Two words. Often, you’re asked to sum something up in two words. It’s some sort of weird cultural shorthand we have that seems to be a substitute for thinking too hard about something. Regardless, it seems like a good way to begin.
And, well, “perfectly adequate” sums up Star Trek: Generations about as well as two words can. Not a train wreck you want to look away from, nor a fantastic jump to the big screen by the Next Generation crew, Generations is merely … fine.
In some ways, that makes this movie a failure. As the film that bridges the gap from the original Enterprise crew to the new, it has to carry some major weight for the franchise. The original Trek was not only a cult classic TV show, it turned into a series of six highly successful movies. Surely the studio hoped for the same from The Next Generation crew.
Perhaps even more importantly, as the film that finally gives Kirk his heroic death scene, Generations has to do justice to 30 years of deeply devoted fandom and outer space adventures, giving our (well, your) hero a sendoff worthy of the greatest captain in Starfleet history.
It does neither. Not because it’s bad. It’s not. Not because it’s full of bad ideas, either. It’s not. It does neither simply because it never rises above “perfectly adequate.”
Generations opens with the original crew, or at least a handful of them, as they tour a new version of the Enterprise with its new captain, Cameron Frye. I had seen this movie only once before, in the theater, and confess to falling asleep for the middle third, so almost all of the movie is a foggy memory to me. That made seeing Scotty and Chekov a delightful surprise. Completely unexpected, but in the context of this marathon, a nice bridge from one set of films to the next.
Then there is a heavy-handed sequence showing Kirk desperate to be a hero again, and a fake death scene, and our little intro is over just when you’re starting to get into it. I’ll miss those guys …
Flash forward eight decades and we’re on board a sailing ship as the Next Generation crew engages in some 19th Century-style holodeck antics, complete with outlandish cosplay uniforms and “hilarious” Oh Gosh, Worf Fell Into The Water gags. Who thought this was a good way to introduce big screen audiences to the Next Generation crew? Throughout the film, the writers assume you are intimately familiar with these characters — I was because I watched the series, but that’s not an assumption that ought to be made when jumping from the small screen to the big — and it begins here with a scene that would be cute and charming on television but that is a complete waste of time when you want to see a big screen epic.
Then we our dilemma is introduced. Finally, the story is going to kick into gear! Mysterious problem on board a space station, possible Klingon or Romulan involvement, a weapon that can blow up a sun, and Alex from A Clockwork Orange. Interesting setup so far.
Before I complain about the ill-advised subplot concerning Data and his emotion chip — again, this is material that assumes a deep knowledge of the characters and that is better explored on TV — let’s touch on Malcolm McDowell’s Soran, on obsessed scientist who wants nothing more than to reach something called the Nexus, a kind of heaven-like time warp that places you in eternal moments of joy. (This is explained by Whoopi Goldberg’s psychic character, who the movie AGAIN assumes audiences will know, and is motivated by his family’s death at the hands of the Borg, who are mentioned in passing but not shown, meaning the movie yet again assumes you are steeped in Next Generation lore. Seeing a pattern here?)
McDowell is an actor of tremendous talent, but he’s wasted here. Or rather, he totally mails in a performance on a job he had no interest in doing. That’s not speculation, either. He has said so.
“They came up with the money. We’re not a charity, are we? … You know they use that to gouge poor actors and expect them to work for the brilliance of the franchise, like they’re not making gazillion off of it. So I turned it down four times, but eventually they paid the price.”
There was potential for Soran to be a layered, almost sympathetic villain. This is a guy who lost his family and had spent the last two centuries obsessing on finding a way to be with them again via the Nexus. He is a man motivated by love to do evil. That’s a powerful idea. But neither the script nor McDowell himself do much with the concept. He just becomes Misunderstood Villain #327, suitable for television but not the big screen. (Again, spot the pattern.)
And his plan sucks.
Look, you’re not supposed to nitpick science in movies like this, and by and large I wouldn’t, except this movie makes a point of science being integral to the plot. See,the Nexus is whizzing through space as a giant ribbon of energy. In order to direct it to a spot where he can access it again, Soran destroys a star so that gravity in the system will be disrupted, thus altering the ribbon’s course. They point out that ships have to alter course due to this, too, further cementing the idea that this is sciencey. His plan is to destroy a second star to nudge the ribbon just so, allowing him to access the Nexus again by standing on a conveniently-located mountaintop.
