Tuesday, 13 August 2013

The Pinnacle of Star Trek? - Generations



It must be a good six years since I last watched The Next Generation movies and Generations in particular. Let's face it, they're not (on the whole) as good as the first six are they?!

Generations was the fourth Star Trek movie I'd seen in the cinema and the first I saw on a dodgy video before it was released on sale in shops a few months after its arrival in cinemas. To this day I have a soft spot for the movie. No, it's not one of the absolute best and the two films which lie either side in The Undiscovered Country and First Contact are significantly better but even now, Star Trek: Generations is different; unique within the cinematic history of the franchise.

To this day it still remains the only movie to unite two different series (alternative versions not included), two different Enterprise's and the only occasion where a member of the original cast dies and stays dead on screen. It is, by design, the ultimate bridge and baton-pass, even more so than Picard in Emissary, McCoy in Encounter at Farpoint or Spock in Unification. This is two captains facing one destiny and I really think sometimes that this film gets an undue battering. Perhaps in hindsight after seeing Insurrection and Nemesis it's easy to raise it as one of the stronger cinematic adventures for The Next Generation crew and there is an epic nature to the movie.

Let's just examine it a bit further - Soran might not have the same kind of vengeful goal as Khan or the lust for power that Kruge exhorted, he is perhaps the first movie villain who is doing it all for himself. There is nothing that he cares about more than returning to the Nexus and this does make him unique. As Guinan notes, he's "...not interested in weapons or power. All Soran is interested in is getting back to the Nexus...". His goal is simple and all in the way are eliminated to ensure that it happens. In fact the deaths of millions are nothing to ensure that his immortality within the Nexus is guaranteed.

Essentially that's the core of Star Trek: Generations and while 1991's The Undiscovered Country dealt with a final mission this is much more firmly drawing the line over the original crew's adventures. This is only emphasised more by the fact neither DeForest Kelley or Leonard Nimoy wanted to be involved and were replaced by Koenig and Doohan. Not all of the cast appeared and the introduction of the Enterprise-B firmly closes the door on the adventures of NCC-1701-A. Time has moved on and Kirk, Scotty and Chekov are now retired legends of Starfleet. Their time has passed - an interesting point considering this was essentially what Kirk alluded to at the beginning of The Wrath of Khan 12 years before.

That stamp of mortality and finality is deeply branded into the whole of the experience and might be one of the most obvious messages in Star Trek's 12 movie library. Not only does Kirk die - twice, but Picard loses family in a fire back on Earth and the Enterprise-D ends up planetside. Whether Berman, Braga and Moore intended it to be this heavy-handed and signposted I don't know, but it's all very abrupt and distinctly about dealing with the finite nature of existence and that, ironically, all good things must come to an end. Kirk's death on Veridian III certainly signifies the notion that the journey for the original cast is well and truly over.


Now you might wonder why I've said this is the pinnacle of Star Trek and it's more to do with time (a factor not lost on this, First Contact or, to a degree, Insurrection). In 1994 the franchise was probably at its highest point. The Next Generation was coming to a close, filming was well underway for their first feature, Deep Space Nine was running its second and third seasons and a fourth series, Voyager was already being lined up for a January 1995 premier. The future had never looked brighter for the show and the release of a new movie could only add to the media onslaught.

The fact that the seventh movie, the first not to be suffixed with a Roman numeral since The Motion Picture, would bring together the two great Enterprise captains could, equally, only whip Trekkers and Trekkies into more of a frenzy than ever. Fortunately it didn't go down the Kirk vs Picard route of the abandoned Maurice Hurley script and even I would be hardpushed to say that it's perfect in its finished state. For me it was also the first Star Trek movie where I paid a lot of attention to the rumour mill and the behind the scenes information that would be leaked out occasionally. The two Enterprise's were one of the first things we knew about but there were some raised Vulcan-like eyebrows at home when there was the suggestion of Data having sex with the Duras sisters to get parts to fix the broken Enterprise-D.

However there's a lot to Generations that we should be proud of and is, I believe epic in terms of the story it attempts to tell, spanning almost 80 years of the Star Trek timeline and those two key crews. 


I always feel fortunate that I got to read the original novelisation of the movie as there are significant differences - the orbital skydive and Kirk getting shot in the back stand out immediately, but there are some great things about Generations that make it stand out above a lot of the other films. I thought it would be worth highlighting what we gained from the movie. I would even say that the stories around the rewrites adds to the mythos of Generations as I don't recall any other Star Trek movie receiving such massive reshoots following the test audience viewings. 

It's taken a few years for me to see the crackly, original edits of these scenes and I can say that I was a little disappointed. In fact, I'm glad the orbital skydiving was cut as the opening works much better without it. The only two points I would suggest don't make complete sense are Kirk wincing at the back injury his skydiving caused as he races to save the Enterprise-B (could be construed as old age - watch it and see what you think) and the reference to the removal of the nanoprobe from Geordi's body following his incarceration on the Klingon ship. The scene which involved the nanoprobes was filmed with the rehashed uniforms and so never made it into the cut.

Then there's the whole issue with the abandoned uniform design saga which resulted in the mix of The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine attire which overloads the viewer a little. It's not a bugbear for myself as I actually was more rattled by the notion that someone forgot to pay the electric bill for the ship - why is everything so dark?! It just seems really weird considering that there seems to be no issues with the lighting in All Good Things.... While we know that things have to change to be accommodated on the big screen it is strange especially as there was no gap between production of the two installments. Indeed, the Enterprise-E is immediately more suitable for the movies because it was designed for the task while it's predecessor was most certainly not. Totally destroying the iconic bridge and showing it in all its battered glory at the end just cemented the "no going back" line.

