Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Nitpickery -- Star Trek: Generations

Alright, the first of the Next Gen Star Trek movies…which I am for some reason tackling third to last, but whatever.  In any case, this movie apparently only got made because Gene Roddenberry died, and Gene did not want the two generations of Star Trek to ever merge.  Honestly, the idea might have worked, if most of the original cast weren’t so old.  DeForest Kelley couldn't get the insurance required to appear on film, and that knocked him out of the cast.  Leonard Nimoy was offered the director's chair, and quite frankly, I think he could have done a good job.  However, he had problems with the script and didn't have time to fix them.  So he passed.  Apparently he passed on acting in it too.

I don't know why Nichelle Nichols wasn't in it, but George Takei refused to do the part if it meant that he would have to serve for Kirk again.  He claimed Sulu worked too hard to get a demotion, even a temporary one.  I don't know about Sulu, but Takei certainly worked hard.  He's been begging for captaincy since Star Trek 2.  Thing is, the movie makers cast a girl as his daughter, so he could at least have made a cameo to see his daughter on her first job on a spaceship.

So that left Scotty and Chekov to appear in the movie that was supposed to merge Original Series and Next Generation.  It's at this point that the filmmakers really should have rewritten the movie.  After all, if you have only three of the actors, and a three that don't really make sense together, then why bother?  Just take Kirk to the future and be done with it.  Or don't bring Kirk in at all.  Or, since Vulcans live long, have future Spock meet past Kirk and they can hang out.

Or just, y'know, make a Next Gen movie.

When the original cast heard that the Next Generation television show would be going into production, James Doohan said, "We are Star Trek", referring to the first cast.  This is ultimately proved true, as this movie demonstrates.  None of the Next Gen cast really take off here.  Enough rambling.  Because the movie's premise isn't quite so bad as First Contact's, I'll do the plot summary before getting into the points.

Nitpickery is spoilers.

So Captain Kirk, Scotty and Chekov all go to the construction of the Enterprise B.  During what should have been an uneventful celebration, and in a true moment of Kobayashi Maru, a couple of ships are in trouble from a giant space ribbon and need to be rescued.  A few are saved, but it costs the Enterprise B Captain Kirk, who disappears into space when a part of the ship is ripped out.  Cut to the future, and we never see the original cast again.  Lovely.

Then, in the future, Picard is promoting Worf when he finds out his family is dead, and he has to investigate the doings of Romulans on a space station.  It turns out that the space station is being run by one of the survivors, Dr. Soran, from the ships 78 years ago the day Kirk died.  Him and some Klingons have been working on a way to get to a place called the Nexus, which Guinan, another survivor from that fateful day, is able to explain to them.  It's a place where everyone's fantasies come true and they live forever.  Dr. Soran is going to blow up a sun to make the ribbon fly into a barren world and pick him up.  Picard has to stop him because destroying this sun will bring death to a populated planet in the system.

Confused?  Yeah.  It's like that.

---- Ten Things to Say about Star Trek: Generations ----

10.  This at least feels a little like the rest of the Star Trek movies prior to it.

Something about the way that this was shot made this film feel like it was closer related to the previous films.  Granted, there were a lot of things that were different, but the overall cinematography was more or less in line with the previous films.  Perhaps because there was less digital nonsense thrown around and the shots were wider.  Of course, there is the obnoxious way they made the Enterprise way too dark.  Look, these people are in space, and psychologically speaking, people need light.  We can't function without it.  Spending time not only in the void of space but in a really dark ship, you're talking several cases of depression and cabin fever.

When I rewatched this film for the first time in years, I was astounded by how the beginning actually felt like a Star Trek movie.  Sure, the writing was a tad wonky, Sulu's daughter wasn't played by the best actress, and the guy playing the new captain of the Enterprise B was pretty shabby, but it still felt mostly Trek.  Probably because the original people were there, and as Doohan said, they are Star Trek.  Sure, having Kirk, Chekov, and Scotty there as a group didn't really make sense.  It really should have been something like Chekov was the new captain, and Kirk was visiting him to say goodbye.  Scotty could have been there adding a few touches to the ship as an outside contractor, or just as a favor to Chekov.  Well, it doesn't necessarily need to be that way.  Basically I'm just saying that the three characters should have been on the ship for three different reasons.  It would have felt more natural.

