And now we come to the first Next Generation movie, the one that is intended to bridge the original series and the Next Generation era, hence “Generations”. Too bad this is such a mediocre effort.
Now, I’m not saying this is a bad movie, just not a very good one. There are several problems:
- The MacGuffin, the ribbon and the nexus, is silly. Perhaps even sillier than “red matter” (from 2009’s Star Trek movie).
- The movie fails to set any stakes. You can’t casually mention that a planet of aliens, who we never see, are threatened by a ribbon, and expect the audience to care. And if the audience doesn’t care, the climax is pointless.
- Kirk’s death is pointless. Captain James Tiberius Kirk, the most legendary captain in all of Star Fleet history, dies a stupid and meaningless death saving a planet of people we never see and don’t care about. When a legend falls, by God, there had better be something legendary about his death. Great success or great failure, his death should have meaning. And Kirk’s didn’t.
- Picard is pointlessly glorified. The screenwriters shat all over Kirk. Picard had to badger him into leaving the Nexus. Picard had to rig the missile. Kirk died in a fall, clinging to an iron grate. All of this was intended to make Picard, a mediocre captain at best, look good. They killed off James Tiberius Kirk, just so they could make a mediocre captain look marginally heroic.
- They wasted some pretty good villains. In addition to making Kirk into a wuss, they killed off two of the better Next Gen villains: Lursa and B’Etor Duras. They survived the entire series, including the Klingon civil war, only to die… for nothing. They deserved better than that.
What plagues this movie is the story and script. It’s about stupid and pointless events, in a galactic backwater, and truly great character dies to make a mediocre character seem better. (Like killing off Harry Dresden, to make Mortimer (the ectomancer) look good.)
The movie is competently acted, has good special effects, the performances are pretty solid, but it’s lacking something the original series had. In many ways, the Next Generation series and movies came across as plastic… artificial and unreal.
What they gained in budget sizes, they lost in soul. They’re just not dirty enough to seem real. (This problem carried over into First Contact, hampering an otherwise excellent entry in the series. I mean, in a post-apocalyptic future, Cochrane’s “dirty” furs seemed freshly dry-cleaned.)
Babylon 5? Dirt. Star Wars (the original trilogy)? Dirt. Deep Space 9? Less dirt than the other two, but more than the Next Gen ever had. (And, to be fair, this same problem also plagues several of the TOS movies, like IV and V.)
But the Borg? Dirt. Grit. Genuine menace. At least a little. (Which is why they’re the best villains in the Next Gen canon.)
To be clear: “dirt” is a metaphor here. I’m not necessarily talking about actual physical schmutz.
I’m talking about the sense of awfulness and danger that’s a necessary part of adult media. Sesame Street has no dirt, nor did The Smurfs Saturday morning cartoon. G.I. Joe only had a little. But Die Hard? Dirty, dirty, dirty.
There is no sense of genuine danger in Generations. We never once actually fear Dr. Soran. (Unlike, say, Khan who radiated menace and danger. He was a villain.) Soran’s about as menacing as Gargamel, and throwaway lines about hundreds of millions of people (who we never see and are thus unreal) don’t change that.
Without some grittiness, some dirt, some genuine danger the people don’t seem like they’re struggling. The enemies don’t seem threatening, and the problems don’t feel real.
The audience has to buy into the reality of the fictional world you’re created, and the Next Gen movies are just too clean, too comfortable (a hotel in space), too safe to make that happen.