Star Trek: Generations (1994) – Retrospective Science Fiction Film Review
This is the first first time the cast of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION stepped out of the television tube and into theatres; unfortunately, even more than the six STAR TREK films that preceded it, STAR TREK: GENERATIONS suffers from the feeling that it is only a bigger budgeted episode of the television show, one that fails to use the full potential of the cinematic medium. The result is in many ways the worst that STAR TREK has to offer: science fiction, speculation, and the all-important Sense of Wonder take a back seat to character drama of the most mediocre sort, creating something not too far removed from a feature film version of a soap opera.
Despite self-congratulatory claims that this would be a self-contained motion picture, STAR TREK: GENERATIONS is nothing more than a series two-parter, shot in Panavision and edited together (and not a very good one – “The Best of Both Worlds,” parts 1 and 2, are much better). There is even an obligatory and annoying B-story about Data’s emotion chip, which wastes screen time that should have been devoted to the under-developed main plot, which leaves much to be desired. The opening ten minutes arguable rank among the best big screen TREK – a mini-movie featuring three members of the old crew on the Enterprise B. But when we flash foward to the crew of THE NEXT GENERATION, the interest level plummets. Partly this is because their first scene is a ridiculous attempt at whimsy in the dreaded holodeck; more importantly, it’s because the new crew have not yet attained the level of mythic archetype that would make them capable of carrying a movie on their own shoulders.
STAR TREK: GENERATIONS is weak science fiction. Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) is worrying about the passage of time and contemplating his own mortality. In the great tradition of contrived plotting, he encounters a villain whose goal just happens to relate to Picard’s own personal problems. Rather like Sybok in STAR TREK 5: THE FINAL FRONTIER, who wanted to find Eden, the obsessed Dr. Soran (Malcolm McDowell, who deserves better) is searching for eternal life in heaven. This search is expressed in techo-babble terms such as “nexus” and “time continuum,” of course, but it all emerges as a MacGuffin of the worst sort, just a plot device to give the characters something to do.
The true point of the story is to pass the torch to the new crew and to get the two Starfleet captains together. Unfortunately, the meeting of Kirk and Picard sparks no chemistry, because their personalities are barely engaged by the dilemma at hand, whose stakes are never made palpable to the audience. (We’re told that Soran’s efforts will cost millions of lives, but we never see them at risk; instead the adventure merely helps Picard get over his midlife crisis.) Perhaps surprisingly, the hammy Shatner acts rings around the more subtle Stewart, whose low-key approach proves weak at filling the big screen.
On top of everything else, STAR TREK: GENERATIONS suffers from the none-too-subtly snide attitude that the makers of THE NEXT GENERATION evinced toward the original STAR TREK. In order to smooth over the transition from films based on the orignial STAR TREK series they are willing to cast James Doohan, Walter Koenig, and William Shatner, but the first two get only brief cameos, and Shatner’s featured roll as Captain Kirk remains subsidiary to Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) not only in screen time but also in the callous treatment of the character. Kirk is in the film because it was a good box office decision, but you get the feeling that producer Rick Berman and writers Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga enjoy killing him off so that their captain no longer has to live in Kirk’s shadow.
The few attempts to make STAR TREK: GENERATIONS feel like a real motion picture tend to backfire, such as the inexplicable appearance (courtesy of talented but miscast director of photography John Alonzo) of shadowson the Enterprise. (What – did engineer forget to replace some light bulbs on the ship?) In an even more desperate attempt to justify the feature-length treatment of this television-style script, STAR TREK: GENERATIONS crashes the Enterprise D – a truly spectacular special effects sequence that in technical terms almost justifies the price of admission. However, emotionally, how many times can you destroy the Enterprise and get any juice out of it? As if to underline this failing, the denouement has an under-used Riker expressing regret at never getting into the captain’s chair, to which Picrd responds, “I’m sure this wont’ be the last ship christened Enterprise.”
After the number of times the Enterrprise has been trashed (twice in this movie alone!), one might wonder whether someone at the Federation would start to think the jinxed name should be retired.
STAR TREK: GENERATIONS(1994). Directed by David Carson. Screenplay by Ronald D. Moore & Brannon Braga; story by Rick Berman, Ronald D. Moore & Brannon Braga. Cast: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Gate McFadden, Marina Sirtis, Malcolm McDowell, James Doohan, Walter Koenig, William Shatner, Alan Ruck, Jenette Goldstein, Whoopie Goldberg, Majel Barret (as Enterprise computer voice).