Enough bickering.  This point is supposed to be positive.  In any case, seeing Kirk again made me happy, even though he's nowhere near my favorite character.  Man, did this movie emphasize that the Next Gen crew really can't hold it up to the first crew.  However, I almost believed in them, for a minute.  Despite its flaws, I actually like the beginning, and right up to the point where Picard finds out that his family is dead, this is a good movie.  After that it all just goes to crap.

Still, the camera angles are good, and the imagery of the Next Gen crew hanging out on a sailboat in the holodeck is a fun idea.  Why in the world didn't the crew think Data pushing the doctor in the water is funny?  That was hilarious.  She totally had it coming.

Oh, and back when they were in the original series time period, it was nice to see Tim Russ cameo.  He played Tuvok in Voyager, and quite frankly I like him better as a human.  And I also loved seeing Chekov actually give orders with all the authority his rank should have garnered him years ago.  And I liked seeing Guinan in the past.  I didn't realize before now how much I like her.  Heck, the only thing I plain out don't like about the beginning is that the female crew members in Next Gen's holodeck were in men's uniforms, and face it, girls ain't shaped like guys.  Kinda awkward there.  But even that wasn't really so bad.

And then the rest of the movie happened.

9. Picard's family dying is the worst thing ever.

Did anyone see the episode where Picard goes to Earth and sees his family?  It was nice.  His brother was a jerk about Picard becoming a captain, but the nephew was cool.  Honestly, they were some great characters, and they added a lot of personality that the show needed.  And now, come movie time, they're dead.  From a fire.  Fire does not kill quickly.

So not only is Picard's family farm gone, but his only living relatives are dead, and there's no one to carry on the family name because Picard never married.  I've always wondered why Picard didn't just have a wife on board the ship, but y'know, whatever.  As a kid I was horrified at the idea he'd have no lineage, and even today the idea that the 25th century sees no hint of Picard's descendants totally bugs me.

What makes it worse is that this serves extremely little point to the story.  We at no point see Picard's family before they die, nor does Picard make a choice that affects them, or vice versa.  They just die off-camera.  Come on, if you're going to make Picard upset, at least do it in a way that brings the drama to the screen.

And then there's the question of why they wanted to make Picard an emotional wreck in the first place.  Does it really add anything to his performance?  Is this supposed to be a comparison with how Dr. Soran lost his family to the Borg?  Seriously, it does nothing to the plot.  If this is supposed to be the "handing off" movie from Kirk to Picard, then why show Picard having great turmoil in his life?  Why not show him at the peak of his intelligence, where both Kirk and the audience can see clearly why he deserves to be captain of the Enterprise?  Why make a movie that makes Picard question his choice of Starfleet over family when he's supposed to be representing the new generation of Star Fleet?

The death of his family is not only a huge blow to the franchise, but it's also plot pointless for the film.  It simply does not have enough of an effect on the plot to overcome fan shock at their demise.  We don't need another Kirk who lost his son to the Klingons.  Picard is the anti-Kirk, remember?

8.  Shut up, Data.  Nobody cares.

This is probably Brent Spiner's best acting job in the Next Gen movies -- until he puts the emotions chip in.  He then becomes the Jar Jar Binks of Trek.  Every single emotion he expresses in just the most extravagant, stupid ways, and it's painful to watch.  Just yuck.

What makes this worse is that again, it's an emotional issue that just serves no purpose.  You're supposed to, apparently, compare Data's emotions to Picard's, but is Data's pain really comparable?  Sure, he's upset that Geordi has been captured, but there's always the chance he'll be rescued.  There's no coming back for Picard's family.  Besides that, Data has lived years to this point without emotion, and has always come through reasonably well.  It stands to reason that even with the emotions chip he'll still realize that there's no reason to be afraid.  He's stronger than a human and can withstand a lot of damage that would kill.  Would Data really cower like a child afraid of the dark because of scrawny Dr. Soran and the dumbest gun in the universe?

Why in the world did he decide to install the emotions chip anyway?  He knew that he had business to accomplish on the ship, and he also knew that the emotions chip could render him nuts.  Why didn't he wait until he had some vacation time to put it in?  Quite frankly, Picard should have ordered him to remove it, as it's interfering with his ability to do the job.

If Data somehow had to overcome emotion to do something important, that would be one thing.  But he doesn't.  In fact, he doesn't do anything that couldn't have been done by redshirt #3.  I already disliked Data. They really didn't have to persuade me by making him the token obnoxious character with the exact same plot he's had for eight years.

