Sunday 6 April 2014

Star Trek: Generations (VII)

Contains spoilers

After finishing off the Star Trek films with the original cast at the end of last year, I have slowly been working my way through the Next Generation series, when I haven't been watching Buffy. I've only watched the first two seasons (of seven!) so far, but am growing to know and like the new crew of the Enterprise-D: the stern but kindly Captain Picard, his first officer William Riker, and crew including the Klingon Worf, android Data, and Data's good friend Geordi LaForge. I've also come to roll my eyes in exasperation every time Counsellor Troi senses that someone is feeling an emotion, and shout "SHUT UP WESLEY" at each appearance of the precocious teenager Wesley Crusher.

The Next Generation takes place a good century after the original Star Trek, and much has changed in Starfleet. Perhaps the biggest invention is the holodeck, which simulates any setting or environment for training exercises or leisure, and is a useful tool for sending the crew to a historical setting without the contrivance of "Oh look, here is a planet whose society is exactly like the Old West," that you might find in the original series. I'm not a huge fan of the holodeck stories; I think there is something missing in a story when the conflict and drama has been created by the characters and ship's computer out of nothing. But it adds variety. Also, in the 24th century, the crew's families live aboard the Enterprise with them - a bit risky considering how much danger the show puts the ship into every week, and most unprofessional to have the kids running up and down the corridors and getting under the captain's feet. Also, see the aforementioned Wesley: a teenager who has earned himself an honorary position on the bridge because he's just that special. (I bet the lower-ranked Enterprise crew love him!) No doubt Wesley was a character put in to the series for the benefit of child trekkies, a character they could identify with, who was constantly overlooked because he was a child, but would save the day; who could ask personal questions and get away with it because of his big serious eyes... it's not cheek, it's just Wesley Crusher!

I had long been looking forward to watching Star Trek: Generations which brought together the casts of both Star Trek series so far. Or so I had been led to believe. After spending most of my Star Trek time in recent months aboard Captain Picard's Enterprise, it gave me a lovely warm feeling to see the old-style Starfleet uniforms - the red uniforms of the movies from Khan onwards, not the really old uniforms. But here there is no Spock, no McCoy, and only cameo roles from Scotty and Chekov. Captain Kirk was his old self, and I found myself chuckling during a very tense scene thanks to William Shatner's classic face-acting. But it's my opinion that Captain Kirk's strongest characteristics are those shown in relation to Spock and McCoy.

After the glorious send-off in The Undiscovered Country, it is quite awful to realise that as far as his old friends are concerned, Captain Kirk's final fate is the most depressing "missing, presumed killed" on the maiden voyage of the Enterprise-B. Of course, this is not the end for James T. Kirk, but no one knows this for nearly eighty years. Poor Spock!

As the seventh movie in the franchise, I'm sorry to say that Generations lives up to the reputation of the odd-numbered films being less than wonderful. It's not as cringe-inducing as The Final Frontier, but Data gives "row, row, row your boat" a run for its money in the "You think this is funny but it's really rather sad" category, when he has an emotion-chip implanted as an attempt to become more human. It is unnerving, when not just embarrassing, to watch him discover laughter, fear and remorse, but, rather like the Vulcan Spock, I find Data evokes far more emotion when he's not expressing any. (His episode "The Measure of a Man," in which he is at the centre of a tribunal to determine his status as property or person, is one of the greatest episodes of the franchise so far.) I love Data - along with Worf, he is my favourite Next Generation character - but I spent most of his screen time in Generations just begging him to stop.

Generations' main plot is pretty thin, revolving around a timey-wimey phenomenon called the Nexus, which seems to double as a natural holodeck and a time-portal, and here Captain Picard comes face-to-face with his pedecessor. Captain Kirk is living in a simulation of his retirement home, a nice country lodge, where he chops wood and goes horseback riding, and lives with the latest love of his life, Antonia (who we have never heard of before, nor see except as a distant figure on the horizon.) As Kirk potters around his kitchen, barely responding to Captain Picard, I found myself thinking this was all wrong. What's happened to Captain Kirk, to make him so reluctant to face adventure. Retirement doesn't suit Kirk; he's lost without his Enterprise. To be fair, he must be in his late sixties, and he's earned his happy-ever-after, but it's kind of sad to watch. I'd rather have finished watching him about to retire, than see him living a nice, normal life. Of course he joins forces with Picard eventually, and in a race against time, Kirk saves a solar system at the cost of his own life, on (and under) a rickety old bridge. Yes, they literally dropped a bridge on him! Kirk's death scene was moving and well-acted, a heroic sacrifice helping out a fellow-captain of the USS Enterprise, but I still found it a rather disappointing end for such a long-running and well-beloved character. There is no grand funeral, no ceremony, (no bagpipes!) just a lonely grave on an abandoned planet.

Then again, remember The Final Frontier? Kirk always knew he'd die alone.

And again: Poor Spock.

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