Friday, May 11, 2012

CULT MOVIE REVIEW: Star Trek: Generations (1994)

Can one bad concept, executed poorly, scuttle an entire movie?

That's the primary question to ask regarding the seventh feature film to boast the Star Trek name, 1994's Generations.

As Trekkers no doubt recall, Generations offers the irresistible lure of combining two generations of franchise characters and two exceedingly popular casts.  The film's prologue is set in the 23rd century days of Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and crew (in this case meaning Scotty and Chekov), while the movie proper is set some seventy-eight years later, in the era of Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) and his stalwart crew (Riker, Data, Worf, LaForge, Crusher, and Troi).  The film's climax stirs the ingredients together and brings forth both Kirk and Picard to double-team the film's nefarious villain, Dr. Tolian Soran (Malcolm McDowell).

This sounds like a slam dunk formula for space adventure success, no? 

It is, perhaps, until you consider the mechanism by which the two generations are combined.  While all Star Trek films feature flaws of one type or another, Generations endures seismic contortions to bring together two captains from disparate eras, in the process creating a narrative sinkhole from which little emerges unscathed. 

That sinkhole is called "The Nexus" or "the energy ribbon," and the script -- in true TNG techno-babble fashion -- generically describes the outer space phenomenon as a "conflux of temporal energy" that passes through our galaxy every thirty-eight years or so. 

Alas, the Nexus is perhaps the most inconsistent plot device to feature prominently in a Star Trek film, thus causing many more problems than it solves. And because it plays such an important role in the film, logical questions about it are not easily side-stepped or avoided.

In addition, the screenplay by Ronald Moore and Brannon Braga feels schizophrenic.  The book-end scenes involving Captain Kirk  are filled with wit, nostalgia, pathos, and real humor, but the middle sections of the film are slow, tedious and lugubrious. Brent Spiner's delightful Data is transformed into a clown and a coward by the addition of an emotion chip, and the script badly mishandles the noble Captain Picard too, making him seem emotionally unstable and a sexist prude.  As a feature film introduction to these beloved franchise characters, Generations serves both heroes poorly.

Yet despite such problems, Star Trek: Generations features many memorable and enjoyable moments. The exciting prologue reveals the inaugural flight of the U.S.S. Enterprise B,  and there's also an impressive action scene involving a saucer separation and planetary crash.  Generations also presents a laudable thematic leitmotif about mortality.  It's not what we leave behind that's important, establishes Captain Picard, but "how we've lived" that matters.  Picard, Kirk and Soran -- in various ways -- all embody this search for meaning in life. 

In terms of its cinematic appeal, Generations re-uses the familiar TV sets, but cinematographer John Alonzo does a brilliant and beautiful job of up-fitting them for the silver screen.  The cinematic lighting of these familiar sets lends a beautiful and affecting sense of melancholy to the dramatic proceedings.  Some scenes are literally bathed in apricot sunlight, as though a golden age is burning out, coming to a rapid end.  This too fits both the movie's narrative (which witnesses an end to Enterprise-D) and the thematic drive, which suggests that "time is the fire in which we burn."

I've re-watched the first five seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation in the last year or so as part of my continuing retrospective of the series, and discovered a new appreciation for the I didn't expect to find, but did.  Yet love The Next Generation or hate it, Generations is not a high point in the franchise, rather a testament to the difficulty of moving beloved characters from one format to another.

The New York Times' Peter Nichols noted that Generations is "flabby and impenetrable in places, but it has enough pomp, spectacle and high-tech small talk to keep the franchise afloat."  I largely agree with the reviewer in terms of the movies flaws and strengths.  Generations really is flabby  (feeling overlong and confusing) and impenetrable (largely because of the Nexus), but the film is also, often, quite spectacular in visualization.  

"A quick run around the block..."

In the 23rd century, Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner), Captain Scott (James Doohan) and Commander Chekov (Walter Koenig) board the U.S.S. Enterprise-B for its maiden voyage, a short sojourn around the solar system. 

Unfortunately, two El-Aurian ships carrying refugees to Earth have become caught in "The Ribbon" -- a dangerous space phenomenon -- and require rescue.  The Enterprise, under Captain Harriman (Alan Ruck) is not prepared to meet the challenge, but Kirk and his team step in.  Several El-Aurians are rescued, including Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg) and Dr. Soran (Malcolm McDowell) but during the rescue attempt, Captain Kirk is lost and presumed dead.

Seventy-eight years later, the crew of the Enterprise-D celebrates the promotion of Lt. Worf (Michael Dorn).  Even as Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) receives grave news regarding his family on Earth, the android Data (Brent Spiner) attempts to become "more human" by installing and activating his emotion chip.

