Friday, June 25, 2010

"Star Trek: Generations" (1994)

"Star Trek: Generations"
Starring Patrick Stewart, Brent Spiner and Malcolm McDowell
Written by Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga
Directed by David Carson

"I really wish you hadn't just pointed out that huge plot hole..."
I'm not particularly certain why this movie exists.  Studio executives wanted the cast of "Star Trek: The Next Generation," the biggest hit in the history of first-run syndicated TV shows, to take over the feature film aspect of the franchise now that their show was winding down after seven seasons.  But they weren't content to simply switch over.  No, they deemed it necessary to have a 'passing the torch' type story to bridge the two movie franchises.  Personally, I think it's unnecessary; the kind of fan-wank that only serves to make the ultra-hardcore fandom jizz their pants a little to sell more tickets.

"Star Trek: Generations" opens with Kirk (William Shatner), Scotty (James Doohan) and Chekov (Walter Koenig) attending the christening of Starfleet's newest pride, the USS Enterprise-B.  Kirk is obviously uncomfortable with this idea, and is constantly reminded of the fact that he's old and retired by how everyone treats him with reverence and for the press he's only a source of pictures and soundbites.  On the ship's shakedown cruise, they receive a distress call from a small caravan of ships transporting refugees to Earth.  It appears they've been caught in some kind of energy distortion.  The Enterprise-B warps in to the rescue, despite being undermanned and lacking things like tractor beams.  When Captain Harriman (Alan Ruck) proves himself incompetent for command, Kirk immediately springs into action.  Scotty is able to rescue a number of the refugees including two special passengers, Soran (Malcolm McDowell) and Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg), but the Enterprise herself becomes trapped in the distortion.  Kirk races down below to complete a critical repair that will allow the ship to free herself, but is caught in the distortion when part of it tears off a section of the ship. 

Flash forward 80 years, give or take, to the crew of the USS Enterprise-D, under the command of Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart).  Just as Picard receives word that his brother and nephew were killed in a fire back on Earth, the ship answers a distress call from a Federation observatory under attack by Romulans.  When they arrive, most of the observatory crew is dead, but they manage to rescue Dr. Soran.  The crew quickly realizes that Soran isn't quite on the level, and are unable to stop him from destroying a star and kidnapping the ship's chief engineer, Geordi La Forge (Levar Burton).

Picard goes to Guinan for answers, and she tells him that Soran is trying to get back into the Nexus, the energy distortion from the beginning of the movie.  It seems that he can't simply fly into it with a ship, so he is attempting to alter the course of the Nexus by destroying stars and changing the flow of gravity in space to lure it to a location where he can safely enter it.  Picard, of course, vows to stop this.  Eventually, Picard himself is sucked into the Nexus where he meets none other than James T. Kirk, who was not killed aboard the Enterprise-B, but was transported into the Nexus.  Together, they must leave the Nexus and stop Soran from destroying another star, this one orbited by an inhabited world with millions of lives at stake.

"Star Trek: Generations" is a mess of a movie.  Parts of it don't really make much sense at all.  For example, Picard flat-out asks why Soran can't just fly into the Nexus with a ship, and Data (Brent Spiner) replies that every ship that goes into the Nexus is destroyed.  But this doesn't really mean anything, since we end up finding that Kirk has been in there the whole time.  Beyond that, when the two of them leave the Nexus, they're told that since time has no meaning within it, they can appear any time or place they wish.  Picard for some reason chooses to go back to just a few minutes before Soran destroys the star instead of going back further and simply arresting Soran before any of this ever happened.

The producers also saw fit to destroy the Enterprise-D in this movie, apparently thinking that it wasn't what they wanted to see in these movies.  But the way they go about it is practically nonsensical.  The ship is destroyed by an "old" Klingon ship, and we're given the excuse that they've found a way to fire through the Enterprise's defenses.  This shouldn't even matter since the Enterprise outguns the other ship anyway, and should've been able to pound the hell out of it.  Instead, the Enterprise fires back once while the crew sits around trying to come up with some complicated plan to save themselves.  The writers try to hide the fact that this sequence is utterly stupid by throwing in lots of dense technobabble to make it all sound very impressive (something the TV show got a little too good at).

Let's talk for a minute about those writers: Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga.  It's hard to fault them.  By all accounts, they were essentially given a lengthy laundry list of things that had to happen in the movie, and then attempted to construct a story around all of these elements.  It's a wonder they managed to come up with the Frankenstein's Monster of a script that they did.  To their credit, the audio commentary for this movie is a fascinating listen, since they pick apart every single problem they find with the movie and apologize for it.  The two would more than make up for this film with the finale for the TV series, "All Good Things..." and the next film, "Star Trek: First Contact."

And then there's Captain Kirk.  As I said before, I don't believe this movie needed to be a crossover.  His presence in the movie simply doesn't accomplish much, and ultimately his demise is fairly unsatisfactory.  What a satisfying end for this character would be, well, we already saw that in "The Undiscovered Country."  I was fine letting Kirk retire... Why do we need to drag him back just to appear in a handful of scenes and then kill him by rather unceremoniously dropping him off a cliff?  Sure, he dies saving millions of lives, but the whole thing could've been avoided if Picard (or the writers) had been thinking a little bit more logically.  Where's Spock when you need him?  Shatner apparently wasn't too thrilled with his character's demise, either, since he resurrected him for a lengthy series of novels.  The opening sequence is a nice little bit, but it becomes obvious that Scotty and Chekov are only there because Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley said, "No thanks."  The dialogue seems suited for those characters; Chekov even ends up the one in Sickbay tending to the wounded! James Doohan is clearly struggling with the more technical language of the TNG writing style, which is unfortunate. 

"Star Trek: Generations" does a lot of things right, however.  Patrick Stewart is a fantastic actor, and it's great watching him interact with... well, pretty much anyone.  There are a number of well-written and well-performed scenes throughout the movie, which is interesting because while they're great on their own, the entire movie itself is fairly mediocre.  It's an instance in filmmaking where the parts are greater than the sum whole.  The film is also quite attractive, visually.  The lighting and usage of color in this flick are excellent, and I find myself wishing that the rest of the TV series had looked this good.  The visual effects are top-notch, though I'm disappointed that stock footage was used at a key moment in the film's centerpiece action sequence (the battle between the Enterprise and the Klingon ship). 

On blu-ray, this flick looks leagues better than the original series movies.  Whether that's a result of less digital tampering or due to the film's younger age, I'm not entirely certain.  Still, details are sharp and colors look excellent.  The reds, yellows and blues of the TNG crew's uniforms never looked better (and never would again, since the costumes for the next three movies were entirely different).  The sharpness of the image reveals issue with makeup (Brent Spiner's android skin looks kinda gross in closeups) but overall, this is the best this movie has ever looked.