7. Y'know, I'm kind of tired of Klingons being the "bad guys for hire" in Trek.

It's just happened far too often.  In the Motion Picture, they were the random extras that got killed by V'Ger before V'Ger understood what was going on.  They weren't in Wrath of Khan, thankfully, but in The Search for Spock they were the antagonists out of nowhere.  In Voyage Home, you have a Klingon politician bickering about Kirk, in Final Frontier they're literally there for no reason other than they want to shoot stuff, and in Undiscovered Country they finally get an appearance that makes perfect sense.  Then in Voyager's last episode and much of DS9, they become a joke race, treated like half-animals with a backwards culture.

Y'know, if five of the six last movies had Klingons in them, don't you think it's about time to give them a rest? Maybe treat the Klingons with some dignity for once?  But oh no, not only did this movie needlessly shove in Klingons (if Romulans were after Dr. Soran, then why not use them instead?), but it used Lursa and B'etor, arguably two of the most comic Klingons to ever exist.  This performance doesn't inspire anyone to take them more seriously, and they end up being as pointless as that dorky boy giving Kirk trouble in Star Trek V.  One of them was pregnant last time she appeared in the show, right?  So where's the baby?  And why are they so accommodating to Dr. Soran and his insolence?  Shouldn't they have shoved him in a locker and taken his lunch money by now?

Oh, and Paramount?  It was painfully bad of you to use the exact same shot from the previous film to show the Klingons being destroyed.  Painfully bad.

Remember in the Next Generation television show where Klingons actually had some dignity?  I miss that. Enough whining.  Let's say something nice now.

6. I like the Christmas scene.

Really, this scene is quite magical.  It's shot perfectly, though upon watching the behind the scenes I found out they had to shoot it twice to get it right.  Their work was worth it.  Everything not only looks gorgeous, but also to a T what Picard would want as his own little paradise -- assuming there's a room somewhere in the back where he's got his antiques.  Sure, Picard was always weird around children on the show, but he got used to them over time, and it's always different when they're your own.

There's really nothing quite like being swept up into a Charles Dickens-like fantasy world with mannerable children in fancy clothes enjoying their presents under a tree.  Picard is adorable in this scene, really enjoying with his whole heart this fantasy.  My only qualms with it are that the flashing ornament thing was a bit too obvious, and that Picard seemed to have far too easy a time letting go of it.  Then again, if Picard is really as uncertain about children as he is on the show, then maybe he's not really capable of suddenly accepting children when he hasn't gone through the precursor romance with the wife and then waiting for the child to be born.  He'd get time to absorb everything that way.

I also like the scene where Kirk is chopping wood.  Kirk's fantasy is pretty cool too, where he gets to live out in nature and ride horses.  I believe Kirk's fantasy a little less, as Kirk was always driven and doesn't appear to have any place he considers home more than a starship.  Of course, since Picard's was a "what if things had been different" scenario, Kirk's can be too, I guess.

5.  How the fudge does the Nexus actually work?

The trouble with the Nexus is that it has no set rules.  It literally does whatever the plot wants it to do.  I question how one actually enters it.  Picard says that you can't go into the Nexus by just going for it in a ship, but you have to "wait for it to come to you".  Okay.  Why then doesn't Sauron, I mean Soran, just get in a ship in the floating space ribbon's path and wait for it to pass over him?  Why the elaborate scheme to destroy a sun and get the ribbon to pass over a planet?  One might argue that they need the planet's atmosphere to do something and prevent the Nexus from outright destroying them, but this is contradicted by Kirk.  He was in a ship when he got sucked in.  Why doesn't Soran just go out, get a bunch of crazy misfits who want to come too, and take them all into the Nexus on a ship?

At the part where Picard goes into the Nexus, shouldn't the Enterprise also do so?  I mean, they got hit by the Nexus too.  Wait, what if some of the crew didn't want to leave the Nexus?  How does it affect those crewmen when Picard goes backwards and stops them from being picked up from the Nexus in the first place?  Does that mean they get ejected from the Nexus, or do they become shadows like Guinan's image that was there?

Did all the people that "died" in the original series scene end up in the Nexus?  It makes Kirk's rescue attempt look stupid when all it did was keep those people from their own customized fantasy paradise.  Quite frankly, it would have been better to let them all "die", especially since Soran wouldn't have been around to cause trouble if they hadn't been brought back.

