Star Trek: Generations

He’s dead: Jim
★★
☆
Released: 
1994
Director: 
Jim Carson
Starring: 
Patrick Stewart, Brent Spiner, Jonathan Frakes, William Shatner
The Setup: 
There’s a giant band of space Heroin crossing the galaxy, needs two captains to stop it.
Discussion: 

So after rewatching all the original crew Star Trek films, I thought I should jump ahead and watch this one to round out my Kirk continuum. Also, one gets to a state where it’s a bummer not to have a Star Trek movie still ahead of one, although this film can be an effective antidote to that.

We open with an alien probe hurtling through the universe, seeking a conversation with Earth’s Pygmy Marmosets, who unfortunately went extinct 300 years ago. But no—it’s actually a bottle of future-vintage Dom Perignon, and it smashes into the hull of the Enterprise-B for its christening. Golly, that Enterprise-B looks an awful lot like the Excelsior! That may be because it IS, with a special Kirk-death platform specially added, which we’ll get to a second. On the bridge, Kirk, Scotty and Chekov are there for the ceremony. This was supposed to be Kirk, Spock and McCoy, but Nimoy refused to be in the movie, since his small part wasn’t uniquely Spock—his lines could have been said by anyone, which proved to be the case, as they were simply stuffed into the mouth of Scotty. He was also offered the opportunity to direct, but declined because he wouldn’t be able to affect the storyline at all, but merely shoot the script as [relatively poorly] written. Smart move, Nimoy. DeForest Kelley apparently was in such poor health he couldn’t get insurance to appear, and didn’t really want to anyway.

Anyway, so Kirk is hounded by a 23rd-century news and paparazzi crowd. Many have commented on how the Star Trek universe was growing ever-more cynical as the films went on, and the scene to follow, with its crass news crew and poorly-maintained Enterprise furthers this viewpoint. Kirk and crew are now officially relics, required to do little more than stand there, Kirk uttering a symbolic “Take us out.” Of course, they aren’t away but a second when they get a distress call, and find two ships trapped in the wave of this energy-ribbon-thing. There’s quite a few shots where Kirk is obviously trying to bite his tongue at the wimpiness and inexperience of the new Captain. They transport some of the people off of the ships—including Whoopi Goldberg as Guinan and Malcolm McDowell as Soran—then they have to do some arbitrary thing in order to get away. The new captain goes down to do it, but Kirk finally relents and says that a captain, regardless of what a douchebag he is, belongs on the bridge. Kirk climbs down himself, does whatever arbitrary thing he has to for the ship to get away [he saved the ship!] and promptly gets vaporized by a burst of energy from the ribbon-thing. It is a fairly cursory and ignoble death, and it signals the generally shoddy craftsmanship of the entire film to follow. They specifically added a little forward bulge to the bottom of the Excelsior for this movie precisely so there could be a place where the ribbon could strike the ship and ONLY take out Kirk, and not damage the model otherwise.

Now we flash-forward 78 years. Riker and Picard are in uniform as 17th-century British shipsmen, standing on the stern of a sailing ship called the Enterprise, and if you’re like me, a certain part of you is cringing. Worf gets promoted, eyes roll at the sight of Troi and Crusher in their moronic British Navy oufits, there’s some “comedy” as Worf gets dunked in the water—Ha! Ha! Ha! Star Trek have good humor!—and Picard opines to Riker about how “This was freedom.”

In here, Data asks Crusher about humor, and she tells him to do something unexpected, so he throws her in the water. This is somehow supposed to have been mean and crossed the line, although there is no real way to determine why Worf going in is funny [or, sorry: “funny”] and this is not. Then Picard gets a special message that upsets him, and of course Deanna is all over him like a fly on shit. A friend of mine and I have been joking about how if you were on the Enterprise, you’d have to hide your feelings pretty well, or else always have Troi looming over your shoulder asking if you’re all right. “Piss off, Deanna!” you’d want to say, and then one can imagine the wounded but unbowed expression that would cross her face. I also hate the whiny way she skulks up behind Picard and says “Caaaaptaaain…” Anyway, Picard storms off without telling her his secrat pain, so we can generate what the screenwriters hope will be “suspense,” and it’s revealed that all of this is on the holodeck.

