With plok asking bloggers how they’d change last summer’s Star Trek, and with me not having much to say about that, here are some thoughts on how 1994’s Star Trek Generations could have been a more fangasmic Trek film.
In many ways, Generations is a victim of circumstance. Conceived and produced by “The Next Generation’s” team while that show was winding down, it was filmed in the spring of 1994 for release in the fall. Meant to bridge the gap between Kirk’s crew and Picard’s, it is hardly entry-level, and plays much more to devoted “TNG” fans than to any other group. In the context of the TV show, it’s passable, but it really doesn’t work as a standalone movie. While Soran and the Nexus are new, Data’s emotion chip was last seen in “Descent” (Seasons 6-7), there are “bad” Klingons despite ST VI‘s peace initiatives, and the Enterprise-D is destroyed just as potential new viewers were getting to know her. Plus there’s now an Enterprise-B and its hapless captain, along with references to otherwise-unseen Original Series stalwarts. Indeed, watching Generations makes one aware of what’s not in it. The more the viewer must fill in the blanks himself, the weaker the film is.
Thus, Generations desperately needs a steady drip of context, stat!
And so my Generations 2.0 begins with a beefed-up opening-credits sequence. Start with the Paramount peak, of course — but pan up into the stars, and pick up a Mercury capsule orbiting the Earth. (Vostok would work too.) Mercury zips over the horizon and out of sight, but then a Saturn V zooms past, and we follow it to the Moon. Past the Moon now to Mars, then Jupiter, Saturn, and the outer planets; and we’re really trucking now, with the Voyager spacecraft, which also races out of sight. Glimpses of various Trek-looking starships follow — not Cochrane’s Phoenix or Archer’s NX-01, because technically we haven’t been introduced to them yet — and we can see a familiar design evolving, through the Daedalus-class Horizon and the Baton Rouge-class Moscow …
… because this whole thing has taken only a few minutes, but (yes) like the “Enterprise” credits, it drives home the point that Starfleet is connected to us today, and therefore we endure as long as it does …
… so after a last glimpse of USS Constitution, NCC-1700, we finally spot the bottle of Dom Perignon spinning through space, eventually colliding with the heretofore-unblemished hull of USS Enterprise, NCC-1701-B.
By way of brief plot summary, the movie begins in the late 23rd Century, with James T. Kirk, Montgomery Scott, and Pavel Chekov present for the Enterprise-B’s launch. As the new starship takes a lap around the solar system, it picks up distress calls from two El-Aurian freighters. (They’re fleeing the Borg, who have destroyed their home planet.) The ships have gotten caught in what we’ll learn is “the Nexus,” an energy ribbon which destroys starships. Because the Enterprise has only the bare minimum of facilities, the ship can’t easily rescue the freighters, and Kirk eventually has to rig the main deflector dish just to save one of them. In so doing, he is apparently swept into space and killed.
Now, I would change the 23rd-Century extended prologue primarily by using Spock and Bones instead of Scotty and Chekov. This would no doubt involve either a magic wand or some serious script rewrites, but really it is more a matter of personal preference than anything else. Generations is a movie about mortality, but the problem with using Kirk is that there’s already been a Star Trek movie where he deals with his own mortality. In fact, the point of Star Trek II was to have Kirk emerge victorious from his midlife crisis, so he shouldn’t be all fidgety about who’s captain of the Enterprise.
What’s more, Kirk shouldn’t have to be all fidgety. In my rewrite, Capt. Harriman recognizes that Kirk is the senior officer and solicits his advice right from the beginning. Kirk isn’t shy about collaborating with Harriman, who (again in my rewrite) isn’t especially a doofus. Together they work through various problems to try and save the freighters — “I’ve tried A! I’ve tried B! I’ve tried C!” — but nothing doing. Finally, as in the actual movie, Scotty comes up with the deflector-dish solution, and (as in the movie) Harriman volunteers to do the reprogramming. I like that decision, because it is a very courageous-captain-of-the-Enterprise thing to do. However, I would make it clear that whoever does the reprogramming runs the risk of not coming back. This makes Kirk’s sacrifice even more of an echo of Spock’s in Wrath of Khan, because Kirk is saying he’s not going to let anyone else take a bullet for him.
So Kirk is sucked into space, or so we think; the Enterprise-B sails into history; and we fade into the holodeck sequence aboard the Enterprise-D. It is essentially a middling comedy piece which introduces the TNG cast, who are celebrating Worf’s promotion to Lt. Commander. Picard then receives bad news from Earth: his brother and nephew have died in an accident. After Picard has left the holodeck, the Enterprise picks up a distress call from a nearby observatory, which is under attack.