The Enterprise receives a distress call from a nearby Federation facility, and discovers that it has fallen under attack, apparently by Romulans.  A lone survivor is Dr. Soran, who is now working on a powerful Trilithium device -- a weapon that can destroy stars -- to shift the path of the Ribbon.

As Picard learns, Dr. Soran actually wishes to return to the Ribbon, so that he can enter into an alternate dimension called "The Nexus," a world of fantasy and bliss where his family still exists.  Allied with Klingon renegades Lursa and B'etor, Soran hopes to destroy the sun in the Veridian system even though it means the deaths of millions of intelligent life forms, and thus rendezvous with his loved ones.

Picard attempts to stop Dr. Soran on a desolate planet surface while Riker battles the Klingons in orbit.  After Picard enters the Nexus, he realizes he must enlist the help of the legendary Captain Kirk...

"Time is the fire in which we burn..."
Star Trek: Generation's problems begin with the concept of the Nexus.  It is a ribbon of energy that travels the galaxy.  If you happen to be touched by the Nexus, you are transported to an alternate reality without time in which your thoughts dictate reality.

The Nexus/ribbon is incredibly intriguing in concept, and I've always appreciated outer space mystery films that deal with altered realities, such as Solaris.  Indeed, you get the sense that this kind of depth is precisely what Generations was aiming for.

The problem is that the rules governing the Nexus are inconsistent.  Follow the logic with me:  According to Guinan (Whoopi Goldbeg), you can't go to the Nexus.  The Nexus must come to you.  This is why the film's villain, Soran, is using Trilithium, a quantum inhibitor, to destroy stars.  The accordant changes in gravity in the aftermath of the star's destruction offer the opportunity to re-direct the ribbon to a planet where Soran is waiting.  There, he can be absorbed by the Nexus and returned to his family.

Yet, at the beginning of the film, Captain Kirk is absorbed into the Nexus (and assumed dead by the rest of the galaxy) after the Enterprise-B enters the Ribbon.  So in this case, you can go into the Nexus.  You can get to it by ship, directly contradicting Guinan's spoken testimony and Soran's belief that there's "no other way" to get inside the Nexus. 

As has been asked by many fans on many discussion boards, why can't Soran merely fly a ship, or a thruster suit into the Ribbon, just the way the Enterprise B flew into the Ribbon?  If, for a moment, I were to buy this whole "it has to come to you" deal, why not park a spaceship in front of the Ribbon, turn off your engines, and let it just happen.  Same thing with a thruster suit. 

Bluntly stated, there is no need for Soran's over-complicated plan to put millions of lives in danger by destroying stars.  It's all a false threat and a contrivance. The film demonstrates, through Kirk's disappearance, that you can go to the Nexus, and that it doesn't have to come to you.  Are we supposed to believe Guinan and Soran, or our own lying eyes?

The next inconsistency arises over the use to which the Nexus is put.  Apparently, since the Nexus can shape reality according to thought, those trapped in the Nexus can choose to leave it any time, and return to any point in the timeline.

In the film, Picard solicits the aid of Captain Kirk and opts to return to the point five minutes before Veridian III is destroyed, to stop Soran.  Why would he choose this particular time, and not a day earlier, in Ten Forward, when he first meets Soran aboard the Enterprise?  Worf's security men could thus arrest Soran, and two star systems would survive.  There would be no casualties, either.  The Enterprise wouldn't get destroyed. End of story.  Why would any person in his right mind -- let alone an incredibly intelligent starship captain -- choose to return to a point  in time wherein Soran already holds all the cards, and the die is cast, as they say?

And there's more. When Picard and Kirk return from the Nexus, they are very quickly outmatched.  In short order, it appears that one of them will have to sacrifice their life on a rickety bridge atop a hill to stop Soran from destroying the star. Thus, I submit, Kirk and Picard should have put their heads together for about five seconds and determined to let Soran win, and permit the Nexus to take them again.  Why?  They're losing.

They can go back into the Nexus, leave again, pick another time to return to the real universe, and make a second, hopefully better-planned run at Soran.  The Nexus, in fact, offers the possibility of infinite do-overs.  It seems criminal to lose Kirk permanently in this story, when the Nexus allows characters to rewrite time again and again.  I have a difficult time believing that the two best Captains in Starfleet history couldn't engineer a solution, together, that would spare both their lives and save the universe, given the Nexus's unique temporal properties. 

In short, never has a gimmick in a Star Trek movie been quite so...gimmicky. The Nexus is a black hole of plot contrivance that sucks away all the good will the film generates.  And it's not like that good will is that abundant in the first place, in part because of the film's sour and off-key depiction of the hero.

The Measure of a Man: The depiction of Captain Picard in Generations.

