I was a strict Original Series only kid. This has less to with personal preference and more to do with availability of anything post-Kirk. The Next Generation aired on our local Fox station, which never ‘came in.’ I think it might have aired around 6 or 7 at night, which was dinnertime. Even if I could overcome those two massive hurdles, dinnertime and tuning in Fox 43, I also had three older sisters who were strangely ambivalent about my youthful Star Trek needs.
My main exposure to Trek was through the box set of the first five movies, the random VHS packed with two or three episodes of the old show, the other random VHS packed three or four animated episodes, and of course, the comics. Gold Key, DC, the odd Marvel from the late 70s. So when I thought of Star Trek, I thought of Captain Kirk, Spock, and the 1701 (no letter).
But there was another image. I didn’t know anything about The Next Generation until it was nearly over. I knew it was on. I may have known there was a Klingon. But I knew nothing else. But deep in the back of my mind there was a memory from when I was four years old. I remember tracing, with the tip of my finger, the shape of my nose. Around the nostrils, to the top of my lip. I did this while laying on the couch, with some fuzzy show on the TV. And in this memory, I recall saying, “This is Star Trek.” What? My nose is Star Trek. Well…that fuzzy image on the TV had to be on Fox. And what would my dad try to watch on Fox, even though it was usually hopeless? Star Trek, duh!
So I was stuck with that strange memory of tracing the shape of my nose and somehow identifying that with Star Trek. That nose incident must have been around 1987. (Another detail I remembered was a tar monster…so that didn’t take long to pin that date on the calendar.) The first Star Trek movie I went to see in the theaters was Star Trek : Generations, in 1994. One look at that bridge set and I realized why my nose had been reminding me of Star Trek for all these years!
We’re getting down to the end of my list of favorite Star Trek movies.
Here’s my 9th favorite, or 4th least favorite.
Star Trek : Generations
There are so many things wrong with this movie. You know them. From the cardboard opening sequence on the “B,” to the lame-o introduction of the TNG crew to the silver screen, to the underwhelming Kirk-Picard team-up, to the nasty pointless Klingons, and on and on. This movie is so full of bad choices, from its very concept all the way to the apparently lazy post-production (where have I seen that bird-of-prey before…), this movie should just be considered an utter failure.
But it’s not. Not by me anyway. It bugs the heck out of me, sure. But I do, for the life of me, kinda like this movie. So what are its strengths?
As anticlimactic as the team-up was, it is just still so cool to see Kirk and Picard together. I had the trading card of the two of them in the kitchen. I loved the card because it promised something interesting. They could be on the bridge of either ship, or on the Klingon homeworld, or going back in time, or anything. I’d already seen the movie, but I was ten and a Star Trek fan, so I could imagine anything I wanted to. The people manufacturing these trading cards had to make the movie look exciting, so they wisely took a great shot of Picard and Kirk and filled in the kitchen background with some glowy green tin foil. They weren’t about to print a card with the description: “Heroes of space cross the generations to cook eggs together!”
But from that poorly conceived first meeting comes something cool. My friend first pointed this out to me. Years after I had written this movie off, my buddy told me that he watched it again recently. He said that even though the scene is a major disappointment, the two actors were fully in character. Kirk is bossing Picard around. And Picard is obeying because he thinks Kirk is cool. Despite the anticlimacticism of the scene, the actors elevate the scene to something memorable.
The story is pretty wobbly. With a force like the Nexus, the movie has two choices: 1. Build a super-tight narrative, or 2. Make a fun movie. Neither of these was accomplished. So we have a drab movie with a moth-ridden plot. Plot-holes are inherent to time travel stories. “The City on the Edge of Forever” deals with them brilliantly. That episode narrows the field to Kirk and Edith. So the story is really about two time-stream-crossed lovers whose romance could shatter the world. That episode also restricts the heroes. They can’t just ride out of 1930 and end up wherever they want to. They’re at the mercy of the Guardian, who might just be using Kirk and Spock to set the timeline right. Star Trek IV deals with the problem of time travel plot holes by making a fun movie. Why can’t they just swing around the sun whenever there’s a problem? Eh, because they can’t. There’s a unique effervescence to that movie that can’t be revisited whenever the creators feel like it. And since the lightness of that movie can’t be revisited, neither should the lightness of its science be revisited.
