Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Star Trek Generations

Star Trek Generations
Released November 18, 1994


Coming hot off the heels of the TNG series finale, writing team Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga are handed a tough task - meld the two franchises in a coherent manner so that the movie franchise can be handed over to the new crew. How in the heck do you achieve this when it is firmly established that these iterations are 80 years apart? Well, the Nexus. How well did Moore And Braga implement the concept in a short amount of time?

Let the word go forth: We'd rather wear these uniforms than ill-fitting DS9 duds.


Matthew: The Enterprise B scene at the front of the movie steals the show, and the question afterward becomes whether or not the rest of the story can live up to it. Really cool continuity expansion sure to please Trek nerds. This scene basically does everything right. It adds information to an otherwise big hole in the Enterprise lineage. It captures the feel of the latter TOS movie era and pushed that forward in chronology a bit. And it effectively gives us a look at some beloved but aging characters, in keeping with the later themes of the movie. It also ends on a heck of a teaser - the "death" of Captain Kirk. I honestly could have watched a whole movie about this.

Kevin: I really can't describe the chill I got when I first saw the establishing shot the Enterprise-B. You really have to credit the writers for such a concise outing of the original series cast. Nimoy and McCoy were originally wanted to appear, but Nimoy declined such a small role and I believe Kelley had retired by that time, but in the end using Scotty and Chekov worked to serve the script well. It felt slighly off to see Kirk on the bridge of an Enterprise without his left and right hands. The "Tuesday" bit was about one iteration too many for me, almost to the point that it diminished the legacy of the Enterprise to have an unprepared and timid captain in the center chair, but it was still largely funny. I have to say that what I appreciated most overall about the scene from a story standpoint is that it neatly and quickly set up the themes of the move, i.e. the passing of the torch and the regrets that go with it. Moore and Braga could have given way to clunky exposition, but a quick note on the nature of risk and a last longing look over the bridge were just the right about of pathos is an otherwise action oriented sequence.

Matthew: OK, so the bridge between the two eras is the Nexus. This is the weak part of the movie. Neither the science nor the dramatic elements of the Nexus are effectively explained, leaving it to feel arbitrary and artificial. For instance: How fast does this thing move? Why has no one heard of it before if it can be charted with complete accuracy down to the gravitational interaction? How does one get inside as opposed to just dying, and why does Soran need to direct it to a world as opposed to flying a ship in again? How can it take you "anywhere at any time" if it is in a given spatio-temporal location, traveling around the galaxy? If it can drop people anywhere, why hasn't it done so oodles of times before with other people? How and why did both Kirk and Picard shrug off its effects (described effectively by Guinan as "you won't care about getting back"), and wouldn't everyone else do so too, rendering it an effective hell for all involved? Can it be a shared fantasy between individual minds (which seems to be indicated by Soran's desire, Guinan's presence, etc.), and if so, how can it actually be any one person's particular fantasy? In effect, the Nexus is half baked, and it leads to a mushy, somewhat confusing middle third of the movie. Speaking of the individual characters, why do Picard and Kirk, who desire nothing more than to stay at the command of their respective ships (a fact established dozens of times booth in series and in movies), envision family scenes with people other than their established love interests (e.g. Crusher, Daren, Inner Light Wife; Edith Keeler, Carol Marcus)? Also, obvious science fiction questions are left unanswered. Did someone make the Nexus? Is it responsible for afterlife myths in many cultures? There were so many more effective ways to dramatize this aspect of the story, it almost feels like they picked the most boring and unsatisfying one, for want of script-writing time. Here are a few suggestions: The Nexus does become an obviously artificial personal hell for its inhabitants. In fact, it was created by a race of voyeurs who thrive on the fantasies of others. Picard realizes his condition after the experience of years in the Nexus (including shipboard scenes and fan service romance scenes with a bevy of fan favorites from TNG). He has to beat the Nexus-builders. At the same time (relative to the Nexus that is), Kirk is also fighting to get out. Picard and Kirk meet during this battle, and Picard prevails upon Kirk to help him stop the Nexus, which is about to engulf 300 million more inhabitants with the unwitting help of Dr. Soran.