What I appreciate so much about Captain Picard is that his character was conceived as a man and as a captain very different from Captain Kirk.  We didn't need an imitator...we needed a successor with his own style, approach and personality.  That's  precisely what the writers and Patrick Stewart gave us in the TV series.  That fact established, Captain Picard as he was in the series is not an easy fit for a Star Trek movie.  He is introspective, occasionally morose, emotionally detached from his crew, and not at all the standard action hero type.

In the series, Picard was always much more effective as a traveling diplomat and mediator than as a starship commander in combat situations.  He surrendered the Enterprise in two of the first four episodes of the series ("Encounter at Farpoint" and "The Last Outpost"), and got his clock cleaned by an eighty year-old, broken-down starship in a war game scenario against Riker in "Peak Performance."

But Picard's admirable intellectual and diplomatic qualities don't really get audiences behind the character in a bigger film setting.  When a Klingon Bird of Prey de-cloaks off the port bow of the Enterprise, Picard's response here is simply a befuddled "what?!"  He can't even conceive of the possibility that a Klingon ship could be lurking nearby.  He thus appears unimaginative.  Just compare Picard's confused, ineffective response in Generations with Kirk's decisive reaction to a cloaked Klingon Bird of Prey in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984).  Kirk spots the ship before it de-cloaks, and gets in the first licks with photon torpedoes.  Is competence in the center seat too much to expect of Picard?

In Generations, Picard is also handily defeated in hand-to-hand combat with Soran. He fails to stop the scientist's dastardly plan, and must resort to cajoling Kirk back into action.  Then, Kirk fights Soran and ultimately dies trying to reach a remote control (yes, a remote control).  So not only does Picard fail against Soran once, but the second time around he also gets a Starfleet legend killed because he can't handle himself in a fist-fight.   Remember, he's supposed to be the film's hero, and again, the portrayal isn't very flattering.

To top it all off, when at film's conclusion Riker notes that he never had the chance to captain the Enterprise, Captain Picard says, essentially, "don't worry...we'll get another one!"  (Really: "I doubt this will be the last starship to carry the name Enterprise).  Again, contrast Kirk's feelings of guilt and remorse over the destruction of his beloved starship in The Search for Spock with Picard's nonchalant, off-handed response in Generations. The impression is that Picard couldn't give a damn that the Enterprise is destroyed. He's lost ships before (the Stargazer), has done so again, and well, he certainly appears confident he'll get another shot at command, I guess.  The script provides Picard not one word of regret that the Federation flagship has been destroyed.  And he doesn't tell a soul, either, at least on screen, of Captain Kirk's noble sacrifice.

Then, bafflingly, after the moving death of Kirk and the destruction of the Enterprise, the film stops for an emotional scene in which Data cries after discovering that his cat, Spot, still lives.  I wonder why the film could not have stopped, long enough, to feature a memorial service for Captain James T. Kirk, with a moving eulogy delivered by Jean-Luc Picard.  Picard is a man more of words than action, and such a moment would have played to his strengths as a character; his intellect, his ability to contextualize a situation in terms of history and philosophy.   If we get tears and sadness over a cat, why not tears and sadness over a legendary starship commander's sacrifice?

I maintain that the reason so many fans hunger for the return of William Shatner as Kirk today is because Generations failed so spectacularly to bring adequate closure to the character.  He dies in virtual anonymity -- as if he were never there -- on a distant, unheard of planet.  Had Picard eulogized him in a formal service, describing how he had "made a more time," the fans would have felt that their hero had been treated with at least some decorum and respect.  His life could have been contextualized and rendered meaningful.

I'm still not through complaining about how Picard is treated in this film, either.  Early on, he is given the news that his brother and nephew have died, and indeed, how awful.  We get a long dialogue scene wherein he weeps and discusses at length the end of "the Picard line."  This is why we see a Star Trek movie, right?  To watch a character weep in his quarters over the death of family members.  Is Picard so hopeless at interpersonal relationships that he's given no thought to the idea that he could still have a child?  And isn't it rather selfish to be worrying about the end of the family line when his sister-in-law has lost something a lot less abstract, namely her husband and son?  Something about this whole scene is way off, in terms of Picard's character.  He comes off as inappropriately concerned with himself.

And then the final straw is Picard's Nexus fantasy.  Here, he visits a nineteenth century world, where a prim and proper Victorian woman -- one we've never seen before -- is his wife.  She wears a traditionally frilly 19th century dress and pretty bows and ribbons in her hair, and she dutifully dotes on Picard and his brood of children.  So, we are meant to believe that this brilliant man of the 24th century secretly longs for a demure woman of the 19th century; one to keep his home clean and raise his kids,  You wouldn't know that he was such a traditionalist from his previous attraction to the rogue, Vash, or from his relationship with Lt. Commander Nella Darren (Wendy Hughes) in "Lessons."  Do the writers here remember the episode "Family," wherein Picard was defined as the brother who looked to the stars and the future, while his brother was the conservative traditionalist who looked to the past?

