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Thursday, January 23, 2014

Fishing in the Discount Bin - Star Trek Generations

Welcome back to Fishing in the Discount Bin, where I watch and blog about one of the many VHS/DVD/Blu-Rays that I own.  For those just joining us, back in the spring of 2013, I decided to watch every Star Trek movie before Into Darkness came out.  And today, we jump from the original to the Next Generation with Star Trek Generations.  This originally appears in my notes at April 20, 2013.

Star Trek Generations movie poster

Here we are, once again, on my quest to watch every Star Trek film before Into Darkness hits theatres. Tonight, it's time to pass from one generation to the next, as we bid farewell to the original crew, and move on to the Next Generation with Star Trek Generations.

The Undiscovered Country proved to be a fitting swan song to the original crew, so the Paramount brass decided it was time to retire Captain Kirk et al and promote the Next Generation crew to the film franchise. It was decided that season 7 of TNG would be the final one, and the first TNG movie coming soon after. Rick Berman, the show runner of all the Star Trek series, got the call that he was now being given the film franchise, too. Rick Berman was now the boss of all things Star Trek.

And man, did that guy know how to run a franchise into the ground. But that's an angry rant for another day.

To create this film, Berman called upon the very successful TNG writing duo of Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga. Berman, Moore, and Braga all figured that it would be nice to have one of the original crew appear in the film to "pass the torch," as it were. They knew right away what they had to do. They had to do what the fans have been asking for ever since The Next Generation came on the air. It was time for the Next Generation to meet Captain Kirk.

Moore and Braga got to work. They got a neat idea for how to do time travel without actually time traveling thanks to this thing called "The Nexus," which exists outside of time. They had this great idea how to jump forward in time, too. We were going to see these two Starfleet officers, monitoring all kinds of deep space radio transmissions, and making wry comments on them. "The Beavis and Butthead of space," was how they described it on the DVD running commentary. And then the Romulans attack, and the Enterprise shows up, and there's a massive space battle. Then, they ran it by fellow Star Trek writer Jeri Taylor. Taylor poo-pooed the idea, and said, "Our introduction to The Next Generation should be Picard pushing an egg across the floor of Ten-Forward with his nose." Moore and Braga asked, "Why?" And Taylor said these fateful words: "I don't know. But it's unexpected."

And with that idea, Moore and Braga became obsessed with doing the unexpected. The egg-pushing-scene was refined and rewritten into the opening on the old sailing ship on the holodeck. They chose to have Kirk and Picard finally meet each other in a cabin in the woods cooking scrambled eggs because it was unexpected. And Kirk died like a punk falling off a bridge because it was unexpected.

One thing I do remember making headlines back in the day was Star Trek Generations was one of the first movies that was (infamously) spoiled thanks to the Internet. Someone leaked the script online and it was all over the entertainment news several months before release that Captain Kirk dies. Something that's commonplace these days, but back in 1994, it was huge.

Let's see...not much new is added here in the way of new characters. The big addition is our villain, Dr. Soren, played by Malcolm McDowell. I remember reading an interview with McDowell in which he said the main reason why he took the role was so he'd live forever in infamy as the man who killed Captain Kirk. Being a person who was plucked from the Nexus and is now obsessed with getting back...well, he seems a little one-note, but he serves his role.

Actually, I can thank Star Trek Generations with finally getting me my driver's license. Unlike most people, I didn't run out and get my driver's license as soon as I turned 16 because, well, I just didn't think I was ready yet. So, when I was 17, I was looking at the upcoming release dates for Star Trek Generations and realized that it was coming out during a long weekend. And, if I had my driver's license, I would be able to borrow the car and drive into the city and see it! That was the motivation I finally needed to take my driver's test.

But I didn't go see it the weekend it came out. I finally saw it a month later, during Christmas vacation. My older brother had finally moved out and down to Red Deer to start his own life, and I was missing him quite a bit. So he promised me we'd go see it together when the family came down to Red Deer for Christmas vacation. And that's what we did. We saw it in the beautiful old Famous Players 7-screen Cineplex that used to be in Red Deer. It might still be there. I saw a lot of movies there when I was a kid, as it seemed my grandmother would always take us kids to see a movie when we came to visit in the summer. So my brother and I went to see Star Trek Generations, and then decided to make a double feature of it, stuck around and saw Stargate, too.