Kevin: I think the Nexus was one rewrite away from awesome. It would have helped to have Picard's fantasy in particular be one the audience, especially fans, could relate to. A family with Crusher, or maybe his life from "Inner Light" would have gratified the fans and been as unknown to the newbies as the French Extravaganza we got. I agree that for men who so repeatedly chose to stay on their ships, it is odd that their fantasies didn't include them at all. I think we could have done it as written but rather than have them instantaneously realize its artificial, have them live there for a while and then realize because they could never be truly happy knowing what it would cost. Picard would never tolerate the death of three, let alone three hundred million for happiness, and it would be interesting to see him beat the Nexus because his ideal hope would be to beat it. Still, it's a fun idea, and on a base level, it provides a credible idea of a motivation for the villain. My biggest problem with the Nexus is that once we're there, the movie comes to a bit of a halt.

Matthew: The Nexus problems do not dampen the enjoyment we get from both sets of characters, TOS and TNG. Moore and Braga predictably nail the TNG cast (if they hadn't some serious questions would need to be asked), but happily also completely succeed in portraying both the late TOS era as well as Kirk, Scotty and Chekov. On the other hand, I would be terribly remiss if I didn't mention how bad the Data material in this movie can be. There are good spots, and it is a commendable desire to have a character grow in a big way during a movie. But "Oh Shit?" Mr. Tricorder? There were just some really cringe-worthy scenes. And yes, I get why someone's first stabs at humor might be cringe-worthy. But as a writer, you need to balance acknowledging cringe-worthiness and forcing us to actually watch it. A similar off the rails story is "Elaan of Troius," or perhaps "Samaritan Snare." This isn't as big a disaster, since the scenes in question only take up a few minutes total. They just kind of take me out of the story.

Kevin: The Data stuff made me laugh as a twelve-year-old, and I almost hate to say it, but I still get a chuckle from the Mr. Tricorder bit. I can't help it. The humor is too far, but it certainly doesn't hurt my enjoyment of the film. I think it's salvaged by some great scenes, like the one in Ten Forward and in Stellar Cartography. As for overall tone, I agree the movie hit the nail pretty squarely on the head. Both eras felt right, and more than anything, that familiar feeling of camaraderie can cover a multitude of sins.

Matthew: I really liked how the crew deduced Soran's plan using the gravitational effects and the stellar map. I did not, however, really get Soran's plan. It seemed unnecessarily convoluted and prone to fatal failure at many of its junctures. I think this shows an overall lack of polish that is a feature of this story taking a back seat to "All Good Things..." So my overall impression of the writing is that it's well intentioned and even moderately successful, but significantly flawed.

Kevin: I agree with that assessment, but maintain the entire movie conveyed the right "feel." I felt like I was watching a genuine TNG story and all the parts were there. The ideas are good and though it faltered in execution, there is an energy and a vitality that pervades the movie that is infectious. The failures are because of a lack of time to polish certain points, but certainly not that the franchise had run out of steam or that the people who made it didn't care.


Matthew: Patrick Stewart and Marina Sirtis are sort of the emotional core of the movie for me. Stewart is called upon to deliver some very tortuous scenes of grieving, but to maintain respectability and "Captain" quality. He succeeds. Sirtis mines their characters' history to deliver an effectively empathetic counselor - even if you don't know she has special powers, as a viewer I think you will be sold on her emotional awareness. The rest of the TNG ensemble pick up as if no time has passed, which is essentially true. Burton gets another Kunta Kinte scene and does fine with it. Dorn is certainly very Worf-y. Gates McFadden is criminally underutilized, since she is probably at her radiantly beautiful best here. Frakes unfortunately has a tough time seeming serious through the awful costuming. But it feels like TNG, and there are no bad notes among the aforementioned performances (I'll address Data in a bit).

Kevin: Picard's breakdown was pitched perfectly as was Sirtis' empathy. Particularly coming off the near-perfection of All Good Things, it was nice to see them still hit their marks flawlessly from an acting perspective. I wish we had gotten more of the other main characters, a complaint I will be repeating over the next few films.

Matthew: Malcolm McDowell steps into a daunting acting universe and handles himself with aplomb. His scenery-chewing villainy is not egregious. He fits in and does the job. I think that's the best compliment I can give him. Whoopi Goldberg as at her most cosmically wise here, and her conviction sells some otherwise problematic Nexus material. March and Walsh are typically good as the Duras sisters, and it's kind of a shame they were killed off.

