Director: David Carson
Cast: Patrick Stewart, Brent Spiner, William Shatner, Whoopi Goldberg
Have I Seen it Before: I saw it before I ever saw it. More on that in a minute.
Did I Like It: It’s exactly what we the fans probably wanted from a first Next Generation film, but it may be that we don’t really know what we want, as the film ultimately winds up a disappointment.
I feel this film far more than I think about it, and I think that’s the fundamental truth about it.
It is the summer of 1994. Star Trek: The Next Generation has just gone off the air with an epic, perfectly-formed final episode that doesn’t really serve as a finale. All of the characters—in true TV fashion—haven’t changed. The TV audience—including 9-year-old me—are fine with that. We know that while this is the end of the weekly adventures of the crew of the USS Enterprise NCC-1701-D, and we wouldn’t have to wait long to see them again.
And so we come into the first Next Generation film with a list of things that the show had never quite addressed. Could the saucer section of the Enterprise act as an escape pod for the rest of the ship and—if need be—land safely on a planet? Who were the people that served aboard the presumably Excelsior-class Enterprise-B? What could possibly bring down the Enterprise-D? What happened to James T. Kirk (Shatner) after Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)? Was he still alive in the 24th century, the time of Picard (Stewart) and company*?
This film lives in a unique space in my brain. At a Star Trek Convention that summer, I managed to get a hold of the screenplay for the film for twenty dollars. It was such a wild boon, knowing what was going to happen in a movie months before its release. I was transfixed, and have been perhaps compulsively interested in screenwriting ever since**. I was struck by the interplay between Captain Kirk and Picard, two men who could understand something about each other that almost no one else could. I took the destruction of the Enterprise-D as a hit to the gut. That ship was the safest of safe places for seven years, and in this watching I was struck by the despair of the kids being evacuated during the destruction scene (even though that evacuation doesn’t really make any sense) still manages to hit me.
And with all of this fundamentally interesting stuff, the film just doesn’t work.
The time travel is all over the place, even more starkly noticeable as the film comes sandwiched between two of the better time travel stories the franchise has ever done, the aforementioned final episode “All Good Things…” and the next Next Generation film, Star Trek: First Contact (1996).
The inclusion of not the whole original crew in the first reel, but instead just Scotty (James Doohan) and Chekov (Walter Koenig) feels off. The parts were clearly written for Bones and Spock, but instead the 90’s version of a control-F was done by way of a re-write. Why was Chekov so interested in taking over the medical care of the Lakul survivors? Why was he recruiting nurses out of the reporters? It boggles the mind why this scene didn’t get another pass, or there wasn’t a more concerted effort to make Nimoy, Kelley and the rest of the remaining crew more happy with the prospect of one last hurrah.
I can’t hate the film, but it is absolutely impossible to get over it’s more glaring flaws. Which, for an even-numbered film in the era when the even/odd dichotomy of Star Trek films still mattered, that’s not so bad.
Really? Had they not already made the episode in their third season, a re-worked version of “Yesterday’s Enterprise” might have been the perfect framework for a Kirk meets Picard story.
And it would have allowed the entire original crew to actually have things to do in the film, enough so that the actors might have been inspired to show up.
*Indeed, entire sections of the Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual by Rick Sternbach and Michael Okuda and the first edition of the Star Trek Encyclopedia by Michael and Denise Okuda are devoted to some of these questions, to the point where I think those authors could have made a level-headed pitch at a story-by credit on this film. How do I know all of this? It was a weird childhood and there may have been some—properly researched, mind you—fan fiction written there in the 90s. Lay of me.
**It should bear mentioning that I also got a glimpse of the screenplay for Star Trek Nemesis (2002) months before that film was released via a leak on the internet and was filled with a melancholy that could only be countered by the hope that the film would improve in the directing or the editing. It wasn’t. It was somehow worse than the flimsy script. So, point for Generations on being an entertaining read, if an uneven final product.