To celebrate the release of Star Trek Into Darkness, the Flickering Myth writing team look back at the classic sci-fi franchise. Next up for Star Trek Month is Oliver Davis reviewing Star Trek: Generations….
Generations begins with a single object floating through space, tumbling like a bowling pin hurtled through the air. Initially it appears abstract, then perhaps a new design of spaceship. Eventually, in close up, its label reveals its identity. A bottle.
Its glass shatters against the Enterprise-B’s vast, metallic hull. Champagne fragments into droplets in space. It’s the old tradition of christening a new ship. A secret message, of a long lost Captain, would’ve been more apt enclosed within.
These opening shots are slow, measured. Credits materialise unobtrusively. If this sequence were filmed today, it’d be all shaky cam and disorientating close-ups, dramatic music and lens flare. As needed and refreshing as J. J. Abrams’ version of Star Trek was, the opening scenes of Generations imbues a deep sense of nostalgia. It recalls for what the series once stood: awe and wonder at the possibilities of human space exploration.
The misty-eye is mirrored in Captain James Kirk’s (William Shatner) own as he inspects the deck of this latest Enterprise. The publicity voyage he embarks on with its new captain ends in disaster, as Kirk is ripped from the engine room into a time vortex known as the Nexus. They were answering a distress call, and Kirk started doing that hero thing he does.
In the spirit of time travel, the film then jumps 80 years into the future. One of the survivors of the rescue operation, Doctor Soran (Malcolm McDowell), has aged rather well. To him, the eight decades passed is only a 5 o’clock shadow. In an echo of the film’s beginning, the crew of the Enterprise-D answer his ship’s distress beacon.
Soran is Generations’ villain. He never wanted to be rescued from the Nexus in the first place, and has spent the 80 years since finding a way to reenter it. The Nexus is a strange realm, a nirvana of your most wondrous dreams and favourite memories. Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg) describes it as a physical manifestation of joy, and that once there, you wouldn’t care about coming back. It’s heroin, it’s the Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff – it’s whatever you want it to be. For Captain Jean Luc-Picard (Patrick Stewart), it’s a “cup of Earl Grey tea”.
The only problem is that getting there is rather tricky. Soran has killed an entire star for it, and plans to do so again; which will obliterate a nearby Starfleet inhabited planet of over 200 million. And you though your junkies were desperate.
This is the plot’s central question, and is handled rather majestically in the spirit of morally conscious science fiction. The film’s big selling point is a meeting of the ‘generations’, when Picard enlists the help of Kirk in this temporal chasm. Both of their experiences within the Nexus are quite touching, and, in Picard’s case, often profound.
The above are simply bookends, though; the film’s beginning and end sequences. The story in between is tedious and televisual, reminding why Abrams’ reimagining was so dearly required. The subplots that fill the film’s middle section are confused and clash with the film’s larger tone. The Klingons are pantomime caricatures, and Data wonders around the movie like an emo Peter Parker in Spider-Man 3 once his ’emotion chip’ is implanted.
But overall there’s a charm to these misguided interludes. Data slowly discovering his emotions is comedic when not insufferable, and the holodeck sequence on a seaship walks the right side of the camp plank.
Going back over the pre-Abrams Star Trek films produces some odd emotions. All the bits that made those films so special – Shatner’s Carry On-level facials, the ‘old-boys out to do it again’ mentality, the slow pacing, the attempt to ask moral questions on a universal scale – are the aspects that needed revamping for the franchise to continue to exist.
The glossy, young Star Trek of today is spectacular. But I imagine, if I became trapped in the Nexus, its horizon would be constructed from mattes.
Oliver Davis (@OliDavis)