makes the cut...

As villains go, I’m not sure he makes the cut…

Excluding the leading trio, the ensemble in the original Star Trek show existed mainly to deliver exposition and quick gags. Scotty, Sulu, Chekov and Uhura were very hazily defined. However, the movies took the time to develop the ensemble, and to define the characters within it. While characters like Kirk and Spock got the lion’s share of the character development, Scotty and Chekov and Sulu got more to do in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home than they did for most of the television show. Chekov’s defining moment is “nuclear wessels.” Scotty will be remembered speaking into a mouse.

In contrast, the main cast of The Next Generation were reasonably well-defined in the television show. Sure, we’d dread the occasional Troi-centric episode, but the crew had a clear dynamic and the actors had a chemistry that worked. After seven years, we felt like we knew Riker and Geordi and Crusher. However, the feature films pushed those characters very clearly to the background. You’d be forgiven for assuming, based on the feature films, that Picard and Data were the only characters to appear on The Next Generation.

Chipping in...

Chipping in…

Watching Generations divorced from the television show, we get no real sense of who the rest of the ensemble are beyond their relationships with Picard and Data. Riker is Picard’s right-hand man. Geordi is captured and tortured as a lesson to Data about the value of courage. Crusher gets angry at Data to motivate him to install his emotion chip. Troi serves as as a springboard for Picard’s exposition and then crashes the ship to remind the audience that she exists. Worf is promoted at the start of the film, but he’s also bullied by his co-workers.

Indeed, that establishing scene manages to expertly convey the “cliquishness” implied in episodes like Lower Decks. While that might be an interesting piece of self-criticism on a television show, it’s a terrible way to introduce a movie audience to your cast. “Hey, meet your heroes! They hang around all day and play naval ships! Also, they passive-aggressively bully one another! Woot!” Nobody wants to watch a movie where your heroes are a bunch of elitist jerks – certainly not where none of those jerks have any real personality.

Things are heating up...

Things are heating up…

Despite the attempt to open the film on a quite character scene, the sequence on the holodeck doesn’t define any of the individual characters within the ensemble. Well, it sort of makes Riker seem like a jock jerk, but beyond that there’s no real sense of what makes Worf a fun character or why we care about Crusher. The movie doesn’t bother to introduce us to these characters, instead assuming the audience’s interest is already invested from the television show. It’s the same problem apparent in the movie’s use of Lursa and B’Etor or Data’s emotion chip.

To be fair to Generations and First Contact, this is a problem that would become more pronounced as the Next Generation movies went on. First Contact made a half-decent effort to give the characters who aren’t Picard and Data something to do, and both Generations and First Contact play to Picard’s strengths as a character and Stewart’s skills as an actor. Barring the confrontation at the climax of Generations, Stewart spends most of the movie ruminating on mortality and time. It’s more convincing than the way that Star Trek: Insurrection and Star Trek: Nemesis would ask us to accept Picard as an out-and-out action hero.

Opening up...

Opening up…

The movie asks us to emotionally invest in Picard as a character. Once again, the movie relies too heavily on the television show, as we’re expected to mourn the passing of two guest stars we met briefly at the start of the fourth season. Stewart does great work in giving us a tortured version of Picard. His character arc feels fairly smooth, even if it is somewhat interrupted by his return to the planet with Kirk. Stewart is a stronger actor than Shatner, and he sells the whole“it’s our mortality that defines us” better than Shatner sold “I need my pain.”

As great as Stewart is, and as hard as he sells that emotional arc, the film runs into trouble when we’re asked to join Picard inside the Nexus. Picard’s version of paradise looks like something from a particularly pretentious Christmas cards, complete with over-dressed children and a healthy dose of sap. The sequence is far too cute and saccharine for its own good, and it actually does a lot to undermine the fairly clear emotional arc that Picard has been following.

This isn't what the studio meant when they asked the writers to blow the top off the franchise...

This isn’t what the studio meant when they asked the writers to blow the top off the franchise…

Given that he rejects Soran’s philosophy even before he enters the Nexus, the movie needs to convince us that he might be tempted to stay. It doesn’t work because Picard’s idealised family life seems so shallow and so generic. As much as Patrick Stewart convinces us that Picard is caught emotionally off-guard, we don’t buy any of this. As a result, there’s never any suggestion that he might choose to stay – or even that, with a little thought, he would even want to stay.