Kevin: I think MacDowell did the best he could with the material. He certainly gave off the impression of inhabiting the Star Trek universe, rather than just acting in it. He played against the Sisters really well, and the ladies themselves translated their scenery-chewing quite nicely to the big screen. Whoopi Goldberg hopefully got a muffin basket or a collection of bath products from the writing team for coaxing as much out of the concept as possible. I bought the idea of the Nexus largely on her understated delivery.

Matthew: Brent Spiner deserves special mention. His scenes comprise some of the best, as well as some of the worst moments in the movie. His scene with Picard in Stellar Cartography? Great. His simpering, mugging, awful humor, and freakouts? Not so great. In fact, pretty awful. This movie represents the nadir of the character's overuse for me, and Spiner has to be singled out for at least a portion of the blame (keeping in mind that he is not yet a story contributor).

Kevin: Like I said before, I wasn't as bothered by it, and I agree that in the better written scenes, Spiner really delivers. I wish he had more interaction time with the rest of the crew, especially with the new emotions. Another scene after his rescue with Geordi, or a conversation with Troi would have been awesome.

Matthew: I think Shatner was pretty good. This doesn't approach the greatness of his run of II-III-IV performances, but he's in character, he's charming, and he plays his death scene well enough. Koenig and Doohan also show no rust, slipping into their characters like fine leather gloves they've owned for decades.

Kevin: Doohan's performance in particular for me stood out. The weariness when he reports the destruction of the ship and the (well-deserved) pride in finding a solution, and finally his grief over Kirk delivered in a literally a word were all wonderful and reminded me a great deal of how much we loved him in Relics, continuity problems be damned.

Production Values

Matthew: Lighting and color are the most immediately obvious differences in the production values of the movie vs. the television show. Everything is suffused with an amber glow from the beginning, and it casts strong shadows across the widescreen frame. This sort of look would not have been feasible on television. Initially, I was a bit offput by the change, but when it eventually pays off in the destruction of the Amargosa star, which turns everything blue, the effect is really cool and jarring. So it works as a design choice because it serves the drama.

Kevin: Remember when the orange/blue tint was not standard for a science fiction or action film? Yeah...good times. I liked the design of the Amargosa station, from the outside at any rate. Part Voyager probe, part ISS. The inside was a tad cluttered. The change in light in Picard's quarters was pitch perfect, and I enjoyed the harsh light in the Ready Room scene. Everything is supposed to be a little off, and the lighting scheme served that.

Matthew: The Enterprise D Bridge and Engineering sections saw minor redesigns apparently intended to make them more fit for the big screen. There was also an upgrade of display screens in the backgrounds, putting full animated video in more places. All of these changes were relatively innocuous, and thus were fine. The Enterprise B bridge was great, looking every bit as "real" and developed as the other more frequently used sets. The Enterprise B bowels also looked very nice.

Kevin: I liked the bridge changes harkened to Yesterday's Enterprise and the recessed lighting seemed to be a concession to the realities of the medium. Having watched a TNG episode on the big screen recently, I can say that the TV version looks great on the big screen, but does look quite like a movie set. The bright lights everywhere needed for it to show up on television and look good give the bridge a uniform brightness that reads a little two dimensional at the scale of a cineplex screen. The model of the B, both in dock and in the Nexus are beautiful. I have the Diamond Selection D and E, and I really, really want them to make B.

Matthew: The space special effects and model shots were almost uniformly spectacular, with the exception of the obvious Klingon BOP explosion re-use, and a pretty obvious use of an Enterprise establishing shot from the series. When things hit the fan and phaser fire was being traded, this movie looked every bit the big-budget spectacular that it in fact was not. The saucer crash was a superb experience in the theater, with visuals and sound melding into a perfect, terrifying unity. It is still quite good on Blu-Ray, especially if you have a surround sound system to crank up. Stellar Cartography was a spectacularly visualized space that both dazzled the senses as well as served the story. The overall effects work was the best in the movie series so far.

