It’s been a while (well, it’s been a week) but the wait is over: it’s time for my next dip into the movies that boldly went you-know-where…. Just one this time, so let’s take a good long look at:
Star Trek: Generations
Change was called for. There was a whole new generation of Trek fans – a ‘next’ generation, if you like – and it was time for them to have their turn. But how to hand over the reins from Kirk to Picard, from Spock to Riker, from McCoy to Crusher, from Uhura to…. Worf? It was time for a cross-over movie!
Plot: It’s the maiden voyage of the new Enterprise B, under the command of Captain Harriman and the watchful gaze of the honoured guests, Kirk, Scotty, and Chekhov. On this short inspection flight, the ship receives a distress call and rushes to a rescue mission – two refugee ships are caught in a ribbon-like spatial anomaly. They rescue many of the refugees, but not without a cost – whilst working to keep the deflector shields active, a section of the hull is destroyed, and Kirk is lost…
Skip forward nearly 80 years, and the same ribbon threatens the 24th Century, and this time it’s the Enterprise D and the Next Generation crew that come to the rescue. Picard learns from Guinan and a Doctor Soran that the ribbon (known as The Nexus) doesn’t kill it’s victims, it transports them to a kind of limbo dimension, where they remain in stasis whilst their mind dreams a perfect life. It appears that Dr Soran is trying to get back to the Nexus, whilst Guinan, who was on one of the refugee ships, knows that Soran will stop at nothing – he intends to alter the ribbon’s path by destroying stars, aiming it at a planet he’s on. Picard can’t stop him, and is transported to the Nexus with Soran – where he finds good old Captain Kirk. Picard convinces Kirk to return to the real world, and they arrive back just a few minutes before the Nexus hits. This time, will two Captains be enough to stop Soran?
Goofs: There are a huge number of things wrong with this movie – not just the unintentional things! But let’s cover a couple of those, just to let you know what kind of thing I mean. Basically, these goofs fall into two camps. The first is the ‘I don’t care what Scotty says, apparently you CAN break the laws of physics” camp, such as the central premise for the movie – that The Nexus is travelling above light-speed, in a 39.1 year loop and an accurately defined course determined by gravitational forces. This is clearly not the case, as every shot of it over the planet shows it as moving very slowly – light-speed travel would make it disappear almost before we see it. And even if it DID travel through space so predictably, everything else moves, so how on earth would the constantly changing gravitational forces of all these massive stars and planets that keep moving all the time, steer the Nexus so accurately?
The second goof-camp (I should make t-shirts and caps, really I should) is almost more serious.
It’s wrong to deviate from Star Trek Canon.
We all know that. But apparently, it was forgotten many times during this movie. Like in the sub-plot (not mentioned above) when the Enterprise crashes. The dome on the roof of the bridge shatters – but canon states that glass hasn’t been used for centuries. It is really transparent aluminium – and aluminium don’t shatter. Or like the fact that when Scotty came out of transporter suspension in that TNG episode with the Dyson Sphere, he was expecting to find Kirk – even though according to Generations, he was there when Kirk ‘died’. Or also like the fact that the El-Aurian refugees that are rescued at the beginning (thus setting up the whole storyline) only became refugees after fleeing the Borg (we already learned this from TNG). But they never mentioned the Borg, and so we remained in blissful ignorance of this xenophobic race of assimilating machines for a whole century? It just doesn’t make sense.
Thoughts: There are a number of ways to view this movie. You can view it as a light piece of sci-fi fluffiness, and no doubt it serves well at that level. You can view it from the Command Chair of the Trek-Master, looking at all the scientific and canonical errors that really are strewn throughout the movie with liberal abandon, and vow never to watch the thing again for fear of retinal burning. Or you can look at it like I do – as a turning point in the movie saga. It’s a roundabout.
The thing about roundabouts, is that some carry on straight, others turn. You’ve got to let those already on the roundabout leave, and those approaching the roundabout take their place. And you’ve got to understand the priorities.
It’s the same with Generations. Kirk and Co couldn’t go on forever, movie after movie. They were simply getting too old to be the action heroes we all knew and loved. And so, this movie serves as a way to move them on with respect and a final swansong, and allow the new guys their chance of making the jump to Odeon-space.
The Next Generation team pretty much act as if this is an extended, big-budget episode of the show. And as a fan of the show, that’s perfectly fine for me. Where Generations falls down is that an episode’s worth of material doesn’t always stretch to movie-length in terms of pace and excitement, so what they did was effectively run two plots simultaneously – there’s the main plot referenced above, and a sub-plot with the rest of the crew battling Klingons – a battle they win but at terrible cost, when the Enterprise saucer section ends up crashing into the planet. The second on-screen movie destruction of a ship called Enterprise is done much more graphically than it was at the end of The Search For Spock , and on the whole works well visually, transparent aluminium notwithstanding. This mixing of the two plots is disjointed on occasion, and whilst I know why it was done, merging the two plots seems clumsy at times.
But this isn’t really a movie that can be assessed on technical terms. It’s all about the handover from Kirk to Picard, and the two Captains perform their roles very well. Shatner shows elements of humour seen so clearly in The Voyage Home, and combines this with enough action and drive that you’re reminded of the young man from the 60s. Stewart also gets to run about and fight – something he often missed out on during the TNG run – and overlays this with the stoicism and grittiness that was his hallmark. The two work well together, and even for a die-hard TNG fan, Kirk’s final moments are close to tear-inducing.
Was the baton handed over with panache? Well, the movie was commercially successful, and led ultimately to First Contact (about which we will talk next time) so on that level it worked. It may not be the best Trek movie by some distance, but for me, it’s the best odd-numbered one so far…..