But the Nexus isn’t about science. The Nexus isn’t even a very interesting concept. It’s a migrant beam that destroys things but somehow sends people into a temporary bliss. Like, maybe if they played up the God as giver-and-taker aspect, it could have been interesting. Or if they had built up a cultural myth about the Nexus, so Kirk and Picard had to confront Soran’s religion the movie could have been more interesting. But the Nexus is just there. And I mean it is just there. It’s never mentioned again. And in this movie, it’s just so convenient. The good guys don’t get wrapped up in the fantasy of it, maybe because Picard’s perfect world is so lame. It’s like he entered Janeway’s stupid holonovel. The same kid is even there!
Picard’s resistance to the Nexus is unexplained. Guinan inhabited a Christmas tree ornament and twinkled at him? Guinan ex machina does not make for a good movie. But Picard doesn’t need a good story for his rejection of the Nexus because he’s there to team up with Kirk. Once he’s decided to leave the Nexus and stop Soran he just sort of appears in Kirk’s fantasy. An explanation might have been helpful, at least. Did Picard jump fantasies because his new greatest joy in life would be to stop Soran, so the Nexus accommodated that dream? Do inhabitants of the Nexus have the power to will themselves other places? It’s never mentioned and it was probably never thought about. Picard walks into a bland bright white light and stumbles into Kirk’s dream.
Kirk’s dream world is a little more believable than Picard’s, but still doesn’t seem quite right. My first thought was that Kirk’s fantasy would be as captain of the Enterprise. Being earthbound and with one woman would be a wonderful life for most guys. It might even be the best life for Kirk. But it wouldn’t be what Kirk would fantasize about. For the twenty-eight years this character had existed his one joy was being in the center seat and whenever he wasn’t, his goal was to get back to it. But there he is, on earth, chopping wood, waiting for Antonia to return. That was another thing that bugged me. Of all the women Kirk had loved, they had to make up a new one? Since Antonia is only seen from a distance, they could have used a stand-in and just said, “There’s Carol.”
I’ve heard that the final episode of the show, “All Good Things…,” was written simultaneously with this movie. The writers themselves have admitted that the show was better. And while I agree, the show was only better as a capstone for the series. Taken out of context, that episode would fall a little flat. And frankly, it did. It was one of the first TNG shows I watched and, not really caring or knowing much about those characters, I was bored. I think they made the right choice in putting this story on the big screen and “All Good Things…” on the small. But they should have applied the same care and attention to this script as they did to that.
As an adventure for the TNG crew, this isn’t even good. There is a Kirkless Generations floating around out there. Take Kirk out and you still have, as you say, a TV story. And I don’t think it would be a particularly good TV story. In fact the characterizations are not right, so it would seem like a regressive TV story. Riker says, “Fire,” pretty well. But that’s about all he does. Data is extremely annoying, having been casually tossed a conclusion to his seven-year journey to human-ness. Worf has regressed into a grunting idiot. Geordi says, “…Not funny,” and that’s about it. Crusher doesn’t do anything. Troi crashes the ship, and that’s it. All of these characters were developed over years and none of them are treated well on the big screen. It’s really the opposite of what the TOS cast enjoyed. They were barely characters at all on the old show, but the movies gave them all room to move and grow.
For all its faults, I do still like it. It might be nostalgia. This was the first Trek movie I saw on the big screen. I know one thing I do love is the way the D looks. The space ship shots are truly gorgeous and the interiors were cleverly updated for the big screen. But that’s not enough to make me like a movie. I think just seeing Kirk and Picard together is what keeps me coming back. As lame and anticlimactic as it is, you’ll never see those two greats together anywhere else.
The list so far: