Star Trek: Generations (1994) (part 2 of 12)

Harriman obsequiously asks Kirk if he’d like to give the order to move the ship forward. The press of course is right up in Kirk’s face for this heroic moment. Kirk is actually a little chagrined, since he’s not exactly wrestling a minotaur here, but he gives the order to a huge round of applause—which Harriman joins in on. Yeah, I’m beginning to think Harriman got the job of captain American Idol style.

Actually, can I officially refuse to acknowledge him as the captain? No? Okay then, fine. But seriously, every second that goes by in this scene makes it literally unbelievable that this idiot could have even gotten through Starfleet Academy, much less risen through the ranks to the level of Captain.

As a point of comparison, consider that Harry Kim from Voyager, despite being useless, still displayed ten times as much backbone, initiative, and resolve as Harriman on a regular basis, and he was stuck as a Permanent Ensign for the entire run of the show.

I was actually wondering if this idiot got command of the Excelsiorprise because he had some influential daddy who pulled strings to stuff him into a job he’d never have gotten otherwise. And guess what—it turns out the folks who write officially sanctioned Trek fiction for a living agree with me! But the American Idol explanation also works.

Scotty and Chekov take turns ribbing Kirk about his mighty deed, as the ship moves out in a majestic fashion. We rejoin Kirk and company after they’ve had a full tour of the ship. They’re complementary, naturally, and if something doesn’t happen soon, I’m going to start getting bored. You don’t want to see that, believe me. At least the NextGen movies are carrying on the fine Trek tradition of forcing us to watch the leads dicking around and doing nothing plot-related for the entire first reel.

Ever suddenly yearn to have a MST3k host segment thrown into one of these recaps? I’ll do the “Joey the Lemur” song. Don’t tempt me.

At last! An emergency! A distress call suddenly comes in and Harriman, the captain of the fricking Enterprise, freezes like a deer caught in the headlights. Because of a distress call. Hmm, maybe my American Idol joke was being too generous. Maybe he found a golden ticket in a box of Cracker Jacks, or whatever the hell they have in the 23rd century. There’s being new to the job, and then there’s this doofus. It’s a wonder he can tie his own shoes without asking for help and guidance. The worst part is, this is only the beginning. It gets worse.

Caption contributed by Ed

“Captain Harriman, I’m getting a subspace message for you from Starfleet Command. It says ‘You’re a weenie’.”

I really want to see the tapes of Harriman’s Kobayashi Maru test. He must have pissed all over the entire simulator.

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So “Captain” Harriman takes a very pregnant pause before answering the distress call, which turns out to be from two refugee transport ships caught in some super-vague energy distortion.

Harriman immediately bails, telling Daughter-of-Sulu to signal for the nearest starship to help out, since they’re not ready for prime time yet. Kirk is appalled by Harriman’s insta-bail, but Harriman reveals that they only have a skeleton crew. Kirk should have known this, since he just had a tour of the ship, where he might have noticed all the packing foam and empty stations. This whole launch was clearly just a publicity showcase, but there you go. Kirk never lets the facts get in the way.

On the other hand, Harriman clearly has not read the Starfleet playbook, which clearly stipulates that for any given emergency, any ship named Enterprise will always be the only ship in the quadrant. I guess the rest of the fleet is in the Laurentian system.

Sure enough, Harriman is told that the Enterprise is the only ship in range. He looks crestfallen.

I have to say this plot device has always been one of the stupidest things the franchise ever trotted out, which is saying something pretty impressive given some of the mystery meat they’ve tried to serve fans. It’s not only trite and distractingly transparent plot chicanery, it’s just plain lazy storytelling. If you tried using a device like this in screenwriting class, you’d get marked down for stupidity.

You could have an entire fleet on screen getting ready for battle, majestic music playing while an unstoppable and implacable enemy advances, but Starfleet will always just send in the Enterprise on the grounds that “They’re the only ones who can do it”. For all his faults as a writer, George Lucas at least knows how to give his good guys some serious backup, and raise the stakes doing it.

Harriman stops wetting himself long enough to order an intercept course with the imperiled ships. Kirk, meanwhile, is nearly falling out of his chair, he’s so desperate to take charge, and Shatner is not exactly playing this small. He’s doing everything but gnawing on his fist. Right now, I’m not sure who’s looking like the bigger jackass, Kirk or Harriman, here but I’d probably give it to the bedwetter with the decision-making skills on seven-second tape delay.

The irritating thing is that this scene could have worked. But both actors have taken their key notes for this scene, hesitation and egoism, and dialed them up to 12, ruining the believability of the characters and the situation. And that’s a failure of the director, I think.

A stronger director who made Harriman a little less ineffectual and Kirk a little less angst ridden would have turned in a more functional, even compelling scene here. But Carson, a TV director down to his very soul, didn’t grasp the need to moderate things for the big screen, where big emotions look too big. (You might think that it was probably impossible to direct Shatner by this point, but Nicholas Meyer managed to rein in Shatner’s hamminess just fine in Star Trek VI. And I’ll bet even Fred Savage could direct Alan Ruck.)

