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Lifeforms! You tiny little lifeforms! You precious little lifeforms! Where are you?

Movie

Star Trek: Generations
(1994)

 

For a series I never much cared for, I watched more than my fair share of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Probably because there was a dearth of science fiction TV at the time, and beggars can’t be choosers. Deep Space Nine was far superior of course, and I stuck with Voyager because of Robert Picardo (and, well, Seven of Nine). The big-screen, baton-passing affair that is Star Trek: Generations came out the same year ST:NG ended, and if I was to be snidey, I’d say it was the perfect encapsulation of the preceding seven seasons. Because it’s shite.

KirkDid we make a difference?

I dutifully saw Star Trek: Generations at the pictures, because it featured the Shat, but hadn’t revisited it since; I was underwhelmed, but don’t recall it being entirely worthless, just desperately weak, and a piss-poor way to write Kirk out.

That las part hasn’t changed. I don’t know what Shatner was thinking, signing up to this. Did they convince him he’d be able to give his all to an affecting death the way Nimoy did in The Wrath of Khan? If so, you have to pity the fool, as James Tiberius’ demise is the least heroic end imaginable, falling off a bridge having been beaten up by Malcolm McDowell. Even Tom Baker’s CSO plunge (the one you didn’t actually see) at the end of Logopolis was more dramatically coherent. And the consequence was also that the Shat basically kyboshed involvement in further iterations of the Trek universe for the lamest of exits.

KirkI take it the odds are against us and the situation is grim?

That said, the Kirk material is by far the best of a pretty dire showing all round. I dare say Rick Berman, Ronald D Moore (Yesterday’s Enterprise) and Brannon Braga (er, that horrendous final ST:NG episode) did some stellar work during their time across the series, but the bulk of this is plain tedious, leading you to the conclusion that what’s working in the original crew scenes is not the writing so much as the charisma of the old hands. All three of them.

By rights, Scotty should come aboard the Enterprise D and lament what an ungainly piece of design cobblers she is. Koenig’s on good form at least, even if he’s obviously being given McCoy lines they couldn’t be arsed to rewrite (“What the hell is that?”) There’s the occasional flicker of old-style writing (“I was never that young”: “No, you were younger” in reference to Sulu’s daughter and “Sulu. How did he find the time to have a family?” “And who knew he was gay?” isn’t, surprisingly, a line of dialogue). It’s notable, though, that coming out best from these scenes is Alan Ruck’s inexperienced captain, initially looking like he might be a bit of an arse, but then commendably deferring to the esteemed old hand (also on the bridge: Jenette “Vasquez” Goldstein and Tim “Tuvok” Russ).

KirkYou say history considers me dead. Who am I to argue with history?

The Nexus plotline may be a load of wishy-washy nonsense (see also the fountain of youth in Insurrection for less-than-gripping Next Generation movie plot spines), a cosmic means to get that holodeck fantasy vignette thing going (more of which shortly), but the much-vaunted meeting of captains does at least evidence a few things. Such as: the movie, which fell into a stupor just as soon as Kirk exited, suddenly bursts into life when he’s back and making breakfast.

Dr SoranTime has no meaning here.

The mismatch of acting styles between Shat and Stewart is a joy to behold, as the former, chopping wood and indulging comedy business (“Toast!”), makes the latter stand around looking stuffy and uptight… which is Picard all over. Watching them together, it confirms everything that’s right with OST and wrong with ST:NG. Even the Shat can’t make good on his terribly laboured realisation that this fantasy world is just a fantasy world, though. What an ignominious end for a once great captain.

KirkWho am I to argue with the captain of the Enterprise?

At least Kirk’s experiences are as nothing next to the indigestible syrup of Picard’s chocolate box Christmas greeting card vision of the family he never had (“I love you father, and now I must gag”).  I was put in mind of Buddy Hackett in Scrooged, but here it isn’t supposed to be revolting. And like everything in this version of Trek, everything has to be spelled out in the most tedious fashion. It’s like being forced to attend a literalist convention.

This trait is generally at its worst with anything involving Troi, and particularly in Generations with anything involving Data, who is gifted one of the most molten, cheese-infested subplots imaginable. Most of the ST:NG crew are pretty forgettable, and so get little more than walk-ons, be it Beverly (getting dunked is about it), or Geordi (captured by Klingons) or Worf (constantly on the precipice of a terrible headache). That leaves Picard, Data and Riker, which I guess at least offers a certain parity with the way the cards tended to fall in the OST.

