Star Trek: Generations (United States, 1994)

A movie review by James Berardinelli
Star Trek: Generations Poster

Despite a reasonably original story line, familiar characters, first rate special effects, and the hallmark meeting between Captains Kirk (William Shatner) and Picard (Patrick Stewart), there's something fundamentally dissatisfying about this, the seventh Star Trek feature film. The problem is that while Star Trek: Generations is undeniably a major motion picture, too often it seems like little more than an overbudgeted, double-length episode of the Next Generation television series. The vestiges of the intangible Star Trek magic which has survived for more than twenty-five years, and weathered six feature films (the last two of which have been lackluster), are laid to rest here. If the spirit of the series is ever again to boldly go, it will have to rise, phoenix-like, from the ashes.

Star Trek: Generations opens in the twenty third century with the christening of the USS Enterprise "B". On hand for the event are three living legends: Captain James T. Kirk, Captain Montgomery Scott (James Doohan), and Commander Pavel Chekov (Walter Koenig). As so often happens in the Star Trek universe, a ceremonial maiden voyage turns into a rescue mission, with the Enterprise the only ship within range to aid refugees trapped by a mysterious - and deadly - energy ribbon. Kirk, assisted by his two old friends, manages to save nearly fifty lives, but not before the section of the ship where he's working is destroyed. No body is found, but the celebrated Starfleet officer is presumed dead. In actuality, however, he has been sucked into the "Nexus", a place where time has no meaning and where fantasies become reality.

78 years later, the crew of the Enterprise "D" are engaged in a rescue mission of their own: saving scientists in an observatory ravaged by a Romulan attack. One of the survivors, a Dr. Soran (Malcolm McDowell), is a long-lived alien who exhibits certain irrational tendencies. Driven by an obsessive need to enter the "Nexus", and willing to take any action necessary to accomplish that aim, Soran turns against Captain Picard, placing in jeopardy not only the Enterprise "D", but an entire populated planet.

It's difficult to say how the general public will react to this film. Unlike the previous sequels, Generations is largely inaccessible to non-Trek aficionados. However, with its focus on character development over action, it should prove enjoyable for those well-acquainted with the voyages of any Enterprise. One of Generations' strengths is its willingness to take chances with the familiar Star Trek mythos. This movie spends as much time tearing down old bridges as building new ones.

There are problems, however, several of which are too obvious to ignore. First time feature director David Carson's inexperience is at times evident. His film is inconsistently paced, with a few space battle/action scenes sprinkled liberally throughout an otherwise talky, protracted story. A combat sequence between the USS Enterprise "D" and a Klingon ship lacks any semblance of tension. Looking back at the ship-to-ship duels of movies 2, 3, and 6, there was a flair and buildup that is noticeably absent here. The battles in Generations are hurried, and the viewer appears to be watching rather than participating, with little opportunity to savor the moment.

Equally unimpressive is Carson's handling of a certain highly-emotional moment that figures prominently in the climax. Again, perhaps he's rushing things, but those of us in the audience recognize that the scene should be far more affecting than it actually is. The ending of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, which featured Spock's death, was wrenching. By comparison, Generations' last moments are flat.

Malcolm McDowell plays the latest, and probably the weakest, Star Trek film villain. Following in the footsteps of Ricardo Montalban's Khan, Christopher Lloyd's Kruge, and Christopher Plummer's Chang, McDowell can't quite live up to the scenery-chewing nastiness of his predecessors. This is precisely because McDowell's Soran is too restrained -- Trek bad guys tend to be at their best when hamming it up.

The centerpiece of Generations is the much-anticipated meeting between Kirk and Picard, which completes the old crew-to-new crew transition begun in Star Trek VI. Shatner wears Kirk like a comfortable garment, and somehow the film seems more alive when he's on screen. Stewart, the consummate professional, is undeniably the better actor, but his presence isn't as arresting. Even Brent Spiner, despite a wonderful, often-comic performance as Lt. Commander Data, can't fill the gap left when Kirk isn't around.

One thing made obvious by this picture is that the Star Trek movies are in desperate need of musical continuity. Dennis McCarthy is the fifth composer in seven films, and his score is perhaps the most bland of all. Except during certain key moments when the Alexander Courage signature tune is used, most of Generations' unmemorable music fades into the dimly-lit background.

Lovers of frantically-paced science fiction may find Generations too static, and fans of the original series will likely be disappointed by the limited screen time accorded Kirk, Scotty, and Chekov (not to mention the absence of Spock, Bones, Sulu, and Uhura) Mostly, Generations spends its running length searching for, and never completely finding, its niche.

If there is an eighth Star Trek film, and Generations isn't the series' epitaph, perhaps eliminating the burden of mixing characters from different eras will permit a less-erratic plot line. Either way, however, Star Trek will never be the same. Age and a few too many bad stories may have robbed Kirk and company of their vitality, but nothing can take away their mystique -- and that is the quality which will sorely be missed.

Star Trek: Generations (United States, 1994)

Run Time: 1:58
U.S. Release Date: 1994-11-17
MPAA Rating: "PG" (Violence)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1