4. I don't really like the friendship between Data and Picard.

Not the idea that they are friends, mind you.  That's fine.  It's just that, on the show Picard was closer to Riker and Dr. Crusher, and he hung out with them more often.  Data usually hung out with Geordi.  I know they did it to parallel the friendship between Kirk and Spock, but it comes across as a cheap knock off for no reason.  The reason why Kirk and Spock worked together so well was that they needed each other. Neither of them was the parent.  Data, as someone who doesn't always understand those around him, does need guidance.  I'd prefer it wasn't someone who was the captain of the ship.  Picard's got bigger things on his mind.

The trouble with the two of them is that they're both very dry characters.  Picard goes nuts over archaeology, and Data finds every boring or obvious part of humanity fascinating.  Put them together, and you've got a really dull scene.  Like the one after Tasha Yar's funeral, where they have a very dull conversation on the nature of funerals that anyone who isn't a robot would find insanely obvious.  Blech.

Could this relationship be made to work?  I don't see why not, but the trouble with Data in the Next Gen movies has always been that they chain him to his plot of learning emotions.  He isn't allowed to develop somehow, either into a balance of understanding he'll never really being human, or else some other plot line that allows him to progress as a character and do something different from what he's been doing for years.  He doesn't have any specific interests, like the way Riker likes jazz or Picard likes archaeology.

Data needs some sort desire for what he wants to spend his life doing.  Sure he has the generic goal of being a human, but the thing about humans is that we have unique interests and perspectives.  Data is so constantly open to everything that he hasn't decided on what he likes or dislikes.  That was cute at the beginning, but Data has had a chance to develop.  He needs to have some idyllic future he wants to work towards, like being a Starfleet captain, or studying a certain topic, or designing buildings.  Just something that Data wants that not necessarily everyone else might go for.  After all, he doesn't want to be just some dude on a spaceship for all of his existence, does he?

Speaking of which, it was high time Riker got his own ship.  It got really creepy towards the end there that he would stick like glue to a captain that could do well enough without him.

3.  It's time to point out the plot holes!

- During the rescue mission early on in the movie, Sulu's daughter said "the starboard vessel's hull is collapsing!"  She was wrong.  It was the port one.  Usually I don't notice stuff like this, but it was really out of place that they couldn't just reshoot the dialogue or else reverse the special effects on the view screen.  That's friggin' lazy.

- When Soran's first space station is destroyed, he's buried by a pile of rubble.  Riker pulls him out of the rubble, despite the fact that doing so could really tear up someone who has a back injury or tore a muscle, or just has any sort of severe injury.  And when heavy stuff falls on you, severe injury is pretty likely.  How fortunate that Soran is apparently invincible.

- Soran really shouldn't act like a creeper when he's trying to get Picard to do what he wants.  In the Ten-forward lounge he comes across as so nutty that no one in their right mind would give him what he wants. Don't get me wrong, I think Malcolm McDowell was very Star Trek in his role as a demented villain, he just was forced by the writers into doing dumb things.

- So is there a reason why Guinan waited so long to tell people about the Nexus?  Surely this information would have been helpful to Picard and Starfleet sooner.  She really should have mentioned Soran too, if he's that all-fangled dangerous.

- Why did Lursa and B'etor decloak their vessel when the Enterprise discovers the barren world they brought Soran to?  The Enterprise sent out a transmission, yes, but they would still have no way of knowing that the cloaked ship is there.  For all they know, they sent out an unanswered hail into space.  Lursa and B'etor could simply hide for a while or go to the other side of the planet and dump Soran off.  Star Trek IV proved that a cloaked ship can teleport things.  Then Soran would send the encryption code to that disc he gave them, and then they could fly away.  But no, revealing yourself to the enemy is a smart thing to do.

- Also, why did Lursa and B'etor agree to Picard's convoluted trade for Geordi?  Sure, maybe they want Picard as a prisoner, but they could simply allow him to teleport over and then not send him to Soran's position.  They could just keep them.  The only way sending Picard to Soran would make sense is if Soran had betrayed them.  They could simply turn Soran in to the Federation and wander off, ready to cause mischief again later.

- When the Enterprise's warp core was about to breach, why didn't they just eject the core?  Save them a lot of trouble.

- The force fields around Soran's rocket are selectively responsive.  Sometimes they're operational, but times they are ignored.  Like when Soran's rocket fires.  Why doesn't it crash into the inside of the force field?

2. What in the crap did they do to Kirk?

This has been gone on about for years.  Kirk's death brought this movie from a sub-par sequel to a Trek disaster.  In my opinion, it's far worse than Star Trek V.  I could watch Star Trek V again, and laugh.  This one I can't wait to take back to work and get something else.  Granted, I dislike it for more reasons than Kirk's death, but that was what killed it for many Trekkers.