Okay, so Data has a little chat with Geordi about the Crusher thing, and decides to implant this special emotion chip, which is soon accomplished. Anyway, Picard has Soran on his ship—it’s proof of how unmemorable this movie is that for the life of me I can’t remember how he got aboard—anyway, demands to meet with Picard and tells him it’s of the utmost importance he get somewhere at some time… Picard blows him off, then Deanna is all up in his shit because he’s not a happy camper, and he starts yakking about his feelings, and yakking… and then crying… I confess I can’t tell you what he was so upset about because I was fast-forwarding… and even FAST-FORWARDING I started to be like “Christ! How LONG is this scene going to go on?!?” I honestly wish I had gone back and timed exactly how long it went on, because it was like FOR EVER. Anyway, turns out he’s sad because his brother and nephew died, and Picard was hoping they would carry on the family line, since he’s obviously getting to the age where it’s looking like he’s not going to have any kids. Anyway, while all that was happening Data and Geordi go over to this space station thing, and Soran shows up there, and there’s a laser battle, and Data gets overwhelmed by his emotions and doesn’t try to save Geordi, who gets beamed off with Soran to the ship of the Klingon sisters [who are apparently familiar from the Next Generation show]. Then Soran shoots a missile into the sun that causes it to collapse and send out a huge shockwave that destroys the space station. Sounds pretty exciting, right? Laser battles? Destruction of stars? And yet you would not believe how very dull it could be.

So now it’s time for Whoopi to lay out the whole deal. She was in the energy ribbon, called the Nexus, and it turns out it’s a huge metaphor for hard drugs that floats randomly across the galaxy. When you are inside, it’s like “being inside joy,” and tells Picard that if he ends up inside, he’ll “forget this ship and everyone on it and not want to come back.” Sounds pretty formidable, right? We’ll see how it works out in reality.

Then it’s time for Data to join Picard is the Stellar Cartography room, which is laid out almost exactly like the Brainiator or whatever that thing Professor X uses in the X-Men, and doesn’t really seem to add much except an excuse to introduce something cool-looking. Picard soon figures out that Soran is collapsing stars in order to alter the course of the Nexus, and bring it toward a planet where he’s going to be, which will have the added effect of destroying the planet and its 250 billion people. So the Enterprise heads off there to stop him.

So the Klingon sisters tell Picard they have beamed Soran to the surface, and I forget what they want, but Picard offers himself as their prisoner if they’ll only beam him to Soran so he can have a little chat with him. He’ll give up his plan if someone would only take time to talk to him! Surprisingly, Soran doesn’t really want to hear it, and doesn’t care that he’ll kill 250 billion people [on the planet at large] just so he can get into the Nexus and rejoin his wife and kids—if only in a dream.

SPOILERS > > >
Meanwhile, the Klingons have gotten the calibration of Enterprise’s shields, which means they can program their torpedoes to go right through them. Thus follows one of the most unexciting space battles you will ever sit through, with the striking missiles causing digital damage that seems to be repaired by the next shot. You might wish Data could drop the emotion-chip “comedy” while events are serious, but apparently not. Eventually the Enterprise finds a way to force the Klingon ship to cloak, which will make it lower its shields for a moment [You loved it in The Wrath of Khan—you’ll love it AGAIN!]. Desite much blather about how they’ll only have a fraction of an instant during which to shoot, Riker feels it’s okay to take a long, dramatic pause before saying “Fire!” Thus follows a virtual shot-for-shot repeat of the ending of Star Trek VI, where we have shots of the Klingons standing up, shocked, as the fatal missile comes their way—including the shot of their back as they stare at the viewscreen, missle approaching. Our all-star tribute to Star Trek VI concludes with a recycling of the Klingon ship explosion from that film. I’ve begun to realize that a defining feature of all Star Trek films is their use of footage from the previous film.

