We left our last look at the Star Trek franchise with the Next Generation crew untouched, so join as we give them a right old touching and no mistake in our ongoing mission to boldly review all films Trek.
Let’s just state up front – Generations is a weird film, and I don’t really know why it exists. I suppose I can see some logic in setting up a passing of the baton, but who or what this film was designed for escapes me. I say this because if any of the forthcoming plot recap sounds flimsy, well, I don’t think that’s my fault.
We start off in Kirk’s era, 2293, as he’s the guest of honour during the launch of the USS Enterprise-B. They soon receive a distress call, from a few El-Aurian ships being bothered by a weird anomaly, a wibbly, swirly energy ribbon thing that’s ripping them apart. The Enterprise is able to save some of them, but Kirk seems to give his life in the efforts, heroically saving the ship but apparently being lost in space.
Rather inelegantly jumping to a weird celebration of Worf’s promotion in the Next Gen era of 2371, the Enterprise-D crew receive another distress call from an observatory where they rescue the El-Aurian Dr. Tolian Soran (Malcolm McDowell. I’ll let you guess who the bad guy turns out to be), although this turns out to be a trap. Occasional series irritants the Klingon Dumas Sisters show up and cause a ruckus in a Bird of Prey, kidnapping La Forge and allowing Soran to fire off a star-destroying probe into the local, well, star, obviously.
We should perhaps pause to briefly introduce the members of the next gen cast, for any poor uninitiated somehow still listening to this episode. The Enterprise is Captained by the allegedly French Jean Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart), a stoic, intelligent, diplomatic officer that’s a far cry from Shatner’s more swashbuckling character, supposedly a reflection of Starfleet’s alleged focus on peaceful exploration rather than gunboat diplomacy, although that’s more of an ideal than an actuality. It was common, in the series if less so the films, for the action to be handled by the dashing First Officer William Riker (Jonathan Frakes), who’s a little closer Kirk’s punch first, ask questions later attitude.
What passes for science in the show is routinely handled by the android Data (Brent Spiner), who’s quest to better understand and become more like the humans he’s modelled after is a recurring theme of the show and touched on in the films. Engineering, and surprisingly often the damsel in distress role falls to Geordi La Forge (LeVar Burton), a man whose defining and only characteristic appears to be “is blind, wears that VISOR thing”. Weapons and hitting things duty falls to the big ol’ Klingon Worf (Michael Dorn) who has exactly the same default characterisation as all Klingons in the show. Medical needs will be covered by Dr. Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden), long-running source of romantic tension with Picard, and nominally at least the crew’s mental health is safeguarded by Commander Deanna “Obvious” Troi (Marina Sirtis), who has the psionic ability to sense emotions which thanks to some dismal writing normally means that she tells us that the aliens shooting at us are angry. Thanks. Great help.
Anyway, back at the ranch, Picard questions fellow El-Aurian and Starship Barkeeper Guinan (an improbable job filled by Whoopi Goldberg, improbably), who fills us in on that there wibbly space ribbon. It acts as a randomly destructive gateway to the Nexus, an extra-dimensional realm where time has no meaning and anyone can experience whatever they desire. Soran is driven to get there, and the Enterprise crew figure out that the reason he’s blowing up stars is to divert the ribbon’s course over a planet so he can be absorbed into the Nexus without having to rely on a starship not blowing up before he transfers. The problem is that the next and final star on his hit list also has a densely populated world orbiting it.
The crew head off to stop this, with Picard beaming off to the planet surface to try to convince Soran to stop this madness while the remaining bridge crew fend off that there Duras Bird of Prey. This doesn’t go all that well for either party, with the Enterprise destroying their adversary but crippling them at the same time, forcing a unceremonious crash landing, while Picard fails in his attempt and is pulled into the Nexus along with Soran.
However! A wild Deus Ex Machina appears in the form of Guinan’s Force Ghost or something, who convinces Picard that the idyllic life he’s created for himself in the Nexus is a hollow illusion, and informs him that he can use the Nexus’s unique properties as an undo button, and this time he might be able to convince his Nexus neighbour Captain Kirk to help out in what I suppose is supposed to be a dream team up. Which they do. Obviously.
I suppose the first point of analysis you have to make about Generations is that it’s not very good. Now, much like the Original Cast series of films, it’s not particularly the actors fault, who by this point know their characters inside and out and provide engaging turns. It’s just the things they’ve been asked to do and say that’s the problem.
It’s perhaps best typified by the villains of the piece – not satisfied by one poorly motivated nutball in McClaren’s Soran, there’s an equally poorly drawn bunch of Klingons added to the mix that only seem to exist to give the rest of the crew outside Picard something to do in the final act. Needless to say, not a one of them are particularly compelling or interesting.
There’s a real issue with the structure of the film too, hopping around between focal points in a way that doesn’t really fulfil a traditional three act structure – and it’s fine to deviate from that, but not for these reasons. It’s weird structure is a by-product of the need to come up with a way to cram Picard and Kirk together. My overwhelming concern about that comes back to the point I raised way back at the start of this diatribe – who thought this was necessary?
As mentioned, on one level there’s a sense behind handing over the baton, but that’s not really what’s happened here. After all, the NG series had already ran for seven series and finished before we got to this film, so it’s not really a handover. The NG crew had been off running a completely different race for the best part of a decade on a very popular TV show, so this film is less a baton handover, and more like when a long distance race that’s running in an athletics event while there’s a long jump going on in the centre of the field. The only people this would be introducing the new crew to would be those who’s only exposure to Star Trek is the films, and that’s surely such a narrow sliver of the potential audience that it’s not worth catering to?
I don’t, on a conceptual level, mind there being a handover of the film series, providing that handover doesn’t play merry hell with the narrative, and it does here. There’s no real sense of any story being told here, a few allusions to mortality aside, but even that’s buried under a convoluted plot and space anomalies that might as well be a flying magic wand, for all the sense it makes.
This is a confused misbegotten mess of a film, although in its defence it’s a well produced confused misbegotten mess of a film, which along with a highly able cast affords it a baseline level of watchability that’s perhaps above the worst of the Original Series outings, but not by a great deal. I’d give this one a miss.
Awoken from a nightmare inside of a nightmare, Captain Picard is thinking about his experience of being assimilated by the Federation’s most dangerous enemy, the Borg, when he is contacted by Starfleet to inform him that the long-dreaded invasion of the Federation by the beehive-like cyborg menace has begun, but, given that he was once part of them, his presence is not required. Unsurprisingly Picard doesn’t take this well, and he is soon ignoring orders so that he can partake in the entertaining, if short, space battle that gets the film going.
What is, perhaps, surprising, though, is that the invasion force sent to destroy the Federation and assimilate Earth consists of a whopping one ship. Now, to be charitable, perhaps the idea simply is that Starfleet is so comprehensively overmatched by the Borg that a single vessel is sufficient, but it does feel a little underwhelming. There is another possibility, of course: can we all say “budgetary constraint”? But either way, the idea that an entire civilisation could be destroyed by one solitary spaceship does mean that absolutely no method of overcoming such a foe can seem in any way believable. Resistance is indeed futile. But maybe I’m overthinking this. They could just upload a virus from a comparatively stone-aged computer or something, I suppose… Or perhaps fire a torpedo down an exhaust port of an otherwise gargantuan and impenetrable machine…
Just in the nick of time Picard and the Enterprise warp into the battle, and amidst the wreckage of pretty much the entire fleet, the good captain directs the remaining Federation ships to concentrate their fire on the exhaust port of the otherwise gargantuan and impenetrable Borg ship…
Which then promptly explodes. Which is convenient.
But, before its demise, the Borg Cube launches another vessel (in an unexpected and frankly shocking departure, it’s a sphere, not a cube, which is an entirely different basic geometric form!), which then travels back in time to assimilate Earth in the past, and save them from all of the bother of fighting the Federation at all. Dispensing with all of that “slingshot around the sun” nonsense that Captain Kirk had to endure, ol’ Jean-Luc instructs his helmsman to press the “follow the Borg back in time” button, and off they go to Earth shortly after the third world war.
The crew now find themselves with two tasks to undertake: find warp pioneer Zefram Cochran and restore his craft in time to make the warp flight that will finally bring humanity into the wider galaxy, and do a spot of pest control, as some of the Borg have snuck their way onto the Enterprise when they weren’t looking, and have set up shop.
While Wrath of Khan was based on an original series episode, the story of First Contact is by far the most dependent on its TV-bound origin, being a continuation, more or less, of the events of the two part “Best of Both Worlds” episode from the middle of The Next Generation‘s run, but screenwriters Brannon Braga and Ron Moore do a pretty good job of getting the bulk of the necessary information into the film without too many plodding exposition scenes. Alfre Woodard’s fish-out-of-water character Lily is the main recipient of the information, but a combination of good acting, good writing, and the character also being an emotional foil and conscience for Picard, and not simply an exposition device, ensure that bringing newcomers up to speed isn’t painful.
In addition to Lily there are two other notable additions to the cast: the dependable James Cromwell as the crotchety Zefram Cochran, who does a sterling job of making his character a “never meet your heroes” lesson while never actually being a total arsehole (and also managing to almost sell the cringeworthy “And you people, you’re all astronauts on… some kind of star trek” line), and a wonderfully creepy yet sensual Alice Krige as the Borg queen.
