Trekking With Tim, Day Seven: Star Trek: Generations
Editor Tim Ryan is off to a rocky start with Picard and the new Enterprise crew.
Day Seven: Star Trek: Generations
Where to start with this movie? Star Trek: Generations is almost totally impenetrable for much of its running time, before it takes a strange, elegiac turn toward the end. It does little to introduce Picard and the rest of the Next Generation crew, and it requires an absurd amount of insider knowledge. I can't say I liked it, or even understood most of it, though its ending helps to redeem it a little.
Generations was released a few months after Star Trek: The Next Generation had gone off the air. The movie requires a familiarity with the characters -- something I don't have -- and the plot is hopelessly convoluted and uninvolving. Indeed, there were various points during which I stared slack-jawed at the screen and asked aloud, "Who are these people? What is going on?" And then, three-fourths of the way through, Generations becomes a meditation on whether it is best to live in a pleasurable - but illusory - dream world, or take your chances with messy reality.
As the movie begins, Kirk, Scotty, and Chekov are attending the maiden voyage of a brand new Enterprise shortly after the events of The Undiscovered Country. Kirk feels a bit out of place, but puts up an agreeable front. And he's greeted by Sulu's daughter Demora, now a pilot on the ship. "When did he find time for a family?" Kirk asks Scotty. This strikes me as absurd; the Enterprise crew spends all their time together, and yet this bit of information would have just eluded Kirk? Apparently, they don't have Facebook in the 23rd century. (By the way, spare me the "it turns out Sulu was gay!" jokes. Really tired of 'em.)
Anyway, with journalists everywhere and Cameron from Ferris Bueller's Day Off at the helm, the ship pushes off for what's meant to be a glorified galactic press conference, since the Enterprise is understaffed and not fully operational. However, a distress call comes from two ships full of refugees that are trapped in an energy ribbon. Since the Enterprise is the only available ship nearby, it's pressed into duty. (This strikes me as problematic. The ship just left its dock, and there aren't any other crafts nearby?) One of the ships is destroyed, and the Enterprise is able to beam aboard only a fraction of the second ship's populance. However, the Enterprise finds itself stuck in the ribbon, and Kirk volunteers to go into the bowels of the ship to fix its deflector shields, which will facilitate an escape. He's successful, but when crew members go looking for him, he's gone, sucked through a missing portion of the ship. It's a rocky start for the movie, lacking the tension or poignancy it's obviously gunning for.
Then, without fanfare, the film moves ahead 78 years in the future. The Enterprise finds itself up against Soran (Malcolm McDowell), who, along with Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg), was among the refugees saved by the Enterprise 78 years ago. Picard wants to find out more about Soran's plans, so he turns to Guinan, who explains that Soran is attempting to enter the Nexus, a strange nether-region contained within the energy ribbon. Meanwhile, Data (Brett Spiner) an android, decides to implant emotion chip in his brain, to learn what it means to be human -- and the result is a lot of grating laughter and bad one-liners, apparently.
So far, I'm not taken with this crew; the film assumes way too much prior knowledge of them for non-acolytes to find anything to latch on to. Especially grating is Data; I know he's supposed to be a sort of Spock proxy, attempting to understand the human condition, but what's with all his lame affectations? Do Trekkies find him amusing? At least he's memorable; the other cast members are given so little to do that they seem like extras.
The Enterprise runs into the Klingons, who have teamed up with Soran. He has transported to the planet Veridian III, where he's set up a missile system to facilitate his transport into the Nexus. The Enterprise is attacked by a Bird of Prey, which badly damages its systems; though the Klingon ship is destroyed, the Enterprise is sent hurtling toward Veridian III.
As with previous installments, bodies go flying all over the place every time the Enterprise is hit by torpedoes, goes through rough energy patches, etc. However, Generations takes this to an absurd extreme; it seems the entire cast is constantly soaring through the air like extras in Any Given Sunday. (I'm assuming there are no vehicle safety requirements in the Starfleet; where's Ralph Nader when you need him?) Soran detonates a nearby star with a missile; the result is that he and Picard (who has beamed down to the planet) are sucked into the Nexus, but all the nearby planets, including Veridian III, where the Enterprise has crash-landed, have been destroyed.
Just as I'm ready to give up hope, Generations makes an abrupt shift and turns into a poor man's version of Solaris -- which isn't a bad thing at all. Picard awakes to find himself in a stately home, decorated for Christmas. He is greeted warmly by his "children" and his "wife," as well as his nephew. (It was explained earlier that Picard's brother, as well as his wife and family, were killed, and that Picard, who never married himself, has longed for some sort of home life.) He soaks up this yuletide merriment, realizing it's an idealized vision of his lost dreams, but he's uneasy; where is he? Fortunately, a spectral Guinan is on hand to explain that he's entered the Nexus, a place that bends itself to create an idyllic version of an inhabitant's life. Picard asks how he can get out and stop Soran, and Guinan tells him that she can't help - but perhaps Captain Kirk can.
I'll admit it: I was a sucker for this turn of events. After more than an hour of Trek-speak, Data's antics, and not being able to tell the players without a scorecard, it was refreshing to find something to grasp onto. There's a sensorial pleasure to this scene that's been acutely lacking in the film; you can almost smell the fireplace and the Christmas tree, and the Brian Eno-esque ambient soundtrack creates a mood of sad mystery.
Guinan facilitates Picard's transport to Kirk, who's living in a cabin surrounded by mountains. When Picard arrives, he's chopping wood and preparing breakfast (I suspect that a certain subset of Trek fans went into seizures of ecstasy at this historic meeting). At first, Kirk is too caught up in his happy routine to pay Picard much notice, but then he too is unsettled by the strange perfection of his surroundings. Plus, Kirk was never one to play by the rules, or to avoid risk. So he agrees to join Picard. "Who am I to argue with the captain of the Enterprise?" he says.
This sets up a final showdown with Soran, in which the captains put a hurting on their nemesis before setting the missile to self destruct. Soran is killed in the blast, but Kirk too is mortally wounded after sustaining a great fall. His last words, whispered to Picard: "It was... fun."
Yes indeed, Kirk. It was fun, especially when I cared about characters like you. Next up is Star Trek: First Contact; I'm told that resistance to this one is futile. Will it put the franchise back on track? Will I bond with this new Enterprise crew, which so many Trekkies hold in high esteem? I certainly hope so.
- Day One: Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)
- Day Two: Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
- Day Three: Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984)
- Day Four: Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)
- Day Five: Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)
- Day Six: Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)
- Day Seven: Star Trek: Generations (1994)
- Day Eight: Star Trek: First Contact (1996)
- Day Nine: Star Trek: Insurrection (1998)
- Day Ten: Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)
- Day Eleven: Star Trek (2009)