Last of the Monster Kids

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Sunday, June 14, 2009

Series Report Card: Star Trek (1994-1996)

7. Star Trek: Generations
Growing up in the nineties, “Star Trek: The Next Generation” was the Trek of my youth. It was this series, with its bigger budget and more fan-conscious writing, that first acquainted me with the franchise. Soon, I saw the original series movies and a few select episodes of the classic series and became a full-fledge fan/nerd.

Honestly though it has been years since I’ve seen the TNG episodes and it’s the original series I relate to more now. So, sitting down to watch “Generations” for this review, I found myself experiencing “Next Generation” for the first time in years. Taken on its own merits, “Generations” is an all right time. The most successful elements of TNG, and Trek in general, are maintained. And that’s, of course, the characters. Patrick Stewart has a juicy character arc. Dealing with the death of his brother and nephew, he gets to go to some interesting emotional places and this is wisely tied into the main plot. Though most of the Enterprise-D crew are given supporting roles that range from minor but important (Geordi, Riker, Troi) to nonexistence (Dr. Crusher, Worf), Data’s part is quite interesting. Bret Spiner gives a wonderful performance as his character grapples with his new found emotions. The moment where he finds Spot again towards the end is actually quite sweet.

The film’s main goal is passing the torch and the story is focused towards bringing Picard and Kirk together. Towards this effort, the plot device of Nexus and the villain Soran take up most of the screen time. Soran is played by Malcolm McDowell who has more or less built a career on playing villains and exudes wickedness with ease. Granted, perhaps the emotional drive for Soran’s evil, the death of his wife and children, could have been developed more for a stronger effect but it’s still a fun performance to watch.

The movie is uneven up until the turn of the second act. The entire subplot involving the Klingon twins are, frankly, boring, and feel out of place, as if they’re pandering to the hardcore Trekkies by throwing in an established series element. The script even more or less admits this by brushing the characters away before the proper climax even comes close to occurring. Stuff really picks up when Picard gets into the Nexus. The movie finds its emotion core here and becomes better because of it. Shatner shows up again around this point too. What to make of Bill’s performance here? This was during the “Rescue 911” era of his career before he stumbled into self-parody and later found himself again with Denny Crane. It’s not too bad a turn but is a little tired. Truthfully, a good reason isn’t given for why Kirk would want to leave the Nexus.

Things then wrap up in time for a slightly disappointing climax. A lot of talk has been given to Kirk’s death. I feel it was a little gimmicky and the movie maybe didn’t need it. I mean, as far as the official time line is concerned, Kirk is dead anyway, so why was it necessary to do that? The way his demise is dealt with and then the movie goes on, it’s obvious it was more concerned with establishing the new crew as a film team then properly sending off the original team. (Since they all ready had a great send-off in part six.) The best decision would’ve been to just forget the crossover movie and immediately start with the newer characters. Still, all this considered, “Generations” is far from a bad movie. It’s very entertaining, occasionally exciting, has a considered emotional core, and, if nothing else, is over quickly.
[Grade: B-]
“First Contact” gets right to the action. Near minutes into the film, following a very brief intro, the crew of the Enterprise is all ready on there way to fighting the Borg. This is a sign of the film’s best feature: It’s straight-ahead, action-packed pacing.

Things could’ve been tricky. The Borg, despite arguably being one of “Next Generation”’s most important contribution to the mythology, always struck me as a slightly cliché threat, an unstoppable race of techno-zombies. And time travel… Jesus, haven’t we been down that road enough? “First Contact” doesn’t let these problems bother it. The time travel aspect and importance of the first contact is simply a McGuffin, the thing to drive the action. It is really the Borg that provides the suspense. A movie budget allows the race to become truly menacing, not to mention truly visually interesting.

The threat also allows for far more action then just about any previous “Star Trek” movie. We get to see Data actually use his android abilities to fight. Picard’s personal connection to the story’s threat gives him an excuse to want to join in the active fight, even if that spits in the face of what the character was in the series. Hell, the movie even gets Worf back with the Next Gen crew where he belongs. (The present of the Defiant and the Hologram Doctor are two call-outs to the at-the-time current series that might have been unnecessary but are cute.) By setting the majority of the action on the Enterprise it self, it certainly thrust the majority of the cast into the middle of the battle. Despite Jonathan Frake’s direction feeling somewhat TV-like at times, he handles the transition well (The supped-up effects and production values certainly help) and creates a number of exciting action set-piece. The confrontation in the hallway where Data is capture is tight and suspenseful with the shoot-out on the satellite disc being, easily, the highlight of the picture. The holodeck sequence is cool too.

Data and Picard are easily the main characters of the film and both have solid character arcs. Data’s is easily the more interesting. His struggle to become human is thrust right to front of the story and becomes a major theme. His relationship with the Borg Queen, played with an amazing creepy sexiness by Alice Krige, creates some of the most interesting moments of the movie. I mean, Data is rarely shown in a sexual light to begin with so his slightly heavy-handed seduction into evil is provocative, to say the least. It’s certainly a good bit of acting from Brent Spiner. The captain’s arc is a little less interesting. His relationship with Alfre Woodard is good enough but his sudden thrust into Ahab-syndrome is melodramatic.

The other part of the movie is set on Earth and, despite being a time travel story, is also pretty good. Riker and Troi aren’t given too much to do though Geordi has some stuff. It’s really James Cromwell as the cranky, drunk Zeframe Cochrane that owns this subplot. His reluctance to become a great man proves captivating and Cromwell pulls it off well. Again, all the suspense and real excitement is rightly saved for the Borg story. The final climatic showdown, with Picard heading to save Data and battle the Borg Queen, silly as it might sounds, is awesome and so, so satisfying.

I have few complaints here. The way time travel is brushed aside as no big deal, especially at the end, sticks in my teeth a little, even as somebody who couldn’t care less. Jerry Goldsmith’s score is good but not as good as his previous “Trek” work. “Star Trek: First Contact” is “Star Trek” as action-packed, popcorn sci-fi movie and that works quite well. It fully established “The Next Generation” cast as a team worthy of their own movies.
[Grade: B+]

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