The Excelsiorprise, in what may be a reused shot, whooshes through space toward what looks like a huge pink wavy ribbon with a lot of rasta-style electrical blasts shooting off of it. It looks impressive, though pink isn’t the most intimidating color they could have chosen. The fact that when I look at it I think of cotton candy being run through a paper shredder probably isn’t a good thing, either.

Caption contributed by Ed

“My god, we’ve gotten caught in a temporal cotton candy flux wave!”

Sulu puts the refugee ships on screen, and they seem to be taking a real ass-whooping from the energy ribbon. A blast shakes the Enterprise, and a crew member—played by Tim “Tuvok” Russ!—gives a Treknobabble report that boils down to “We’re in deep shit and it’s hot!” Yep, this is a Next Generation Trek outing alright. Why have interesting dialogue between your characters as they work on a solution to a problem when you can just throw in some Treknobabble and pretend you wrote actual dialogue?

God, I hate lazy screenwriters.

Kirk suggests a tractor beam, but Harriman, inaugurating what amounts to a deeply lame running gag, reports that the tractor beam won’t be installed until Tuesday. Harriman conjures up a Treknobabble solution that’s instantly shot down, and his second one does nothing whatsoever. We know they’re dumb ideas because Kirk is feeding him priceless “that’ll never work” looks.

One of the ships blows up in the ribbon, so nice going, Captain Pisses-All-Over-Everything. Hey, if you waffle around a little longer, your problem will take care of itself!

Caption contributed by Ed

“You know, I sold stones from my dick on the internet and I still have more dignity than you, you weenie!”

So, to sum up so far: The new captain of the Enterprise is a lanky tinhorn putz who freezes at the first sign of trouble and is so wishy-washy and ineffectual he might as well just fire on the doomed ships and put the poor suckers onboard out of their misery for all the good he’s been to them thus far.

Kind of makes you understand how a guy who considers a sing-along to be a viable tactical strategy could make it as captain of the flagship, doesn’t it?

Harriman is now informed that the remaining ship is fading fast, and he quivers for a moment before coming to his big decision. Ready? His big plan now is… to bail completely and beg Kirk to take over. Surprisingly enough, his voice doesn’t jump up several octaves, which one would expect to occur with such a rapid loss of one’s balls. Seriously, you almost expect him to start whining, “Oh god, head of Starfleet is gonna kill me!”

Drums are heard (like all things Trek, they’re about as subtle as a hammer to the face) and Kirk immediately springs into action. He has them get the ship within transporter range of the refugee shuttle. As they get within range, Chekov inquires about the medical staff. Guess when it arrives? You have a one in seven chance of getting it right. Your odds are better if you did your assigned reading on running gags.

Chekov gets two reporters to help out and heads down to sickbay, where the refugees will be beamed. Why is it up to Chekov to handle any medical emergencies? Why, because this was part was originally supposed to be an appearance by Dr. McCoy, of course.

Some Treknobabble is keeping the transporters from working like they should, so Scotty, with his superior button-pressing skills, elbows his way in. Suddenly, the second refugee ship begins to blow up, while Scotty beams them up as quickly as he can. He gets 47 of the 150 aboard before the ship explodes, and the Sad Tones of Tragedy are heard.

The Excelsiorprise is rocked once more, causing the usual steam and sparks to fly from the consoles. I swear, this franchise has been the life-blood for the steam and sparks industry. Have they forgotten how to make circuit breakers in the future?

Some Treknobabble establishes that they’re now in even deeper shit than before, and Harriman orders them to reverse course. To be fair, he does yell it in a reasonably authoritative way. Of course, I can bark out orders like Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive, but that doesn’t make me prime command material. Especially when the order is “Run away! Run away!”

Caption contributed by Ed

“Make way for Captain Weenie!”

In sickbay, Chekov is trying to reassure the refugees that everything will be fine. The reporters are doing this as well, and during this Malcolm McDowell appears, and we get to watch as he goes mad. That’s always fun. He pleads that he “has to go back”, but they’re all too busy to watch him devour the scenery at the moment, so he gets sedated.

Caption contributed by Ed

This is actually how they convinced Malcolm to come to the set while he was making Halloween and Halloween 2.

In addition, we take our sweet time in establishing one refugee in particular with her back turned. Chekov goes to her, and who could it be? Why, it could be… our friendly bartender! Ahem, sorry about that flashback. Won’t happen again, honest.

Yes, the huddled figure turns out to be the bartender of Enterprise D, Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg).

Caption contributed by Ed

“Right this way, it’s the one guy who saw your sitcom. Just tell him you hated it too, and he’ll probably let you live.”

Ed Harris

A fan of less than great cinema since childhood, Ed divides his time between writing scripts, working an actual paying job and subjecting himself willingly to some of the worst films society has produced.

Multi-Part Article: Star Trek: Generations (1994)

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