Star Trek (VII): Generations (1994) – Directed by David Carson – Starring: Patrick Stewart, William Shatner, Malcom McDowell, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, Whoopi Goldberg, James Doohan, Walter Koenig, and Alan Ruck.
The seventh Star Trek movie, and the first to star The Next Generation Cast, is a big dumb, attractive movie that wears out its welcome right around the time James Kirk starts making breakfast. It is a movie that mirrors its own plot, needlessly wasting time in its own timeless Nexus (ironic), caught between the classic cast and the modern cast, attempting to give us a bit of both and in the process weakening the overall effectiveness of the film.
What is most maddening about GENERATIONS is that a good film is here. The idea of a villainous nutbag trying to escape the bad turn his own life has given him by blowing up stars in order to slip through a cosmic rift and enter the blissful timeless existence of the Nexus is a good one, and hiring Malcolm McDowell to play Soran guarantees an engaging bad guy who is the perfect foil for Patrick Stewart’s Picardian coolness.
When the film concentrates on the philosophical battle between Soran and Jean-Luc Picard, the film largely works. Both men have been dealt harsh blows by life (Soran’s family was killed, Picard lost his brother’s family) and they deal with their pain in opposite ways. Picard wants to internalize the pain at first, but then opens up to ship counselor Deanna Troi about his personal loss, and how it relates to the family legacy that he believes he is letting down. It’s a really great scene, setting up Picard as a new age captain in comparison to Kirk’s old-school masculinity. The death of Picard’s brother and his son means his family line is coming to an end (unless he can knock out a kid, but he doesn’t seem interested in even raising this possibility; sure, he’s old, but it’s the future, right? And you’re captain of a starship, dude. Find a Romulan hussy and get busy.), and Picard feels the weight of this impending ending as a personal failure.
Soran externalizes his pain and doesn’t talk to a counselor. He just wants to do whatever he has to do to jump back into the Nexus, where you can have whatever life you want. Soran can slip back in and presumably live out his life with his dead family in whatever time/space he chooses, and that’s what he wants to do. It’s all sorts of nutty, but that’s not a bad character trait for a supervillain.
The problem with the Soran/Picard battle is that there’s not a lot of depth to it. Because Soran’s pain occurred decades ago (he’s from a long-lived alien species that allows him to always look like an older Malcom McDowell), he’s already reached his decision about what he wants to do. Since there is no coming back, there is only going forward, which means there is only his attempt to see his plan through, and Picard’s attempt to stop him. Soran knows that he’s blowing things up that will cause the death of hundreds of millions of innocent lives, so there’s not really any choice of talking him back down. It’s not like, having blown up planets and stars and aligning himself with Klingons and killing the crew of a space station and getting a rocket to fire at a star that he’s suddenly going to come to a realization that, “Why, gosh, you are right. This is insane of me. I’m gonna call the whole thing off and go write a book about homicidal adolescents.”
Also, the film doesn’t have time to properly explore Soran and Picard’s dueling philosophies because it has to bookend the film with James Kirk.
It’s the end that mucks up the film more than the beginning. The opening sequence with Kirk, Chekov, and Scotty coming aboard the new Enterprise (the Enterprise-B, not Picard’s Enterprise-D) for its ceremonial launch works incredibly well in giving Kirk his final send-off. The Enterprise isn’t really ready to launch, but they go ahead and do it anyways, so the press can get a load of Kirk on board the new ship. Seeing Kirk treated as a celebrity is a nice touch, showing that his actions have resonance beyond Starfleet. One of the themes of this movie is about the legacy you leave (and about the difference between professional and personal legacies), and the media crush is there to signify that Kirk has left a strong professional legacy. Once again, Kirk and Company have been put out to pasture and three members of the old team have been brought in to take a victory lap, of sorts, to ceremonially passing the torch to the next generation (not the Next Generation).
It’s a solid sequence. Sulu’s not there, but his daughter serves as one of the control panel button pushers to signify that Kirk hasn’t left a strong personal legacy. Kirk wants to know how Sulu had time to have a family, and Chekov reminds him that you make time for the things that are important to you. That’s one of the underlying themes of GENERATIONS – that what binds Kirk and Picard is that a family just isn’t important enough for them to have found the time to have one. Kirk’s love is the action of the adventure, while Picard seems more motivated by the weight of familial legacy.
