Star Trek: Generations (1994) (part 12 of 12)
And now for the DVD. I’m just going to cover the two-disc set released in 2004, since I really don’t want to have to delay this thing by having to track down the newer version. Besides, the 2004 set is pretty definitive in my view, and is really the set to grab if you simply can’t live without this movie in your life.
Of course, if you can’t live without this movie in your life, it might be advisable to go out and find a new life.
The disc has roughly the same setup that the other Trek two-disc sets have, as I stated in my Star Trek V DVD article. Documentaries, an audio commentary, text commentary, storyboards, the usual.
For some strange reason though, the trailers for the movie are nowhere to be found. It’s an odd omission and one I find truly disappointing, as the trailers are actually much better than the film itself. You can find them online, though not always in great condition.
Now for what the set does have.
In addition to the text commentary, we also get a very good, very candid audio commentary from the screenwriters.
Audio Commentary by Writers Brannon Braga and Ron Moore:
This is a fantastic, honest audio commentary which goes a long way in explaining just what the hell went wrong.
Notable notes from the commentary:
- The usage of the original crew was mandated by the studio, so it’s likely anything different would have been shot down by the suits.
- Braga and Moore tell an amusing story about their one and only meeting with Shatner, in which he made it absolutely clear that he felt he needed to be integral to the plot. On this point the writers agree.
- The writers used the number 47 as a sort of good luck charm in their writing. It’s another Trek running gag.
- Writing for Guinan was difficult, since they apparently felt she should be written very obliquely.
- The transition to the new crew was initially written as a big action scene, with Romulans attacking an outpost and being run off by Picard and his crew. Subsequent drafts were changed so that their intro was something a little offbeat and new. Can’t say they failed at that.
- The writers admit the amount of stuff they had to jam into the movie in order to make it work was difficult to manage.
- The writers were initially worried about the shift in tones between the stuff with Data and the parts of the movie that were actually important. They also deliberately wrote Data as becoming more annoying after the installation of the chip. So… mission accomplished.
- The writers pretty much admit that Troi and her empathic powers were useless, though not as bluntly. They do have some tact, it seems. They also note how odd it was for them to have a therapist onboard, thanks to how Gene Roddenberry structured his universe. This ended up turning the character into more of a social activities director, which is fitting in a way, since the Enterprise D looks like a cruise ship.
- Picard crying is criticized a bit. They think it didn’t work because it didn’t quite feel right for the character’s big screen debut. You know, as opposed to it being because it drags the film down to a halt right when things should be picking up speed.
- The Nexus part of the story is freely called overly convoluted, an understatement in my opinion. It’s extremely confusing, and the fact that they were able to make is as coherent as they do merits—oh wait, they don’t really. Never mind.
- In early drafts, there was a bizarre orgy-type scene on the Klingon ship, something I am very glad was not used. Might have been nice to have the stuff with the Klingon sisters surviving and meeting up with Riker and his team, though. If nothing else, it would have given the characters something to do other than be the cardboard villains they are in the finished film.
- The writers are with me on whole Pottery Barn aspect of Guinan’s quarters.
- The writers are especially fond of the Stellar Cartography scene, where Picard and Data face separate personal and professional problems.
- The writers feel the film falls apart once it gets into the Nexus and you have the two captains scrambling eggs, and they’re right again. Hindsight is definitely the strong point for this particular writing team.
- They feel this movie is the truest in spirit to the TNG series, which I definitely agree with. First Contact is a big action flick, Nemesis is also in that vein, and Insurrection is just a goddamn mess.
- There was initially a little bit more with Geordi driving the sisters crazy by not doing anything in particular.
- The bizarre moment where Data scans for life forms amused the writers more than it did anybody else. I’m not surprised.
- The reused shot of the Klingon ship exploding was due to budgetary reasons. Yeah, that was also the reason Roger Corman tended to pull the same kind of shit. It’s also the reason you make sure you have enough money in your f/x budget to get the shots you need.
- Having families on the ship made things more like a city. Or, you know, like a cruise ship.
- The Christmas scene is derided as being too treacly, another massive understatement. I rather like the idea they floated about having it be something really twisted and weird, but that’s just my sense of humor.
- The writers are with me on the carousel thing, too—it’s just bizarre. It’s something that would work fine on Twin Peaks though, I will give it that.
