More noise than signal

Star Trek: Generations

Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

Let’s just state up front – Generations is a weird film, and I don’t really know why it exists. I suppose I can see some logic in setting up a passing of the baton, but who or what this film was designed for escapes me. I say this because if any of the forthcoming plot recap sounds flimsy, well, I don’t think that’s my fault.

We start off in Kirk’s era, 2293, as he’s the guest of honour during the launch of the USS Enterprise-B. They soon receive a distress call, from a few El-Aurian ships being bothered by a weird anomaly, a wibbly, swirly energy ribbon thing that’s ripping them apart. The Enterprise is able to save some of them, but Kirk seems to give his life in the efforts, heroically saving the ship but apparently being lost in space.

Rather inelegantly jumping to a weird celebration of Worf’s promotion in the Next Gen era of 2371, the Enterprise-D crew receive another distress call from an observatory where they rescue the El-Aurian Dr. Tolian Soran (Malcolm McDowell. I’ll let you guess who the bad guy turns out to be), although this turns out to be a trap. Occasional series irritants the Klingon Dumas Sisters show up and cause a ruckus in a Bird of Prey, kidnapping La Forge and allowing Soran to fire off a star-destroying probe into the local, well, star, obviously.

We should perhaps pause to briefly introduce the members of the next gen cast, for any poor uninitiated somehow still listening to this episode. The Enterprise is Captained by the allegedly French Jean Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart), a stoic, intelligent, diplomatic officer that’s a far cry from Shatner’s more swashbuckling character, supposedly a reflection of Starfleet’s alleged focus on peaceful exploration rather than gunboat diplomacy, although that’s more of an ideal than an actuality. It was common, in the series if less so the films, for the action to be handled by the dashing First Officer William Riker (Jonathan Frakes), who’s a little closer to Kirk’s punch first, ask questions later attitude.

What passes for science in the show is routinely handled by the android Data (Brent Spiner), who’s quest to better understand and become more like the humans he’s modelled after is a recurring theme of the show and touched on in the films. Engineering, and surprisingly often the damsel in distress role falls to Geordi La Forge (LeVar Burton), a man whose defining and only characteristic appears to be “is blind, wears that VISOR thing”. Weapons and hitting things duty falls to the big ol’ Klingon Worf (Michael Dorn) who has exactly the same default characterisation as all Klingons in the show. Medical needs will be covered by Dr. Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden), long-running source of romantic tension with Picard, and nominally at least the crew’s mental health is safeguarded by Commander Deanna “Obvious” Troi (Marina Sirtis), who has the psionic ability to sense emotions which thanks to some dismal writing normally means that she tells us that the aliens shooting at us are angry. Thanks. Great help.

Anyway, back at the ranch, Picard questions fellow El-Aurian and Starship Barkeeper Guinan (an improbable job filled by Whoopi Goldberg, improbably), who fills us in on that there wibbly space ribbon. It acts as a randomly destructive gateway to the Nexus, an extra-dimensional realm where time has no meaning and anyone can experience whatever they desire. Soran is driven to get there, and the Enterprise crew figure out that the reason he’s blowing up stars is to divert the ribbon’s course over a planet so he can be absorbed into the Nexus without having to rely on a starship not blowing up before he transfers. The problem is that the next and final star on his hit list also has a densely populated world orbiting it.

The crew head off to stop this, with Picard beaming off to the planet surface to try to convince Soran to stop this madness while the remaining bridge crew fend off that there Duras Bird of Prey. This doesn’t go all that well for either party, with the Enterprise destroying their adversary but crippling them at the same time, forcing a unceremonious crash landing, while Picard fails in his attempt and is pulled into the Nexus along with Soran.

However! A wild Deus Ex Machina appears in the form of Guinan’s Force Ghost or something, who convinces Picard that the idyllic life he’s created for himself in the Nexus is a hollow illusion, and informs him that he can use the Nexus’s unique properties as an undo button, and this time he might be able to convince his Nexus neighbour Captain Kirk to help out in what I suppose is supposed to be a dream team up. Which they do. Obviously.

I suppose the first point of analysis you have to make about Generations is that it’s not very good. Now, much like the Original Cast series of films, it’s not particularly the actors fault, who by this point know their characters inside and out and provide engaging turns. It’s just the things they’ve been asked to do and say that’s the problem.

It’s perhaps best typified by the villains of the piece – not satisfied by one poorly motivated nutball in McClaren’s Soran, there’s an equally poorly drawn bunch of Klingons added to the mix that only seem to exist to give the rest of the crew outside Picard something to do in the final act. Needless to say, not a one of them are particularly compelling or interesting.

There’s a real issue with the structure of the film too, hopping around between focal points in a way that doesn’t really fulfil a traditional three act structure – and it’s fine to deviate from that, but not for these reasons. It’s weird structure is a by-product of the need to come up with a way to cram Picard and Kirk together. My overwhelming concern about that comes back to the point I raised way back at the start of this diatribe – who thought this was necessary?

As mentioned, on one level there’s a sense behind handing over the baton, but that’s not really what’s happened here. After all, the NG series had already ran for seven series and finished before we got to this film, so it’s not really a handover. The NG crew had been off running a completely different race for the best part of a decade on a very popular TV show, so this film is less a baton handover, and more like when a long distance race that’s running in an athletics event while there’s a long jump going on in the centre of the field. The only people this would be introducing the new crew to would be those who’s only exposure to Star Trek is the films, and that’s surely such a narrow sliver of the potential audience that it’s not worth catering to?

I don’t, on a conceptual level, mind there being a handover of the film series, providing that handover doesn’t play merry hell with the narrative, and it does here. There’s no real sense of any story being told here, a few allusions to mortality aside, but even that’s buried under a convoluted plot and space anomalies that might as well be a flying magic wand, for all the sense it makes.

This is a confused misbegotten mess of a film, although in its defence it’s a well produced confused misbegotten mess of a film, which along with a highly able cast affords it a baseline level of watchability that’s perhaps above the worst of the Original Series outings, but not by a great deal. I’d give this one a miss.