STAR TREK: GENERATIONS (1994)
Now, just for context, I absolutely don’t like any incarnation other than the classic Shatner/Nimoy Trek, so this probably won’t be the most analytical review on the subject. I think the Next Generation films were textbook examples of a television producer’s complete inability to think like a big screen movie maker. But even on its own small screen terms I felt The Next Generation was pretty crummy television. Where TOS had the vibrant colors, the cool 60’s music, Shatner! Nimoy! the fights, the babes, and above all, the more interesting and lasting themes and social commentary, Next Generation spent seven years regurgitating old themes and in most cases making them tiresome with Levar Burton, using that Reading Rainbow voice, saying something about a warp cores or Data talking about fractile codes and learning emotion and blah blah blah. Once or twice they lobbed a good idea out there, but even when the show showed signs of a pulse, like having Picard turn into a Borg, they all wussed out, and in classic television style, Picard was instantly cured and brought back to normal in one episode.
Umpteen episodes of the TNG series made me throw my hands up and say, “They just don’t have it.” I see it like this: In 1966, Gene Roddenberry was an ex-cop, ex-airline-pilot, regular joe making a living in the tv business and he cast a show with reliable, working stiff actors with charisma who took the job seriously but not too seriously and they all created magic. By 1987, after millions of fans had been fawning and drooling all over “The Great Bird” on the convention/cruise circuit and the like, he had this enormous head and a serious moneymaking franchise to live up to. Plus, like George Lucas, Rodenberry ceased to be just a guy working in “pitchas” now metamorphasisizing into one of those clay-footed Gods he was always trying to deflate on the show. So, now looking down from Mt. Olympus Roddenberry chose stentorian-voiced, super serious Shakespearean Patrick Stewart to boom out his grandiose notions of humans evolving into socialist, peace-loving weenies. And taking Patrick Stewart’s cue, the rest of the cast poured a lugubrious over-earnestness into their one note performances and lo’ there came to pass a television show with the Star Trek name that had flat uninteresting characters, sissy action, uninspiring effects, dopey ship design, HORRIBLE MAKE UP(say what you will about the 60’s spit and paste stuff, Spock and the Vulcans look cool) , lifeless unhummable tv wallpaper music (except for, of course, Goldmsith’s and Courages themes and fanfare. ) and above all, no magic. (I notice the same phenomenon happened with the second Star Wars trilogy, instead of fresh, likeable, not-too-serious actors like Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill creating something new and exciting, Liam Neeson and co. were moping about, so preoccupied with their part in history that they distanced the audience, and were shadows of who came before.) So, in the case of Star Trek: The Next Generation, it was no longer cutting edge, socially relevent sci-fi television, but ‘they’ve done all this before, only better’.
And in the case of Generations, the story that they already did better was Shatner’s disastrous Star Trek V. Instead of Spock’s brother looking for God, we have a non-descript Malcolm McDowell looking for Heaven of some sorts. And in each case, you have completely unmotivated villains committing needless crimes to find answers that any third grader could probably answer fairly credibly. i.e., Seems kind of retarded to look for God on a planet as is trying to move a planet to get into something that he could just beam into. So, here’s Generations, a film rife with stupidity, continuity errors and paradoxes in one of the biggest wasted opportunities in the history of science fiction movies.
I saw the film when I was two years out of college, when Star Trek movies were losing their lustre but still something to look forward to. I wasn’t nuts about the prospect of having to sit through a big screen TNG movie , but part of me hoped that maybe the show was hampered by television budgets and the fifty minute format. Maybe they’d bust out with a real barn-burner of a story. And while I heard that Kirk was going to die, I never for one minute imagined that he’d die falling off a bridge. So without reading much about the film– not really interested in the behind the scenes interviews with Patrick Stewart and Rick Berman, I went to see the film on opening day, November 2004, with low expectations, very little pre-knowledge and slight hopes that it would be good.
Now, I have to point out here, that Generations has hands down the BEST opening title sequence of the entire film series. (an object floating in space, what is it? Oh, a champagne bottle, crashing on the new Enterprise! If only ST:TMP opened with that much flair)
So after being somewhat impressed and ready to see a cool movie, the film immediately let me down with television thinking. Kirk opens the bridge doors and walks into newspeople with head cameras. HEAD CAMERAS!!! PAH!!!
