Director: Jonathan Frakes
Cast: Patrick Stewart, Brent Spiner, James Cromwell*, Alfre WoodardI**
Have I Seen it Before: Oh, yes… I have the most vivd memory of coming out of the theater in November of 1996, getting picked up by my parents. When they asked me how it was. I said, “The greatest two hours*** of my life.” They said, “You’re young yet.” Nearly twenty-five years later, I’m still not entirely sure what they were talking about.
Did I Like It: See the above comment.
At their core, the four films based on The Next Generation are a mixed bag. The producers behind the various television series of the era maybe never quite got out of their television mindset, and so one could argue that we just got four feature-length new episodes featuring an a-plot for Picard (Stewart), and a B-plot for Data (Spiner). The rest of the cast—the main draw for that section of the audience that was likely to buy multiple tickets—got pieces of business.
But in 1996—the thirtieth anniversary of the franchise—all of the cylinders were firing, and this, Picard and company’s undisputedly greatest film comes to us. Like The Wrath of Khan (1982) before it, it wisely mines one of the better television entires and makes a more epic sequel, while at the same time not vapidly mimicking the structure of that earlier, GOAT movie, like they did in the near unwatchable Nemesis (2002). There are also plenty of references to Moby Dick.
And still, my opinion of the film has morphed considerably over the years. As I have with most Trek films, I walked out of the theater thinking it was perfect. I’ve been wrong every time. For years afterward, I came to think of Picard’s plot on the starship exacting his revenge on the Borg was the real story, while the prepping of the flight of the Phoenix down on Earth was filler. I now think on Picard’s ahabbing as mostly fine, if a little redundant of action star schtick which will always feel ill-fitting for Stewart, and that the real genius of the film is with Cochrane.
He’s a lout. A drinker and a low-level sex maniac. He has a passing interest in his work and legacy, but only in how much it will keep him in the company of his vices.
By most honest accounts, Gene Roddenberry—the creator of Star Trek—was the same way. Producer Rick Berman stated that the idea behind the film was to do something about the creation of Star Trek (i.e., the first meeting of Vulcan and Human, and the introduction of FTL flight).
He wasn’t kidding.
*So I’m sitting at my computer, and for the life of me my mind is blanking on the actor who played the father of warp drive. It eventually came to me, but it has to be a testament to the actor that I don’t think of his name or any of the other numerous roles he’s played. He simply is Zefram Cochrane. Which is all the more impressive as legend has it the first choice for the role was none other than admitted Star Trek mega fan Tom Hanks, but he sadly had to back out as he focused on directing That Thing You Do (1996). He would have been great, too, but here we are.
**It’s one of the near-fatal flaws of the Next Generation films that they never quite found enough for the rest of the cast—especially the funnier than she gets credit for Gates McFadden—to do in their four entries into the canon.
***The runtime is 111 minutes, but I’m sure the trailers were just top-notch.