By and large, I think we can leave this scene alone. It’s not my favorite, mostly because of the clumsy direction, but it’s a decent way to introduce the characters. However, when the scene ends, I’d insert a nice beauty shot of the Enterprise, making it clear that a) this is a more advanced starship and b) hey look, the old one was “B” and this one is “D.” We’ve already had the “78 Years Later” card, but as it is Generations doesn’t do enough to re-orient the rookie viewer.
Thus, Picard goes to grieve, Riker sounds the alert, and everyone scrambles to their stations — and in my revised version, we pull back from the grid-lined holodeck, up through the ceiling, moving immaterially past machinery and decks, such that a few moments later we’re high above the Enterprise herself, drinking in her majestic lines to the lush accompaniment of Jerry Goldsmith’s familiar theme. (Of course I’d have the Goldsmith themes incorporated into the music whenever possible.) A suitably lingering look later, the great starship blasts into warp, and we’re back to the regular movie.
Now, I’m not going to go scene-by-scene, but I did want to give a feel for how I’d flesh out this film. The point of Generations, which at times is made rather clumsily and other times is glossed over, is that it’s Picard’s mid-life crisis. As mentioned above, Kirk has long since worked past his midlife issues. For that matter, at this point in his life perhaps Picard has confronted his as well; but the deaths in his family tear the scabs off those old wounds, and he realizes that he may be the last of the Picards. To be sure, it was a topic familiar to the “Next Generation” series, which had given Picard a surrogate legacy in the classic “The Inner Light,” and flirted with the idea of his future family as recently as the late-seventh-season episodes “Bloodlines” and “All Good Things….” If Picard fears that he won’t leave behind issue, certainly he is much more afraid of becoming irrelevant (as in the Q-constructed timelines of “Tapestry” and “AGT’s” potential future). Generations therefore assures both Picard and the audience that children don’t necessarily matter, but actions do. Picard need not worry about his own lineage because he has become part of something greater: the lineage of the Enterprise.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. For now Picard is dealing with personal issues, so in addition to satisfying the fans’ need for a movie-sized gawk at the Enterprise-D, my little beauty insert should also show the audience that the starship symbolizes Picard’s virility. This is not quite a direct correlation, as was Kirk’s relationship with NCC-1701; but it should remind the audience that, by virtue of his command, Picard remains more powerful than he might want to admit. Subtle, I know.
Anyway, the other big subplot, Data’s emotion chip, comes into play at this point. I suppose it could be tweaked slightly so that Data becomes aware of his own advancing age, and mopes around the ship in addition to his regular bipolar tendencies; but really, it’s more of a plot element than anything else.
Besides, I’m more interested in our principals, Picard, Kirk, and Soran. As far as I remember, Dr. Tolian Soran is motivated to steer the Nexus over Veridian III because he’s become addicted to it (for lack of a better term). He lost his family to the Borg and seeks to relive happy memories in the Nexus. Therefore, he is not entirely unsympathetic, and in fact his issues parallel Picard’s in terms of family and opportunities lost. At first blush he is Job, deprived of his life practically upon divine caprice, but of course that goes away once he opens fire on our heroes and tortures Geordi. If we are being charitable, we might say that the 78 years have not been kind to him; and perhaps that weighs upon Picard as well.
A brief digression to take care of another sequence: the space battle. As much shield-modulating and frequency-rotating as this crew has done over the past seven years, and no one thinks to change the shield frequency, just for the heck of it if nothing else, once the first torpedo slams into the hull? Crikey. Let’s do this instead: a few torpedoes do get through before Worf (not Data, because he’s high on life now) decides to do just that; and the tide turns in favor of the Enterprise. Nevertheless, those torpedoes did significant damage, and by the way the Geordi-Cam is still active, so the Klingons get a good look at the new shield frequency and adjust their disruptors accordingly. This proves to be the last round for both ships: the Enterprise warp core takes a fatal hit, but the Bird Of Prey is practically exploding even as its disruptors find their mark. In the end, both ships are destroyed, and the Enterprise saucer crashes on Veridian III, all as before.