It’s the late 23rd century. We’ve scene floating suitcases in the first movie. You’re telling me we can’t have floating ominpresent camera balls from the 1980 Flash Gordon movie? News people are going to wear headgear in 2290? In an era of holodecks and transporters? C’mon! (and in the next movie LevarBurton acquires robot eyes, so one would think at the very least, that TV cameras of the future would be based on that technology.)
Okay, so yes, a minor gripe but still, I’m looking for this film to wow me and already it’s giving me what I fully expect from television hacks. Then the dialogue. “Captain Kirk meet Demora Sulu.” “Your father is Hikaru Sulu?” “Yes, you’ve met her before when she was so high.” Ah, thanks for telling us. Hey, how about Lt. Sulu Jr. simply says, “Hello, Captains, great to see you again.” to Chekov and Kirk. And Kirk’s line, “It wouldn’t be the Enterprise without a Sulu at the helm” explains who she is. Because you know, Sulu nearly gave up his career for Kirk and Spock and was seen at Kirk’s apartment drinking wine from a futuristic (television prop! television prop!) test tube, so you know, KIRK F***ING KNOWS SULU HAS A DAUGHTER! Then Scotty says, “Well, Captain, it’s like you always say, if you want something you have to make the time.” Wait. Kirk’s been bestowing old Scottish fart platitudes on Scotty? Since when? And Kirk says “It’s good thing you’re an engineer. With tact like that you’d make a lousy psychiatrist.” Written and approved by a team that clearly doesn’t know or understand the characters.
Then they leave spacedock and there’s an admittedly funny bit with Kirk saying “take us out”, to pompous applause. And then the plot starts with this Nexus ribbon that kills Kirk for the time being. giving him a more interesting death scene than his actual death, but still, the opening is basically like Spock’s death in Khan. So what started out as an average Star Trek film with Shatner, Scotty and Chekov, now shoots forward 80 years to Picard and company, testing our patience with gimmicks on a boat. And the film comes becomes a duck in the water.
After his awe-inspiring title sequence, director David Carson suddenly stops making a motion picture and doesn’t even use the most obvious camera moves and transitions. Before leaving the Kirk era, we’re treated to an impressive pan across the damaged section of Enterprise B and then we dissolve to a still ocean and the HMS Enterprise sitting in the water? BORING! Seems like a bonafide movie director would pan down the hull of the seafaring Enterprise to the crashing waves in the same manner that we left the last one. You know, with a flourish.
So then there’s Data, boring old Data with his tiresome quest to be human, starting his section of the film doing something seemingly out of character for cheap laughs. He pushes Dr. Crusher in the water and Levar Burton, still unable to shake his Reading Rainbow delivery, admonishes with, ‘That was not funny! Hmmm. I would’ve laughed if I was there. Seemed funnier than what happened to Worf. But that’s just the tip of the iceburg. By the time Data’s saying “open sesame” to a tricorder, I was ready to leave the theater. BUT FIRST! In a shocking scene of how-low-can-you-go, cheap-ass television mentality, Geordi unscrews Data’s head to insert an emotion chip, revealing a cheeseball dome of plastic and blinking christmas lights. Say, fellas, ain’t nobody seen the Terminator? They’re still in 1966 TOS territory! At least the androids made out of goop in “What Are Little Girls Made Of” were creepy. All they can do on the show is talk about how human Data can be and he’s got a screw off head with blinking lights? COME ON!
Meanwhile, Picard finds out his brother and nephew are dead, leading to some of the worst ham acting ever to come out of Star Trek. I said ever. (and that’s saying something) Every TNG lover always loves to slam Shatner, and heap the praise on old baldy, but if you put David’s death scene from part III next to Picard’s nephew’s scene, Shatner wins by a lightyear. I literally expected Stewart to bellow, “Heavens to Murgatroid!” The lip spluttering, “F-f-falling in love!” Ha! Ha! Ha!
