Thursday 12 May 2016

Star Trek - Generations

Buying The Farm

Star Trek - Generations
(aka Star Trek VII)

USA 1994 Directed by David Carson
Paramount Blu Ray Zone B

Warning: Some spoilers, of course.

Star Trek - Generations is not a great film.

Unfortunately, neither is it a very good film, either. At least it isn’t a bad film, which is I think the best you can say about this one... and providing you are able to suspend your disbelief at some pretty major plot holes.

Star Trek - The Next Generation had finally been cancelled and this was the year of its final season. So the number crunchers at Paramount obviously decided it was time for a next generation crew movie... something everyone wanted, to be fair... and decided to bring some of the 'classic series' cast back to bridge the gap and do a handover. Of course, the problem with that is that the two series’ take place over 70 years apart from each other so there was always going to have to be some way of bridging the time gap with a sci-fi concept. Whether that works in the film’s favour or not is best left to your personal response to the movie.

The film was originally supposed to have William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley returning as Kirk, Spock and McCoy for the opening sections of the movie but, alas, Kirk is the only one who returned along with a couple of other high profile, classic series crew members... who all did a grand job. Nimoy had apparently declined because he felt the script was not up to scratch and, it’s said, the majority of his lines were given to James Doohan as Scotty. DeForest Kelly was in such ill health by this point that, unfortunately, he wasn’t able to acquire the necessary insurance required to be on set... so his lines were given to Walter Koenig as Chekhov. Although some of these lines and actions don’t make sense coming from Chekhov, due to their medical orientation, Koenig does a terrific job of selling it to the audience and I suspect most people didn’t notice the tell tale signs that he and Doohan were delivering lines which weren’t, necessarily, originally written for them.

Now there are a lot of bad things about this movie, to be fair, but the spirit of Star Trek is still intact. Before I get to the bad stuff, though, I’d like to highlight the good stuff first.

Okay, so we have the opening title sequence which focuses on a bottle tumbling through space in slow motion. It looks pretty great and when it finally breaks on the side of the new Enterprise (that’s NCC1701 - B for anyone who’s keeping count) we realise that we have just witnessed the journey to a ship's christening. It’s a really nice sequence and not what you are expecting from a Star Trek movie. The other good thing about the movie is... the entire next twenty minutes. The antics of Kirk, Scotty and Chekhov leading up to Kirk sacrificing himself so that the crew of the new Enterprise can survive is absolutely great Star Trek. We then jump totally unexpectedly to 78 years later on board a different Enterprise... a version of it which is an old galleon at sea, in the holodeck of the Enterprise NCC1701 - D, getting us up to speed with the next generation crew who bowed out on TV the same year this movie was released.

And... that’s it for the good stuff.

No really. The movie gets pretty terrible from hereon in but with likeable performances from the majority of the new crew and a standout one from Malcolm McDowell as Professor Sauron, who gets to quote a piece of poetry with the best line of the movie: ““They say time is the fire in which we burn.” And, apart from Marina Sirtis as Counsellor Troi, who is easily the loveliest and sexiest person in the Star Trek universe... the rest of the movie is pretty... watchable but average.

And there’s a load of bad stuff to even out the good stuff, I’m afraid.

When Spock’s death was bound to be widely publicised back in 1982 for Star Trek II - The Wrath Of Khan, the directors gave him a kind of fake death at the start of the movie so that audiences could possibly be more hopeful when he’s back on his feet and deliver the killer blow at the end of the film, to try and get as much dramatic weight out of it as they could. Here, the writers try the same trick with the death of Kirk, killing him off early in the film so that, when they bring him back after he has been transported in time, the audience can be hopeful he’ll live after all. Unfortunately for the studio, the trailers clearly showed Kirk in later segments of the film so the early scenes were robbed somewhat of this dramatic weight and the later scenes were pretty much what you would expect. In fact, Kirk’s demise at the end of the movie was reshot after test screenings because the audience didn’t consider it dramatic enough.

There’s another reason why Kirk’s initial demise in this movie is quite badly approached, too. Before this movie, James Doohan had already appeared in a Star Trek The Next Generation episode called Relics, in which he had been trapped as a transporter pattern for many decades and is re-energised into the next generation timeline. When he is ‘brought back to life’, so to speak, he mentions something to the effect that he thought James Kirk himself would be leading the rescue party, as it were. However, in this movie, which can only be set earlier than when Scotty was trapped in the transporter, he cleary sees that Captain Kirk has died, from his point of view in history. So how would he not remember this incident years later when he is returned from limbo? This is a terrible continuity glitch and I remember getting really annoyed in the cinema when I saw this movie because it’s such an obvious, glaring fault. Absolute rubbish.