The use of the Enterprise in this early sequence is a bit eye-rolling, however. Too often in these films the Enterprise is at less than full operational capacity. They launch the refitted Enterprise in Trek 1, then it gets damaged in Trek 2, stolen, operated without repair, and blown up in Trek 3, not used in Trek 4, and sent out before it’s ready in Trek 5. Here we go again, with a ship being sent out for a quick test run without being nearly ready enough for active duty. It’s silly, and time and again the ship needs to be broken so certain things can happen with the plot.
It’s like the ship is too good for writers to find obstacles to overcome its technological advances, so they cheat by having whatever system they need to not work, not work.
In GENERATIONS, the ship needs to be at less than 100% in this opening sequence so Kirk can leave the bridge when the bad things start happening and go be heroic down on the lower decks just so he can get blown up and sent into the Nexus.
Also, what’s with all the incompetent captains in Starfleet? In Trek 1 there was the “by the book,” overly cautious Will Decker. In Trek 3, there was the egotistical Captain, um, James Sikking of the Excelsior. In GENERATIONS there’s the “wetting my pants as we talk” Captain James Harriman (played by Cameron from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off). Giving the Enterprise to someone like Harriman just seems beyond silly, but the script needs a weak captain to be there so Kirk can get involved in the action instead of sitting to the side like he’s supposed to be doing.
Welcome to the future, where half the captains in Starfleet apparently got their jobs by being stereotypical movie ROTC assholes.
Kirk gets blown out into space and there’s no body so you know he’s coming back. I’m cool with that, but I’m not cool with how they bring him back. More on that in a minute.
Scotty’s fancy fingertapping on the new control panel saves a bunch of people from the big scary space energy wave, including Soran and Whoopi Goldberg. Guinan ends up tending bar on the Enterprise-D with Picard’s crew, conveniently placed so she can tell Picard all about Soran and the Nexus.
Yup. That’s how GENERATIONS rolls.
The quest to get Soran works more than not. There’s a couple of lesbian Klingons who are more comic relief than an actual threat, but Soran helps them out, tricking up Geordi’s visor so the Klingons can get the frequency for the Enterprise’s shields, which means the antiquated Klingon bird of prey can play target practice with the newer ship. This leads to some good scenes of people on the Enterprise jumping around and falling down as things behind them explode.
It also leads to some good scenes from Commander Ryker, who always seemed like a bit of a tosser to me during the season and a half I watched The Next Generation on television, but here he’s pure cool and confidence, capably handling the attack and counterattack. There’s a real energy to the battle scenes and Frakes plays it all so well that I came away from the film almost hoping to see this be Picard’s only appearance, but not going through with it because my guess is that Ryker needs Picard’s more experienced nature to play off.
There’s a whole sub-plot with Data and his emotional chip or whatever stupid nonsense it’s called. I hate Data. I hated him on the TV show and I hate him here. Completely useless character half-assing old bits about emotion and logic in a completely tired way. “I have experienced 241 distinct emotional states,” he yaps because he’s always yapping. It’s funny how he thinks everyone wants to hear his every status change. How lonely was his programmer that he wanted his Pinocchio to never shut his trap? Data’s like that Facebook user who needs to update you thirty-five times each day about every mundane thing that happens.
Data put in his emotion chip.
Data hates alcohol but wants to drink some more.
Data is laughing at Geordi’s joke from 7 years ago!
Data can’t stop laughing! Geordi’s joke is hilarious!
Data is scared of the bad man!
Data feels sad. Geordi captured by Klingons and it’s my fault.
Data thinks he should take his emotion chip out.
Data can’t take his emotion chip out!
Data feels like he’s letting down his friends.
Data is missing his cat! Please help! You can reach me on the bridge!
Data found his cat!!!
Forget the stupidity of the character, for a moment. Who the hell programmed him to think that he could go inserting that chip at any old time, and why the hell is Reading Rainbow enabling him? How about realizing this isn’t the best time to be putting that chip into his brain since it could, you know, override his neural net?