In the choice of fantasy mates for him, Generations transforms Picard -- the intellectual renaissance man of the future -- into someone who appears sexist to us, now, living here in the 21st century.  It's a ridiculous choice of fantasy for the character, and one that suggests the writers -- after writing for him for so many years -- have no absolutely no idea who he is.  The woman in Picard's fantasy should have been a woman that he respected: Dr. Crusher.  She is a match for him in terms of intellect, opinion and physicality. Why wouldn't Picard imagine her as his dream woman, particularly after the events of "Attached?" More importantly, why wouldn't the writers think of Beverly Crusher, now that they were now longer constrained by the "no change" edicts of a weekly series, where you must keep everyone available for future dalliances with sexy guest stars?   Frankly, in this Generations scene Picard comes off as infinitely more sexist than Captain Kirk ever did.  Kirk may want to screw every woman that moves, but Picard apparently desires a chaste doormat for a life partner.  Again, it doesn't ring true of the man we'd known for seven years and over a hundred adventures.

I also submit that Data is done a grave disservice in the film, begging for his life from Soran, and cackling like a madman.  His belief that his "growth as an artificial life form has reached an impasse" is an interesting element on which to hang a story, but making the android a court jester and sniveling coward hardly does the character a service.    What's the point?  That to be human is to be an obnoxious, smug jerk?

Again, this judgment is not a reflection on Brent Spiner or on the character of Data as seen in the TV series overall; just a comment on the quality of writing and decision-making that informs Generations.  

"You know, if Spock were here, he'd say that I was an irrational, illogical human being by taking on a mission like that. Sounds like fun!" 

I haven’t pulled many punches here regarding Star Trek: Generations.  The film doesn’t work in terms of science fiction premise, in terms of internal consistency and logic, or in terms of the main characters, primarily Picard.  But, the film does succeed on at least two other  specific fronts: spectacle and commentary on human nature.

It’s funny that Trek fans dislike Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989) when, in many ways it felt true to the almost tongue-in-cheek spirit of the original series.  But that film also committed the cardinal sin of being very poor in terms of special effects presentation.  By contrast, Generations doesn’t really capture the spirit of The Next Generation, but proves absolutely thrilling in terms of visual presentation.  The section of the film devoted to the Klingon gambit to destroy the Enterprise is absolutely enthralling, and as jaunty, fun and engaging as any moment in the movie canon.  Furthermore, the separation of the saucer section and subsequent crash on the planet surface is rendered in breathtaking and tense terms.  These moments capture the Star Trek spirit beautifully, particularly Data’s unexpected expletive (“Oh shit…”) as the sequence begins.  A sustained set-piece, the crash of the Enterprise is something that fans have desired to see dramatized for years, and Generations doesn’t disappoint.

William Shatner and Patrick Stewart also prove delightful together in the film.  It really is great to see these two men stand shoulder-to-shoulder, working together and playing off one another.  I only wish the script didn't have to go through so many contortions of believability and logic to bring Picard to Kirk.  People can criticize Shatner's acting all they like, but I find his final moments in the role -- his acceptance of death -- immensely moving.  

I also must acknowledge that Moore and Braga have done an admirable job weaving together some of the thematic, human elements of this particular tale.  In one way or another, Kirk, Picard and Soran all grapple with their mortality, and their legacy in Generations.  For Kirk, he’s done nothing in the Nexus that matters, and to him a life without meaning is not worth living.   It is better of him to die having achieved something important.   Picard, meanwhile, has never devoted his considerable energies to family, and now he wonders if upon his death, he’ll be remembered at all, or if the Picard name will be consigned to dead (rather than living…) history.  And Soran, of course, wants to escape the bounds of mortality and live forever with his loved ones in the nexus.  His legacy is to be remembered here, in reality, as a monster.  Each one of these characters must contend with life and death in Generations, and a viewer can see how that thread affects each of them.  Again, I’ve been tough with the writers here, but in having three primary characters grapple with aging and mortality, Generations certainly aspires to be Star Trek at its best.  The film has something meaningful and true to convey to all of us.  How do we look at the passing of time?  Are our lives burning up as the days and hours pass? Or are we building up a legacy that will inspire those who come after us?

