Star Trek: Generations (1994) breaks the tradition of Roman numerals in the titles of the Star Trek saga. It marks the last appearance of Captain Kirk, and the first of the crew of The Next Generation (TNG). It also marks the only time in which Kirk and Picard share some screen time together, something that Gene Roddenberry fought against with all his might while he was alive. He was spared the pain of seeing something he never wanted to see, though, as he died three years before Generations was released.
It’s not easy to talk about this film. For many, it’s yet another weak movie among the oddly numbered ones of the saga (it’s the seventh). For others, it’s the beginning of the end: some would have preferred to keep on following Kirk and his crew, and others simply don’t like The Next Generation. A few consider Generations a good movie. What do I think? I’ll get there, but let’s start with the beginning of the plot.
Retired Captain Kirk (William Shatner) is reported dead in an accident on the maiden voyage of the Enterprise NCC-1701-B led by John Harriman (Alan Ruck). Decades later, Picard and his crew stumble upon the insane plans of Soran (Malcolm McDowell) who doesn’t hesitate to destroy entire planetary systems in order to fulfill his dream of entering the so-called Nexus, a place that Gainan (Whoopy Goldberg) describes as heaven. In the Nexus, Picard eventually finds some unexpected help to try to stop the insane Soran and his allies Lursa and B’Etor Duras (Barbara March and Gwynyth Walsh).
What about this film? On the one hand, it tries to replicate the winning formula of some of the previous films in the saga. On the other hand, it changes it and tries to offer something new. Let’s start with the business-as-usual stuff:
- As in Star Trek III (1984) and Star Trek V (1989), there’s a Klingon Bird-of-Prey acting more as a pirate vessel rather than part of the imperial fleet.
- As in Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), a part of the soundtrack (by Dennis McCarthy) is reused in other products of the brand (the Deep Space Nine theme is very recognizable here).
- As in Star Trek V, an Enterprise is destroyed.
- It features characters and ships we are familiar with, but everything feels new, with gorgeous special effects and a cinematography which is certainly superior to that imposed by the television canons of the series.
Nothing new so far. But there are also a lot of new things in Generations! Not that I appreciate them much, I must say. Mainly, I didn’t like the fact that, for the first time in the saga, the characters were depicted as radically different from the versions we were familiar with from the TV series.
In my opinion, this was a huge mistake. First of all, if the Nexus really makes any dream come true, we know thanks to three years of TOS, two years of The Animated Series, and six films that we should find Kirk in command of the Enterprise on a mission somewhere. Kirk’s dream was certainly NOT to have a country house, a wife and lots of horses to gallop with. That was William Shatner’s dream! And in fact the estate and the horses we see in the film belong to him…
Even Picard (Patrick Stewart) magically becomes an action hero after seven years spent between diplomatic missions and archaeological excavations. But why is his Nexus dream having a family? This fantasy also sounds ridiculous (I didn’t buy the weak link to the family mourning imposed on Picard at the beginning of the movie). And what about Data (Brent Spiner) who for no plausible reason decides to use the emotion chip found in the Brothers episode of TNG’s fourth season? The only reason is to allow Spiner to show a wider emotional range than that of the android he had played so well for so many years.
The various Riker (Jonathan Frakes), Troi (Marina Sirtis), LaForge (LeVar Burton), Crusher (Gates McFadden) and Worf (Michael Dorn) are little more than glorified extras, so there’s little to say about them.
The fact that the characters of Kirk and Picard act so weirdly makes it difficult to accept the plot, sadly. I understand that Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner wanted to do something new, but betraying the nature of their characters was certainly not the way forward.
If we forget for a moment the aforementioned flaw, in my opinion Generations offers at least an hour and twenty minutes of excellent entertainment. Then, it crashes completely with the entry of the Nexus. I understand that the only way to bring together two characters separated by seven decades was some kind of time travel, and I also understand that no one wanted to reuse the same trick of Star Trek IV (1986). But once you introduce a mechanism that allows the protagonists to effortlessly go to any point in time and space, the tension falls flat (and believe me, I don’t enjoy criticizing a script written by two people that I admire so much like Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga).
The point is that we know that even if Picard fails, he can always get another chance, and then another, and then another, and so on until he finally saves the day. In fact, he actually fails once, but then from within the Nexus he finds an ally and tries again a second time, this time succeeding. But nothing would have prevented a second failure, or a third one… And obviously Jean-Luc Picard could not fail that much!
Then, why does he go back to Soran on Veridian III? If you think about it, Kirk could have gone straight back to the Enterprise B and avoided ending up in the Nexus from the start! And then, was Kirk the only other person in the Nexus? Picard could have recruited an entire army to defeat Soran! Especially since it didn’t seem so difficult to convince Kirk to leave that paradise, nor was it for Picard!
But I don’t want to sound too negative. Despite all these flaws (at least that’s what they are for me), there are elements of the film that I appreciated. For example, it was great to see Tim Russ (Tuvok from Star Trek: Voyager) as a lieutenant and Jenette Goldstein (Vasquez from Aliens, 1986) as a science officer on the Enterprise B? Vasquez inspired Tasha Yar’s character on TNG! Ok, that’s not much…
And if I add to the aforementioned shortcomings the TV-style direction by David Carson, I cannot say that Generations is a great film. This doesn’t mean that I haven’t watched it at least a dozen times, but I enjoy any pre-Abrams Star Trek product. So, do I recommend it? Of course I do! As mentioned, the first two thirds of films in my opinion are not bad at all, and if you ignore the movie’s flaws (but you may not see them as such), you can enjoy another film in the Star Trek saga beyond the six ones with Kirk’s crew!