Monday, May 4, 2009

Review: Star Trek: Generations

Directed by: David Carson
Produced by: Rick Berman
Screenplay by: Ronald D. Moore & Brannon Braga
Story by: Rick Berman, Ronald D. Moore & Brannon Braga
Executive Producer: Bernie Williams
Cinematography by: John A. Alonzo, A.S.C.
Production Designed by: Herman Zimmerman
Edited by: Peter E. Berger, A.C.E.
Costumes by: Robert Blackman
Co-Producer: Peter Lauritson
Music by: Dennis McCarthy

Cast: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, William Shatner, Malcolm McDowell, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, James Doohan, Walter Koenig, Whoopi Goldberg, Alan Ruck, Jacqueline Kim, Barbara March, Gwenyth Walsh

1994 / 117min / Rated PG (for sci-fi action and some mild language)

Seventy-eight years after the apparent death of James T. Kirk during the maiden voyage of the Starship Enterprise-B, Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-D must stop an El Aurian scientist named Soran from destroying an entire solar system in his quest to enter the paradise known as the Nexus.

Having just ended a 7 season run of 178 episodes, it was only natural that the cast and crew of the hit series Star Trek: The Next Generation would make the transition onto the big screen. As well as a critically-acclaimed series finale that had viewership of around 20 million, The Next Generation remains to this day the only Star Trek series to be nominated for an Emmy for Best Dramatic Series. TNG's first trip to the big screen would also feature the first meeting between Captain Kirk and Captain Picard. Star Trek was at the height of its popularity, and Star Trek: Generations was the most anticipated Trek film to-date, with so much hype surrounding it that Patrick Stewart and William Shatner both donned the cover of TIME magazine. The question was, would Generations live up to that hype?

Unforunately, it would not. Instead of being a movie that would've cemented Star Trek's popularity, Generations was a mixed bag that did only moderately well at the box office and is rather controversial amongst fans. A lot of that is probably due not only to the inexperienced of move writing by TNG writers Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga, but also due to the studio's laundry list of things that needed to be done in such a short period of time. Considering the list of things that Moore and Braga had to accomplish in their script, it's rather impressive that Generations made as much sense as it did.

Generations has great ideas and attempts big ideas. The filmmakers try to take the series and make a big transition to the big screen. There's everything present that there should be for a TV show-turned-movie. An intergalactic energy ribbon, Klingons, Worf being promoted, Data getting emotions, planets exploding, starships exploding and crashing. There's some great ideas present in this script. It's the execution that holds the movie back.

One of Generations' problems is one that became inherent in modern day-Trek; technobabble dialog and solutions. It takes place from the very beginning as we witness the christening and maiden voyage of the Enterprise-B, at which Kirk, Scotty and Chekov are honorary guests. Not only are the characters spatting out "shields at xx percent", they are also using made-up technical jargon which was never used in any incarnation of the original series. Hearing James Doohan as Scotty use this dialog is awkward, since he's never done that before, even when referring to any of the original Enterprise's technical terms, because all those were fairly easy to follow. Not here. Modern day Trek had a way of getting caught up in its own tech and made-up dialog, and with its presence within the opening minutes of Generations, it's obvious that this is a TNG production.

The humor in the opening sequence also falls flat. Something about the humor of the opening sequence feels forced. While the original crew always seemed to have a natural knack for humor, modern Trek always seemed to struggle, including TNG. Something about the attempted humor feels forced and unnatural.

The final solution to defeating the Duras sisters and their bird-of-prey is a miracle tech solution. The crew of the Enterprise-D is only able to win because of made-up technical jargon. While it is really cool to see Jonathan Frakes as Commander Riker given the order to "fire" (Mr. Frakes always had a cool way of giving orders, especially barking out "Rrred alert!"), you can't help but feel cheated as a viewer because the writers cheated in their solution to given the Enterprise ultimate victory.

