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Star Trek: Generations (1994)

by on 2010/12/23

is far too often dismissed for all the things it isn’t . . . like even-numbered.

It fails to conclude the “classic” Star Trek run satisfactorily.  It’s not an ideal transition to the new crew.  And it isn’t “All Good Things” — the successful final episode of the Next Generation TV series — either literally or figuratively.  However, for what it is, I believe it deserves fair praise or at least reevaluation.

Generations is a simple tale, told in a complex way.  Next Generation Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) investigates a senseless attack on a scientific observatory, and soon discovers a plot that will kill millions of innocents.  Picard’s inability to stop the genocide singlehandedly leads him to exploit a space-time anomaly, summoning the  assistance of his forerunner, James T. Kirk (William Shatner).

Oh, and he also spends a fantasy family Christmas in the space-time anomaly.

In addition to Data (Brent Spiner) doing his customary “android exploring what it means to be human” thing, we find Picard dealing with issues previously afflicting Kirk:  aging, lack of fulfillment, loss, and regret.  Though the television episodes are not without depth, it’s been a while since Trek explored these themes (Star Trek II:  The Wrath of Khan).

The caliber of acting ensures these matters are not given short shrift in the gravitas department.  Stewart once claimed his involvement in Star Trek doesn’t inform his other work, but the reverse seems likely.  Whether he is naturally gifted, or owes his talent to experience on the stage, he brings conviction to scenes which could easily backfire, and yet he does so without undue projection, theatrics, or melodrama.

Character moments are assigned to each character, to various degrees, and with varying success.  Unfortunately Gates McFadden as Crusher is (as usual) ignored.  Nonetheless, fan service is paid in many other ways, with references to Picard’s family, Data’s emotion chip, Klingons Lursa and B’Etor, Geordi’s VISOR, Spot the cat, and Borg references.

Still, as much as I admire the larger structure and all the little touches, the experience of watching isn’t always so rewarding.  I understand the cast and crew were excited to welcome John A. Alonzo into their ranks.  A legend in lighting and cinematography, he’s responsible for the look and feel of films like Chinatown.  Unfortunately here his moody gloom is a poor fit for the Enterprise sets.  Other visual distractions include obvious stunt doubles, spotty compositing, and jump cuts to show SURPRISE!

Fortunately its shortcomings never unbalance the movie.  They don’t stand up against the affection I feel overall.  I understand the general sense that this effort was less than successful, but the logic of any weakness fails to sway my faith.

Star Trek: Generations may be condemned as simplistic and unsatisfactory, yet I find it both rich and mature, perhaps too much so for mass acceptance.  For what it is and all it does, I see it as flawed but valuable.  If anything, with the passage of time, I find it increasingly poignant.

* * * *

Rated PG

117 minutes

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