Then—arbitrary coolant breach! Watch how quickly the crew—normally known for their resourcefulness in surmounting seemingly-impossible situations—give up and simply accept that the ship is going to explode. Hmm, nothing to do about it! This also cements the series’ unwritten rule of: “When in doubt, blow up the Enterprise.” So they’re going to separate the saucer section and need to evaculate, which leads to numerous shots of the Enterprise daycare centers being emptied of adorable little tots. Okay, it’s nice that they have a bring-your-kids-to-work ethic, and flexible working environment, but are they REALLY going to have a big population of kids on a ship that is OFTEN expected to enter into combat? And is otherwise in serious peril, like, all the time? Childhood is harsh in the future. You have to deal with bullies, adolescent hormones, and the threat of annihilation in space battle. So they separate, and the back part explodes [in a featureless big pop superimposed over the ship—come on guys, you’re blowing up the Enterprise… at least throw us some debris], forcing the saucer to crash-land on the planet’s surface! Sounds pretty exciting, right? Yet the sequence as filmed is a master class in how to drain the excitement out of a catastrophic event. I can’t even say how they did it… it’s like shot of the saucer crashing, shot of bridge shaking, shot of crew member hanging on, shot of panel emitting sparks, repeat until done. The saucer lands and shears off hills, flattens forests [of weeds] and finally comes to a stop, amazing us with how such an exciting event could possibly come off as so entirely dull.
You will, no doubt, notice that the most exciting things to happen in this movie are over a good half hour before the movie ends.

So Picard is not having much success reasoning with Soran and is held away from his launcher-thing by some force-field, leaving Picard standing around there pretty much like a giant douche. Then he climbs though this convenient shield-free location, only to be totally beaten down like a bitch. Then—Soran launches his rocket! The sun collapses! The Nexus appears and swipes up Soran and Picard! The shock wave expands, blowing the atmosphere off the planet—we see the landed Enterprise be destroyed—and the entire planet is smashed to bits. It’s actually a really good effect… if, again, strangely unexciting.

Now come the MAJOR, MAJOR problems. Picard wakes up in a house with all these adoring kids, and a wife that’s going to serve him some Earl Grey. It’s Christmas morning, and apparently Picard’s greatest dream is to live in this Charles Dickens-era fantasy where all the kids are decked out in Laura Ashley velvet floofy dresses and everything is overdecorated to the nines. Which I found odd, since he wouldn’t have ever been alive to experience that. Interestingly, however, Picard is still in his uniform while in the Nexus. He sees a version of the supernova and shock wave in a Christmas ornament. Then, why, who should be there but Guinan! She says that although she came out of the Nexus, she’s also still there, saying “Think of me as an echo of myself.” You can also think of her as an uncreative screenwriter’s expository device, since she’s there for the sole purpose of explaining things to Picard. He doesn’t need any, though, as he says “This isn’t right! This can’t be real!” Yes, the Nexus is this huge addictive thing that no one can escape from—except Picard. With NO problem. I think this is because the Nexus is a big metaphor for drugs, and WINNERS DON’T DO DRUGS! This is a continuation of the way movies continue to demonize drug users because if you are true and stalwart and pure of heart, like Picard, you can simply kick the habit like THAT, with no problem whatsoever [I think this is what his remaining in his uniform represents, as well]. So all that build-up we got earlier about how powerful the Nexus is—that I was looking forward to Picard facing, frankly—was just so much smoke blown up our asses, huh? Picard spent a total of four on-screen minutes in the Nexus. So our walking expository device reminds us, I mean, Picard, that in the Nexus he can go to any time or place he wants—and he knows just where he’ll go!

The next thing we see is Kirk chopping wood. He is also still in his uniform. Now, even though he’s been in the Nexus for 78 years, in his mind, he has JUST arrived there. What is the possible reason for THAT? Well, as usual, I have the answer—or at least a theory I can pompously deliver as though it is absolute truth. If Kirk had been living happily in this fantasy world for 78 years, then KIRK WOULD BE A DRUG USER. So it’s important that he supposedly has JUST arrived there, so we can see that he is a stalwart, upright non-drug-user like Picard. He discovers this clock he had, and this dog he had, and hears the voice of some nameless, faceless woman he loved upstairs. He goes in the kitchen and is making eggs while chatting with Picard, who finally spills that he’s from the future and needs Kirk to help him. It is supposedly the day Kirk left this woman on Earth and returned to Starfleet, a momentous decision he supposedly had second thoughts about. Kirk finishes his eggs and is going to take them upstairs when Picard gets all parental and says it’s Kirk’s “duty as a Starfleet officer” to help him, and Kirk says “Fate owes him one,” and is going to propose to the woman upstairs and tell Starfleet to go screw. And here comes what I consider to be THE most monumental cop-out of the entire film.

