Thursday, April 24, 2014

Star Trek: Generations


Joseph, my manager, has called with some rather distressing news, it turns out that the producers of the new musical version of The Silence of the Lambs are not considering me for the part of Clarice, but rather for the part of the senator. I am extremely insulted. A star of my magnitude would never consider such a small role without at least a first act tap solo and a second act dream ballet and I've instructed Joseph to withdraw me from consideration if these cannot be guaranteed. I've had an idea for the dream ballet. I, as the mother figure, would guide Clarice through the realms of her id while a chorus line of dancing, screaming sheep (based of course on Shari Lewis's wonderful Lambchop), form Busby Berkeley patterns with their legs as she attempts to rescue my daughter trapped at the bottom of the well. It has possibilities.

I was in a bit of a grumpy mood after that news so I called up my old pal, Gloria Stuart, and met her for lunch at The Ivy. I was bemoaning the lack of roles for someone of my talents available these days and she quite agreed and thought it might have something to do with the national malaise. She thought things were similar to the 30s when she was in her heyday at Fox in all those Shirley Temple vehicles. This struck me as a possibility: A Shirley Temple for the new millennium. I might be a little mature for those roles now but there's no reason why I couldn't find and guide a ringleted moppet to superstardom. If Donald Trump can resurrect his career by insulting and firing people on television, why can't I, legendary star, revitalize mine by finding the nation's next adorable tyke through a reality TV program?  I sent immediate faxes to Joseph and the other members of my management team to jumpstart the process.

By then, I was a bit on the fatigued side, and a little nauseated from the Chianti and fava beans that Gloria and I had had for lunch, so I withdrew into the home theater for a little rest and relaxation. My to view pile has again become unwieldy and so I reached in and grabbed a random disc and soon the DVD of Star Trek: Generations was playing in my machine, with warp drives screeching at me in 5.1 Dolby. (All of those sound effects are a bit ridiculous as there is no sound in the vacuum of space - but it's conventional to put them in there so as not to confuse the slower members of the audience who did not complete 4th grade physics).

This film, the seventh in the Star Trek series, serves as a bridge between the cast of the original TV show and the cast of The Next Generation TV show on the big screen. Most of the original cast, who were decidedly middle aged when the first films were made in the 1980s, were positively geriatric by 1994 when this film was released and well beyond any realistic adventure story unless it involved the search for a new molecular structure for denture adhesive. The film features a few of the original cast, William Shatner's Captain Kirk, Walter Koenig's Chekov and James Doohan's Scott, appear in the opening sequence as retirees invited aboard a new generation of Starship Enterprise on her maiden voyage. As is the usual case in the Star Trek universe, things do not go smoothly under the new Captain Harriman (Alan Ruck) and disaster strikes with tragic consequences and we meet Soran (Malcolm McDowell), a survivor of a mysterious space phenomenon known as the Nexus (which seems to have some relationship to the Henry Miller version of that name).

We then skip forward in time from the Enterprise-B to the Enterprise-D where the TNG crew is cavorting on the holodeck as a Napoleonic era sailing vessel. Soon, the crew has met up with Soran who seems determined to commit mass murder on a planetary scale in order to get back to the Nexus, a sort of stellar nirvana that grants ultimate bliss. This leads to a lot of subplots between various members of the crew as they all battle to stop Soran's dastardly deeds and we learn some things about their views of heaven. As things develop, there's interaction between the generations of Star Trek crews and the torch is symbolically passed.

A film such as this is somewhat impervious to criticism. Those who wallow in the minutiae of Gene Roddenberry's visions are going to love the way in which the transition takes place and love the way characters with whom they've become familiar over the years are enriched by new adventures. It won't matter to them that the plot is stretched a bit thin, as if it's a television episode that keeps on unreeling. It also won't matter that both writing and direction (Ronald D. Moore and Brannan Braga for the former and David Carson for the latter) are adequate, but uninspired. The film is entertaining but sort of the cinematic equivalent of stereotypical Chinese food; it's gone an hour after you've seen it.

In terms of performance, Patrick Stewart's Captain Picard takes top honors. He's had years to hone the nuances of the character through the television series and he has the classical training to know how to communicate endless amounts of information through the gesture of a hand, the arch of an eyebrow or the subtle inflection of a line. Malcolm McDowell's villain is also entertaining, another in his long line of rather over the top characters stretching way back to A Clockwork Orange. Of the supporting cast, the majority don't get much chance to make an impression, other than Brett Spiner's Data. His android naïf act remains a comic highlight. LeVar Burton has the charisma to make his scenes as Geordi work and Michael Dorn's Worf is right behind him. Jonathan Frakes, Gates McFadden, and Marina Sirtis, however, seem to wander through the film because their presence was required. However, neither the writers nor they seem to know what to do with them.

The film left me interested enough in the series to move on to the other TNG films, but didn't really illuminate the world beyond what I already knew. The DVD is letterboxed and looks and sounds gorgeous, especially on a large home theater system. There are far worse ways to spend an evening at home.

Pink cotton candy worm space structure. Klingon hat jumping. Rebel Klingons. Exploding Bird of Prey recycled from Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Futuristic cocktail party. Christmas celebration. Major crash landing. Tortured Geordi. Less tortured Data. Rock formation phaser shooting.

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