Mar 7, 2018
Star Trek: Generations (1994) (part 1 of 12)
The Cast of Characters:
Picard and the Usual Gang of Idiots (Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, Michael Dorn, LeVar Burton, Gates McFadden, and Marina Sirtis). The crew of the Enterprise D. Just for a switch, let’s do it Gilligan’s Island style. The Captain, the bearded guy too! The android and the Klingon! The blind guy! The doctor and empathic shrink, here on Enterprise D! If you’ve read my other TNG recap, you know who’s getting the spotlight here. I’ll give you a hint: it’s the bald guy and the android.
Captain Kirk (William Shatner). Let us now praise William Shatner, who managed to get star billing and a big payday for a glorified cameo in which he, let’s see, fries some eggs and then dies, twice.
Scotty (James Doohan). Former engineer of the Enterprise. He’s only here because Nimoy backed out, so he gets Spock’s dry snarkery mixed in with his own compulsory “she canna take it” griping.
Chekov (Walter Koenig). Former navigator of the Enterprise. Chekov is likewise standing in for Dr. McCoy here, which is why he’s able to turn paparazzi into nurses. It’s a useful power in certain situations.
Soran (Malcolm McDowell). Our guest villain for the movie. A crazed scientist who really wants to get into a vague energy ribbon so he can rejoin his dead family… sort of. Couldn’t he just shoot himself? For a Trek villain he’s unbearably bland, despite getting the plum assignment of killing Kirk, but he compensates by giving Shatner a run for his money as the movie’s largest ham.
Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg). Enterprise bartender. She’s here basically to provide unbelievably vague and “mystic” exposition. Plus, this way the filmmakers can say they have an Oscar winner in the cast.
The Klingon Sisters (Barbara March and Gwynyth Walsh). A pair of treacherous sisters from TNG episodes that probably no one outside of the actresses, their friends, families, and hardcore fans care the slightest bit about. Their presence in the movie reads like a midterm assignment from Plot Complications 101.
After the original Enterprise crew was given a nice sendoff in 1991 with the sixth movie, it only made sense to do the next Star Trek film with the cast from The Next Generation.
The decision was made at some point to use actors from the original series to serve as a bridge between the two casts. Spock and McCoy were initially supposed to be involved, but Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley declined, largely because they were expected to show up for the first scene trailing along with Kirk like they were his entourage or something, and they’d already said goodbye in the previous movie, anyway. So James Doohan and Walter Koenig were brought in like the poor man’s Spock and McCoy, giving you a sense from the very beginning that after all these years, the doddering Trek franchise was degenerating into the road company version of itself.
With Kirk and cronies dispensed with early on, for the rest of the film we’re left with (a) the overlarge yet perfunctory TNG cast that’s entirely peripheral to (b) a soggy, vague story featuring (c) a villain played by a noted character actor, and (d) some really unfunny humor. In other words, it’s the blueprint for all the Next Generation movies. This is unfortunate, given the film was intended to be a sort of a passing of the torch from the original crew to the new one. The fans were hoping for something really stirring, and they got a big pile of mush instead.
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Perhaps the problem is that the whole torch-passing idea wasn’t really necessary and, truth be told, only got in the way. Star Trek VI had very explicitly and firmly tied up the stories of the original cast, complete with the old cast literally signing off at the end, and the TNG crew had for its part thoroughly established itself in seven years on the air. They could have stood on their own just fine.
The good news is that in terms of plot, Generations feel less like a double-length episode of the TV series than the three later films with the TNG crew. The central concept is cinematic enough. But like many other things in the franchise once it got into the ‘90s, even the stuff they do right is flawed on some level or another.
In particular, the way this project was executed was less like a feature film, and more like a coda to the series, which had only ended six months previously. The director, David Carson, and writer-producer Rick Berman both came from the series and seemed to approach making Generations as if it were a continuation of all they’d been doing, only with a bigger budget for CGI toys.
Tragically, this means that the good things about the concept, which resulted in random sections of the film that very nearly work, are brutally steamrollered by the ham-fisted production. The promising elements are there: Brent Spiner’s attention-whoring mannerisms, criminally indulged in later films, are muted here, and Patrick Stewart exhibits only a mild case of Shakespearanactoritis—in fact, the performances are generally okay. And the effects are great.
It’s just all piled together into something that’s supposed to resemble a movie, but really just feels like an ungainly attempt at a Trek double-cast tribute reel.
We begin in space as the opening credits play over a bottle of champagne as it floats past the stars, accompanied by a dull, completely forgettable, off-the-shelf orchestral theme that the producers could have picked up at Hollywood Closeouts. Because boring visuals and a sleep-inducing score are exactly how you want to open your sci-fi action-adventure film.
The theme is from Dennis McCarthy, the same guy who did the equally dull themes and orchestrations for Deep Space Nine and Voyager, not to mention producing Brent Spiner’s CD. It’s called Ol’ Yellow Eyes is Back. I wish I were joking. He sings “Toot, Toot, Tootsie, Goodbye”. Good god.
This tired theme is recycled and reused in every conceivable way, backwards and forwards, for every scene in the film. Heroic shot, emotional shot, corridor shot, doesn’t matter. By the end the poor thing is so worn out and threadbare you feel sorry for it. It’s like McCarthy wrote twenty measures of music and then plugged it into a randomizer.
We don’t even get a wisp of the classic Star Trek theme until the payoff for the bottle thing, which is that after the entire opening credits have slowly meandered by, the bottle finally smashes against, and thereby christens, the new Enterprise B. Sure, Star Trek VI didn’t overuse the Trek themes either, but at least that score in general was fantastic. Here, though, the sense of wonder and grandeur the music should be providing is replaced with music more suited to a dolorous afternoon spent staring at the light from the window slowly shifting across your flocked wallpaper while drinking way too much red wine. Is it really a good idea to begin your sci-fi action movie with music that lulls you into a depressed torpor?