Kirk goes into his bedroom to propose to his beloved. After a few seconds, Picard barges in, too [briefly raising humorous images of him tapping Kirk on the shoulder while he’s going at it], and—they’re in a barn. Thus the movie completely pussies out on the moment Kirk decides to put aside duty to pursue his own personal happiness. He is now back at the day he first met the woman, and has a chance to “do it all over again.” He rides out [this was apparently shoehorned in there due to Shatner’s love of horses, and he is riding his own personal horse during this scene]. Anyway Kirk, like Picard, is a WINNER, and thus he, unlike 99.999% of humanity, sees right though all this Nexus bullshit [although he HAS been there for 78 years], and says “It isn’t real. She isn’t real, either. Nothing here is.” We then have our verging-on-camp lines that will make anyone who takes Star Trek seriously cringe if not vomit as Kirk says “I suppose the stakes are high and everything is against us?” [or some such] and “Who am I to argue with the captain of the Enterprise?”—Ho, ho, boy are these lines funny—and he decides to go with Picard to stop bad, bad Soran. Okay, now many people are bewildered why we finally get our two captains together and all they have to do is make eggs and ride horses, however, in defense of this scene, at least our two captains get to have an actual talk and interaction, instead of running around uselessly shooting phasers or whatever. No, there are other, entirely valid reasons to hate this scene, and the movie in general.

So we see the ship crash again to get across that we have returned to that moment before Soran collapses the star, and the movie has one slightly clever gambit in a repeat of a shot where Soran sees someone blocking his way—only this time it’s Kirk. They fight. It slowly becomes apparent that the only thing Picard needed Kirk for was to distract Soran so he could reprogram the launcher. Please don’t bring Kirk into a movie only to accomplish something a cocker spaniel could do. By the way, there’s a moment in which Kirk tells Picard to “Call me Jim,” and you can see Picard feel so touched, so accepted. It is cheap and nauseating. Then there’s a crucial remote control that Kirk has to get and press a button on in order to save the day. This is the second time, in the same movie, in which he has to climb alone down something to press a button or adjust something that will save the day. Then the scaffolding falls on him and he gives his life in the line of duty. This whole sequence had to be re-shot because originally Kirk was shot in the back like a chump, and the fans weren’t havin’ it. So in the improved version, Kirk gets killed by scaffolding. So much better.

So Picard has locked the missile to the platform, which Soran notices a second too late, and he explodes with the missile. You will be interested to learn that the explosion created by a missile powerful enough to cause a star’s collapse is something you’ll be totally safe from if you just hide behind a few rocks. Yeah. SO not a big deal. Then Picard goes down to try to save Kirk, who has thoughtfully remained alive just long enough to deliver some last words. That accomplished, Picard buries him and that’s it.

Picard somehow gets back to the Enterprise to find that Data has, just like that, integrated his emotion chip and is now fine. You know that big problem that has been occupying us and taking up so much time throughout the movie? Yeah, it just WENT AWAY. No more problem! Sometimes things really do just take care of themselves. I’m sure glad we wasted so much time on it, though. That was really enriching. Picard and Riker rescue Picard’s scrapbook from his ruined ready room, and reflect on something or other, and when they get rescued we see that Reliant is still in service. Oh wait—the Reliant was destroyed. That must be the Reliant-B.

