Star Trek VII:

directed by David Carson
(Paramount, 1994)

Since another original-cast movie was out of the question, the first 17 minutes of Star Trek VII was the next best thing.

The film begins with great opening credits: a bottle of Dom Perignon floating through space and smashing its baptism on the hull of the new Enterprise-B. The ship's first run is a media frenzy as Capt. James Kirk (William Shatner), Montgomery Scott (James Doohan) and Pavel Chekov (Walter Koenig) come aboard for her maiden voyage.

But the public relations run becomes deadly serious when they receive a distress call from two ships caught in a strange energy ribbon. The young Capt. Harriman (John Ruck) is out of his depth; he turns to the more experienced Kirk for suggestions. Kirk of course snaps into action, doing what he does best to salvage the ship, preserve lives and prove, once again, that he's happiest when he's making a difference -- putting his life on the line to save the day.

It's no secret that Kirk saves the Enterprise but pays the ultimate price in the process. It is a good death, a great death, for the supreme Star Trek hero. We always knew Kirk could never go quietly into the peace and quiet of retirement; dying in the act of saving the ship was the best of all possible ends.

Then it flashes 78 years into the future, and things go downhill. While there are many fans who prefer Star Trek: The Next Generation over the original, much dated series, there's little denying that the following portion of Generations is little more than a glorified series episode.

The Klingon officer Worf (Michael Dorn) receives a promotion. The android Data (Brent Spiner) once again fails to appreciate a good joke. Capt. Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) receives bad news from home and reacts by being curt with his crew. And the empathic counselor Troi (Marina Sirtis) wants to talk about his feelings.

An attack on a nearby research station, apparently by Romulans, at least gets the action moving again, and the surviving scientist Soran (Malcolm McDowell) is, coincidentally, one of the survivors from the Enterprise-B mission. Did I mention that Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg), the head bartender for the Enterprise-D, was also a survivor from that incident?

Data chooses the midst of this crisis to install an emotion chip and undergo major (often annoying) changes in his personality and abilities. Of course, these emotional changes are things he cannot control, and they occur at the worst possible times.

Soran is revealed as a villain, desperate to get back into the energy ribbon (now called the Nexus) he'd encountered 78 years before. To that end, he's willing to kill, destroy suns and consort with evil Klingon sisters Lursa and B'Etor (Barbara March and Gwynyth Walsh) -- mediocre villains from the series best remembered for bad teeth and ample cleavage. It turns out the Nexus is a gateway into another dimension, a place where people encounter perpetual bliss and lose all will to leave.

A potentially great space battle is over too quickly, lacking any real tension or drama. While Kirk's Enterprise was lost in a blaze of glory, the Enterprise-D is lost as a seeming afterthought -- a plot device simply to allow the production team to design a new one for future films. The sequence ends with one well-crafted scene, but it's not enough; the ship, which served them well for seven seasons, deserved better.

Meanwhile, Picard and Soran engage in a lackluster battle of wits on the planet, where the villain is about to destroy a sun and kill millions in order to buy his own entrance into the Nexus. Picard tries to stop him mano a mano but is beaten easily; as a result, he too is drawn into the Nexus.

Of course, of all the people who've encountered the Nexus, Picard is the first with the will to resist its intoxicating bliss. And after learning that Kirk is also there, he goes to recruit his aid. But Kirk, weary after years of heroing, wants only to rest. Their interaction is amusing, and Picard successfully browbeats Kirk into leaving -- after convincing him that the Nexus is perfectly safe and assuring him that the mission to stop Soran will be dangerous and fun.

Oddly, Picard chooses to exit the Nexus immediately prior to Soran's attempt to destroy the sun, instead of jumping back a few more days and preventing the whole mess from occurring. (A day's grace would also have allowed him to save the dead crew of the space station, as well as his brother and nephew on Earth.) Anyway, Kirk takes matters into hand and beats the tar out of Soran. He takes charge, issuing orders which Picard quickly obeys.

He also dies again, in an oddly unsatisfying way. The first one was better. And it's disappointing that Kirk, who had a chance at eternal happiness in the Nexus, lost it because Picard couldn't be a hero on his own.

This film passed the torch from one cast to the next. For such a momentous event, Generations was a fairly weak effort. The fans -- and Kirk -- deserved better.

[ by Tom Knapp ]
Rambles: 16 October 2001

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