Kevin: The shot of the BOP decloaking at Amargosa was beautiful, and a testament to STIII that the model still looks that fucking amazing. The battle sequence above Veridian III was obnoxiously cool. As I mention in the podcast, I saw the movie in the theater with my family, and my mother, who is not a Trekkie by any stretch, still considers the saucer crash sequence to be one of the finest pieces of American cinema she has ever seen. I have to agree with her. I love the little touches like the chairs and crew being thrown forward when the saucer stopped and the shot of open sky above the skylight. Also, the shockwave and destruction sequences both at Amargosa and Veridian were really cool. The wave passing over the saucer remains disturbing to me.


Matthew: This is a 4 for me. How can I yet again elevate a flawed film over TUC, you may ask? Because the flaws are not in the "stupid" category, just the "half baked" category, and because the sum of the acting and effects lead to a more pleasing whole for me. This movie is a lot of fun and has ultra cool elements, it just leaves some story logic head-scratching for picky fans like myself. At the end of the day, I'd watch this over VI. That rationale seems as good as any to me.

Kevin: I agree with the 4. We've spent a lot of time here, and in the podcast, picking about the movie's flaws, but don't let that distract from our overall assessment of how good this movie is. It certianly strikes the right emotional chords in several places and is a jaw-dropping plethora of gorgeous SFX shots. It was really like seeing the friend who graduated high school a few months ago home from college for Thanksgiving. I enjoyed and continue to enjoy this movie so much. The flaws are there, and at points, are pretty big. The fact that the movie as a complete work seems to sustain itself in spite of them is a testament to how much there is love. That's a total of 8 from us.



  1. Let me start by saying that I love the hell out of this movie. It is one of the finest Trek movies they made. Love.

    I will also try not to say the same things you fellows have said already. So I'll ignore the Nexus physics or the bizarre mastermind plan. Or Data. Or the uniforms. Or the horrific and enormous crime of the naiskos being left behind. Anywho.

    I hate the lighting. To this day, I have massive issues making my brain see the Enterprise through the different color/lighting scheme. This is to the point that I sometimes can't identify what room they're in without hunting for visual clues. For instance: "Oh, there's Livingston, must be the ready room. That's the ready room?!" It is enough to pull me out of the familiar feeling that I should have when seeing these sets. They're supposed to be soft pinks and blues, not harsh greys. That being said.

    I. Love. Stellar Cartography. There's a Nella Daren in my head who wants to know where this room was when she was head of the department.

    I saw this in theaters, and did not read the novel. I remember Geordi's heart stopping. I don't know if it's because the suggestion is in my brain, now, so I've already filled it in, but I do remember it. It sounds *right*.

    Why is there a bat'leth on the wall of Kirk's younger-self's house?

    My main beef with this movie, however, is the Nexus--and not for the reasons you've cited. My problem is that it's been DONE BEFORE. Albeit, a long, long time ago, but definitely done before. In "The Cage".

    The Nexus is the Talosian menagerie. Seriously. Kirk even knew about this as it's revisited during his captaincy. Except back then... we saw it as bad. Here, it's something to be coveted. I liked it better the first way.

  2. It's also the happy spores, while we're on the subject.

    Thank you for backing up my random memory about the Geordi scene. It should be there as it makes the "heart just not in it" a standard villain pun.

  3. So, at what point did this illusion of whatever you want in lieu of reality become something normal people should try for? We're supposed to respect Guinan's opinion on things, and she likes the place, right?

    Also, if there's an echo of all the people who got ripped out of the Nexus, would there be two of her in there if she ever got back? Would there be two of Soren?

    1. Ack. Soran. Soren is Riker's odd love interest that he was willing to give everything up for after knowing her for a couple of days. Soran is the crazy/evil dude we're on about today.

      (That could make some messed up fanfiction, though. Then again, it probably already exists.)

  4. Yeah, the echo thing was an obvious story cheat to create an opportunity for exposition. I got the impression that maybe only people like Guinan would have an echo. But it doesn't make sense. It would make more sense for that Guinan to be Picard's projection, like his conscience or something (similar to "Frame of Mind"). Why would that Guinan echo know who the hell Picard is and what he is up to? Sure, they met, but she knows precious little about him before his actual birth.

  5. Well, the setup is that Guinan is all-knowing, which is apparently synonymous with the wisdom gained from having been around for a while.