Back to Picard. The movie’s main draw is his meeting with Kirk, and I’d use it to drive home both men’s similarities and differences. Again, Kirk is way past his mid-life crisis, which is why he can tell Picard to hold onto the captain’s chair for as long as he can. As we’ve seen, Picard’s Nexus fantasy is all about regret: a wife and kids he’ll never have, and the nephew who never died. Kirk’s is similar, since it concerns a proposal he never made in order to return to Starfleet. (If memory serves, the return landed him at Starfleet Academy, where we find him at the start of Star Trek II — another mid-life crisis connection.) However, Guinan describes the Nexus as “like being inside joy,” which doesn’t exactly sound like the road not taken. Not that their fantasies are improbable, because the Nexus is the same kind of pitcher-plant as Alan Moore’s Black Mercy, and you get out of it the same way: by recognizing the fantasy isn’t real, and in fact isn’t desirable — so to paraphrase the immortal Bugs Bunny, “it don’t know you vewy well, do it?”
Therefore, if the Nexus is joy given form, why wouldn’t Kirk find himself on the original Enterprise, with Spock, Bones, Gary Mitchell, and (of course) his son David, and Edith Keeler, and everyone else he’d loved and lost (in most cases because of that ship)? Because it would have busted the budget wide open, is why; but we are playing with no limits here, and besides we can find a way to convey that same sense of bliss. Let’s say the Nexus is feeling out its latest resident, having worked up a couple of basic scenarios. One is marriage to Antonia. The other is the ultimate Enterprise cruise. Kirk is in his cabin, as in the movie, and while he’s making breakfast he’s going over the Enterprise crew manifest. As Picard reads the names aloud, Kirk grows ever more wistful: all his friends, inseparable for eternity. This will be his life perfected — why wouldn’t he take it?
Because Picard, recognizing what he’s been working through since learning of his brother’s and nephew’s death, starts giving Kirk a very Kirk-ian speech about the necessity of pain and loss — about recognizing our limits and living for what we can make better today. Maybe he even says “risk is our business,” if not “how we face death is as important as how we face life.” (Young Kirk probably would have repeated the former for posterity, but Old Kirk wouldn’t have done the same for the latter.) This is what reignites the fire in Kirk’s belly, and he gives Picard the don’t-get-out-of-that-chair speech before they ride off into normal space-time.
And since you may be wondering, Picard doesn’t find himself on the Enterprise bridge because it’s not his idea of ultimate joy — which, again, is the point; it’s what Picard must confront and overcome. Picard has so many extracurricular pursuits that his fantasy might well be a ridiculous combination of ace archaeologist, gifted flautist, master thespian, etc. That’s why Kirk’s speech is meaningful to Picard — it’s a pep talk which helps ease Picard’s particular pains and focus him on being a starship captain.
So we are left at pretty much the same spot going into the last act. I’d like to think that the movie’s emotional undercurrents would have been amped-up sufficiently, but in terms of plot, it’s still Picard and Kirk duking it out with Soran. Note, though, that the pre-Nexus Picard got his butt handed to him by Soran; and the movie implies that Picard needs backup to defeat the malevolent doctor. I’d probably change that so that Picard, having gotten his groove back in the Nexus, gets in a few good punches and generally starts to look like the action hero he’ll be in First Contact and Insurrection. Nevertheless, Picard must disarm or destroy Soran’s missile (more phallic imagery! Why was this not more of a mid-life crisis movie?) simply because he’ s more familiar with the technology. Besides, Kirk enjoys a good scrap, and he too has been re-grooved by his brief stint in the Nexus.
So Kirk and Soran fight, yadda yadda yadda, Picard rigs the missile to explode and runs for cover, Soran sees what’s happened and tries to undo Picard’s sabotage (hey, maybe Shatner even says the word!), and he’s almost there but Kirk’s right behind him — and the thing explodes, killing Soran and mortally wounding Kirk. He and Picard have their moment, “it was fun,” and Picard buries him on the mountaintop. (Kirk always knew he’d die alone; but I took that to mean “apart from Spock and Bones.”)
Picard returns to the crashed Enterprise and we end with him and Riker, same as the real movie, but with a couple of final tweaks. Riker regrets he’ll never be captain of the Enterprise-D (well, not again, for we remember “Best Of Both Worlds”). Picard observes that there will no doubt be another Enterprise; and then goes into his soliloquy that time isn’t a predator (as Soran thought), but a companion. Riker wisecracks about how “I plan to live forever….”
… and Picard rolls his eyes. “Oh no, Will! Not you too!”
The two beam up to the Farragut and the rescue fleet goes to warp. The End.