Generations also suffers from a not-too-great villain. As great an actor as Malcolm McDowell is, his character of Dr. Soran is under-developed. He's not a bad villain, but he's nowhere near being a great villain. Soran is obsessed with reaching the Nexus to rejoin his family. It's as simple as that. In addition to Soran, we find villains in the former of TNG villains Lursa and B'Etor, the Duras sisters, played quite nastily by Barbara March and Gwenyth Walsh. Unfortunately, something that always kept Lursa and B'Etor from becoming great and memorable villains in TNG was that they weren't very developed. That same flaw is found here, and they don't feel very menacing. It's too bad, then, that they are the ones who use a twenty-year-old Klingon bird-of-prey to accomplish what the Borg and multiple Romulan warbirds could not do; destroy the great Enterprise-D.

One of the drawbacks to having a large cast is that there isn't enough time to give everyone something to do. Even though this is a TNG's move, some of the TNG characters not given much to do. Most of the focus is placed on the storylines of Picard and Data, while Riker, Worf and Geordi are given very secondary roles, although they are still given their moment to shine. The TNG characters who suffer the most in screen time and rather insignificant roles are Troi and Crusher. While Troi is given a nice scene with Picard, Crusher is given barely any screen time. It's sad to say, but the movie would not be any different if Troi and Crusher were cut out of it entirely. TNG was always an ensemble series, so the shift to only a couple key characters is startling and rather disappointing.

The movie's best scene is between Picard and Data in Stellar Cartography. The scene perfectly mixes together plot and characterization. It's also probably the only scene where an emotional Data works, as the rest of the movie tries to use Data as comic relief, but he only becomes annoying. But here, the characterization is perfect, and the explanation of how the plot works is spot-on. If every scene were as good as this one, this could easily have been one of Trek's best outings. It's a short but simple scene, and it's incredibly effective in accomplishing its goals.

The visceral highpoint of the movie, comes in the form of the evacuation of the Enterprise, the destruction of the stardrive section in a warp core explosion, and ending in the saucer section crashing on the planet below. From the moment Geordi pronounces the Enterprise's fate, the movie is fast and pulse-pounding and doesn't let up until the saucer comes to a halt. The effects are excellent and the destruction of the Enterprise is painful to watch, yet so thrilling you want it to go on. If you wanted to instruct anyone on how to crash a starship, this is where to look to. It's loud, it's exciting, and it's incredible!

It's downhill from there, unfortunately. This is what happens when you reach the peak of excitement with half an hour to go in the movie. The plot starts to lose credibility once we enter the Nexus, which is supposed to be so incredible that Picard should never want to leave. But he comes to the realization that he needs to head back too easily, and the Nexus turns out to be a disappointment. Also, the Nexus creates a big plot hole. Picard could leave the Nexus to go anywhere at anytime. If he can do this, why not go back to when Dr. Soran was on the Enterprise and just throw him in the brig?

The big first encounter between William Shatner and Patrick Stewart is also very disappointing. What should've been exciting and incredible to watch is dull and boring. While the acting is good from both, William Shatner carries much more charisma then Stewart and is a lot more fun to watch. Unfortunately, their great first meeting is very underwhelming.

The big finale is also underwhelming. The film ultimately boils down to three men fighting on a mountain. And Kirk's ultimate death is rather disappointing, although not as bad as many fans make it out to be. While I feel Kirk deserved a better death, at least he went down saving millions of faceless lives.

Generations is visually a success. The visual effects are top-notch. The sets of the Enterprise-D are updated to fit the scope of the big screen, the lighting darkened, and the bridge has never looked better. This is also probably the most colorful of any Trek film. The production is top-notch. This is the way to update a TV show for a movie.

Generations isn't a bad movie, it's just not an overly good one. All the right ideas are there, it's in the execution that the movie falls short. There are some really good things present, and had the filmmakers been allowed more time and more freedom, it's possible that Generations could've been the grand event it was meant to be. As is, though, Generations is rather lackluster.

1/2 (of 4)

1 comment:

Evie said...

This is a fair-to-middling Trek movie. I agree that Data's emotion chip experiences were very annoying. That plotline alone pretty much ruins the entire movie for me.