The most difficult mission in the Star Trek universe isn't Starfleet Academy's Kobayshi Maru scenario, but what Paramount Pictures has attempted: creating another cog in its lucrative franchise machinery that would provide not only a smooth transition from the old crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise to the new, but also entertain those who know what Kobayshi Maru is -- as well as those in the movie-going world who aren't Trekkies.
That cog's name, of course, is Star Trek Generations. The leap from television to the big screen isn't quite as dramatic for The Next Generation as it was for its predecessor. When the first Star Trek was reborn as a movie ten years after its last original TV episode aired, it could boast of exponentially increased production values even as it retained its campiness. In contrast, Star Trek Generations follows The Next Generation's seven year run so closely -- and that run had such impressive production values -- that as you're sitting in the theater you can feel like youÕre watching a new episode of the television series on the big screen.
And it should, given that the film's director David Carson; screenwriters Ronald Moore and Brannon Braga; and story-idea man Rick Berman have all worked on The Next Generation. Of course, one might well argue why not use a formula that obviously works? The Next Generation is the most successful syndicated TV series to date. Unfortunately, the problem lies in the fact that the filmmakers used only part of the winning formula, apparently concerned to simply ape The Next Generation's strengths might not be enough to attract the old Trek fans and the general movie-going audience.
Similar concerns are what made the first Star Trek film the most leaden of that series; and here, the result of trying to create "a Star Trek for everyone" is a bit of a mess. Generations sports a Starfleet standard-issue plot: you've got the Nexus, a.k.a. the strange phenomenon; Dr. Soran, the bad guy; and, of course, millions of lives in the balance that only the crew of the Enterprise can save. But it appears that the plot has been watered down for the those who confuse Romulans and Vulcans. Malcolm McDowell, who's more than capable of being malevolent, isn't given enough to work with in his role as Soran. Looking like Sting with a constipation problem, Soran has plenty of mean-spirited lines to ramble on with, but he doesn't actually do anything particularly harsh. The writers should have watched a few episodes of Melrose Place if they needed inspiration for a really malicious villain.
The lives that hang in the balance are just dandy, although it would have been more effective to see at least one of them; it's hard to be concerned about a bunch of numbers. Speaking of numbers, Generations has to deal with quite a few people. There're three members of the old Star Trek crew and eight members of The Next Generation crew. However, Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart), Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) and Data (Brent Spiner) are the only ones given much screen time and character development. Scotty (James Doohan) and Chekov (Walter Koenig) are only in the movie's 23rd-century beginning, and, for all intents and purposes, their dialogue could have been written for any member of the old crew. Old-school Trekkies will, no doubt, feel cheated.
The 24th-century crew does get to play their own roles, but fare little better than the two veterans in regard to screen time. Generations' main focus lies with the Enterprise's two captains and their anticipated meeting. Shatner plays Kirk with an intense, man-of-adventure spirit that, for the most part, he hasn't shown since the original Star Trek went off the air. Meanwhile, Stewart manages to plumb even deeper into Picard's character than he has in his standout work in Next Generation. When the captains meet, there seems to be an initial favoritism in the film toward Kirk; for a while, it appears Picard is going to deflate. Eventually, however, things balance out. The Trekkie debate over who's the better captain finally goes unresolved.
The multiformula Generations does finally succeed in pleasing its three audiences, though what each group finds entertaining is likely to be different. Humor, a strong element in Star Trek IV, is played rather heavy-handedly here. You've got your campy "old Trek" humor in the 23rd-century beginning, where the original crew members crack some funnies at the expense of the commander of the Enterprise-B. For The Next Generation fans, Data is finally given his "humanity" courtesy an emotion chip placed into his positronic brain, a move that transforms him from just a humanoid android into a major Generations comic device.
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The movie also has its share of stunts and outstanding special effects. And a Trek movie wouldn't be a Trek movie without some new toys for the Enterprise and its crew. This time the ship gets a Stellar Cartography room and new interior lighting, which gives an earth-tone quality to many scenes. Unfortunately, this type of thing won't be of interest to non-Trekkies, and the action scenes are bridged by dialogue scenes that may drag beyond time if not space, depending on your disposition.
Ultimately, there is the not-so-secret matter of the death of Kirk, who has become a veritable icon of American pop culture. This key event will undoubtedly divide the audience between tears, jeers and cheers. And those who think this rings down the curtain on Star Trek's original explorers and hands the film world's universe over exclusively to the crew from The Next Generation should keep two words in mind: Genesis device.
Star Trek Generations.
Directed by David Carson. With William Shatner, Patrick Stewart, Malcom McDowell and Brent Spiner.