Thursday, February 7, 2013

Generations Gap



STAR TREK GENERATIONS

I imagine it must have been a Trekker/Trekkie's dream to have the Captains of the U.S.S. Enterprise finally meet.  However, given that there were centuries dividing them, that didn't seem possible.  Of course, we forget, we are dealing in space travel.   Not being well-versed in Trek lore I can't recall many times when actual travel through time was achieved by the Federation crew.  There was the episode City on the Edge of Forever, and there was Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, but apart from those I cannot think of any until Star Trek Generations.  I've seen the film twice and can say that I ended up disliking it more the second time than the first.  Generations started out with promise but then started sinking into incoherence until it finally collapsed into not just nonsense but boredom.

We begin with a christening on the new Enterprise-B.  New Enterprise, new crew, but as guests of honor of the Enterprise-B Captain Harriman (Alan Ruck) we have three members of the original Enterprise: Montgomery "Scotty" Scott (James Doohan), Pavel Chekhov (Walter Koening), and Captain James Tiberius Kirk (William Shatner).  They look around are are feted but they can't help feel a bit out of place.  Soon, however, there is danger: a ship is in need of rescue, and Captain Harriman is reluctant to offer assistance given most of his equipment won't be on board until Tuesday.   Kirk leaps into action, and while the Enterprise-B is able to rescue a small group (including WHOOPI! and Malcolm McDowell), Kirk himself ends up missing, presumed Lost in Space (sorry, I couldn't resist).

It is now 78 years later, when we encounter the crew of the Enterprise-D (aka The Next Generation cast).  They have received a distress call aboard a satellite station.  Arriving at the wreckage, we find there is only one living person...one Dr. Tolian Soran (Malcolm McDowell...again).  Playing exactly the same character who had been rescued on Enterprise-B, he is a bit of a nutter.  He is determined to return to the satellite despite having been ordered not to.

The Captain of Enterprise-D, Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Steward) has his share of problems.  He's been informed that his brother and nephew have just died in a fire, and with Captain Picard childless he sees the end of the Picard line.  Not even the newly-found comedic stylings of android Data (Brent Spiner) and Data's friend Georgi LaForge (LeVar Burton) can cheer him up (well, they're not intended to, but we still get this odd couple comedy duo).  Perhaps some words of wisdom from the bartender at the Enterprise would help, especially if it's discovered said barkeep, Guinan (WHOOPI!), was the exact same WHOOPI! (or Guinan) who had been rescued with Dr. Soran 78 years prior.

We aren't even in the halfway mark and things are becoming confusing.

Star Trek...or X-Men?
Guinan tells Captain Picard that she and Soran had been trapped in the Nexus: a doorway to another world which she describes as a place of bliss.  She points out to Picard that Soran's greatest wish is to return to the Nexus and will do anything to get back to where he once belonged.   He manages to figure what sun he will blow up to bring the Nexus his way, so now they've got to stop him.

Oh, yes, the Klingons with whom Soran worked with are now bothering the Enterprise crew, but they're dealt with.  However, that causes them to crash onto the world radiated by the sun about to go kaboom. 

Picard arrives on the planet but is too late: the rocket is launched and that particular system's sun is blown up and the Nexus sweeps them both up. 

Well, Picard sees that in the Nexus he has children (who for some reason appear Victorian) and a shadow Guinan tells him time has no meaning here.  It's a place out of time.  However, it is here that he makes a shocking discovery.  He meets Captain James Tiberius Kirk, very much alive!  Kirk doesn't seem to either mind or care that he might be in some sort of netherworld, so long as he can now make the 'right' decisions, he will indulge his fantasy life.  Soon, Kirk realizes it will not work, so he joins forces with Picard to stop Soran.

And how do they manage this feat you might ask?  Very simple: you basically have a do-over where despite what we've already seen they get to fight Soran...again, not just with one, but TWO Enterprise captains!  However, in this battle one captain gives his life (one guess as to who croaked), but never fear: the Enterprise-D (which we saw crash-land) now has been located by Captain Picard and thus we get all our crew back for yet another adventure.


Roots: The (REAL) Next Generations
Generations isn't just a lost opportunity.  It's a hopeless, convoluted mess.   I cannot imagine that even a Trekker/Trekkie would be able to make heads or tails of Donald Moore and Brandon Braga's screenplay (from a story by Moore, Braga, and Rick Berman). Let's take some small matters for example. 

Soran has managed to destroy the star and bring the Nexus to him, sweeping Picard along.  The Enterprise has made a spectacular crash-landing due to the Klingons and it appears has pretty much wiped out everyone on board (even the children, which begs the question, what are children doing aboard the Enterprise?).   So, with the star having been destroyed and the Enterprise crashing, how exactly can Picard defeat Soran?

Simple: just go do it over again.  The Nexus has no time, so basically Picard can take Kirk with him and stop Soran before he even began.  HOWEVER, what I was thinking is if the only way to defeat Soran is to merely wish themselves to right before things blew up hard enough, wouldn't Soran likewise be able to wish, 'Oh, I wish I'd killed Picard when I had the chance?' and have his wish granted?

It just seemed so patently idiotic to say to the audience, 'We stopped the explosion just by going to just before it happened'.  Why then have us go through all this just so that you can basically go back to the immediate past?  It wasn't anything Picard or Kirk did to get themselves to fight against Soran.  It was just a 'let's go back to where we left off and take it from there'.