Patrick Stewart seems to relish being able to stretch himself a little out of Picard’s usual calm and assured demeanour as Trek once again touches on Moby-Dick, but with Picard this time in the role of Ahab. Levar Burton and Brent Spiner are in a comfortable groove as LaForge and Data, though Spiner is given some engaging scenes with the queen involving literal temptations of the flesh, and there a few entirely tolerable fan-service cameos (Dwight “Murdock from the A-Team” Schultz and Robert Picardo).
Marina Sirtis’s Counsellor Troi is still, naturally, given precisely zero of importance to do, but she is allowed a few moments of fun and relaxation that are entertaining enough, while helping to sell that there is a camaraderie, warmth and friendship amongst the crew. Talking of relaxation, director Jonathan Frakes is remarkably at ease, and at peak Riker, in the relative handful of scenes in which he is on-screen, a not-inconsequential feat, and indeed the writers, the director, and all of the regular cast seem to be on top form, the whole thing seeming like a well-oiled machine with everything firing pretty much just right. So it’s a complete bloody mystery how this was forgotten wholesale for the next two outings…
With everyone reassured that the NG crew could produce a decent film, there must have been some anticipation coming into 98’s Insurrection. Let us take a moment to reflect on how those poor should must have been crushed after watching this thin streak of pish.
Data’s supposed to be on secondment to a task force secretly studying what appears to be a idyllic little post-industrial town on a planet home to the Ba’ku, but he goes mental, blowing their cover and can only be reined in from his madness by Picard and crew showing up and singing Gilbert and Sullivan operettas at him. They’ve never quite been able to nail these openings, the NG crew, have they?
This nonsense over with, we can get on to the meat of the piece with the crew uncovering the reason why the Federation and their wilfully, almost comically horrible allies the Son’a are so interested in the plant. The planet’s rings emit a unique “metaphysical particle” or “magic” that restores the Ba’ku, making them effectively immortal.
While the crew get to know the inhabitants of the town, who it turns out are highly technologically advanced but came over all Luddite for some reason not particularly well explained, the Son’a and some corrupt Federation higher-ups plot to remove the Ba’ku from their home and steal the magic planet for their own uses. For the greater good, as they explain it.
Once Picard gets wind of this, he decides that it’s very much not cricket, and sends Riker and Geordi off with the Enterprise to get word of this to the rest of the Federation while he beams down with the rest of the command staff and a crate of guns to lead a guerrilla war, protecting the Ba’ku against the annoying drones the Son’a are using to capture them, leading to an hour or so of boring CG shooting galleries interspersed with exhilarating scenes of sitting about in caves talking about stuff of little to no consequence.
This is perhaps a dismissive way to deal with two hour and twenty minutes of film, but it feels very much like nothing of consequence happens in this film, and it’s almost immediately forgettable. The obvious jive with something like this would be to dismiss it as an extended television episode, but frankly in this case that does a real disservice to the television series which has produced far more interesting multipart episodes than this vacuous nonsense.
I suppose we should congratulate them for picking, largely, one set of antagonists and rolling with them, and giving them a an understandable motive for their actions, even if it is pretty small time even when the twist of their true identity is factored in. It’s a shame that they’ve chosen to apply this new-found understanding of how to write baddies to perhaps the worst set of them they’ve created.
While Star Trek‘s never really been as great at exploring themes as it’s more ardent supporters claim it is, there’s normally at least some attempt at it somewhere in these films, but if there was in Insurrection it has entirely escaped me. Not all that unlikely, to be honest. There’s no obvious point to this film, other than perhaps forced relocation is a bad thing? Thanks for that heads-up. I think it was shooting for just being an entertaining slice of hokum, but, well, it isn’t. Clearly it thinks it is a very funny film. It is not a very funny film. It is not a funny film. I’m struggling whether to even call it a film.
Really the only redeeming feature of this film is that it allows me to insert an obscure reference to the excellent Sega Saturn puzzle game Baku Baku Animal, although as you’ll have noticed by this sentence, not a particularly organic one. Ces’t la vie. Avoid.
