Star Trek Movies:
Star Trek 7: Generationsstory by Rick Berman, Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga
screenplay by Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga
feature film, 118 minutes
I often felt that writers Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga must have been burnt out after their heavy writing contributions to the last season of the Next Generation, including a very complicated mind-bending finale. To then throw them into writing a feature, without a break, seemed a good way to ensure that there would not be time to find a fresh new idea worthy of a big film, and develop that new idea properly. Their insightful commentary reveals that it didn't quite happen that way - they were instead perhaps too hungry for the chance to write a feature and please the studio, when instead the studio's ill-conceived structural parameters needed to be challenged. In any case, both writers seem to fall back on their old, worn-out crutches. Moore tortures the characters by forcing them to lose things and people that they hold dear, so that they have "big" emotions to put on display for us. Braga creates an unknown "Nexus ribbon" in space (very reminiscent of all the various "cloud"-like phenomena he often used on the series) to help drive the plot and create a time-bending premise.
Perhaps the biggest idea for this feature, certainly from a marketing standpoint, was the concept of bringing William Shatner's Captain Kirk back into a Next Generation story, something many fans for some time had been hoping for. But this idea, like many others in the film, sits like an unused raw ingredient on the counter, never really getting used by a recipe and integrated into a successful main dish. To me, it seemed the whole reason for fans to be excited about this and want it was to see Kirk interact with the various members of the Next Generation crew. The Next Gen. producers had failed to recognize this when they brought Spock back for the "Unification" two-parter in TNG's fifth season, but had got it right with Scotty in the sixth season's "Relics", and subsequently fans voted "Relics" into the top five TNG stories for a marathon of fan favourite episodes. Of course, bringing back Scotty and Chekov with Kirk for this feature should favourably increase the possibilities.
Thus it seemed a complete waste to isolate these three fan-interest guest stars in their own opening sequence, then isolate the Next Generation crew in a relatively short main plot in the middle of the film. And by the time we finally get some interaction between one famous crew and another, it's only Captain to Captain, and thanks to some gratuitous time travel thrown into the mix, we already know that their interaction will be limited to a re-run of an action sequence that we already saw earlier in the film. The bring-back-Shatner stunt really isn't worth it, particularly considering the price his character paid. It makes you wonder what on Earth they were thinking when they devised this story....
Yes, it was the Paramount executives that devised this part of the structure. What were THEY thinking then? The "baton" had already been passed to the Next Generation crew seven years ago on TV, and they were already running with it full speed ahead. This stunt only tripped them up. If Kirk is going to hand them a second "feature film class" baton, let him maintain his speed as well, and be critical to the plot of the film, interacting with the whole crew for most of the story.
Scattered thinking seems to prevail throughout this film. Very little sense of anticipation is created throughout, often leaving the audience without any sense of where the story is going, or why they should invest in it emotionally. In fact, when you think about it, this is one of the most destructive movies of all time. We witness the complete destruction of two solar systems, along with a good number of space vessels. We spend much time on the extended destruction of the television icon of Enterprise D. We moon over the decimation of Guinan's race, the El Aurians. We see many recurring supporting characters from the Next Generation biting the bullet here, often triggering some very depressing mourning scenes. We also see a lot of mourning for things that could have been. And they kill off Captain Kirk not once, but twice. All very destructive, and most often very depressing on top. Needlessly. Pointlessly. I think, in all of that, there isn't much to entice an audience member to WANT to invest in the characters or any of the shenanigans from this movie.
And what is this film about? The writers make some attempt to tie the various strands together with poetic lines alluding to what characters do with the limited time of their lives, and so on, but it's all quite vague and really feels like a desperate afterthought. One of my biggest beefs about the film is the idiotic sacrifice the writers made of Picard's brother and nephew. The story wasn't worth it; the scenes of Picard that it gave us weren't worth it. The story possibilities from keeping them alive, as well as simply having respect for them, I think were stronger. For my part, I think they were victims of Moore's writing desperation.
All things considered though, at least Brent Spiner's Commander Data has a decent sub-plot concerning his new growth with his emotion chip. Even though some of his scenes go the wrong way, most of them work, injecting a much needed, light-hearted, comic relief to the film. Most of this movie's best moments are Data's, and fans won't go wrong investing in him here.
