Star Trek: Generations (1994) (part 4 of 12)
Riker starts throwing out sailing jargon and then steps aside and has banter with Picard, who gets wistfully sentimental about life on the bounding main. He paints a pretty picture (if you can call blindingly naïve nostalgia pretty) which Riker slices to bits: “Bad food, brutal discipline, no women.” And you know which one is the real deal-breaker for Riker. Has there ever been a serious topic this guy couldn’t turn into a smartass remark? I mean, I’m pretty good at it myself, but this guy is my god.
This pointless reverie is interrupted by an intercom call for Picard. He accesses a computer arch on the holodeck, and evidently it’s bad news, since Picard is overcome with emotion as a look of sheer horror and devastation crosses his face.
Troi notices this, as she is wont to do, being the ship’s resident shrink and all, and asks him if he’s alright. Picard gruffly says he is and stomps off. And so we go back to the nautical stuff. Just as Geordi makes a sighting with a telescope (which makes for a pretty damn silly visual), another call from the bridge comes in. A space observatory is under attack, and the Enterprise is being dispatched to investigate.
The Enterprise approaches the observatory, looking more cinematic than ever before. Well, okay, they turn the lights down a bit. Same deal for the bridge, as it seems the production design team figured the best way to make things more movie-like would be to repaint things slightly darker. Not a bad idea, though it does suggest that some producer thought they’d save money with 40-watt bulbs. But the ship never looked better than it does in this movie.
What’s more jarring here than the lighting, as in the rest of the movie, is the uniform issue. At a certain point, it was decided the TNG crew would have new uniforms for their first movie that would be a blend of several different designs. The cost of constructing scores of new uniforms (the lead characters would need several, and everyone down to the extras would need one, too) was nixed by Rick Berman, and a compromise was made. This resulted in some characters wearing uniforms from the TNG series, and others sporting the newer DS9 uniforms. And I mean literally DS9 uniforms, because instead of building new ones, Berman stuck the TNG officers in castoffs from the stars of that series.
The change led to some rather inconvenient situations. For this movie, Riker is wearing one of Sisko’s uniforms, and Geordi ended up with one of Miles O’Brien’s. Unfortunately, Jonathan Frakes is not exactly shaped like Avery Brooks, nor for that matter is LeVar Burton shaped like Colm Meaney. So Riker ends up sporting the “relaxed, sleeves rolled up” spaceman look, while Geordi is stuck in a uniform that’s too big for him. See what I meant earlier by comparing the director to Roger Corman? It’s like Corman was secretly both the director and producer on this movie.
The rest of the cast didn’t fare much better. Only Picard and Data (the only TNG characters the Trek creators ever really cared about) ended up with custom-made DS9-style uniforms. The lower-level cast were just stuck with their TV series duds. It’s not a huge thing, but the jumble of mismatched, ill-fitting uniforms does have the rather undesirable effect of calling attention to itself when the viewer should be focusing on the story.
Riker looks at the viewscreen (which we don’t see—there’s no reverse angle insert) and reports that it “looks like we’re too late” (okay, we’ll just have to take your word on that). In fact, a whole subplot involving the Romulan attack on the space station was cut, leaving Riker to react to nothing.
Picard, clearly struggling with other emotions, puts Riker in charge of investigating the matter, which seems to surprise him. And since Marina Sirtis needs to earn a paycheck like everybody else, we close the scene with a shot of her looking concerned. You know, like pretty much every other close-up of her for seven years and four movies. I swear to god, the only thing that changes is the hair and wardrobe. The look, though? The same doe-eyed stare that could lead to an actual expression at any moment… but doesn’t. I like Marina Sirtis, but she’s not exactly flooding the screen with her talent.
Riker, Worf, Crusher, and two others beam over to the observatory, finding it completely wrecked with a couple of dead scientists, a dead Romulan… and the still-alive Malcolm McDowell. Battered, looking like a distinguished character actor who never met a script he’d ever say no to, but alive nonetheless. Malcolm introduces himself as Dr. Tolian Soran.
On the Enterprise, apparently with nothing to do, even though the ship is on alert as they investigate a Romulan attack, Geordi and Data shoot the breeze in Data’s quarters about how angry Crusher is about the whole dunking incident. His cat Spot makes a brief appearance, which is a nice fanwank for all the Spot Girls out there.
Data is perturbed by the entire incident, enough so to be moved to somber contemplation of a radical action. He opens a panel, revealing a set of shelves with a bunch of extraneous props and a glass container holding the emotion chip he got from his creator at some point in the series. What do you mean it looks nothing like the prop from the episode? It’s the emotion chip, I swear. It just had some work done.
Geordi has his doubts about the chip, no doubt correctly guessing that Data will be even more annoying with emotions added. Data blathers on about how he’s reached an impasse in his human-wannabe thing, and wonders why he can’t grasp the concept of humor. Well, part of it might be that his first teacher was Joe Piscopo. That’s a little like asking Bob Uecker for advice on how to be a great hitter. Going to Whoopi Goldberg to start it off probably wasn’t the best move he could have made, either.
Geordi, because he has no spine, reluctantly agrees to install the chip, noting that he’ll shut it down at the first sign of trouble. Oh, there will be trouble. And blood. Pouring from my ears. Like all dabbling with humor in Trek, it can always get worse—and does.
In Picard’s ready room, Riker reports their findings from the lab. Talk of a Romulan threat comes up, and to be honest, that would have been a hell of a lot more interesting than what we’ll actually be getting. At the very least, it would have been something a little different. Riker also reports that Soran needs to speak with Picard about an urgent matter. Picard, having trouble paying attention to Riker, dismisses him.
I’d like to note that we’re about a half hour in, and so far, the only thing of real note that’s happened was 78 years prior to when the film begins. In the present time of the film, we’ve had two people get wet and one person has received bad news. I’m riveted.
Cut to Ten Forward, the Bennigan’s of the Enterprise D. Data and Geordi enter, heading for the bar. Oddly appropriate, as I know what’s coming up later and right now, I could use a drink.
Data has a smile on his face and Bemused Guinan is there to offer some new drink she’s gotten. Data takes a sip and shudders, noting that he’s just had an emotion. Not quite able to articulate what he’s feeling, Data takes another sip, which provokes an even stronger response. Guinan, slightly perplexed, says, “It looks like he hates it.” Data agrees… and then asks for more.
This is, to be fair, a pretty amusing scene. It helps that Whoopi Goldberg is a serviceable comedian (as in, I laughed at her once or twice back in the early ‘90s before coming to my senses and putting on a George Carlin album) who knows a little about comedic timing.
Oh, if only they had left well enough alone. This plotline will quickly become tiresome, mainly because it’s the humorous B plot and Trek has a long, rich history of doing to comedy what a loan shark will do to you if you don’t pay on time.
Another reason for the extraneous nature of this plotline is an unfortunate byproduct of having the TNG cast on the big screen for the first time. Because the film had to appeal to both Trekkies and the folks who didn’t give a shit about Star Trek, anything that could be seen as a stumbling block had to be spelled out in big bold letters—in this case, Data’s emotions/humanity hang-up. Everything achieved in the series in this regard was flushed down the pan, in order to have a story arc for Data in the movie.