Of all the lazy ways out of an impossible dilemma, this has to be the worst, the cheapest, the easiest, and the most illogical one to come out of Star Trek since...well, I can't think of one but I leave that to my Trekker/Trekkie friends.

The BIGGEST problem (out of many) is that for all intents and purposes we are basically thrown into the Next Generation cast without so much as a 'how'do'.  How is someone who doesn't watch or have any idea about who these people are suppose to understand how things work?  For example, we see the Enterprise fight their old foes the Klingons, but we also see Lt. Commander Worf (Michael Dorn), who is also a Klingon, serving aboard the Enterprise.  How is this possible?  Someone not familiar with Next Generation would not know Klingons have segwayed into Starfleet, so watching this would be confusing. 

Add to that the fact that Worf was last seen in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country defending Kirk and Dr. McCoy (DeForrest Kelly). Now, I've been told that this Worf was the Next Generations' grandfather, but why does it HAVE to be three generations later when Guinan and Soran from 78 years ago are still around?

Does anyone follow my thinking?  You have characters we've seen before in previous Star Trek films but who turn out to be their ancestors/descendants, then you have other characters you've seen in the past who turn out to be the same ones from the present.  It soon becomes a jumble trying to sort out who is who and who is what.

I think here we find Generations' greatest sin: we simply have no idea who any of the Enterprise-D crew are.  We're just expected to know who LaForge and Data and Dr. Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden) and Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes), also known as Number One, or Counselor Troi (Marina Sirtis) are.  We're expected to know their relationships and their interconnections.  The fact that some of us simply don't know just leads to us simply not caring about any of them.

Furthermore, even if we did know who they were, their antics dragged the story down.  We get this entire subplot of Data inserting an emotion chip into his operation system in order to be more human (which five years of study have failed to accomplish).  Then he starts behaving in a patently idiotic manner: laughing at the most inopportune times, at one point breaking into song when given a set of instructions.  Maybe fans loved this, but I thought it all a massive waste of time.

As a digression, I found this line of Data's rather curious.  "I believe I can reverse the polarity by attenuating my axial servo (emphasis mine)".  Besides the gobbledygook the phrase 'reverse the polarity' had me laughing.  Was Data channelling Doctor Who?    



Another simply inexcusable failure of Generations is to put these two iconic characters of Picard and Kirk and A.) have them interact for a very short period of time, and B.) give them very little to actually DO.  The story simply failed to try anything original in bringing the Original Series and the Next Generation to mesh well with each other.  It might have worked better if Next Generation have its own adventure apart from the Enterprise-A crew given that they were the focus of Generations.  It might have given non-Trekker/Trekkies a chance to be formally introduced.  We might have had some time rift that brought them to the past to meet the Original Series crew and they then had to unite to defeat a real enemy.

No, we had to basically slam Kirk into the story to where we'd almost forgotten he was even IN Generations. What should and could have been the uniting of the two Enterprise captains turned into a situation where Kirk really wasn't needed.  Striker could easily have taken on the heroic battle against Soran.  What really WAS the point of Kirk in Generations?  They didn't share much screen time, they didn't think of anything together.  Kirk was just...there.

The same could be said of the Klingons.  Personally, I found them a distraction.  They weren't the central villain: Soran was.  They almost seemed to similarly just...be there, for no reason other than to provide the Enterprise-B with some kind of conflict (i.e. give them something to do while Picard went off to fight Soran).  It just seemed tacked on.

Now, in terms of performances I will say that Stewart gave a very strong, I dare say, powerful, performance as Captain Jean-Luc Picard (though I've always wondered why this British captain had such a French name).  The scene with Sirtis when he talks about his family and the loss of continuity is almost worth sitting through this slog.  That scene (and many aboard Enterprise-B) is beautifully shot, so I give credit where it is due.  However, we can't care about people we don't know (like the crew) or people we've never met (the Picards) no matter how good the acting. 

I figure everyone from Next Generation knows their parts, but that doesn't mean they did well here.  I found Spiner's Data to be terribly annoying in his inability to be 'human' or at least behave like one.  At a certain point Data actually appeared to be turning into The Joker (complete with maniacal laugh).  Poor McFadden...another Crusher reduced to irrelevance I thought. 

I imagine if the script had given Sirtis, Burton, Dorn, or Frakes...well, ANYTHING to do, Generations might have been a better film.  Sadly, too much energy was taken by the "Data: The Human" storyline for us to give much thought to them.  Spiner did what was asked of him, but other than Trekker/Trekkies more into Next Generation than anything else, why do we ever care?

I trust McDowell knew what he was doing when he went full-out crazy as Dr. Soran (though here I wish he had been more of a 'taking over the galaxy' crazy than 'just wants to get high' crazy). 

There were a few good lines.  Soran at one point tells Picard, "They say time is the fire in which we burn" in a great and almost chilling manner (side note: the fact that his family just perished in a fire might have lent this line more horror if David Carson had bothered to direct it so).  To capture the Klingon's frustration that the secret camera inserted into LaForge's glasses wasn't giving them any information, they wryly comment, "He must be the only engineer in Starfleet who doesn't go to Engineering".

However, despite this and a good performance by Stewart the whole film is a frustratingly dull, confused,  and worse, boring film.  Star Trek Generations fails in almost every way.  It fails as a coherent story.  It fails in integrating the Original Series with the Next Generation.  It fails to be interesting, exciting, or even amusing.

Besides, for a film centered around The Next Generation, you couldn't find room for him...



Next Star Trek Film: Star Trek First Contact

DECISION: F

 

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