It seems most of the production team and crew have simply carried over from the TV show, and many of them seem to be burnt out as well. There is a lot of dramatic inertia in this film, some of it scripted, but other portions arising from the choices of director David Carson and his editor(s). Scenes often drone on just doing what they've already done, showing us more of what they've already shown us. Ideally, each scene and each shot should give us new information that moves the story forward. A classic example of dramatic inertia occurs when they decide to separate the two parts of the Enterprise D ship. We've already seen this many times in the series' most famous episodes, and it usually occurs fairly quickly and with minimal fuss. Here, the whole boring business is dragged out into a full fledged sequence, padded with scenes of people rushing to get to places that they logically should have already been in, if one follows the logic of the established ship layout. Children should already be in the domestic areas and crew quarters in the saucer section, particularly if red alerts and battle conditions have already been established. Additionally, both sickbays are already in the saucer section, are they not? (I'm sitting here with an official 180-page technical manual of Enterprise D, which conveniently neglects to give us the answer.)
The film's camera work feels too loose and disorganized as well, as though it wanders around too often without any idea of what to focus on to make the story more compelling. The crutch of excessive camera shaking during any and all action scenes seems to be relied on too heavily for good taste. It's not too bad on widescreen presentations, but 4:3 pan and scan versions can really make the viewer seasick. In the end it feels like rushed work on a television schedule, instead of the carefully planned, glorious shots that a feature deserves. Carson did far better work on one of his early TNG TV episodes: "Yesterday's Enterprise".
Carson seems to be on his least effective footing when shooting Shatner, perhaps not asking for extra takes or better angles when he should. This problem seems to be at its worst during the climactic action, as Picard and Kirk dance back and forth, changing their minds and repeating their actions many times. Arggh. This also seems to be one of the least effective performances Shatner has ever given his character - perhaps also partly because the ease of working in his established relationships with Nimoy and Kelley (or even Doohan and Koenig) can't be relied upon when he's working with Patrick Stewart or the actor playing the Captain of Enterprise B, and he's not in command himself. Basically not enough work seems to have been done to find a charismatic style in which Kirk can function with these new characters.
Indeed, most of Enterprise B seems to be filled with cheeseball stereotype characters.... and it's hard for them to appear as anything else in the awkward, formal, gushing-over-their-idols scene, or the technobabble emergency which they are restricted to. The Next Generation crew themselves are in better form. Despite not getting great stuff to do from the script, (and indeed in Crusher or Worf's case, having next to nothing to do) they seem to know best how to handle it. Patrick Stewart himself gives his performance a lot, and makes it work. In the end though, most of the scenes of the TNG crew investigating and solving the mystery of this film's main plot work very well and are one of the movie's strongest points, and these sections only become hindered by Picard and Data's separate personal hang-ups.
Key among the good performances in the film is Whoopi Goldberg, who is not only as deep and interesting as ever, but also really sells the idea of the Nexus and its appeal from her exposition. She does more here to substantiate the motivation of the villain and the challenge that will face Picard and Kirk than any other element of the film. Once again, she pretty much upstages Troi and really owns the archetypal "mentor" role. Even more bizarre, at the time this was made in 1994, Goldberg was revered as the highest paid (if not most valuable) actor in all of Hollywood. Why then wasn't she given due screen credit and marketed as one of the film's stars? The only sensible answer to me is financial politics, which she probably would not allow to prevent her from participating in a franchise she held so dear. Better to go uncredited than not to appear at all. I'm sure I won't be the only Trek fan saluting her choices.
As for the story's main villain himself, I think this really becomes the first example of the bizarre and misguided notion that you need to try to outdo Ricardo Montalban's Khan when devising a story for a Star Trek feature. Why? Star Trek's Four and Five worked very well without a hardcore villain, while Star Trek Six had a whole conspiracy of nasties for our heroes to discover and tackle. The part of Dr. Soren isn't remotely in Khan's league, nor should it be. Why the crew were pleased to tell themselves that he was is beyond me. That aside, Malcolm McDowell does well with the role, and gives him many memorable moments. Not bad.
I groaned at the inclusion of both the Klingons and their Bird of Prey vehicle, thinking Klingons had REALLY been overdone in the feature films (indeed, either they or their craft had appeared in every single one). Hope for more Romulan involvement was quickly dashed. That said, at least Brian Thompson makes an appearance as a Klingon here. Perhaps he is still playing the same character that once befriended Commander Riker during his season two cultural exchange?
Dennis McCarthy had been scoring alternating TV episodes of the Next Generation since it began, although his creativity seemed to have become scarce since his rival Ron Jones left during TNG's fourth season. For this movie, he seems to realize that he needs to come out of the closet and do something bigger than the low key washes of orchestral chords that he often used in the last years of the TV show, yet true inspiration seems to elude him. He manages to come up with a main theme for this film, but it doesn't sound very different from the idle phrases he often played during TV episodes, phrases which never seem sure exactly what emotion they are trying to express. At times here, it almost sounds as if the music is lapsing back into the alternate main title theme he created for "Encounter at Farpoint", or the main theme for Deep Space Nine, during which the music seems to force itself to switch to something new and original. The end result is rather lost. I still prefer Jerry Goldsmith, James Horner, and even Cliff Eidelman anyday.
