“Kirk or Picard?” was one of the first questions Dr. Sheldon Cooper asked Dr. Leonard Hofsteder when they first met on the hit show The Big Bang Theory. Leonard’s answer was pretty great too, as he chose Kirk over Picard, but qualified it with Star Trek: The Next Generation as a series over the original. With the first Next Generation film, smartly titled Star Trek: Generations (1994), Trek fans got their wish to see the two Enterprise captains together for the one and only time. While I would probably consider Generations to be the best of the four TNG films, that is not saying too much. Still, the chance to see Kirk and Picard together is reason enough to watch this flick.
The movie opens with a familiar scenario, the Enterprise is in crisis. I remember watching this in the theatre and being very surprised that the movie opened with the original crew. The situation is the christening of the Enterprise-B, and Kirk (William Shatner), Chekov (Walter Koenig), and Scott (James Doohan), are on board as guests. In a nod to the climax of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, in which Spock is killed, Kirk dies while saving the ship. We then fast-forward about 75 years to the holodeck of the Enterprise-D, and a ceremony where Worf (Michael Dorn) is being promoted to Lieutenant Commander.
The festivities are cut short by a distress call, which the ship speeds off to address. Careful viewers will note that one of the survivors of the ship that the Enterprise-D saves was also present on the Enterprise-B, 75 years earlier. Well, you do not have to be too careful to notice Malcolm McDowell. His charismatic presence is impossible to ignore. Soran (McDowell) is attempting to get into a Utopian place called the Nexus, which is some sort of space-time phenomenon where anything is possible. A person can live any life they choose there, and change it at will. Don’t ask me to explain it. It seems pretty cool, but it really just seems like a larger holodeck.
To get to this Nexus, Soran has to literally move planets, and billions of people are killed in the process. The Nexus was the phenomenon that endangered Enterprise-B, and rather than actually being killed, Kirk was caught up in it. When Picard (Patrick Stewart) figures out what is happening, he goes there himself. This is where the two meet. I remember seeing them together for the first time, and it was not a good match. The cerebral Picard had no chance against the swashbuckling Kirk – Shatner and Stewart had zero chemistry together. I imagine this was noted on the set, as attempts are made for Jean-Luc to act more macho. But that is not him, and it is actually kind of uncomfortable to watch Stewart “play“ Shatner. It really does not work at all.
A notable sub-plot has to do with the android Data (Brent Spiner). As fans know, he was programmed without an “emotion chip,” so he has never experienced happiness, fear, anger, etc. Actually, he did experience emotions on the TV show a couple of times, thanks to outside interference, and it did not turn out well. In Generations, he decides to implement an emotion chip, and it leads to some interesting situations.
The biggest hole I have with this film is the premise. If this Nexus is so amazing, how is it that both Kirk and Picard have no interest in it at all? It is presented as a sort of heaven, but without the pesky dying part. Soran is certainly evil, but he is not committing mass murder just for the sake of killing people. They are just in the way, and his goal of getting back into the Nexus supercedes everything else. He is obviously extremely intelligent, and none of it really adds up. At the very least, I think that Kirk and Picard should have had much more difficulty in leaving the Nexus than they do.
Generations launched the Next Generation film franchise, and there would be three more before the plug was pulled. If it means anything, I believe Generations to be the best of the four.