Ah, Star Trek Nemesis. Or: The One Where the DVD Packaging is Completely Different to EVERY OTHER STAR TREK! Not that this bothers me much. Just ignore that twitch, it’s nothing…
Starting in light-hearted fashion with Captain Picard’s best-man speech at Commander Riker and Counsellor Troi’s wedding reception, the familiar crew members are all ticked off early doors before discovery of a signal of android-origin sends the Enterprise to a planet near Romulan space. (As an aside, how good are the Enterprise’s sensors that it can pick up one robot from several billion miles away? Are androids like neutron stars? And if their equipment is that sensitive, why isn’t the android THAT IS ON THE SAME SHIP not sending them absolutely bananas? I should warn you now that I may get a little nitpicky about this film…) Ahem. OK, where was I? Nuclear robots, yes. On this planet Picard, Data and Worf run about the surface in a dune buggy with mounted machine gun (archetypal Star Trek stuff, this), and encounter first the buried parts of an android, and then hostile local inhabitants, and make a swift-exit. Back aboard the Enterprise, the disassemabled android, identical in appearance to Data, is put back together, and reveals he is called B4 (haha, Before! Geddit?), and is also a simpleton.
Picard then gets a call from Admiral Janeway, and is told to go to Romulus (the Enterprise now conveniently being the closest Federation vessel to the Empire) where a coup has apparently happened, and the new government want to talk peace. On Romulus he finds that the new Praetor is a human called Shinzon (Tom Hardy), who is a clone of Captain Picard, created for some ill-conceived plot to at some point replace the real Picard. After a change of government, the plan was shelved, and, despite it being made clear that political assassinations and ruthless killing are the bread and butter of the Romulan Empire, this extraneous human child was unaccountably sent to do slave labour in a dilithium mine instead of being killed.
Obviously, for a weak, lost, human child, with hereditary disease, being thrust into an incredibly harsh and hostile environment was the perfect opportunity for him to become a naval commander, secretly construct a phenomenally advanced and powerful Stupidly Big Spaceship™, and overthrow the Romulan senate. Best not think too hard about that one, though that is a little difficult as it is the basis for the entire film. Yeeeahhh….
It soon transpires that there is no peace plan, and that Shinzon really wants Picard’s body as he is dying from some rapidly-accelerating genetic problem, and he needs a complete DNA transfusion, which is totally a thing. After discovering this (and Counsellor Troi having to endure a telepathic rape), the Enterprise and its crew attempt to flee, but are chased down by the Stupidly Big Spaceship™.
Here the film picks up noticeably, and we are treated to much more action than has been seen in any Trek film since The Next Generation crew took over (and they also appear to have beefed-up the Enterprise – the space battle becomes more of a slugfest, with the opposing craft being able to take a pounding much as they did back in the days of Kirk, rather than one or two hits being sufficient to end things – wayhey!). This section whips along at a brisk and satisfying pace, with plenty of explosions to keep the audience smiling, as well as keeping you from thinking too hard about the plot.
The rapid advancement of CGI between the production of Insurrection and Nemesis means that, despite having a near identical budget, this looks notably shinier and more filmic than the preceding film, and this set-piece battle still looks pretty decent, but it’s pretty much the only way in which time has been kind to it. When I reviewed this back in our theOneliner guise I was much kinder than I feel now, and on my most recent viewing I dwelt a lot upon the film’s myriad faults, most notably that Shinzon appears to have no motive to destroy humanity, this being a plan seemingly lifted wholesale from the “Crappy Bond Villains’ Playbook”. Not that it should matter, because why didn’t the Romulans just kill Shinzon when they had no use for him?!?
The frustrating thing is that, like the best of Star Trek, there are some interesting ideas in here. When this was released, human cloning was a particularly hot-button topic, coming as it did only a handful of years after Dolly the sheep was created, and when attempts to successfully clone humans were beginning in earnest. In Nemesis the implications of this technology is manifest as questions of nature vs nurture, and whether we are more than just what our DNA dictates. But good luck finding more than a moment or two of this to engage your mind.
In the end Nemesis is like a brain-dead Wrath of Khan, complete with the death of the beloved Spock-analogue Data. Except that this death is handled in such a ham-fisted way it’s pretty much a non-event, and the felony is compounded by having the cop-out ready-made Data replacement of B4 highlighted at the end, totally undermining any emotion you may have felt at the death of such an integral and well-liked member of the crew.
There is a silver-lining to be found here, though, however unexpected, and that is that finally a use has actually been found for Deanna “I’m sensing aggression from the people shooting at us” Troi, as she helps to locate Shinzon’s ship. Praise be! Just try not to think too hard, though, about the scene where first officer Data leaves Troi in charge, indicating that in the future the third-most senior member of the crew of a military vessel is the fecking therapist.
I’ll leave you with just one question: why is the storage compartment of the dune buggy exactly the shape and size of the android’s head? It’s almost like the designers read the script…
We round off with a really brief run-through of our thoughts on Deep Space Nine, Voyager, Enterprise, and the recent rebooted film series.
Right, that’s your lot. Find your hook and sling it.
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