- They’re with me on the whole “Why go back in time to immediately before the shit hits the fan” thing.
- The Kirk/Picard meeting is covered, and the general feeling is that it was too low-octane a meeting for the two characters. The intention was for something charming and offbeat, which it is. They also agree it doesn’t work, which is true.
- The horses in the movies are William Shatner’s, which he rented to the production team. The writers love this, as do I.
- They go into the alternate ending quite a bit (see below) and how hard it was to come up with something that would blend together with the rest of the sequence. To be fair, what they came up with almost worked.
- The “Oh my” line as Kirk dies was Shatner’s idea.
- They have a good laugh at just how much Brent Spiner hates cats. It’s pretty damn funny to listen to, especially with the big close-ups of Spiner having to nuzzle the damn thing.
Overall, it’s one of the better commentary tracks I’ve ever heard. Very insightful, very honest, and very funny.
The Star Trek Universe:
The geek squad has the red carpet rolled out for them in this section, and we get a nice tribute to TOS art director Matt Jeffries; a reasonably interesting set of documentaries concerning the other ships in history called Enterprise; a bit on the knives of Trek (the knife maker also made the one for Rambo III); as well as a rather dry piece on the Picard family album prop.
There’s a nice piece on the Stellar Cartography set, but the real showcase of this section is two documentaries about the making of the movie. The first is a more general piece, but the second focuses on the shooting of the finale done in the Valley of Fire in Nevada, which served as Veridian III.
Uniting Two Legends:
This is a nice 25 minute featurette that offers a general overview of the movie, with a focus on the two casts being united in one movie. Most of the cast is interviewed (Shatner remarks on how odd it was for him to be a co-star), and Patrick Stewart cuts an amusing image with his uniform… and a pair of sunglasses.
Much is made of the difference between making the series and making the movie, and to be honest, it’s a bit of a puff piece. Michael Dorn relates an amusing story about his discomfort with the promotion scene, and we get some nice info on Stewart and Shatner working together.
Strange New Worlds – The Valley of Fire:
With the only focus being the shooting of the Veridian III scenes in the Nevada desert, this is a meatier documentary, with plenty of nice behind-the-scenes footage and interviews. The three actors involved in the sequence, as well as the filmmakers, marvel at the scenery. And I have to agree, as this is one of the most amazing places I’ve ever seen.
It’s also nice because this is the only piece on the disc where we hear from Malcolm McDowell. There’s also some amusing behind-the-scenes stuff as Stewart and McDowell clown around a bit between takes. We also get a look at the filming of the original ending (which I’ll get to in a bit), as well as the re-shoot. Like the other making-of piece, this is a solid, compact and entertaining piece.
Inside ILM – Models and Miniatures:
Pretty much what it sounds like, ten minutes of info on the model effects work. There’s some good stuff in it, though like most effects documentaries, it can get a little dry.
Crashing the Enterprise:
This is a solid ten-minute piece on the show-stopping crash sequence. It gets quite a bit of detail into a small span of time, and ends up being a pretty decent featurette.
This is basically an extension of the visual effects section, with three short clips covering the main title sequence, energy ribbon, and crash sequence. We get a little more info on all three, but it’s hardly substantial. Still, if you’re an f/x geek it’s worth checking out.
The heading is actually a bit of a misnomer, as three of the four clips are more scene extensions than actual deleted scenes. Still, it’s a nice collection of stuff. Each bit is preceded by interviews with the filmmakers concerning the scene, a nice touch that I wish all deleted scenes pieces would have.
This is an alternate opening scene that takes place before the sequence on the Enterprise B. It was intended to show that even though he’s retired, Kirk is still trying to live an exciting life. We hear from Shatner, Doohan, and Koenig as they discuss the scene, and then we see the scene itself.
In an interesting choice, the scene is intercut with the bottle floating through space. On Earth, Scotty and Chekov are in a wheat field, waiting for Kirk. Chekov thinks he spots what they’re looking for, only for Scotty to point out that it’s only a bird.
A man in an elaborate skydiving suit (which looks sort of like a suit for a HALO jump) plummets towards the earth, making a loud whooshing noise which Chekov speculates is Kirk crossing the sound barrier. Chekov spots Kirk far off in the distance parachuting down, and I have to say that he has very good eyesight to be able to be that spot on. He must drink a gallon of carrot juice a day.
Kirk lands and is ecstatic, saying he landed “right on target” from his starting point at the Arabian Peninsula. Chekov, in a line no doubt originally intended for Spock, remarks he was actually thirty-five meters off. Kirk gets enthusiastic over a jump that sounds even more complex, before Chekov reminds him that they’re scheduled to look over the new Enterprise.
After a bit of back and forth, Kirk states emphatically, “I’m not going,” and of course this would have led to the bottle smashing on the ship and Kirk arriving. I think this was a pretty good cut, as it doesn’t really advance anything, and throws in a rather cheesy cinematic cliché that the film didn’t need. Plus it repeats the rock-climbing Daredevil Kirk opening from Star Trek V, so it’s superfluous in terms of franchise continuity as well.
Walking the Plank:
This is really just a brief extension of the holodeck scene, with Worf and Crusher climbing back onto the boat. Worf gives Picard and Riker a hand gesture which I would imagine is Klingon for “Very funny, smartasses!” while Crusher gives Data a venomously dirty look.
There’s a little more nautical terminology thrown about, and I can certainly see why this scene was trimmed, as the unused stuff is pretty goddamn worthless.
Christmas with the Picards:
This is an eleven minute clip on the Christmas sequence, and given that what’s in the film already drags things to a halt, it was a very good call to trim this stuff out. The scene was shot in Pasadena, with two of the kids being played by the director’s children.
Rick Berman talks about the shooting of the sequence and subsequent re-shoots, and I have to say that as a public speaker, he may be the most boring man I have ever heard in my entire life. And this is coming from a guy who’s listened to John “It’s hard for me to tell if I’m alive” McTiernan audio commentaries.
The sequence itself is merely an extension of the existing scene, with a little more interaction with the wife and kids. Seriously, if you want to see Patrick Stewart in a Christmas setting, try his version of A Christmas Carol. On a side note, I always thought that one man version of A Christmas Carol he did a while back was just hilariously cool. I always thought that was an impressively ballsy move on his part.
This is the best part of the disc: the vaunted original ending, which was dropped after test audiences didn’t like it. It was ostensibly changed to give the movie more punch at the end, but I actually feel in some ways this is a little better than what ended up in the final film.
It begins with Soran stepping out onto the bridge only to be met by Kirk. The rather silly “Who the hell are you?” bit is altered as Kirk attacks quickly, knocking Soran’s gun away before smashing him in the face with an elbow as he asks the question. A really good fistfight ensues, as Picard gets to the launcher and begins typing on the control panel.
The fight continues as Soran knocks Kirk off the rocks, where he manages to grab onto the rope and free climbs up in time to knock out Soran with a brutal double fist smash to the face.
From here, the momentum dies down a bit as somehow, the missile has been cloaked. I can only assume they would have added an insert of Soran using the control pad. Picard tells Kirk to get the pad from Soran, which he does, de-cloaking the missile before Soran shoots him in the back with a phaser he had hidden in his boot.
Picard alters the course of the missile (I think), and Soran misses the Nexus as Picard climbs up to him. Picard sees the fallen Kirk and shoots Soran right in the chest with the phaser, and Kirk dies silently.
Later, Picard is found by Geordi and Worf, and after a little bit of dialogue concerning Soran and “problems with the Klingons”, we get a last little bit as an exhausted Crusher reserves the last available stretcher for herself.
I can see why the ending was changed, since it doesn’t really give Kirk a good heroic moment to go out on. But the actual death scene isn’t much of an improvement. You could probably make a perfectly acceptable ending using both versions if you just keep in the first bits with the fight between Kirk and Soran, and have the double fist-smash knock Soran off the rocks where he grabs onto the rope, and take it from there.
As for the bit with Crusher, it’s a nice little moment that would have been good to keep in. Gates McFadden really has nothing else to do in the movie, a point she was annoyed by at the time the film came out, I believe.
The second disc wraps up with some storyboards and a photo gallery.
Whew, I’m exhausted! Fortunately, the next Trek film was good, so I don’t have to write about that one.
In the end, the film was a reasonable financial success when it was released in 1994. But it stands as a really disappointing entry in the franchise, and given the bad humor, muddled plot, and abuse of stock footage, it truly qualifies as one of the Worst of Trek.