Star Trek: Generations
Reviewed by Jeff DeLuzio
Rating: 2 Beans
atching "Star Trek," for all but its most idolatrous fans, involves some trading-off. With the original series, you learned to accept no-budget aliens and no-holds-barred overacting, in return for occasionally intelligent scripting and (for the time) progressive casting. Shatner's acting didn't improve much in the films, but more money and fewer limitations permitted a more believable mise-en-scene; the planet surfaces no longer looked like styrofoam, and you didn't worry that someone was going to bump into the skyline. In the newer series, one wrote off the first season, and accepted the continuity errors and hopelessly humanoid aliens, in return for frequently intelligent scripting and impressive characterizations. In all versions, one accepts the flaws in return for the intriguing notion that humanity has a future, and a darn cool future at that.
I like the show. I watch its various incarnations from time to time, and have been quoted in the second "Nitpicker's Guide," an honour which is either the epitome of cool or the height of geekiness. However, willing as I am to accept some obvious flaws in "Trek," I cannot totally abandon my critical sense when I watch. For that reason, I have to call a "Trek" bad cinema when it is obviously bad cinema. As the film that bridged the old and new series, "Star Trek: Generations," must be addressed. Given its torch-passing role, one wishes more thought had been put into the movie.
The film begins with a disaster, and the Enterprise rushing to intervene. Kirk is on board, but, only as an observer. A few people are saved from the destructive effects of a big ribbony computer graphic which is winding its way across the galaxy, but one of them, Soran, played by Malcolm McDowell, resists rescue. Meanwhile, the Ribbon apparently claims the life of James T. Kirk, and the flattened tribble which lives on his head.
Years later, the crew of the "Next Generation" Enterprise pick up the thread of the plot. It seems the destructive Ribbon-thing takes people it encounters to a blissful, dream-fulfilling Other Place, and they will do anything, once they leave, to return there. Soran has been to this other side, and he will move the heavens and the planets-- specifically, he will extinguish a star-- in order to make his way back. As the demise of the star will have unpleasant consequences for the planets in its orbit, Jean-Luc Picard and his crew must stop Soran's dastardly plot.
The actors do an admirable job, for the most part. Brent Spiner, always believable as the android, Data, handles his newly-acquired "emotion chip" without becoming ridiculous. The faults in this film are in the script; the plot has holes through which Starfleet could fly formation.
(1) The earth is at the centre of the Federation, the mighty, interstellar alliance which dominates one-quarter of "Trek"'s Milky Way. Intersteller flight is supposedly as commonplace as virgins in an SF convention's gaming room. A number of hostile space-going races exist against which earth requires protection. Yet, when the disaster occurs, the Enterprise, just out of drydock, with most of its essential personnel on earth, and its armaments off-line, is the only ship available.
Why couldn't the scriptwriters think of the hundreds of other, more likely circumstances which might have brought the Enterprise to the rescue site?
(2) The place inside the Ribbon, supposedly, fulfills every desire. Once inside, no one ever wants to leave. Once inside, one becomes immortal. Soran, a member of a long-lived specie, has spent the equivalent of a couple human lifetimes trying to return.
Yet Picard abandons its charms in minutes, and Kirk, after surviving a lifetime there, wanders out just as easily.
Picard dismisses the Other Place because its illusions are not real. In other words, it's basically like the holodecks, the virtual reality-machines in which the people of "Star Trek"'s world play. So why does it have such a hold on Soran? Why didn't he invest his time and energy into building a really good holodeck? And as a creature who lives for centuries, one would think immortality would have even less a hold on him that it does on Kirk and Picard. Perhaps Soran, a scientific genius capable of independently building a probe which can turn off an entire star, could investigate lengthening his life.
What is the appeal, on which the plot hinges, of this Other Place?
(4) Since time doesn't exist in the Other Place, those leaving can return at any time in history. No, at ANY time. Kirk and Picard leave in order to prevent Soran from destroying the star. They have a number of options here. They could interrupt his parents on the night he was conceived. They could arrest him as he leaves the Wal-Mart where he apparently purchased the components from which he built his star-destroying probe. They could stop him as he makes his way to the planet from which he launches the probe.
But no. They return to the moment when he is about the launch the probe, so that there can be a dramatic confrontation, with the seconds ticking down.
Why were either of these strategic masters put in command of the Federation's flagship?
(5) A great deal of suspense, supposedly, hangs on the captains stopping Soran. We're supposed to be excited about it. The problem is, if they fail, they will once again be sucked into the big Ribbon and the blissful Other Place. Once there, they could try to stop Soran again-- perhaps by, say, returning at an earlier time.
So where is the suspense?
Writing science-fiction, or even science-fantasy, does not mean that one abandons believability. Rather, one must work to keep the work believable, within its own established perimeters. The imaginary world does not have to match our reality, but it must adhere to its own laws, and to some basic rules of storytelling. Indeed, these things are crucial if one wants to hold an audience. On these fundamental points, "Generations" implodes.
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