They’re making a big deal about establishing the first of the successors to the Enterprise’s legacy, but the producers didn’t actually bother to design a new ship. Instead they just redid the Excelsior model showcased in Star Trek III and Star Trek IV and slapped the name Enterprise on it. It’s not a big thing, and the ship looks really cool, but it’s an early harbinger of the occasionally transparent cost-cutting measures that surface often enough throughout the film for you to wonder if “David Carson” is a pseudonym for Roger Corman.
After this establishing shot of the Excelsiorprise, we cut to the bridge as Kirk, flanked by Scotty and Chekov, step off the turbolift and are mobbed by the press. Wait a second, Chekov? Mobbed by reporters? He’s not a Beatle, folks. Or a even a Monkee.
One of these is not like the other, and it’s the guy with the cheesy Russian accent and still-awful-after-all-these-years haircut. I can certainly understand having the captain and engineer of the last ship onboard for the unveiling of the new one. I could even see the navigator getting an invite under certain circumstances, but this one? What did Chekov ever do in the original series? Even in the movies his chief function was to lead Khan straight to where Kirk was, so that Khan could kill him in person. He even provided transportation.
The point is, up until this moment, Chekov has not really been Kirk-flanking material. It’s a little like having a state dinner at the White House where the special guests of honor are the British Prime Minister, the Prime Minister of Japan, and the taxi driver named Bob that the president shook hands with the previous week.
Oh, and according to the reporters’ dialogue, Chekov is a captain now! Hahahahahaha! Nope, sorry, not buying it. But then, I’m not a hippie Vulcan.
One of the reporters has a rather annoying futuristic camera rig on his head that shines a light into the eyes of whomever is being interviewed. Well, nice to know reporters can still be annoying jackasses, even in Gene Roddenberry’s rose-tinted future universe where the good guys are attractive, the bad guys are butt ugly, and any serious problem can be solved by the healing MacGyver-esque magic of Treknobabble.
The furor over the arrival of the trio is interrupted by the new captain of the ship, John Harriman, played by Alan Ruck. Yes, Cameron Frye from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off has upgraded from his dad’s priceless sports car to a starship, and you can expect the results to be the same.
(Side note: According to Memory Alpha, Harriman’s personnel file from one of the Trek video games says he has “a wife named Sloane and a son named Ferris who both live in Chicago, as well as interests in 20th century Italian sports automobiles.” Aren’t cutesy in-jokes great?)
Oddly enough, this guy will prove to be even more of a sad sack nutbuster than Frye. I know the guy has played other roles, but some actors just aren’t meant to pull off “starship captain”, and, boy, Alan Ruck sure is one of them. As we’ll see in painful detail.
Harriman starts off well enough, making a little speech about what an honor it is to have the trio from the original Enterprise aboard, referring to them as living legends. Well, yeah, because “one living legend, the guy who got the legend’s ass out of the frying pan more times than we can count, and the guy who mixes up his ‘r’ and ‘v’ placement” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.
He then puts his foot in it a bit, remarking how he read about the original crew in grade school. Kirk is clearly not impressed, even though Harriman looks young enough that grade school for him was probably the previous summer. Kirk and the other two begin to mill aimlessly around the bridge, already as bored as we are. Kirk gruffly snubs the reporters and gazes longingly at the captain’s chair.
And then we meet the new helmsman of the ship, Sulu’s daughter Demora. She’s introduced to Kirk, who hasn’t seen her in twelve years, and he says that her being old enough to be a Starfleet officer is “Incredible.” On a related note, the energy I’m using right now to not make a tasteless gay joke regarding George Takei could launch three space shuttles.
Kirk says, “It wouldn’t be the Enterprise without a Sulu at the helm.” Well, it wouldn’t be an Enterprise that looked like it belonged as the flagship, at any rate. I’ve harped on it before, but the other Enterprise designs really weren’t great. From the “Love Boat with heavy artillery” used in TNG to the souped-up “Does this look any more intimidating? Please say yes!” model in the NextGen-cast films to the lackluster salad trivet that Scott Bakula was the captain of, nothing can really match the sleek and elegant simplicity of the original Enterprise, NCC-1701, no bloody A, B, C, or D.
The closest to passable was the model they used for the Enterprise C in ”Yesterday’s Enterprise”. That was kind of neat in a “The Federation cut the budget that year” sort of way.
Daughter-of-Sulu moves off and Chekov wistfully remarks, “I was never that young.” Kirk smilingly, and nonsensically, replies, “No, you were younger.” Oy, Trekbanter. This is going to be a long recap.
Kirk wonders aloud to Scotty where Sulu found time to raise a family. Urgh, there go those bad taste impulses again. Be strong, be strong.
Scotty replies that if something is important, you make time for it. Evidently, that’s something Kirk “always says” (really?), and he rubs a little salt into the wound by asking Kirk if he’s finding retirement lonely. Somehow, I get the feeling James Doohan really enjoyed delivering that line.
Kirk petulantly barks at Scotty for being tactless, but Harriman butts in before we can enjoy any more Celebrity Trekmatch. Captain Cameron asks them to take their seats, which of course leads to Kirk sharing another lingering look at the captain’s chair before moving off. They should really play sultry saxophone under these shots.
God, Jim, let it go! It’s a place you put your ass, not the meaning of life! I know this is sort of the point of Kirk’s presence in this film, but it’s overstated to the extreme. When it comes to symbolism, a little goes a long way, and subtlety wins the day every time, but very little in Trek is ever subtle.