I assume William Shatner wanted this movie to be his "Wrath of Khan", where Kirk has a death of similar magnitude to Spock's.  Spock could very well have stayed dead and it would have been literary gold.  Kirk, I'm afraid, found a big old chunk of pyrite.

There are several reasons why his death here was stupid.  For one thing, it was nowhere near as emotional as Spock's.  Kirk didn't know why he was dying.  All he knew was that Picard told him that many people were in danger, and he needed to help out.  Kirk had no quarrel with Soran.  Soran barely knew who he was.  Much like Disney's the Princess and the Frog, the main character and the villain had just about nothing to do with each other.

Secondly, we never get to spend any time with Kirk.  There's the bit at the beginning, and then the stupidness at the tail end.  Nothing in-between.  There really should have been a moment where both captains were together, and they could get annoyed at each other.  Maybe Kirk could meet the Next Gen crew.  He could be awkward to Data, thinking it's weird that a robot is a crewman.  He could pal around with Riker, and as they have similar personalities they'd probably have a good time.  On the TV show the Next Gen crew played poker a lot, so Kirk should obviously join them.  See, the whole point of a crossover movie is to get characters that wouldn't normally hang out to hang out.  It's not simply a matter of two different characters being in the same movie.

Thirdly, Picard didn't need Kirk.  He needed some young, muscle-bound men, and maybe some guys that know about computers to stop the rocket.  Kirk, while probably not a wuss, is too old for good action scenes (for that matter, so was Picard), and really should have used his intelligence to do something important.

Fourth, this doesn't match what anyone thought as the way Kirk should die.  Some people might think that Kirk should never die, as in there would be no original series sequel to Star Trek VI.  The end of the lives of the first Enterprise crew would be entirely up to the imagination of the audience.  This would have been ideal, but if Kirk must die, we all want it not only to be for a really good reason, but in a way that's so brave and so Kirk.  Actually, if Kirk's death had been exactly what it was at the beginning of the movie and he just ends up in the Nexus forever, then hey, that's cool too.  Or maybe he dies with the Enterprise as it's destroyed by something.

I dunno.  In the end it would have been better if they'd just left well enough alone with Star Trek VI.

1.  This movie is the very story of waste.

It is.  This movie, for the sake of its very convoluted plot, sacrificed so much that was good about the Star Trek franchise.  Kirk died in a dumb way that isn't befitting his legacy.  Picard's family was thrown away off-screen just to get Picard in an emotional state.  Data was turned into a clown.  Lursa's and B'etor's history with Picard and the Enterprise was completely ignored in order to make them the Klingon baddies for hire.   The Enterprise D was destroyed simply because it wasn't the right proportions for modern movie-making. And the entire crew of the Enterprise D was just there as a set of glorified extras, with nothing interesting going on among them.

So much good stuff, all thrown down the drain.  What little bright spots there were in the movie, like Kirk's performance, the Christmas set, or that really cool cartography room, were all buried under this movie's flaws.  What really astounds me about it is that to this point, the only writing that really fails to this point was the script controlled by William Shatner, namely Star Trek V (seriously, never read his books).  As much as people might not like The Motion Picture, its failures were mainly in pacing and directing, not in the writing.

Even in the not so strong movies of the past, Star Trek has told some good stories.  There's no real story here, though.  Think about it.  What are the themes of Star Trek: Generations?  That getting old sucks?  That everyone has regrets?  The emotions will blindside you?  Nobody can really be sure, because the story is just all over the place.  There are too many elements.  What this movie should have been was a scene in the past where Kirk goes to the future, and Spock is there to witness this.  Then, in the future, Kirk returns, where he hangs out with Picard's crew and meets future Spock.  Then they solve some problem together.  See, if you're going to do a transition movie, you need to focus on the characters doing the transitioning and less on the baddie or antagonistic force.  You don't need to add distracting side characters or convoluted space ribbons.

Best actor: Walter Koenig.  Why is it that Chekov tends to get better scenes when he's in the crappier movies?  Star Trek II is an exception, but most should admit that they giggled when Chekov was captain in Star Trek V.  In this film, despite not being present for very long, Chekov actually has lines, and he acts them to the fullest.  This makes it almost tragic that Chekov barely got to do anything over the course of his existence.

This movie is for:
- No one, really.  It pisses off actual Trek fans, and there's nothing there for those who aren't.  It's not the worst movie ever, but as it's not really a story there's little reason to watch it.

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