Another thing the writers/producers do in this to give the public a grand spectacle of 'the first next generation movie' is... destroy the Enterprise... again. Even though we’d already seen that happen in Star Trek III - The Search For Spock (reviewed here). This time it’s the NCC1701-D that gets the treatment of being irreparably damaged, with the separated saucer section crashing on a nearby planet. For an encore, they blow the planet it landed on up and kill everyone on board... but that loses any dramatic weight when you realise there’s time travelling shenanigans going on, to be honest. You know the crashed saucer section and her crew will be back before long.

Okay, thing number three. About that time travelling Nexus Ribbon, as it’s called, which has an ‘echo’ of Whoopi Goldberg’s regular series character, Guinan, in it. Once Captain Pickard stumbles upon Captain Kirk at his farm house (in real life, William Shatner’s farm house) he talks him into coming out of the ribbon and helping him. He’s told by fake pseudo-Guinan that he can go back to whatever time he likes so they choose... um... just before everything was really going down hill and which caused a lot of everybody’s problems anyway. A point where the Enterprise saucer has crashed but the planet has not yet blown up. But at no point does anyone stop to say how this can be done... the ribbon has already moved on. How in heck do you leave it and come out at a time and space specific to where you want to be on the planet you left earlier? Also, since Sauron’s plot is partially a reaction to not being able to just fly a ship near the ribbon and get picked up by it without being destroyed... how the heck did Captain Kirk manage it? Well... the writers ‘get around’ this point by way of some creative editing which doesn’t actually show Kirk and Pickard leaving the ribbon and... um... just not talking about it very much again afterwards. So much for the ‘science’ of science fiction. This movie makes no sense.

Right... thing number four. Most people’s favourite character in Star Trek The Next Generation is Data, the android who wants to be human (think Pinocchio in outer space) and he is a brilliant character, lovingly portrayed by Brent Spiner. I’d personally still rather spend all my time with Marina Sirtis as Deanna Troi but... lets get back to my point here. One of the appealing things about Data is his constant, level headed demeanour coupled with, often unintentional, dead pan humour. However, the writers decide to ‘up the game’ in this movie and he installs the emotion chip that he acquired during an episode of Star Trek The Next Generation. So in this movie, we have a Data who is trying to grow and learn how to deal with fear, humour, anger etc and... it’s just not Data. Worse... he’s irritating in it. Yes, before you all start waving your arms about at me, I know he’s certainly supposed to be really annoying in all the obvious scenes here but... well, Brent Spiner’s really good at it, as he always is with the character. Which means I just didn’t want to spend anymore screen time with him than I had to, in this movie. This film is a waste of a really good character due to the decision to progress that character emotionally, which I suspect Spiner might also have had a hand in when negotiating his appearance in the movie (although that’s honestly just me speculating here).

And one last nail in the coffin for this movie, as far as I’m concerned... Dennis McCarthy’s score. Gone is Jerry Goldsmith’s Star Trek The Motion Picture theme, which was re-acquired specifically for the TV series Star Trek The Next Generation. Instead the only linking things with previous episodes here is Alexander Courage’s original TV show them from the 1960s referenced in the score and the fact that a regular composer from the contemporary TV show, McCarthy, was brought in. Now I’m not saying McCarthy isn’t a good composer... I suspect he’s excellent. However, I never really got on with the Next Generation scores on TV and, years later, I found out it was alleged that the instructions from the producer of the show (and this movie) were for his composers to basically write wallpaper music without any strong content which could detract from, or lift, the visuals. They may have gotten away with that, to an extent, on the TV show but, as far as I’m concerned, they didn’t get away with it here. This is a bland and mostly unmemorable score. Not inappropriate, for sure, just not something that really catches the emotions and gets the pulse thumping like some of the other composers in the franchise had managed to do, to be honest. At least not for me... I know there are some fans out there who like this score a lot... I’m just not one of them.

So there you have it. Star Trek - Generations is a handover film which really, in all honesty, wasn’t necessary. I know a fair few were disappointed with this movie and I personally thought it was a shame to see Kirk go out like this. Not one I’d recommend anybody start on as it’s a bit tepid but, like I said in my opening, it’s not a bad movie... it’s just not a good one either. However, the crew of the NCC1701-D weren’t down yet... even if their ship was beyond repair. As it happens, when they returned to our screens in their next adventure, they did so in one of the best of the Star Trek adventures ever put on film. So I’ll be rewatching that one again sometime soon and you can be sure I’ll be putting the review up fairly promptly after that.

Star Trek @ NUTS4R2
Star Trek Series 1
Star Trek - The Motion Picture 
Star Trek II - The Wrath Of Khan
Star Trek III - The Search For Spock
Star Trek IV - The Voyage Home 
Star Trek V - The Final Frontier 
Star Trek VI - The Undiscovered Country
Star Trek - Generations (aka Star Trek VII) 
Star Trek - First Contact 
Star Trek - Insurrection 
Star Trek Nemesis 
Star Trek Beyond

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