So Generations is visually gorgeous (perhaps second only to The Motion Picture in terms of cinematic appeal) and certainly, it hopes to be more than just another movie chapter in Trek history.  Yet the film stumbles over Kirk’s legacy. How can we know that Kirk’s life meant something important if Picard doesn’t share his sacrifice with his own crew and contextualize his sacrifice for us? Generations also trips over Picard’s character, making him seem selfish, incompetent, and sexist.  And the contrived nature of the Nexus damages the film’s sense of credibility and logic almost beyond measure.  The concept is confusing and confused, and Generation suffers mightily for it.  As I noted above, the film feels schizophrenic, lunging from a weeping Picard to a psychotically-humorous Data, and back again.

I am now and shall always be a Star Trek fan.  But Generations is not the franchise’s finest hour, and in fact, I rank it very near the bottom of the movie pantheon despite the occasional moments of tremendous spectacle and the worthwhile message regarding mortality. Good thing First Contact (1996) came next.


  1. All your criticisms are spot on. Picard's Nexus fantasy is very strange indeed. It almost seems like a concession to Patrick Stewart to have his fantasy be straight out of "A Christmas Carol". Why would someone of French descent have a fantasy that seems to be straight out of a Victorian England Christmas? If he ever yearned for such a thing, it was never evident in the show. As you said, his brother was the one who looked backwards while Picard was the one who looked towards the stars.

    And then, there's Kirk's Nexus fantasy where he's become domesticated, cooking breakfast for his rarely seen Nexus love and occasionally riding horses. This fantasy seems more appropriate for Captain Pike, who seemed to have a thing for picnics and horses. Kirk's first love was the Enterprise despite the fact that he couldn't keep his knee-high boots on whenever he saw a beautiful space lady. If Kirk really wanted domestic bliss, it would have been nice if his Nexus family was Carol and David Marcus.

    The one detail that always grates on me is the change in uniform. Initially, the characters are wearing the same costumes as they did on the show. Then, one by one, they start showing up in new uniforms, while others continue to wear their old ones. Eventually, everyone must have gotten the memo because by mid-movie, they are all wearing their new uniforms. It's as if a Federation dry-cleaning ship had just dropped off their new uniforms and one by one, the characters put them on as their next work shift begins. It would have been nice if someone made a comment about the new uniforms being more comfortable or less, or something!

    Yes, thankfully First Contact got it right. But the film series was in a rut from Star Trek 5 onwards. At least Trek 5 was fun and had the same sense of adventure that the original series had. Trek 6 was morose and had too many silly contrivances such as big digital clocks all over the bridge purely because the plot required them.

    Thanks again for a very enjoyable review of a pretty lousy entry into my favorite franchise.


  2. Anonymous2:31 PM

    I'm with you, John. Generations was definitely not one of Star Trek's most shining moments in the cinema. Despite the fact that Malcolm McDowell was in it and Lursa and B'Tor were killed off, it was not all that hot in this Star Trek fan's book.

    Thankfully, First Contact was better and much bolder.

  3. Anonymous2:36 PM

    John, well done, you have written both an accurate and extremely fair GENERATIONS review. Myself having seen, since I was a boy, all the STAR TREK films in the theater beginning on December 7th 1979 TMP. This screenplay needed to have been written by the likes of Nicholas Meyer. In GENERATIONS, I loved the opening which feels more as a epilogue belonging to STAR TREK 6 UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY. The Enterprise 1701-B Excelsior class starship launch with Kirk, Scotty and Chekov reminding us all of the Refit Enterprise 1701 leaving drydock in TMP & Wrath Of Khan. However, I truly loathed the Nexus(as you perfectly discussed) and the trivialized death of Kirk. Unlike Nicholas Meyer's Spock's death scene and proper funeral in Wrath Of Khan we get a weak Kirk death scene. Even worse, Picard does not even have Kirk's body brought back with him on the shuttlecraft to close the film with a proper funeral for Kirk.

    I prefer STAR TREK 5 FINAL FRONTIER with all it's flaws(special effects & story). I loved the early scene Kirk, Spock, McCoy shuttlecraft flight from Earth's Yosemite to the arrival at the extremely impressive Hangar deck set of the Enterprise 1701-A in Earth orbit. After being greeted by Scotty, they quickly ride the turbolift to the bridge giving us all a sense of the size of this iconic starship.


  4. I've been waiting for you to review this film because I have always struggled with this Star Trek entry. You mentioned how the Nexus created infinite possibilities for the outcome of defeating Soran, but I would go further and say, if these events are happening in the Nexus, how is any of this at all real? When Picard is in his Victorian domestic fantasy, he says this is not real. So how can the climax be real either? We don't even see how Kirk and Picard get to the Veridian planet. I assume they just wish themselves there. It was all a bit murky for me, and I couldn't help but think the writers could have come up with something else.