Fun trivia fact: both Star Trek Generations and Stargate lay claim to the title "first movie to have a promotional website."

Let's get this out of the way right now. I have one blanket complaint about all the Next Generation movies. They don't feel like movies. They just never shook the "2-hour special episode" vibe to them. Everything about them feels like a TV episode. You have clearly-defined "A" and "B" plots. There's no real character growth, as everything is put back to normal at the end. They just don't feel...epic. And Star Trek Generations is probably the worst instigator of this, even going so far as to recycle special effects from the show, and Dennis McCarthy's music just makes it feel like another episode.

So the film opens with a beautiful "WTF?" opening credits sequence where we see a bottle of champagne flying through space, only to smash against and christen the brand new Enterprise-B. On board are Captain Kirk, Scotty, and Chekov, there's for a photo op and to help the ship get underway. Kirk seems to miss the captain's chair, as we find that in command of the Enterprise-B is Cameron from Ferris Bueler's Day Off.

Just another aside: these scenes were originally written for the entire original crew, but they couldn't afford them all. They then scaled it back to the famous original series trinity of Kirk, Spock, and Bones, but both Leonard Nimoy and DeForrest Kelly said they had no interest in making small cameos. So, the producers said, "Who wants to make a cameo?" to which James Doohan and Walter Koening said, "We do!"

So the Enterprise-B goes on its little photo op cruise, only to get a distress call from two ships carrying refugees. Using the old Star Trek ploy of being the only ship in range, the Enterprise-B goes off to rescue the refugees. We quickly learn that the Enterprise-B is still woefully unequipped, and Captain Cameron is woefully ill prepared. So Captain Kirk once again follows his "first, best destiny," as Spock put it and takes command of the situation. Kirk orders the Enterprise-B to enter the energy ribbon that the refugee ships are trapped in and beam the survivors to safety. Among those rescued are Dr. Soren and everyone's favourite barkeep Guinan. However, the Enterprise-B gets trapped, and Kirk volunteers to go to the lower decks and carry out the necessary techno-babble to save them. Kirk succeeds, the Enterprise-B gets freed, but a stray energy bolt from the ribbon strikes the Enterprise-B, and kills Captain Kirk.

78 years later, we catch up with the crew of the Enterprise-D. They're having a party on a holodeck re-creation to celebrate Worf's promotion to Lt. Commander. Data, however, in his emotionless way, has trouble understanding the festivities, and in an attempt to join in, shoves Dr. Crusher into the water. However, things soon come to an end, when Captain Picard receives some troubling news and leaves. Not longer after, the Enterprise gets a distress call and answers it.

The Enterprise arrives at the ruins of an observatory and begins investigating. On board, the find Dr. Soran and some dead Romulans. Picard tells Riker to report this to Starfleet Command, which is something Picard should do. Needless to say, Picard's bad news really did a number on him. Soran then gets a brief meeting with Picard, and he really wants to return to his experiments.

Meanwhile, in the "B" plot, Data is despondent over how much he upset Dr. Crusher at the party. Data figures it's time for him to finally get emotions, and he breaks out the damaged emotion chip he was given during the series. Despite its damage, Data pops it in and begins experiencing emotions. And that's our main subplot...over-emotional Data. Data and LaForge head back to observatory to continue investigating, but Data's constant wisecracking soon gets on LaForge's nerves. Luckily, Soren soon shows up and shoots up the place, causing Data to become consumed with fear.

Back in the A plot, Troi remembers she's the ship's therapist and finally sits down with Picard to figure out what his damage is. Picard reveals that the bad news he got was his brother and his only nephew were killed in a fire. And since Picard has no kids, the Picard line will die out with him. Just as Picard's starting to come to terms with his grief and Troi feels like she's finally accomplishing something, Soren launches something at the nearby star, and an action scene breaks out. The destruction of the star sends out a shockwave that destroys the system! Soren gets away with LaForge as a hostage! And it turns out that Soren is in league with the Duras sisters...those infamous Star Trek Klingons with "magic boob windows" in their armor.