Overall the background machinations of Star Trek's seventh feature really interest me and of all the movies it might be the one that, from a behind the scenes perspective, is the most intriguing. Certainly an area of the franchise that I love to read and find out more about.

However, as well as that I thought I would champion some of the great things that did make it to the screen and mean I won't be letting another six years pass by before my next viewing....


The Enterprise-B

"This is the first starship Enterprise in thirty years without James T Kirk in command..."

It's a redress of the Excelsior but how long had we waited to see this girl? I recall the first image that suggested "B" would be such a ship was in the Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual in 1991. Here, three years later it was confirmed and she came with go-faster stripes. While she gets less screen time than even the "C", it's a nice nod to continuity even though her captain is about as useful as a chocolate teapot. The fact Kirk "died" onboard her does mark her out in starship history but we don't get anything else in official onscreen canon.


Stellar Cartography

Significantly larger than the set used for The Next Generation's Lessons in season six, I still love watching this scene. On the cinema screen it was just awesome to see and is the pivotal moment in the story where both Picard and the viewer realise Soran's plan. It looks like a truly massive set and the interactive nature of the screens gave me a "Wow" moment - Star Trek had suddenly gone super-techie, absolutely embraced CGI and it looked great. A landmark sequence in the franchise it also played out the Picard/Data father/son relationship, confronting that god-awful emotion chip and it's impact on the android lieutenant commander. 

Thankfully it was played down in First Contact and virtually ignored in Insurrection and Nemesis - just the same as the dream programme. Overall it's one of my favourite movie sets due to its smooth simplicity. For me, this room and that sequence are absolutely key to the movie - not only do we get to hear about Soran's plan but get to see what it is as well.

Kirk vs Soran and Saves the Galaxy (twice)

"Actually I am familiar with history and if I'm not mistaken...you're dead."

The twist of it being Kirk standing in front of Soran on the bridge wasn't enough. The fist fight is a classic and I think it's very well staged as the two opponents dance around the structures the doctor has created. Kirk even gets to throw in a couple of his classic moves from The Original Series as part of his swansong. I'm not at ease with the fact his death comes from falling into a ravine on a bridge rather than getting shot in the back by Soran. Shatner is at his action movie best here and it's only after it finishes that you realise his last decent fight sequence was back with Kruge on Genesis...

Not content with saving the crew of the Enterprise and the Lakul survivors he drops out of retirement to save some unknowns on Veridian IV. Nice work. I preferred his send-off in the 23rd Century a bit more however - that opening "prologue" section is great. Kirk's back in action one more time doing what he does best.

The Enterprise-D Crash Sequence

"All hands brace for impact!"

Aside from there being a few shots of the crashing saucer which are obviously a model on a hydraulic arm, I think it's a great piece of the movie. Starting right from the moment the Klingons start smashing chunks out of the Galaxy Class starship you just know it's going downhill for the flagship. I'd still say that the Enterprise blowing up in The Search for Spock had - and still has - more impact but this added the stamp of finality to a lot of things. The Next Generation had moved to the movies and they were going to need something bigger and more cinema-screen friendly to take them to their next adventure. This wasn't TV anymore and it wasn't all going to end perfectly. The Enterprise really got a pummelling and went down hard. Troi would get a second chance to smash up the ship in Nemesis but she manages a much more impressive result here. It's a write-off.

While the destruction of the battle section is fairly quick, the out of control saucer crash is great aside from the few seconds I've mentioned. Seeing it drop through the clouds and eventually come to a rest are great to behold only enhanced with Riker's skyward glance through the smashed observation dome atop the bridge.

Kirk and Picard - The Nexus

"...and from his point of view, he's just got here too..."

THE best bit of the movie. Kirk appears chopping wood and it's a wonderful sequence that is every fan's dream. The two captains united and armed with some sparkling dialogue to match. Ignoring the fact it's all in a make believe world, just seeing them together is enough but the conversation on horseback was milked to high heaven for the promo campaign. A shame because it's a nostalgic moment when Kirk makes the decision to make a difference and not mope around in the Nexus for eternity. Two things of interest with the Nexus - one is that it's also Guinan's last ever Star Trek appearance and secondly how do the two captains know that they HAVE left the Nexus since it can take you to any time and place you want...?

I find that once Kirk returns to the screen the whole feel of the movie changes in the click of a finger. You feel refreshed and excited about the moment and those last thirty minutes are just great, classic Star Trek. While the sum of the parts might not be spectacular, just seeing these two interacting made this movie for me. Getting Kirk on-board the Enterprise-D would have been the greatest if it had been possible but sadly it was not to be. Notably Picard only has Archer to tick off for a complete set of commanding officers as he met Sisko in Emissary and spoke to Janeway at the beginning of Nemesis. That second instance means there are two movies where two captains appear on screen together (but not in the same room by technicality).

In my opinion Generations is not bad at all and I would watch it easily in preference to Voyager or Enterprise. There are even a few episodes of Deep Space Nine or The Next Generation that might beat it too. It's a movie about passing the torch, feeling good and giving The Next Generation a springboard to a motion picture career at the height of Star Trek mania. The shame is they fared worse than the original cast, lasting only four films and with meagre box office takings into the bargain.

Next up for viewing is the superb First Contact. I'll try and work out something a bit different to mark it out in my passing!