THEN! Ryker and his team beam onto the Armagossa (Duh!) Space Station with FLASHLIGHTS!? Not even those wonky camera hats from five scenes back but yep, good old fashioned two dollar Ray-o-vac flashlights. Except these are more futuristic in that they’re really small and don’t emit much light. They don’t even use some sort of Night vision lamp, which I think would still be outdated in the 24th century, they have battery powered flashlights. The minds behind Star Trek… What makes me laugh is how the front office can watch this stuff and not send a flurry of memos scolding them for being such backward thinking dimwits. I mean, aren’t those tanned boobs in the studios up to the minute with all the lastest security devices and technology? And I’m still talking 1994 here.
And we’re treated to yet more TV when a crewman finds a dead Romulan and says to Ryker “Commander, you better come see this.” which is really like #2 on the list of Television/B-movie dialogue cliches. Say, I have a cutting edge idea, you know, since they’re like matter of fact, scientific people of the future. Wouldn’t the crewman simply say, “Commander, there’s a dead Romulan here.” And we can still cut to the guy holding the dummy with the cheap make up, if you must have that.
It only gets worse from there. Data gets dopier and downright irritating with each subsequent scene, Malcolm McDowell is wasted, Whoopi Goldberg shows up in another one of her patented horrible hats, there’s a fight with the Klingons that uses stock from Undiscovered Country. And here’s an example of writing your characters stupid: good old boneheaded Ryker knows Geordi was kidnapped by the Klingons and he doesn’t order a complete security scan on those cheeseball sunglasses just in case there maybe a cutting edge camera in it, (evolved from those hats from the 23rd Century news crews?)
While I wasn’t blown away with their VI output, ILM completely phoned in their fx shots with this one. The Enterprise D, which I thought looked pretty unconvincing on the TV screen managed to look even phonier in 70 mm, gets beaten and crash lands on a planet in a sequence that looked like it was filmed for Thunderbirds. (The 60’s version, that is). Literally, the shot of the Enterprise coming out of the clouds called to mind a paper plate wobbling over a paper mache mountain.
And finally, when it can’t get any worse, Kirk shows up again and seems like a guest star on a TV show that he used to be a part of. And this is my biggest beef with an already nearly-intolerable film.
Okay, keeping in mind that Captain Kirk not two movies ago, refused the idea of a magic wand that would release his pain, why is he calmly accepting his existence in a dream state where his cicrumstances are always changing with the slightest thought which completely proves that it’s clearly not reality? He needs to jump a ravine to find that out when he’s got Picard in his back yard and can’t complete the act of seeing his girlfriend without the scene changing AND HE’S CONTENT TO STAY THERE? JAMES T. KIRK?!!! (The man who raged, “Be content? Be content!? BE CONTENT!!?)
And on top of that, if he’s accepting of this load of bull, why isn’t he playing catch with young David Marcus while Joan Collins folds laundry and sips cocoa in the background? We just heard in the LAST film that Kirk’s still pretty busted up over the death of his son. And uh…GEE… SEEMS LIKE THE THEME OF THIS FILM IS LIKE ABOUT DEATH AND REGRETS OF BEING ALONE AND TIME BURNING LIKE FIRE AND STUFF. Wouldn’t that be foremost on Kirk’s mind, NOT some horseshit out of left field character named Antonia? Wouldn’t that character trait be the one that unites Picard and Kirk and which they both decide to live with for the greater good, etc. etc.
Antonia. ANTONIA!!? Unbelievable that with all the stuff written about Kirk and this is the end of Shatner’s thirty years in Trek, this is the best he can come up with. Yes, if his book is to be believed turns out SHATNER conceived of the Antonia plot device. (Which isn’t surprisng when one considers the non-canonical Final Frontier plot.) But here’s Ron Moore and Brannon Braga, supposedly big fans, and seasoned writers and they went along with it — more worried about appealing to Shatners’ love of horses than to the millions of fans who’ve done nothing but watch Star Trek over and over for years and years?
You hand me that assignment and I’d be all, “Yeah, so we do Forest Gump and Captain Picard is running with Kirk and company on the Genesis planet and they stop the Klingon from killing David, then Picard watches Kirk save Edith Keeler and then Kirk raises the shields on Khan and blows the Reliant out of space before Khan knows what happens. And you know, cool stuff happens because it’s Kirk who’s going to die and we need a swan song for the greatest space hero of all time.
Anyway, Kirk dies and that’s it. He fizzles out. And so did my interest and hope for the Star Trek series.