Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Passing Of The Torch With The Passing Of The Captain Is Star Trek: Generations!

The Good: Decent acting, Moments of character, Sense of resolution, DVD Bonus features
The Bad: Plot is very standard, Character issues, Technical issues of the plot device
The Basics: When Star Trek passes the cinematic torch to the Next Generation crew, the result is a poorly conceived plot-heavy movie that fails to illustrate understanding of the characters involved.

There are few series' that have the difficulty that the Star Trek franchise did. Unable to sell his pilot episode, but having so much money tied up in its production, Gene Roddenberry was given a second chance, and a third to create Star Trek. After three years, it was canceled and years later it found its audience in syndication and with Star Trek: The Animated Series. After a few successful films, Star Trek: The Next Generation was launched and after seven years of being the top-rated syndicated television show, that series called it quits. Before it was off the air, Paramount confirmed that there would be a new Star Trek movie and that it would feature the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Star Trek: Generations was always going to be a film that passed the torch from Star Trek to Star Trek: The Next Generation and the intent was to finally seal off the Star Trek storyline somewhat conclusively. The thing is, it feels like that. It feels like a movie that has the very real goal of establishing the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701-D as being as larger than life and heroic as the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701 (and -A). I recall being very excited when I first went to see Star Trek: Generations and offending a very close friend of mine who was working tech on a school play the same night Star Trek: Generations premiered. Sure, I went to see her play, but it was after I saw the film and I was ambivalent to both the movie and her play (though I liked the quilt she made for it!). In retrospect, I know I ought to have paid much more attention to her play and her hard work in it, but at the time, I guess I just didn't know how to prioritize people that way.

What I did know how to do was evaluate things, like films and that objective mindset is what left me ambiguous to the experience of Star Trek: Generations.

When the U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701-B is being launched under the command of Captain John Harriman, Captains Kirk and Scott and Commander Chekov come aboard as part of a press tour of the launching of the historic ship. When two refugee ships are caught in a mysterious energy ribbon, Kirk encourages Harriman to rescue them, as it is the only ship in the area. This has disastrous results as the Enterprise is severely damaged, one of the refugee ships is destroyed and Captain Kirk is killed.

Approximately seventy years later, the U.S.S. Enterprise-D is out exploring the galaxy when Picard learns his brother has been killed in a fire and a Federation scientific outpost has been attacked. Investigating the outpost, Picard's crew rescues Dr. Tolian Soran, an El-Aurian who was rescued by the Enterprise-B. While Lt. Commander Data deals with suddenly having emotions as a result of Dr. Soong's emotion chip, Soran launches a probe at a nearby star, destroying it, a brash act that results in him abducting Geordi and teaming up with the Klingon sisters, Lursa and B'Etor. Overcome by guilt, Data tries to help Picard determine how to recover Geordi and what Soran's goals are, which all seem tied to the energy ribbon which is nearby again!

Star Trek: Generations is riddled with both problems and allusions to Star Trek: The Next Generation, the latter of which will be lost on non-fans. For example, Data's emotion chip is not just a plot-convenient device contrived for the film, it was first introduced in the fourth season episode "Brothers.” Similarly, knowing that the Enterprise has a history with the Duras sisters from such episodes as "Firstborn,” enhances the viewer's understanding of the position they are in and the grudge they have for the members of the Enterprise crew.

The problem is, if one understands those allusions, Star Trek: Generations is significantly less of a film than one would want it to be. Take, for example, the presence of the Duras Sisters in the film. Their purpose is to use Soran's technical knowledge to develop a trilithium bomb. This makes no sense for two reasons. Trilithium is introduced in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Starship Mine" where it is characterized as a common by-product of warp engines and highly unstable, if one does not use an inhibitor on any case carrying trilithium resin. So, trilithium is neither unknown, uncommon, nor undeveloped as a potential weapon. The Duras sisters don't need their relationship with Soran to know how to build a trilithium bomb. But more than that, it makes no sense because one of the last times the Duras sisters were seen, in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Past Prologue" their whole deal was SELLING a bomb of about the same magnitude as a trilithium weapon. Knowing the series ruins Star Trek: Generations.