    I had heard at the time that they wanted to have something other than the "slingshot around the sun" sort of time travel gambit, but this Nexus was so poorly conceived, they really should have abandoned it. Generations only existed for two reasons: 1) reposition the cast in a framework that would lend itself to feature films rather than a weekly series, and 2) kill off Kirk. The fact that they felt it necessary to kill off Kirk to get butts in the seats was disheartening enough, but they really needed to create a scenario that was worthy of the character. All the good will I had toward TNG during its first run evaporated with this movie.

    The opening of the movie sets you up for the disappointment to come. The teaser gives us the old cast in all their swagger and charm, saving the solar system once again. Then we flash forward to those TNG dopes playing on the holodeck like a bunch of children. It was a bit like comparing the generation that won WWII with the baby boomers who smoked pot and listened to Beatles records backwards for hours. Do I really want to see more movies with this bunch?

    First Contact was better, but I'd rather watch Star Trek V than any of the TNG movies ever again.

  5. Star Trek: TNG did not translate well to cinema, but I find Star Trek: Generations to be the best of the bunch. It is not exactly the perfect movie, but it is far superior in scope and power of imagination when compared to the others.

    I hated First Contact in particular, mainly because of the borg and the part that took pplace on Earth. Atrocious. Also "Two Takes Frakes" was not really up to the task, in my view.

  6. I've always thought that Generations' problem was that they were stuck being TV people still. Chekov and Scott's parts were really McCoy and Spock, except that DeForrest Kelley couldn't be insured and Nemoy refused. Doohan managed to carry off the weak part change, but Walter Koenig got stuck playing Chekov "playing" McCoy.

    Had they put the extra couple of weeks into the script, they could have rewritten this, but they were stuck with the TV mentality: "It's only 10 minutes, ship it." There's a lot of Generations that would have gotten better with one or two more passes through rewrites. Instead, they rushed the script out and it shows.

  7. Wonderful comments here on Generations, a deeply flawed entry in the Star Trek canon.

    Pierre: I agree wholeheartedly with everything you wrote in your comment. The horses bit was a pander to Shatner, and the Victorian Christmas looks like a pander to Stewart. Did they hold so much power over the production that they could shape the story in directions that didn't make sense for the characters? I suspect so. Picard's fantasy plays as especially egregious to me because the man was a real "renaissance" character, and here he is longing for a 19th century demure woman who pumps out children by the brood and keeps a spotless house. This scene must be a nadir for the Picard character.

    Anonymous: Again, total agreement here. I thought First Contact -- despite its own flaws in writing (The Borg Queen...) -- was substantially better.

    SGB: Your criticism and praise of Generations are both on the mark. The film is beautiful to look at in terms of cinematography, and I would never deny it is nice to re-visit Kirk and the development of the Enterprise after Star Trek VI. It's an interesting little coda to the TOS era. Yet -- I agree with you -- I prefer Star Trek V: The Final Frontier to Generations. It had weak special effects and perhaps too much campy humor, and yet it felt authentically like Star Trek. Generations feels bloated, confusing and incoherent, and the TNG cast doesn't yet hold the big screen the way the TOS stars did.

    more to come...

  8. Neal:

    You are SO right about the Nexus and knowing whether any of this is, in any sense, real. The Nexus is magic -- fantasy -- pure and simple, and because there are no rules, it's impossible to make sense out of the film's final act. This is why it is extreme bullshit when J.J. Abrams claims he can't bring Kirk back because he died in Generations. The Nexus is such a wishy-washy, incoherent concept that there are likely a dozen ways to bring Kirk back, if that was on Abrams' agenda.

    That point aside, you are absolutely correct that the film makes huge leaps of logic. The ribbon must come to you, but the Enterprise B goes to it. You can leave the Nexus and return anywhere in the galaxy, at any point, but Picard chooses the worst time to return to conventional reality. And then there's the lack of follow-up.

    By that I mean that the ribbon travels the galaxy every thirty something years. That mean it probably passes in or near Klingon, Romulan or Cardassian (or even Borg) space. Could you imagine any of those races getting into the Nexus and then emerging -- anywhere they want in time and space -- to change history? I'm sure at least one of those races would try. And yet nobody in Generations ever comments on the danger inherent in the presence of the ribbon. In "Contagion" we saw Picard destroying Ikonian technology because of the potential for destruction it afforded. The ribbon is infinitely more dangerous...and nobody seems to care. I assume that after Generations, it just continues on its merry way, to come around again in another thirty years or so...

    It's really a terribly, poorly-conceived plot device, and one of the worst ideas ever to be featured in a Star Trek film.

    Jay-Jay: I definitely can sympathize with your thoughts on First Contact. The writers destroyed the mystique of the Borg by adding a "leader," the Borg queen. They also pulled the same shit with Picard. Instead of turning to Crusher for advice in a pinch (as Kirk would have turned to McCoy), the script had him turning to a stranger and guest star, Lily. I hated that.