That said, the whole Nexus subplot seems ridiculously contrived. It’s obviously a way to get Kirk and Picard together so they can start kicking ass and taking names and getting bridges dropped on them, but it’s a concept that falls apart if the audience even stops to think about it for more than a second. Picard has a magical space doorway that can send him anywhere in space and time. He could travel back in time to warn his brother and nephew about their house fire. You know, that thing that is eating him up inside.

Real starship captains cry...

Real starship captains cry…

But he doesn’t. Why? Perhaps because that would undermine the movie’s theme about how mortality is what defines us or something, even though he uses the Nexus to save millions of lives that were killed by Soran’s missile the first time around. Saving two humans as well probably isn’t going to damage Picard’s karma or the time line or whatever justification the film could offer. It’s also worth pointing out that he could also probably do something a bit easier than taking on Soran in the middle of a desert unarmed as well. Maybe send Kirk back to the Enterprise-B and have him keep an eye on Soran after the rescue. Or even just back an hour or two earlier on the Enterprise-D.

Still, there is a lot to like here, even with the many serious problems. Director David Carson does wonderful work. Some of the sequences on the Enterprise seem designed to evoke his sterling work on Yesterday’s Enterprise. Given how so many of the commentators on the commentary track for that episode suggested it would have made a nice film, it’s a shrewd move. There’s a lovely tracking shot during Soran’s obligatory motive rant (name-dropping the Borg!) which makes the whole thing work much better than it should, following Soran as he wanders around his camp.

You can't switch it off...

You can’t switch it off…

There has been some redesign work done on the sets for the film, and they look a lot more cinematic. Again, the bridge seems to borrow a few cues from Yesterday’s Enterprise. However, the real beauty is in the way that cinematographer John A. Alonzo shoots the sets. Unfiltered sunlight seems to pour through the window, lending the whole film a decidedly golden hue which makes the Enterprise look much more vibrant and cinematic than it did on the small screen. There’s beautiful use of shadow and space. Even if the movie isn’t written to feel cinematic, it looks cinematic.

That said, the fact that the movie’s biggest set piece is the Enterprise’s stellar cartography lab speaks volumes about the problems with the film. It’s a nice set, but it feels like the movie probably shouldn’t be spending so much money building a gigantic room where two people can deliver plot exposition. Stellar cartography is only used once. It looks great, but it doesn’t have the necessary “wow” factor to justify the production design and effort. It’s the kind of investment that would make sense in a television show, where you could use the set multiple times, but the fact the movie puts such emphasis on stellar cartography seems to hint at its misguided cinematic sensibilities.

The sky's the limit...

The sky’s the limit…

There are also lots of little nice touches. I like the decision to open the film with a shot of the Enterprise-B, the missing link that had never been featured before. In particular, I actually really like the weird ensemble that populates the ship. Alan Ruck as the timid and unassertive Captain John Harriman makes a nice change from the kind of Star Trek captain we’ve come to expect. The character has enjoyed something of a rehabilitation in tie-in media, but you can see the potential apparent in Ruck’s small performance.

Harriman’s bridge crew is composed of recognisable cult actors in small roles. Jenette Goldstein from Aliens is there. So is Thomas Kopache. Look, it’s Tim Russ! And Glenn Morshower! Indeed, the only real member of Harriman’s crew who cult film lovers won’t recognise is the most important – Jacqueline Joan Kim as Demora Sulu, the daughter of Hikaru Sulu. (Indeed, many of her lines from the film were apparently written for her father.)

He's really Ruck-ed now...

He’s really Ruck-ed now…

I also like Malcolm McDowell’s work here, even if Soran is very hazily defined. The character suffers from having to share story space with the Duras sisters and the Romulans and having a back story that leans rather heavily on the Borg. McDowell relishes some of the better lines that he is given (“time is the fire in which we burn,” for example), and he gives Soran a strange gravitas that I’m not entirely sure the character deserves.