Shouldn’t he be waiting until shore leave?
And why does Picard let him get away with it? How about knocking this self-absorbed robot down a few pegs by dressing him down in front of the crew for putting his own selfish whims above everyone else’s life?
Bah. I truly hate this character. He sucks the life out of every scene he’s in during GENERATIONS.
Picard eventually fails to stop Soran and winds up in the Nexus, happy to be amongst a family he knows is fake. It’s a stupid scene because Whoopi already told him what to expect, so Picard knows it’s fake and knows he’s not staying. But we still have to sit through some kind of fancy Victorian Christmas. (And isn’t Picard French? But his fantasy is to be English and living in the 19th century?) Then an echo of Whoopi shows up (because “the Nexus” is Star Trek for “plot contrivance”) and she hamfistedly “acts” her way through another scene and – gasp and shock and awe! – it turns out Kirk is in the Nexus, too! So Picard goes and begs for help from a guy close to his own age but in terrible shape.
It’s the worst part of the whole movie, watching Picard have to beg for help from a saggy Kirk, who just seems determined to pretend this is all real enough, and that “he doesn’t want to leave and go fight because the universe owes me one.”
Picard’s chat with Kirk is a hundred times less satisfying than his chat with Soran, but seems to last twice as long. Kirk eventually agrees to go save the universe (surprise, surprise), and then he and Picard tag-team Soran, who’s also old yet keeps kicking the crap out of them.
Picard ends up saving the day, while Kirk ends up …
Look, if you’ve been reading these review, you know I’m rather indifferent to all things Star Trek, but over the course of the six films I’ve come to appreciate Kirk, and my feeling is he deserves a better death than what he gets here.
Kirk ends up clinging to a collapsing metal bridge that crashes down onto some rocks below, killing him in the process. Really? He can’t go out, I don’t know, directly sacrificing himself so that his friends survive? Taking a bullet? Stopping a bad guy? Something that at least looks cool? Instead, he goes out by falling to his death, crushed between the rocks below and the metal bridge above.
It’s incredibly lame. His first death back at the start of the film was infinitely better.
There’s a pretty decent sequence with the Enterprise getting blown up – disconnecting its saucer section, which then drops through the atmosphere of Veridian III, crash landing on the planet below. And then the shock wave rolls past and blows it to crap, killing everyone.
In a bit of time travel hokiness, Picard and Kirk exit in time to stop Soran, so the Enterprise and Veridian III never actually get blown up. The ship still crashes, because apparently you have to blow up the Enterprise every couple of movies so you can retread the launch from drydock sequence.
Which brings up some stupid movie logic. Inside the Nexus, Guinan tells Picard he can exit the Nexus and enter reality at any time and any place, and he chooses the moment that would allow him to stop Soran on Veridian III.
If you can exit anytime, why not exit back when Kirk got blown up so you can stop Soran way back at the start? Wouldn’t that make more sense? Wouldn’t that save more lives? Wouldn’t that allow him to potentially save the life of his brother?
Yup, it would, but then Picard would be stuck in another time and, well, they’d have to invent a way to get him back for Movie #8.
GENERATIONS moves fast and looks pretty. There’s some good explosions and lots of activity; whatever faults this film has are not with people being stuck on the bridge, constantly yelling into phones. And when they do start yelling at people on the other side of the bridge’s television monitor, director David Carson keeps the confrontations mixed between interior close-ups and exterior wide-angle shots, giving us both intensity and scope.
Altogether, however, GENERATIONS is a mediocre movie about the need to control one’s emotions, and the importance in living your life. Picard gets the final philosophical blow in against Soran; where the mad scientist saw death as a predator, Picard sees it as a companion that grows along with us.
GENERATIONS succeeds, more or less, but not in any spectacular way. It’s not as good as Trek 6, and not really as good as Trek 4 and 3, either, although the battle scenes are infinitely better. I’d place it alongside Trek 2 as a movie with an interesting premise and set-up that never fulfills its promise; it’s first half isn’t nearly as good, but it’s second half is not quite as poor.
At least the space battles are better.