    That said, I thought the film worked better than Generations by a long shot because the Borg are such a great menace, and many of the scenes of the drones taking over the Enterprise are quite anxiety-provoking and tense. Furthermore, the idea of First Contact -- a critical period in Earth history -- is a great, optimistic and very Trekkian one. I found the landing of the Vulcan ship on Earth and the beginning of a new era quite affecting, emotionally. The film had flaws, yes, but by far worked better than Generations, just in my opinion.

    Kentucky Packrat: Your comment really hits the mark. A TV mentality dominates Generations. Why can't Picard "fantasize" about Crusher, instead of some 19th century mystery woman? To keep him available next week for space sex? It's ridiculous. In the movies, we expect the characters to grow and develop, and that simply wasn't happening here.

    But even the Nexus wouldn't have passed muster on a TV episode...

    best to all!

  9. Nice write-up, John I agree with all your criticisms except for three. Three I wish to debate.

    1) The Enterprise-B technically does not fly into the Nexus, but near it close enough to transport the passengers of the other ship. They were actually trying to escape during the moment Kirk is taken. I suspect the reason Soran doesn’t later fly another ship within range for the same effect is because the whole process was proven too unstable. He would likely die in the ship’s explosion before having a chance to enter the ribbon directly. In other words, his scheme to alter its course through a breathable atmosphere provides a more controlled method of being absorbed, free from the hazards of outer space and exploding vessels.

    2) I’m not sure where you’re getting the whole 'repressed fantasy wife sexism' bit. I think maybe you’re projecting a little too much here. Yes, the life that Picard imagines for himself within the Nexus stands in almost total contrast with the overall arcing of his character throughout the series, but haven’t you considered that this is precisely the point? The alternate life choices depicted within the Nexus prove not only hollow and meaningless, but further represent selfish desires in place of duty and commitment to a greater calling, for the greater good.

    "You know, maybe this is less about an empty house. Maybe it’s about that empty chair on the bridge of the Enterprise," says Kirk to Picard. "Ever since I left Starfleet, I haven’t made a difference.

    Likewise, if Picard’s Dickensian themed, Christmas family bliss seems utterly irresponsible, that’s because it is! He, too, realizes -- upon recognizing the Veridian star inside the tree ornament -- that the Nexus dream is but a corruption of who he is as a Federation captain with a duty to save innocent lives; notice how he stops at the dining room entry and looks upon his fake family one last time with a clear sense of resolve before turning and walking away for good.

  10. 3) I think you guys are way off on Kirk’s death, as you seem to be blatantly missing the finer poignancy of how he goes. In my opinion, a grand funeral simply wouldn’t fit the aged mythos of the character. But before we even go that far, I should remind you that Kirk does in fact die epically ...aboard the Enterprise-B. That’s how he’s remembered by his friends, the captain and crew, the onboard newscast and history in general: risking his life to save an entire ship.

    In The Final Frontier Kirk famously says to Spock and McCoy, "I always knew I would die alone." And while many have since argued how Generations technically undermines this statement, I for one think it still holds, and further reflects a larger philosophical sentiment of Kirk as a man. In essence, he does die alone, away from those who knew and loved him. His historical death is large scale and glorious while his actual death comes down to dusty standoff against a single villain. No, it’s not a supernova blaze of glory for all the universe to see, but an earnestly simple, last-ditch act of heroism for something so random as a mere control device opposite a failing platform.

    In the end Kirk is but a broken body underneath some steel wreckage. It’s a jarringly violent, real world death. There’s a humility to it. And his last words are to a man he hardly knew but with whom he aligned and shared, what is perhaps, the greatest of all life lessons. Thus the passing of the torch from Kirk to Picard forever remains a private matter between two great starship captains from two different generations.

    All of this would have been spoiled had Picard brought Kirks body back with him and made a big eulogistic to-do about it. Would a scene with the crew of the Enterprise-D tearing up over a captain who they never even met make any kind of dramatic or emotional sense? I think not. Instead, I like the way Kirk’s legacy remains as is while his final resting place remains anonymous, buried under some rocks and without a headstone on some remote, uninhabited desert planet. Such waywardness fittingly serves as the final gesture of his character: James T. Kirk will always be out there, somewhere.

  11. Hi Cannon:

    Great thoughts on Generations. I always love reading your comments here, in part because you always ask me to question my assumptions, and get me thinking in new directions. That's good. I like that.

    But regarding those two points:

    1. It's danger to go to the Nexus in a starship (in a vacuum...) because of the hazards of outer space and exploding vessels?

