Star Trek: Generations (1994) (part 5 of 12)
Moving on, Picard enters Ten Forward, while in the foreground Geordi takes a drink of something, a detail I never noticed until now. It’s an oddly nice, ordinary-moment touch, especially if you’re given to zoning out when the movie isn’t going anywhere at the moment.
Picard quietly asks for Soran and finds him with his back turned. For some reason, the director decided to have a second big reveal for Soran, complete with a grand buildup. Okay, we know he’s a famous actor playing the villain. We know. Can we make something happen, please? Anything?
You know, I like Malcolm McDowell. He’s a good actor and he’s been good in a lot of films, but still, it’s just Malcolm McDowell! Not Anthony Hopkins, not Michael Caine, not Peter O’Toole. So why another big reveal? He doesn’t have a weird deformity; he’s not hamming it up like a madman, he’s standing there with his back turned and we’ve seen him twice already before this.
Congratulations on managing the awesome feat of getting him to say yes to the script—it’s not like he says no to a lot of stuff to begin with. He’s pretty much like every other notable UK actor since the dawn of cinema. He works a lot. Come back to me when you land someone who had the sense to say no to two Rob Zombie movies!
Soran says he needs to get back to the observatory so he can finish an experiment he’s been running on a large star nearby. Distracted-by-Bad-News Picard assures him that after the investigation is complete, he’ll let Soran go back, but Soran turns up the obvious villain meter, insisting how important timing is to his experiments, but Picard impatiently talks over him, telling Soran he’ll get his lab back when Picard says so.
As Picard turns to leave, Soran grabs him and creepily remarks, “They say time is the fire in which we burn. Right now, Captain, my time is running out.”
Picard has an expression of shock on his face, and says he’ll see what he can do, before getting the hell away from this guy. Soran checks his watch before leaving as well, and just so we don’t leave any foreshadowing cliché untouched, the scene ends on a lingering, “meaningful” close-up of Guinan after Soran sees her and looks subtly shocked. The sensitive Guinan, however, doesn’t see Soran—she just sort of feels something odd.
And yes, the film does have Soran make constant references to time. It’s about as subtle as a jackhammer, but one must consider the franchise.
Elsewhere, Worf is reporting to Riker that the dead Romulans were looking for evidence of a top secret compound they’ve been developing. The compound in question, if used properly, could blow up a star. Hmm, I wonder if any stars will blow up later in the movie.
Geordi and Data are dispatched to perform a scan of their own at the lab, and it’s somewhere around here when the average viewer will probably start wanting to call up Brent Spiner and tell him to go fuck himself.
You see, their scan is proving fruitless, so to make matters worse, Data says he’s just gotten a joke that Geordi told seven years ago. Laughing like a goon, he relates the punch line (something about a clown and a Ferengi in a gorilla suit), and you can tell Geordi is not only regretting installing the emotion chip, but also the series of life decisions that ended with him in a Starfleet uniform being annoyed by an android taught the basics of humor by a second-rate Saturday Night Live cast member.
Geordi continues to scan, with Data following behind, still laughing. Geordi notices a hidden door with his VISOR, and Data opens it using a magnetic thingy in his arm, doing an “Open sesame!” bit and remarking, “You could say I have a magnetic personality!”
Is this what it’s like to work with Robin Williams? If so, then it’s a miracle DeNiro didn’t beat him to death while making Awakenings. Method Acting can save the lives of comedians with no off switch, I guess.
Geordi finds a large solar probe (now, now), noting the configuration is odd. Of course, he calls over Data to have a look, and since it’s been a whole two seconds since the last time we were annoyed by him, he responds with a bit of prop humor involving his tricorder. Which suggest that after his lessons with Joe Piscopo ended, he turned to Gallagher for guidance.
Hmm, suddenly the reasons for his inability to understand humor are becoming clearer! A second-rate guy who was only funny when Eddie Murphy was around, an egotistical produce-destroying prop comic who’s been doing the same shtick for thirty years… It’s like when the jigsaw puzzle you’ve been working on for weeks finally starts to make sense!
Geordi is clearly thinking of how he’ll explain to Picard why he felt the need to incinerate Data, when he detects some of the secret compound in the probe. And then Data begins to laugh uncontrollably. It seems something has gone wrong with the emotion chip, and if there were any justice in the universe, Data’s head would explode, Scanners-style. But I must admit, Spiner does an acceptable job of playing an out-of-control machine.
Not really good, mind you, but acceptable.
Data collapses, and it turns out the malfunctioning chip caused an emotional overload in Data’s brain. As Geordi tries to hail the Enterprise, Soran appears. He promptly knocks Glass Jaw Geordi out with one punch, and aims a gun at the now-petrified Data. For some reason, the production design team decided to have a piece of the gun move to the side in order to imply that it’s ready to fire. It was probably supposed to look cool, but just like tough guys holding their guns the wrong way in films set in modern times, it just looks really dumb.
And now that Brent Spiner has had a chance to show his range, its Patrick Stewart’s turn, as we finally learn what’s been incapacitating the unflappable Jean-Luc Picard. We find Picard sitting in his office with the lights turned down, looking over a family photo album. Troi enters, and they have a little chat, and it turns out his brother and nephew were recently killed in a fire.
Picard tearfully laments that he’ll be the last Picard, because he’s never been a family man and he always figured since his brother had a kid, he didn’t need to worry about carrying on the family line. This is meant to be poignant, but the sentiment is slightly undermined by the way Picard talks about fobbing responsibilities off onto his brother so he could go gallivanting across the galaxy.
There’s nothing technically wrong with the scene. Stewart is just fine and Marina Sirtis does what she needs to do (listen, react, and shut the hell up and let Stewart do the acting). But in terms of the movie’s plotline and pacing, it’s just plain deadly. They’ve started getting the action going, very slowly and already way behind schedule, and now they’re stopping the movie for five minutes to indulge the hero with an emotional breakdown scene.
Not helping matters much is that we’ve only seen these now deceased characters once, and while the episode they appeared in was pretty good (by Trek standards, it was excellent), one appearance does not a lasting connection to the audience make. We don’t care about the characters that died, and the horrifying detail that they died in a fire feels like crass manipulation to get us to care.
To be honest, I’ve never really liked Patrick Stewart when he gets emotional in a scene. For some reason, he always comes off as hammy—stand back, I’m Acting!—and it detracts from his usual, more low-key approach.
Still, I’ll take an emotional breakdown from Patrick Stewart over having him turn into Bruce Willis in Die Hard any day. Patrick Stewart is not an action hero.