It may not “boldly go where no man has gone before,” but “Star Trek Generations” has enough verve, imagination and familiarity to satisfy three decades’ worth of Trekkers raised on several incarnations of the television skein. The first bigscreen outing for the “Next Generation” crew should soar at the box office and handsomely revive the theatrical franchise much in the way that the reinvented series blasted off with fans old and new. Expect a smooth flight into early 1995 with solid prospects overseas.
In order to facilitate the return of several members of the original Starship Enterprise, a rather convoluted plot has been fashioned. The story begins at a PR-event maiden voyage of a “New” Enterprise, with Kirk (William Shatner), engineer Scott (James Doohan) and Chekov (Walter Koenig) aboard as honored guests and living relics of the Starfleet. (Leonard Nimoy opted out of this latest voyage.)
The smooth-sailing media voyage gets jettisoned when a distress signal summons the craft into action — two cargo ships are engulfed by a ribbon of electrical energy. In Kirk’s heyday it would have been a no-brainer rescue assignment. But the combination of an inexperienced captain and a not yet fully equipped craft add up to catastrophe and the end, albeit heroic, of Kirk. But more on that later.
Four generations after the disaster, the “Next” crew receives an emergency call to throw a lifeline to scientists on an experimental probe. Actually, there’s only one left breathing, the human-like El Aurian Dr. Soran (Malcolm McDowell), who not so coincidentally was a survivor of the almost century-old incident on the New Enterprise. Another survivor happens to be aboard — rec center barkeep Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg).
She tells Capt. Picard (Patrick Stewart) of the Nexus, that mysterious ribbon of energy. Guinan says it induces consuming joy. To regain its nirvana, Soran is willing to do anything, including aligning with malevolent Klingons.
“Star Trek Generations” is primarily about stopping the proverbial mad scientist run amok. Its secondary concern, which makes Kirk’s resuscitation necessary, is Picard’s personal crisis in weighing duty against the need for family — blood-related and otherwise. One can also point to themes of addiction and seduction.
But there’s more, keeping in the “Trek” tradition of plot-heavy yarns. While the abundance of narrative thread tends to slow matters to less than warp speed, that’s offset by a lot of character detail. The levity in this episode, for instance, revolves around android Data (Brent Spiner) coping with the effects of injecting an “emotion” chip into his circuitry.
The script by Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga is so chock-a-block with scientific detail one begins to lose a sense of present, past and future. The story would fail utterly if not for its human dimension.
Advantages to having such familiar characters aboard are the ease of the interplay and the fact that audiences already know the personalities. Shatner and Doohan have mastered the art of playing their roles while providing sly self-commentary. The others have not quite reached that level of acting enlightenment, but give them a few more voyages and they’ll be able to make the Vulcan yellow pages entertaining.
Director David Carson, a small-screen “Trek” vet, does well, not brilliantly, in the widescreen arena. Only a couple of earlier movie editions have truly managed to find the right balance of gadgetry and story, science and fun. Carson scores best in capturing the “Star Trek” look, though he tends to linger too long in recording those achievements.
A review of the logbook of “Star Trek Generations” reveals some fractures, bruises and abrasions. One certainly shouldn’t have expected less. In the end the ship may not be pristine, but even without Spock, the franchise appears likely to live long and prosper.