So, he’s using the effects of gravity, or the lack thereof, to steer this thing through space.
That’s all well and good, except the writers open the door to a science-based scheme only to throw science right out the goddamn door shortly thereafter.
First of all, stopping a star’s fusion does not mean it suddenly has no gravitational impact on nearby bodies. All that mass is still there, it’s just not “burning” anymore. Same with imploding the star. All that does it make it super-dense. Gravity is still doing its thing.
Second of all, we’re told the Enterprise can’t stop his probe from blowing up a star because it will take just 11 seconds for the probe to reach the star from the planet Soran is on, not enough time to track it and shoot it down, yet when we see the probe it’s a goddamn rocket. Like, an old school 1950s rocket, complete with smokey exhaust and all that. That thing wouldn’t leave the atmosphere in 11 seconds, much less get to the sun. It takes light from our own sun eight full minutes to reach us at the SPEED OF LIGHT, but his little rocket can get to a similarly distant sun in 11 seconds? No. (If we’re going to argue that it has warp technology, then where are all the personal-sized vehicles that also have warp technology? Maybe my Trek lore sucks — it certainly does — but the impression I get is that star-faring craft are the exception, not the rule.)
And look, even if we accept that something about this rocket really can make the journey in just 11 seconds — fair enough, let’s say it can — a star isn’t going to instantly stop exerting a gravitational pull on nearby objects because it stopped burning. It doesn’t work like that! Yet his plan is to zap the star literally seconds before the Nexus gets to him, which will cause it to make a last minute turn and scoop him up.
I … I’m sorry, I know that comes across as absurdly nitpicky, it’s not something I’d normally indulge in, but the writers opened the door to it. Once you open that door and establish those rules, you ought to play by them. They don’t. And yeah, that really irritated me.
Annnnyway, from there we get to the moment we’ve all been waiting for: Kirk and Picard together at last. Isn’t that the entire reason this movie exists? To get those two together? I slept through it the first time around, so I was eager to finally see what I had missed.
Picard and Kirk sharing screen time together should be a geek fantasy, but it’s almost all a bore. The Nexus sequence drags on for what feels like hours, and there is nothing interesting about it. Not even any nice scenery to see! Just the two of them in a farmhouse, Shatner Shatnering it up as he cooks green eggs and ham. Again, it feels suitable for a TV episode, not a big movie epic.
Once Picard finally convinces Kirk to come help him, the climactic battle with Soran is laughable. No one watches Picard to see him fight. That’s not the appeal of the Next Generation, yet the writers put him in a fistfight. Silly. When Kirk gets involved it all goes to action, and that action involves three geriatrics having a comically bad slugfest on a nondescript mountaintop while the Enterprise sits in a heap of rubble. It’s just awful. When Kirk has his dramatic death it looks like something made for TV, complete with a dummy being pushed off a cliff and a surprisingly low-key, barely dramatic, “Well, I’m dead now” final speech. What an anticlimactic finish to a generation-spanning epic, and what a complete dud of a final scene for Kirk, especially when set next to the absolutely LEGEND of a death scene Spock got in Wrath of Khan.
I have to imagine Kirk fans were disappointed.
I’m not even a big fan — I like Bones, Spock, and Chekov all better than Kirk — and even I was disappointed at almost everything about it. Poorly written, poorly acted, poorly presented. What a letdown. This is CAPTAIN JAMES T. KIRK, man! His sendoff should be EPIC!
Now, based on all the borderline-ranting above, you’d think I’m saying this is a bad movie.
I’m not. To bring us full-circle, it’s in fact a perfectly adequate movie. The Next Generation characters are all likeable, the female Klingons are surprisingly fun, the special effects are mostly great, there are some interesting ideas in the story, and we get to see both crews in the same movie. This is all good stuff.
But it’s all good stuff that would have been just as good, if not better, on the small screen, because much of this feels like a two-part episode with better FX and a couple of highly-paid actors in cameo roles.
Star Trek: Generations is adequate, but as the first big-screen adventure for the Next Generation crew AND the sendoff for Kirk, it’s hard not to consider it a letdown.