The only problem is that Soran never feels like that much of a threat. He’s just a needy and desperate individual, more pathetic than hateful. We’re told that his plan will cost millions of lives, but it’s not given any real texture. The threat he poses is never palpable. He manages to kill Kirk, but – even then – he only does so indirectly. There’s a deleted scene where he brutally tortures Geordi, but in the final cut he just says some mean words and then offers a one-liner that makes no sense.

"You'll tell me what I want to know, or I'll pump The Final Frontier into your ocular implants. On repeat."

“You’ll tell me what I want to know, or I’ll pump The Final Frontier into your ocular implants. On repeat.”

Soran feels more like the script’s means to a particular end than a credible foe in his own right, but McDowell does the best that he can. His exchanges with Stewart sizzle, demonstrating that Picard works best with a verbose and sophisticated antagonist rather than a physical foe. (There’s a weird bit in the fight at the climax, where they both climb in and out from underneath one of Soran’s platforms, like kids playing chasing.) Soran’s introduction to B’Etor on the Bird of Prey is (quite literally) striking, and it’s the one point where he seems a scary mixture of ruthless and suicidal, and I love the way he takes over the command chair.

While the horse riding sequences were clearly only included as part of a cynical ploy to get Shatner to sign on to the film, there’s something surprisingly effective about Kirk and Picard both riding horses together, harking back to the classic description of Star Trek as “Wagon Train to the Stars.” Although the sight of Kirk and Picard cooking together isn’t quite what most fans would have wanted, there’s something quite charming about the way that Kirk’s ego leads him to immediately start offering life advice to his fellow captain.

Patrick Stewart manages to do what most of the original cast had been fantasising about for decades...

Patrick Stewart manages to do what most of the original cast had been fantasising about for decades…

There’s an incredible amount of ego required to deliver the line “I think the galaxy owes me one”, and the fact that it works at all is a testament to just how brilliantly comfortable Shatner is in the role. Shatner gets a tough time – I know because I give him one – but he also has an incredible and undeniable charm as Kirk. Despite the fact that it doesn’t seem enough to anchor a blockbuster film, it is a giddy fanboy thrill to see Stewart and Shatner playing off one another, even if the material isn’t as strong as we might like it to.

Truth be told, I’m actually quite fond of Generations. I think that – if you cut out most of the Kirk stuff – you’d end up with a fairly decent Next Generation episode. However, this draws attention to the movie’s two most severe problems: (a.) you can’t cut the Kirk stuff out; and (b.) it’s meant to be a feature film. A lot of the problems that would haunt the Next Generation films start here. Even if the movie has its strengths, these are never enough to quite surmount the fundamental flaws.

Check out our reviews of the Star Trek movies featuring the original cast:

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32 Responses

  1. Another top Trek review! I’m fond of Generations also but not oblivious to it’s ‘episodic’ limitations.

    It’s a shame that – beyond First Contact – the Next Gen films didn’t really excel in the way that the original cast films did and the way you address this point is totally valid – namely there was no Bennett or Meyer to mix things up creatively.

    • Thanks! The problems with the Next Gen films was that they generally felt like big-budget two-parters rather than “movies”, sort of “more of the same” rather than realising that what works for television doesn’t work on film. (Indeed, Generations would have made a reasonable final episode, if nowhere near as good as All Good Things…)

      • I believe Generations was filmed at the same time they were filming the last few episodes of TNG, and that it was even considered for the final episode while All Good Things was considered for the first film?

      • I’m not sure if it was filmed at the same time, but Braga and Moore were working on the scripts at the same time.

        I don’t believe that they ever considered swapping them, but I’ll probably get into that when I get to the seventh season of TNG. My research tends to be quite light until I arrive at the season in question.

      • Just stuff I heard, have no idea if I am correct. All Good Things is far better, and for that matter far better than most of the Trek films period 😛

      • As Moore and Braga were writing All Good Things, they conceded it was a better script then Generations. How true.