Now a big logistical problem most people have with this movie is—if Kirk and Picard can go anywhere in time, why don’t they go back some time when Soran is vulnerable and they can just pick him off? Okay, but this question is engaging with a deeper falsehood, which I think is the real issue here: We have received no indication, verbal or visual, that anything that takes place in the Nexus in any way affects what is happening in the real world. Therefore the whole idea of going back in time to change the future is completely moot—Picard can fantasize about it all he wants, but it doesn’t mean it happened. Thus, when you think about it, it is irrefutably clear that PICARD AND THE CREW OF THE ENTERPRISE ARE DEAD, AND THE EVENTS OF STAR TREKS FIRST CONTACT, INSURRECTION AND NEMESIS ARE ALL FANTASIES TAKING PLACE IN PICARD’S MIND. Thank you for playing.
< < < SPOILERS END

My God, it really is just so terrible. It’s not often I have to make notes about everything that’s so bad about a movie, because there are so many things. The first, and most pervasive thing about this is a truly breathtaking lack of concern about putting anything remotely decent on screen. It’s just so shoddy, from the script to the story to the special effects to the generic music to the direction. This is the only feature directed by TV director David Carson, and WHY in the name of GOD would they give it to him? I’m constantly amazed at how they’ll throw Star Trek directorial duties at anyone who happens by at the time. The Leonard Nimoy movies were OKAY, but could have been much better in the hands of an experienced director. At this point, why don’t they have a contest and let the biggest Trek fan direct the movie? Huh? Why not? David Carson also directed the TV version of Carrie, which means that my hatred of him now becomes very personal. He’d better stay the fuck out of my neighborhood.

Another super-major problem this film has is the way it plays fast and loose with the rules of its plot device. So wait a minute—you DO enter the Nexus when your ship is destroyed, which we know because both Soran and Guinan were there. But Soran can’t just fly a ship into it for some reason given later—the real reason being obviously that if you could there would be no finale. And if Guinan is still there—isn’t Soran still there, too? So why does he have to get back? And the whole reason Guinan is still supposedly there SO OBVIOUSLY being solely so she can deliver more exposition. In fact, that’s the only reason she’s in this film. Then there’s the whole thing about all the build-up to how intoxicating the Nexus is, and the massive cop-out that both Picard and Kirk instantly see through it and leave within moments. Finally, the dumb climax which, even by the loose rules of this film, makes no sense. I don’t know—did they NOT think anyone in the audience would care about any of this? They just thought no one would notice?

The rest of the film seems stitched together out of bullet pointed gimmicks that seemed like they’d be cool, regardless of whether they make sense. Kirk dies the first time. Data gets an emotion chip. The Enterprise has a space battle. The Enterprise crash lands. Kirk and Picard meet. Kirk dies again. Doesn’t matter how—or IF—these elements fit together, just throw them in there and make up some bullshit to paste them together. Which wouldn’t have been so bad if Carson had any directorial panache, WHATSOEVER, and was able to make the movie entertaining. Instead scenes like Picard’s weep-fest with Troi goes on FOR. FUCKING. EVER. The “humor” of the Next Generation crew—especially Data’s reaction to is emotion chip—is enough to make you want to drive red-hot pokers into your eyes, the space battle is a total snooze-fest, and the crash of the Enterprise spectacularly dull. Now really, HOW do you make the crash of the Enterprise dull? That’s got to count as some sort of achievement. By the way, guys, it’s a PROBLEM when the most exciting thing in your movie happens 30 minutes before the ending. And it has often been mentioned that the meeting of the two captains and the death of Kirk is a massive disappointment. Shatner objected to the first script for this film because “Kirk is only there to die.” So apparently they added a few more complications, but ultimately it can’t be avoided that ultimately Kirk is just here to die, and provide another gimmick to get people into the theater.

When the show was on, I thought the Next Generation was pretty awesome. In retrospect, it just comes off as so wussy in every respect when compared with the original crew. Picard is a big pussy, Riker is a charisma vacuum, Data is tedious, and Troi—ugh. Even the new Enterprise just isn’t satisfying to look at the way the old one was. It’s too bad, and this movie is too bad, wayyy too bad in every respect. As with the movies starring the original cast, you should skip the first one and start with the second. Many people on the IMDb believe that this one is worse than Star Trek V. Others say it’s only slightly better. Take heed.

Should you watch it: 

You know, I wouldn’t, unless you’re the hugest Star Trek fan ever, and need to see everything.