Plotting Along – “That Star Trek Movie” (Part 2)

This is actually a pretty hard one for me not to break my own rules on.  As you may or may not know, part of the idea of this series is to look at how a story can be fixed rather than rebuilt.  The Phantom Menace series, for instance, stuck with more or less the same plot while tinkering with the characters in such a way that would have allowed for more audience investment in it.  And that worked because while Phantom Menace was bloated and at times meandering, there were good ideas behind all of its scenes that just failed to materialize due to poor direction and dialog.

Star Trek Generations, on the other hand, does not have quite the same weight in its core ideas.  The film is ostensibly about coming to terms with the passage of time and the change it brings.  We know this because characters often stop the movie in its tracks to tell us all about it.  But for a movie in this particular franchise, I honestly feel it’s too small of a concept to build an entire film around on its own.

Wrath of Khan had arguably the same arc for Kirk.  But that wasn’t the entirety of what the film was either.  You had Khan’s revenge, the Genesis program, the trainees, and I could go on but won’t because there are still one or two people who haven’t seen the film yet (and the rest don’t need me to.)  Not to mention having what are still the best scenes of starship battles the franchise has produced.  It was a pretty full movie.  Generations though…  Well, it could have been a great episode, but as a film it’s hard for me to get excited about the idea of Picard being worried that he’s too old to be interesting anymore.

So this leaves me with a problem: how do I take a script whose biggest problem may be that it’s just too small for the big screen and broaden its scope without replacing the ideas that form its core identity?

Well, in order to do that, I’m going to start by breaking down the film’s many disparate elements into more discrete ones in an attempt to figure out which are salvageable and which ones can be quietly shuffled off to the background.  Generations as it is gives almost equal screen time to each of its subplots, and that’s part of why it feels smaller.  When Data going through Android puberty is given equal screen time to the guy blowing up stars, it tends to make the guy blowing up stars seem a little less vital.  And speaking of…

Data

Data getting emotions was a big part of the hype for this movie.  And it’s easy to see why.  Like Spock before him, Data was a breakout hit for The Next Generation.  His desire to become more human, much of which was symbolized by his desire to feel human emotion, had been a core element of his character throughout seven years of episodes.  Not only that, it had been dangled right in front of his nose on at least four separate occasions only to be yanked away like Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown.

The execution here is somewhat flawed.  It’s used for comic relief a bit too much and there’s very little exploration of how having these emotions changes Data’s views on the world, which had always been the real strength of his character on the show.  But it also does make sense for it to be here.  Perhaps not in quite the same way… but that we can get to later.  Drop most, keep the idea.

Don't worry Data.  You'll still be able to mug for the camera.
Don’t worry Data. You’ll still be able to mug for the camera.

Dr. Soran

I love Malcolm McDowell, but honestly I’m not sure Soran makes for the best villain.  Maybe if they’d had the money to establish more of his life leading up to this point, or perhaps if his plan had been less stupid, he could have worked.  But looking at him as he is I just can’t see him as being the ultimate villain the movie needs.

To be honest part of what rubs me the wrong way is the fact that his concept is essentially that of an evil Guinan.  That’s cool.  We know virtually nothing about Guinan, and the little we do know suggests that she’s awesome and mysterious and powerful beyond belief.  Knowing Gene Roddenberry and the types of narratives he generally came up with, there are probably better than average odds that she’s literally Satan (or perhaps a close cousin.)

But he doesn’t behave even remotely like Guinan.  He’s not mysterious or subtle or insightful.  I mean, sure, he lives a long time.  But so do tortoises and we haven’t tried to cast one of them as the next Khan.  …Yet.

An evil Guinan doesn’t blow up stars herself.  An evil Guinan could, sure, but she wouldn’t need to.  She works in the background.  She’s the adviser.  The power behind the throne.  The one who you think is absolutely harmless (and probably even a really nice person) right up until the big third-act twist.

So, if Soran is going to stay, he’s going to have to become the evil Guinan he wasn’t.  So drop most of it… keep McDowell.

The Nexus

The Nexus can stay.  It needs a few tweaks to make it make more sense (mostly for purposes of the narrative) but apart from that I feel it’s actually kind of the perfect threat for the film.

And that’s kind of the key thing here: the Nexus IS a threat.  Frankly it’s a bigger one than Soran.  The thing travels through space eating people.  Imagine a scene where we see a colony get hit with the thing and half the population just vanishes.  Worse than that, the thing’s downright insidious.  If you’re happy with your life, you don’t even realize you’ve been eaten.  And if you’re not, you don’t care.  And sure, you can leave whenever you want… but can you really?  How would you ever be certain that it’s not just doing what it always does and responding to your wishes, giving you the illusion of living in a universe where you left the Nexus?

“Lawrence Fishburne and his suspect pharmaceutical products can’t save you now!”

Come to think of it, the movie never addressed that at all.  Damn.  First Contact, Insurrection, and Nemesis might have all been Picard’s Nexus dreams.  …Which would explain why suddenly Riker is letting him beam down on away teams.  And why he’s getting at least one bad-ass action scene a film.  And a love interest.  And I’m going to stop now before I convince myself too thoroughly of this theory.

And so if Soran is to become the subtle threat you don’t see until it’s too late, the Nexus serves as the overt one.

James Kirk

…Well, he has to stay or else the movie doesn’t get made.

The Duras Sisters

I really don’t get why they were even here to be honest.  Frankly I don’t think anyone did.  The Duras sisters were hardly what I’d call arch-nemesis material.  They were dangerous schemers during the show, yes, but really only a threat because they had Sela using them as her proxy.

Honestly, Sela would have been such a more interesting choice of a villain to bring in.  And not just because I could buy the Enterprise losing in a one-on-one fight with a Warbird.  But that delves too far into the “complete re-write” territory for my taste, so rather than replace them I feel it would be better to just drop them altogether.

Picard’s Family

Keep.

Yeah, it’s cheap killing the characters off like they did.  But if we’re going to stick to the central idea of the movie, something like it has to happen.  Picard needs to be just a little bit broken.  And not just because the plot demands it, but because the Picard who comes out of this experience has to be a different man than the one who went in.  He has to be movie Picard – who is, frankly, more forceful, more direct, and just a little more rebellious than the one we saw in the series.

In fact… he’s a little more like Kirk.  Hmm…

Beverly Being Pushed Into the Water

Keep.

…Okay, so it’s not really a subplot.  But I still laugh every time I see it.  That absolutely WAS funny Data, don’t let Geordi discourage you.

…Though it might have been funnier if it were Riker.

Or Picard.

Definitely Picard.

Destruction of the Enterprise-D

I’m honestly just a little surprised that they did this.  I mean, yes, the original Enterprise was destroyed in the movies, but when that happened it was shocking.  And 3 movies in.  Destroying the D on the other hand… well, it was something that everyone expected.  Almost like it had become part of the formula.

Am I the only one who looked at this scene and immediately got envious of the future space program for the inhabitants of this system?  We sound out probes and get excited when we find ice on Mars.  They'll send out probes and discover another inhabitable planet filled with starship wreckage.
Am I the only one who looked at this scene and immediately got envious of the future space program for the inhabitants of this system? We send out probes and get excited when we find ice on Mars. They’ll send out probes and discover another inhabitable planet filled with starship wreckage.

And yet… keep.

Why?  Well, to answer that, you’ll have to read the third and final part where we look at how all of these elements can be re-built into something that is (hopefully) better.

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