  2. “…In the first ten minutes, the retired captain (Kirk) manages to successfully mount a rescue in an under equipped ship and lays down his life to save it. In the hour and twenty that follow the standing captain of the flagship (Picard) had succeeded in doing one thing: Identifying the next likely target of the villain… which actually was a mistake because the star was blown up anyway along with his ship and crew…

    …or else this ending goes from TWO LEGENDS TEAMING UP TO SAVE THE DAY to MASSIVE FAILURE FINALLY FINDS THE REAL HERO TO SORT THINGS OUT FOR HIM.”

    -S.F. Debris

    • That is certainly a succinct summary of the plot. Nobody comes out of Generations looking particularly good.

      • S.F. Debris is usually spot on in his reviews. He’s someone to check out when you have the time!

  3. Just looking at your comment about “All Good Things” working as a TV episode, so swapping it with “Generations” not helping all that much, I think the difference is that “All Good Things” had a stronger base that could be expanded into a movie.

    You want a recurring character? Q’s one of the TNG antagonists who’d benefit most from being the on the big screen, he had the scale and had a character so he wouldn’t be another generic God level character.

    You could use multiple time periods to bring in the old crew and segment the TNG crew as they did in First Contact to give more people more to do.

    Fudge the plot a bit, and the Nexus is a way into the Q Continuum, Soran wants to get back for ultimate power, giving him a more defined motivation and threat.

    One story had lots of narrative building blocks, the other had a checklist, I think it’s easier to add the latter as you work through it than the former.

  4. I’ve said before that Riker should never be put in command of the Enterprise because when Picard’s away, bad things happen. And this is undoubtedly the worst example – the Enterprise was lost on Riker’s watch, without even so much as a court martial. Maybe Captain Jellico was right about Riker.

    This is the first time we’ve seen Guinan after her rather mysterious disappearance from TNG. Why did Whoopi Goldberg leave the series anyway? Is it because her film career was taking off? I could never understand why Guinan was tending bar one minute and then gone the next, and then she’s suddenly back on the Enterprise without so much as a word from anyone.

    The revamped Stellar Cartography is an interesting addition, and rather different from the way it looked in Lessons. This is probably how they imagined it on TNG but never had the budget for, and it probably formed the basis for the Astrometrics Lab on Voyager.

    We get another example of Brannon Braga’s fondness for the reset button with unwinding time at the climax. I’m surprised he stopped there with Veridian III; he could have prevented the destruction of the Enterprise while he was at it.

    I could never understand why Generations seems to be TOS passing the baton to TNG when the series was already over. It seemed to be a sentiment that came a little late, and didn’t McCoy already do as much in Encounter at Farpoint? And both Kirk and the Enterprise D are lost on Veridian III. I’m not sure if it’s passing the torch or the closing of a chapter.

    I wonder if they named Harry Kim after Jacqueline Joan Kim? Malcolm McDowell doesn’t share any screentime with a Romulan Darren. The closest is a dead one turns up on the Armagosa Observatory when Soran is recovered. McDowell was so taken with the line “they say time is the fire in which we burn” that he had it engraved into Soran’s pocket watch. Soran is probably Picard’s most “verbose and sophisticated antagonist” since Gul Madred. Did you think First Contact was more then a glorified two-parter Darren?

    • You’re right, I was unclear about what I meant. I changed “screen time” to “story space.” Thanks!

      First Contact is very much the exception to the “two-parter” rule. And it could be argued that Nemesis feels more like a Voyager two-parter than a Next Gen two-parter.

      Personally, I always assumed that Guinan was still around during the later seasons of TNG, just off-screen? (I assume Goldberg left to do movie work. She certainly had a lot of affection for the show, and understandably so. Refresh my memory, was Rascals her last appearance?)

      • Heh, Nemesis feeling more like a bad Voyager two parter is a pretty good point (btw, I find many of Voyagers two parters to be quite strong, Scorpion for example). I’ve seen some people try to lump FC into that quip, and claim its just Best of Both Worlds on the big screen, but I disagree, I don’t feel it’s paced like an episode at all, it feels like its own movie, and I in fact like it a lot more than Best of Both Worlds (which isnt my favorite epic Star Trek multi-parter, I actually like Scorpion a bit more, don’t kill me)

      • Nah, I’m a big Scorpion fan. Although, I prefer the two-parters around it to that. (Future’s End, Year of Hell, The Killing Game.)