One of the film's best sequences is definitely stellar cartography. Although marred by a poorly thought-out moment for Data in the script, the awesome graphics more than make up for it. Cool. At the time when this film first came out, I was already heavily involved in researching the distances between stars in our section of the galaxy to create a 3D model that accurately changed the brightness of each star as the observer moved through the galaxy. Watching Picard's version certainly made me envious! All this is used efficiently to give critical information for the main plot, so it is a huge success.
But the plot has some holes. First of all, it feels like Braga and Moore have a video game mentality when it comes to the meaning of the destruction of a star. When you kill or destroy something in a video game, it quickly and conveniently disappears, right? Hmmm. Following the logic of this film's science, stopping all fusion in a star would still leave it with the same mass, and therefore same gravitational pull on objects around it, would it not? If not, this is one of those questions someone on the crew should ask and have addressed on screen. Still, great idea; love the graphics.
Hole number two concerns Scotty's beliefs. Here, he witnesses the end of Kirk as history records it. This necessarily must happen before Scotty gets locked in a transporter beam for 70 odd years until Geordi and the TNG crew can release him in the TNG episode "Relics". So why, in "Relics", does he speculate that Captain Kirk might have come to his rescue? This is sci-fi, so there could be a good reason. Maybe Guinan or some of the other El-Aurians let it be known that getting sucked into the Nexus wasn't really death, and Scotty picked up on this between what we last see of him in this movie, and what we first see in "Relics". Or maybe he was just woozy from spending 70-odd years in a transporter beam, and had a momentary brain fart. Nevertheless, it is a hole that may leave many a dedicated fan scratching their head.
Lastly, let's look specifically at the time travel in this story, without which I might not have bothered to write this review at this time. I'll give Braga and Moore some points for using a device that mimics the timeless qualities of the soul in an "afterlife" type of situation, which is one better than the overly scientific "technobabble only" devices they usually employ. I'll also concede that the only way they'll get a good interaction between any of Kirk's crew and any of Picard's is to tackle the 70 odd years separating the two.
But as usual, lack of complete thinking on the subject leads us to plot hole number three. Coming up to Kirk and Picard's exit from the Nexus, we get a brief visual recap of the many events in the "real world" leading up to the moment, which clearly show Picard's past self stuck in the hole in the rock while Soren shoots at him. Yes, we know Soren somehow miraculously missed. So what ever happens to that past self of Picard? If our current Picard comes out of the Nexus at this point in time and space, there should now be two of him here. He could double-team Soren even without Kirk, or triple-team him with Kirk. Or, if coming out of the Nexus is purely a "Quantum Leap"-style thing swapping Picard's soul back into the physical body that was already there, he must be envious of Kirk's ability to materialize a new body out of thin air. Something's not consistent here. Ideally, Moore and Braga should have dropped the necessity of rewinding events for the climax, which only causes the audience to anticipate a boring re-run, and brings about many of Star Trek's usual set of time travel problems.
Another problem is possibly traced back to Spock's death in Star Trek II and his miraculous return to life in Star Trek III. Ever since then, sci-fi movies have had a generally callous, we-didn't-really-mean-it attitude towards dishing death out temporarily, imitating Spock's stunt numerous times. (X-Men III in particular seemed obsessed with this idea). Here, if Guinan can come out of the Nexus, and yet still be in it, surely the same is true for Kirk, Picard, Soren, and everyone else that ever got sucked into it as well. Metaphysics has a way of strengthening this thought, if all possible choices a person can make, ARE made in alternate quantum realities, and indeed when returned to a pure soul in the afterlife, the soul remembers having lived them all, which is the flavour one gets in the Nexus. Watching Kirk die a second time in one movie, one wonders if that really is his end. The Nexus looks like a good device for preserving the possibility of pulling out another Kirk anytime another Trek story thinks it can get good mileage out of it. For that matter, you have to wonder if another Soren won't pop out of the Nexus as well (although, he probably doesn't have the motivation to help one of his alternate selves). Essentially, if you can rewind the action once, you can do it over and over again, and it gets more dull each time.
It's almost laughable to see how lost the original ending was. Thank God they had a re-shoot, making a significant improvement, although with a script like this, no re-shoot can really fix its biggest problems. Picard gets a good final climactic action to solve the crisis (something the movies are usually very good at giving him), while Kirk provides a critical assist. As final dynamics go, not bad at all.
Read the next Star Trek review: "Star Trek 8: First Contact"
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Article written by Martin Izsak. Comments on this article are welcome. You may contact the author from this page: