Tuesday, 18 November 2014

20 from Generations

All Good Things... had come to an end and the eighth season of The Next Generation was not to be.  

The TV adventures of the Enterprise-D were over but Berman,  Moore and Braga went from the show straight into production of the first of four movies for Picard and the crew. The wide variance in quality of these four instalments is always up for debate but let's not stray from the fact that Generations also marked a generation's final journey to steal the tag line from Nemesis.

Kirk, Scotty and Chekov returned for one last hurrah (because Nimoy and Kelley wouldn't)  in an epic that spanned the two ground-breaking shows. Now if you've been paying attention you'll recall that this year marked 20 years since All Good Things... which in turn means it's 20 years since Kirk wound up in the Nexus. That's right. November 18th 2014 marks two decades since the theatrical release of the seventh feature length Trek to the stars. 

So what has been Generations legacy after two decades? What has it given to the franchise?  It gave Worf something of a reason to jump ship after the destruction of the Enterprise but there has to be more than that seeing as the film wouldn't have been better or worse if that hadn't happened.

At least it allowed Shatner to bow out with some style and maybe there's something poetic about the notion of him returning to that role two decades later for Star Trek 3 and the 50th Anniversary in 2016. At least on screen Kirk didn't get resurrected although Shatner did pen The Return and a number of sequels to keep the character alive. Some characters need and deserve to stay dead to ensure their legacy survives in tact and here, with Kirk, that is essential. Here we have a launchpad to a new beginning that would not have to worry about looking over it's shoulder at all that had gone before. The Next Generation had grown up - this was it's maturing moment and the point where everything subsequent would have to take note.

Generations is the only decent gap-filler between The Original Series and The Next Generation we ever got by seeing Kirk's successor and the Excelsior Class Enterprise-B confirm the lineage through to Garrett and on to Picard. Again in the non-canon literature we are afforded an expanded narrative but Generations gives us the notion that the galaxy will still keep on being saved for the next 78 years even if Kirk isn't around to do it. I for one think this is one of Shatner's best performances as Kirk in particularly un-Kirk-like surroundings only to realise just who he is when the odds are against him and the situation is grim. 

However, while that classic era section is a wonderful little swansong, it's The Next Generation section which features more prominently with the investigation at Amargosa and the mystery of the Nexus. The events of Generations never directly impact another episode although there is that link to The Way of the Warrior although it did cement the Berman/Moore/Braga era for several years to come. Importantly it also marked a point of progress. While the original crew had very little development from The Motion Picture to The Undiscovered Country (with the obvious exception of Spock), the crew of Picard's Enterprise began to change from the characters we knew from the TV show. Here Data's emotion chip loomed large once more to be featured again in First Contact before being totally forgotten for Insurrection and Nemesis

Killing off Picard's relations here was a bold move but again it was one of the early signs that things did not need to be stagnant for fans and causal viewers to "get" the movie. These were people who could be moulded a bit more and the tweaks that might have happened on the series could now be experimented with and explored in a larger setting - Geordi's sight and the Riker/Troi relationship would be the two most obvious points explored in the subsequent movies but in Generations there are the first indications that we would find corrections and changes occurring more often than we may have expected on the series.Destroying the Enterprise on the other hand isn't that big a thing. After the monumental obliteration of the original Constitution Class starship in The Search for Spock the expectation of a bigger and better, all singing and dancing replacement was expected before the saucer had even entered the atmosphere, backed up by Picard's knowing and satirical comment that this would not be the last ship to bear the name Enterprise (add in his reference to letters of the alphabet in First Contact too please).

Generations hits the life/death theme straight on with each of the three main characters battling that element of reality from numerous different angles. Kirk has died and has nothing left to prove, he's out there to enjoy himself with no responsibilities and a whole universe of his imagination to explore. Picard faces the bleak truth that life isn't always fair with the deaths of his brother and his Generations  nephew off-screen. Then there's Soran and his wish to cheat reality and the mortal struggle without a care for the impact it can have on anything in his way. McDowell does a fairly good job with the character although he admitted that he didn't get it and preferred his part in Tank Girl which was also around at the same time. His motivations are fairly realistic and as baddies go, he's one of the better ones, providing that spark of insanity right alongside apparent logical reasoning and desperation. Without a doubt McDowell has certainly left his legacy on the franchise if only for being the Kirk killer - and then only in the original version.

At the core the legacy of is simply the passing of that torch from one crew to another. The final tie cutting which meant that The Next Generation could flourish on the big screen and surpass the expectations of its predecessor - but the reality is that the spark was bright and short-lived as fans are more than vocal that both Insurrection and Nemesis are far from up to scratch. Easily the best of the four, Generations slides well into a comfortable second and for me it's definitely a decent movie which allowed Kirk to pull out one last fistfight interspersed with more of his more classic moves from The Original Series than you can shake a tribble at and on location no less.

At the time Generations was highly anticipated; I'd read the book including that skydiving scene and the original shot-in-the-back ending which rubbed preview audiences the wrong way. The Next Generation had been a ratings winner and the expectation on the big screen was no less. The shame of it was that there was an overconfidence and maybe over familiarity that let The Next Generation down. There was no gap, no decade of mulling over possibilities, no additional maturing of the cast and no chance to spread their wings elsewhere first to shed the type-casting. One day they were shooting an episode and the next it was filming a movie. Could it be that we didn't wait long enough for The Next Generation to deserve their own movie series?

Only 11 years after Generations aired it was all over for the Berman era in 2005 as Enterprise was cancelled and the show faded for a few years. Generations was a movie of the time, oppulent with its high level guest star, self-indulgent with its references to its past and existing at a pivotal moment in franchise history where three series would exist within a 12 month period at the Paramount Studios.

The Next Generation legacy fizzled and burned in just seven short years in the cinema compared to the 13 years of the original crew. So much promise perhaps handled badly at the peak of Star Trek's success? Was it the beginning of the slpppery slope? Was attempting that lightning strike twice on the big screen tempting fate? Were we all just bored? Maybe, maybe not but for the time, this union of Star Trek's two captains was the thing to see and today, seeing Kirk and Picard side by side to save the galaxy is still worth every second.

What do you think the franchise owes to Generations? Anything? Nothing? WHy not let us know here!

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