      • Interesting. I actually dislike Futures End (despite it having Sarah Silverman, that’s still strange to me) and Killing Game, but I do like Year of Hell, however its reset button ending really weakens it. Would have been better as a season arc (which it was originally intended to be).

      • Oh, it would have. And Braga kinda eventually got to do it as a season arc during the third year of Enterprise. And I’d argue it was better than anything Voyager ever did.

      • I don’t dislike Futures End, I actually got confused with the season two finale for some reason, so disregard that…I only got reminded with what it is after your review. Sorry 😛

      • No, it was Suspicions. Like I said – one minute tending bar and giving out good advice, the next she vanishes into the ether without even a mention until back again in Generations. We even get to see Guinan’s quarters for the first time.

      • Thanks for the spot. I knew it was not a particularly memorable episode anyway.

      • Yeah Darren, you’d think Guinan’s swansong would have involved Picard, but in Suspicions they don’t share any screentime at all. I don’t think it was intended to be Whoopi Goldberg’s last episode, but perhaps a film offer came in (Sister Act maybe?) and she had to leave the show behind because of it. In Generations, there does seem a sense of unfinished business with Guinan’s character, but she would vanish again in the next two films (Guinan would have slotted in perfectly in First Contact helping to fight off the Borg invasion of the Enterprise) until she’s reduced to a cameo appearance in Star Trek: Nemesis as a guest at Riker and Troi’s wedding.

  5. Im probably one of the few people who doesn’t totally hate this film

    • While it’s not a very good film, not by a long shot, esp. when compared to the film that came before it and the one after it, but I do like it. I was a little kid when it came out and I watched it on a big screen TV with my family, and it’s just a very nostalgic film. I like the soundtrack and like that we got one big budget theatrical film with the Enterprise D and its look and feel, even if they can’t seem to be consistent with what uniforms they’re wearing, a very odd Roger Cormenesque error for a major big budget Star Trek film…

      • Yep, the TNG cast never looked great in the DS9 uniforms. The early DS9 uniforms always reminded me of work overalls which fit well with the tone of that show. But the Enterprise crew were not doing the some sort of job as DS9, so it felt strange to see the flagship crew rotating into what looked like uniforms designed to hide dirt and grime.

      • I’m not even sure they give a reason, it just seems the characters randomly switch uniforms, because I guess the production crew couldn’t decide what they liked? Also, apparently the movie was supposed to feature a whole new type of uniform that would be a cross between the original movie red uniform and the TNG uniforms, which sounds awful. I like the gray ones way more…

  6. Also I admittedly love the look of the film, despite its pacing and writing being the most like just an extended episode, it just looks really good, perhaps because I largely like the NextGen look of things, esp the Enterprise D and its in the early 90s when practical effects and CGI were merged together, making effects age much more well in general. I wish First Contact had kept the Enterprise D or at least how stuff looks like here 😛

    • I meant to say despite it being paced and written like an episode, it very much looks like a film (in a good way), more so than say Insurrection IMO, which looked like a (albeit bad) DS9/Voyager episode.

    • Yep. It’s a shame that they had to destroy the Enterprise D. I thought it would look great on film. I particularly like the lighting on Generations. It makes the sets look much more like feature film sets.

      • It still looks very modern. I’ll take the Enterprise D bridge over the Abrams bridge any day.

  7. Oh, random fact, the Enterprise separating and the saucer section crashing on a planet was apparently planned for a sixth season episode (I think a two parter that never materialized, and Descent took its place), and then All Good Things before being used in Generations. Man, All Good Things had a lot of cool things cut out (Borg, stealing the Enterprise from a museum, crashing onto a planet) yet still remains far superior to this and all the films, maybe except First Contact.

    • Though I’m kind of glad it wasn’t in All Good Things. Not because it’s a bad scene, quite the opposite, the saucer crash is one of the few things I truly like about this film, and it benefits from the very high budget for the movie, which I don’t think a tv episode, even one like All Good Things, could have pulled off as well. Though maybe I’m wrong.

      • I seem to have inspired a bit of debate about Generations. I thought opinion on this film was always a bit scanty.

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