DataHumour, I love it!

Here, Data has an emotion chip fitted following the not-very-funny throwing Beverly in the water (apparently, it was a faux-pas: I rather think he should have jumped in after her and held her head under). This is only the most egregious evidence of the way Generations jams in stray subplots with zero attention to cohesion or coherence; there’s a holodeck scene for no other reason than it’s (apparently) a fan favourite. There are baddie Klingons because, well, despite there being peace now, there needs to be some old-school conflict to remind us this is a dramatic movie rather than the weekly fifty minutes of conflict-free proselytising.

Data’s path to humanity is one prolonged dose of patronisation. He becomes frightened, and cowardly, but it’s okay, because that’s a human thing to do (rather than being, say, court-martialled). He exclaims “Sir, I no longer want these emotions!” which leads to stern-but-true Picard laying down the law. And Brent Spiner gets to large it in a toe-curlingly goofy manner when Data’s full to the brim of emotional brio (“I just love saving lifeforms”).

All of which culminates in the kind of dialogue you hoped had gone out with the ’60s, as he is reunited with his cat (“I am happy to see Spot and I am crying. Perhaps the chip is malfunctioning”). Please, explain to me some more. I don’t understand.

And dear God, the holodeck. Whose bright idea was it to spend ten minutes pursuing this nauseous nautical nightmare? Apart from anything, the holodeck conceit became an abjectly lazy storytelling crutch for the series. Worse, it plays like panto devoid of any of the fun (not that I’m saying pantos actually are fun, but you get the idea). Sober people going to the dress-up box and steadfastly refusing a tipple.

The one upside of this sequence is that it showcases how entirely smug Jonathan Frakes always looks; you can’t help but be entertained by a guy who permanently has a self-satisfied grin plastered across his face, like he’s eaten the entire stock of the pie shop and is really proud of himself.

The villains. Well, I mentioned the Klingons. I guess they thought making them female would be something different, but it rather comes across as slightly tone deaf and sexist, being as they apparently plan to reconquer the Klingon empire with their mighty cleavage, and being catty women folk – they’re the same the universe over, don’t you know – they are given to remarks like “Human females are so repulsive”.

PicardIt’s our mortality that defines us, Soren. It’s part of the truth of our existence.

Besides the Shat, McDowell is the movie’s sole bright spot. Don’t get me wrong, Soren is a rubbish character, all lined up for pathos but given none (there’s nothing fleshed out; his backstory is sympathetic, but he’s written as a plain old psycho, the kind of part McDowell knows only too well). The actor’s always permanently wired, and Generations certainly needed someone to provide a jolt of energy.

He’d have made a good Star Fleet captain, actually, given the role some edge, as opposed to stoic stodge that is Picard (he lost his brother and nephew, you know, but he’ll get over it). I don’t know about you, but if I had someone spouting stock platitudes at me while I’m minding my own business in a quarry, trying to fire a rocket that might cause universal carnage, I’d head butt them too.

Oh yeah. The locations. And the direction generally. Is this the cheapest looking big-screen Star Trek? If you thought The Search for Spock looked like a TV movie, you should check this out. The climax makes Kirk’s tussle in Arena look like Ben-Hur. The dogfight with the Klingons only reminds you how much better these things have been done before. And the saucer crash – trumpeted as a major set piece – really ain’t all that thanks to very obvious model work (it also really goes to underline Roddenberry’s warped logic: what idiot puts kids aboard a starship when there’s always some imminent threat about?)

Brit David Carson had been promoted to motion picture making, having helmed some of the best received ST:NG episodes, including Yesterday’s Enterprise, and had also directed The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and, er, Bergerac (tellingly, he has made only two features since). He was surely seen as a safe pair of hands who would bring it in on budget. It looks like he came in way under.

I’m sure ST:NG fans get something out of Star Trek: Generations, and I’m sure Kirk fans get something out of his final bow, however undercooked, but I find it baffling that Nemesis gets hauled over the coals when this, inferior in every respect, tends to get a free pass. It’s pompous, tedious and barely relieved by the presence of the Shat. Fortunately, next time they’d try and make something actually resembling a movie, rather than a two-part TV episode trailing a shopping list of elements it needs to serve.

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