Picard has a chat with Guinan to get some insight into Soren. It turns out Soren is obsessed with returning to the Nexus, a dimension outside of time where your fantasies become reality. That ribbon the ships were trapped in at the start of the film is the portal into it.

Picard and Data sit down in stellar cartography to figure out what the heck is going on. Data has a panic attack, and Picard calms him down. They discover that by destroying the star, it caused the ribbon to alter course. Since the ribbon has this nasty tendency to destroy ships that come near it, Soren is trying to alter its course to a planet that will safely snatch him up. Based on this analysis, they determine that Soren will try to destroy the star Veridia. The ribbon will then pass through Veridia 4, capturing Soren, but destroy Veridia 3, which has 260 million people living on it.

Gotta love the stellar cartography scene. According to the DVD, the original concept was for it to be like a holodeck, with all the various stars and planets floating holographicaly around Picard and Data. But, special effects technology in 1994 made it too darn expensive. So, they had to settle on a really large viewscreen.

In orbit at Veridia 4, the Enterprise negotiates with the Duras sisters for the release of LaForge. LaForge is released, and Picard is able to beam down to the surface and talk to Soren. And Picard and Soren have a philosophical debate about time and the nature of aging that many say is the best of Star Trek.

Notice that what most people say represents the best of Star Trek is usually in the worst films? But I digress.

Meanwhile, the Duras sisters bugged Geordi's visor, and this allows them to spy on the Enterprise and determine the ship's weaknesses. With this knowledge, they decide to destroy the Enterprise. The Enterprise takes out the Duras sisters' Bird-of-Prey, but the damage is done. The Enterprise is destroyed, and the saucer section crash lands on the planet.

Everyone raves over this scene, but I think it's cheezy as hell. Such shoddy model work that very obviously looks like a model.

Back on the planet, even Picard gets bored of debating with Soren and decides to just punch him. They duke it out, but it's too little too late, as Soren is able to get his shot off, destroy the star, and he and Picard are sucked into the Nexus. In the Nexus, Picard finds happiness, as he finds he settled down and has a huge family. But, his stoic Starfleet discipline is enough to help him realize that this is just a fantasy, and he knows he has to get out, stop Soren, and save Veridia 3. Guinan also happens to be in the Nexus, and she recommends someone who can help Picard.

And, of course, it's Captain Kirk. Turns out he wasn't killed all those years ago...he was just sucked into the Nexus. Kirk's paradise is a cabin in the woods, and while Kirk and Picard cook scrambled eggs, Picard tries to convince Kirk to leave the Nexus with him and stop Soren. Kirk initially refuses, but after a horseback ride, where Kirk successfully executes some death-defying jumps, he realizes that this, too, is just a fantasy, and that all he really wants in life is to make a difference again.

I do like the scene of Kirk's advice to Picard, though. You want more philosophizing in your Star Trek? I want more scenes like this.

So they leave the Nexus, we're treated to a "last time on Star Trek: The Next Generation" montage, Kirk and Picard gang up on Soren.  This time out, though, our heroes are able to win the day, but, Kirk falls off a bridge and dies.  See, a bridge was destroyed by Soren's weapon.  Kirk has to climb out on it to get the control pad that work's Soren's star destroyer.  Kirk gets it, deactivates the star destroyer, but the bridge gives way and he falls to his death, but lives long enough to deliver some final words to Picard.

With the planet saved, the Enterprise is declared a write-off, and the Enterprise crew is evacuated, to the brand new Enterprise-E for the next movie.  The end.

And that's Generations.  Really don't have much in the way of final thoughts.  I think we all hoped that the ultimate meeting of the two captains would be more epic, but ultimately, it wasn't.  Even Moore and Braga admit as much on the DVD running commentary.  I forget which one said it, but they pointed out that sometimes you shouldn't do the unexpected "just because"...and that really, some times, what's expected is what's best.

Next up, First Contact.

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