    Okay, but is it much safer to destroy a star, and stand on a planet surface being pulped,(in an atmosphere, no less, which can create tornadoes, hurricanes and other life-threatening disturbances...), waiting for the blooming thing?

    I don't think I can buy that premise. The hazards of being aboard a starship in a vacuum seem far less than being exposed to the destruction caused by blowing up a star.

    2. I don't think I'm projecting vis-a-vis Picard's fantasy, but then, I wouldn't think it, I suppose, if I were projecting. :)

    The point here is relatively simply. When you fantasize about something, do you fantasize about something that you really, truly, deeply desire, or something that you don't deeply desire? I suggest the former. You fantasize about what you desire most, and I just can't see Picard fantasizing about a prim-and-proper Victorian woman of four hundred years in the past. Again, you don't tantalize and entrap someone with something they don't covet.

    Now if you're saying that the Nexus distorts a person's desires and misrepresents them, I think that's a wonderful and intriguing notion.

    But I don't think the movie suggests that the Nexus distorts desires, only creates them as real. So again, I don't really buy the idea that Picard would come up with this particular fantasy.

    But as always, you've given me food for thought, sir!


  12. Excellent review of this less-than-adequate Star Trek film. I think you all have covered why it doesn't work overall, and the few great scenes buried within the production. Both Captain characters ultimately are not served well in the film generally speaking, though they do get their moments. I almost expected Picard would revert to his early bad form and surrender his ship to someone (anyone) while I watched it (in-between getting his ass kicked by Soran... at least Kirk showed him what he'd expect if been stupid enough to duke it out in his era).

    I can watch this movie, but not really enjoy it -- thank you Riker for returning our faith with the next installment, FIRST CONTACT. Very engaging piece on this collision of Star Trek generations, John. Thanks for this.

    1. Hi Le0pard13:

      Thank you for the comment. Generations really doesn't work, and I must admit, I've been re-acquiring a taste of TNG in the last year. It's better than I remember it, which makes Generations something of a double disappointment. It not only didn't serve the legendary Captain Kirk well, it didn't serve the becoming-legendary Captain Picard well, either.

      All my best,

  13. This was a great review, John. I have to admit to having a soft spot for this movie in the Star Trek canon, although that's very much an emotional perspective and recalling when I first saw it at the cinema. You have certainly made me reconsider certain aspects of the film here, though, and most notably in respect to Picard's characterisation. I think I probably savoured the high points of the film that you note and forgave the film its shortcomings.

    I certainly don't think that we needed Picard to fulfil an action hero role in order to make the TNG movies satisfying. If anything, wasn't Riker the character who was conceived to fulfil such a role? Sadly, "Number One" feels very much under-serviced by this film, and in those that followed. The Solaris comparison is a very acutely observed one, and I had never quite deconstructed the Nexus plot device to this degree. I always felt that Picard was a damaged character throughout this movie, given the tragic family news he receives, and I think I viewed his character flaws as displayed in this movie from that perspective. I always fancied that his "wife" in the Nexus was so reminiscent of Crusher that the allusion was clear, but you're right – the whole demure Victorian thing feels completely wrong. I do have to agree regarding Data's characterisation too and, as much as I enjoyed his comedic moments, his characterisation felt skewed here right from that first viewing.

    Overall, I think I forgave Generations its flaws for that particular memory association of first seeing the movie, its event status, and how it handled its big themes of transition and mortality. It's not a perfect movie by any stretch, but it most certainly has its moments and I feel the need to stand up for it a little. I'll also weigh in to say how much I loved The Final Frontier, and how much that film seemed to channel the themes and style of the original series. I may as well go all the way and also admit that Enterprise is one of my favourite series. I'm certainly your atypical Trek fan!

    1. Adam,

      I am also a die-hard Trekker, so I can watch and enjoy Generations any time, and enjoy the things that do work about the film. I love the cinematography. I love the battle sequence. I love seeing Captain Kirk in action again. I enjoy the Klingon sisters, and Malcolm McDowell. You are absolutely correct that you can find things to enjoy here, no doubt about it.

      I feel, like you do, that Riker is pretty much wasted in this film. In fact, there isn't one Star Trek TNG film that really makes particularly good use of him, perhaps because Mr. Frakes -- for two efforts -- was helming things. But it's clear from these films that Data has moved up to the number two position in terms of importance. Data is actually my favorite character, but I also enjoy Riker, and Frakes' performance as Riker, because there's something reminiscent of the original series in it. He has a jaunty, fun almost tongue-in-cheek feel about him, a joie de vivre that reminds me of the old days. Still, he doesn't fare as poorly as Dr. Crusher, who has no significant part in any of the four films...

      Great Comment. And I'm with you. I love Star Trek V -- warts and all!