But within the context of Star Trek: Generations, the technical aspects undermine the story. The energy ribbon, we are told throughout the film, is a gateway to the Nexus, a place of pure bliss. Soran is destroying stars to get back to the Nexus. This is perhaps the biggest overreaction to the problem that the writers could have conceived. Dr. Soran makes no sense because his methods make no sense. He is a man searching for bliss. How does he accomplish that? Wiping out stars and star systems. Hmm . . . okay. Once the mechanics of the energy ribbon were explained, Soran makes no sense; in order to get to bliss, all he has to do is beam in front of the ribbon in an environmental suit or fly a shuttlecraft into it. Sure, it's not as villainous, but it fits the rules of the phenomenon the writers provided!

In other words, the plot contrivances overcome any sense of reasonable plot. You know, the more I write about Star Trek: Generations, the less I like it! And I haven't even gotten to the character aspects yet! Star Trek: Generations tries to disguise its weak plot with the appearance of character work, specifically by radically altering Data's character. Data as an android overcome with emotions is an attempt to deliver comic relief to the film and it often seems rather obvious and simple, like Data swearing when the ship takes a serious tilt toward a nearby planet. I understand the idea of Data being like a child, overcome with emotions and thus unable to regulate them. His character works, while somewhat contrived, make sense at least.

The problem is, the three biggest characters in the movie do not make sense. Dr. Soran is a generic villain, megalomaniacal and twisted and the "why" just does not fit. In the novelization of the film, we see Soran's perspective, his paradise that he was removed from and he makes a little more sense (not enough to justify all the carnage he perpetrates). Similarly, Captain Picard is wounded beyond ability to function reasonably as the result of the death of his estranged brother and nephew. Not to be heartless or anything, but Picard was never that close to his family and as a Captain, he's got the ability to compartmentalize. It seriously dumbs down his character to have him so unable to function following the news that Robert and Rene have died in an accident.

But it's Captain James T. Kirk whose character makes no sense in Star Trek: Generations and I understand why. In order to have Kirk make sense, the budget for the film would have been blown on the cast. It was too cost prohibitive to show James Kirk's ideal paradise. I'm of the mindset that if you can't do something right, don't bother doing it at all. Hold out for making a quality product.

In other words, you can't take a legendary pop culture character who has entertained audiences for over eighty hours and expect that you can do just anything with him. Kirk is committed and he's always been happiest when he has a purpose and is exploring the unknown. He's broken every rule and fought harder than any ten men to retain control of the U.S.S. Enterprise. Yet, when we see him in the Nexus, he's chopping wood. Man, that's lame. That's so lame, it . . . it's so lame I can't even make an analogy it lamed me so bad!

So, once Kirk's idea of bliss is undermined, Star Trek: Generations is undermined completely, as it had been since pretty much the moment Soran started being "Ridiculous Movie Villain!"

The acing is fine throughout Star Trek: Generations, despite the gutting of some of the characters. No one stands out as incredible - including Malcolm McDowell as Dr. Soran - but no one is awful either. Indeed, Brent Spiner is finally able to exploit his sense of comic timing as Data and he plays the over-the-top childlike ridiculousness of having emotions quite well.

This plot-heavy film is ideal for those looking for pretty mindless entertainment. There are many explosions and it's probably fine if you just don't think about it. If you're not invested in the characters or the franchise, the inconsistencies are much less annoying. Fans of Star Trek might like it because it has a pretty classic sense of adventure.

But for fans of Star Trek: The Next Generation, the film is bound to disappoint. Gone is the promise of the last moments of "All Good Things" where the series promised to take viewers into the exploration of the human potential. Then what? The next time we see the crew, it's another obvious "Kill The Villain" film. Star Trek can do better, Star Trek: The Next Generation should have.

On DVD, fans get a commentary track, behind-the-scenes featurettes and deleted scenes (several of which are not finished for cinematic release). None of them truly fix the problems of the film. The bonus disc is packed with featurettes that put the film in context . . . poorly.

At least the torch was effectively passed. Wow, I wish I had actually paid attention to that play now; it must have been better than this movie!

For the other Star Trek films, please click here for the review of the movie franchise!

For other science fiction epics, please check out my reviews of:
Star Wars – Episode 1: The Phantom Menace
Battlefield Earth


For other Star Trek film and episode reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2010, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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