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‘Star Trek Generations’ (PG)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
November 18, 1994

Captain Kirk may be a little creaky, but as in stardates of yore, that proud chest is puffed out like a spinnaker. And while it now takes a tractor beam to hoist Scotty aboard the Enterprise, no other engineer has generated such passion for the starship's complex viscera. I've poked a lot of fun at these aging swashbucklers in the past six outings, but I'd rather ship out with them than with the wonks of the next generation any day.

Kirk (William Shatner) and Scotty (James Doohan), along with Chekov (Walter Koenig), are the only members of the original Enterprise crew to ship out with their 24th-century successors in "Star Trek Generations," a flawed but funky adventure involving a time warp known as the Nexus. Structurally, this film is an episode of the TV show "Star Trek: The Next Generation" bracketed by sections more characteristic of the movie "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home."

That's the one with the space whale. It's also the one that gave the old-timer crew members a chance to camp it up and laugh at themselves.

The next generation so rarely finds anything funny, you'd think they were a bunch of Vulcans. Now and then they tell a joke, just to see if the android named Data (Brent Spiner) gets it. But mostly they roam about the cosmos taking each other's emotional temperatures. They even have a ship shrink (Marina Sirtis). A half-human, half-Betazoid with empathic powers, she advises Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) on the crew's mental health -- sometimes on the bridge in the middle of a red alert.

Captain Kirk would never have an empath on board unless he planned to sleep with her. Sure he's a pig -- always was, now that we reflect on the past 30 years -- but in cinematic terms, even piggishness beats staring pensively into a fish tank, as Picard is wont to do. Behaviorally, the new crew members take their cue from the cerebral Picard, who becomes even more morose than usual when he learns he's lost a family member.

Non-Trekkies are sure to be surprised when the opening scene gives way to an Act 2 seemingly set aboard a tall ship in the 18th century. But it's just the officers of the Enterprise having fun on a hologram replica generated by the ship's computer. This does nothing whatsoever to advance the main plot, which gets lost in the thicket of subplots typical of a "Next Generation" television episode.

In trying to include all the characters from the TV show, screenwriters Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga lose sight of the principal scenario, which pits an evil alien scientist (Malcolm McDowell) against Capts. Kirk and Picard. Data, who finally gets an emotion implant, provides some comic relief, but the Enterprise is definitely not moving at warp speed for much of the second act.

A spectacular dogfight between the Enterprise and a Klingon warbird perks things up enormously. Meanwhile, Picard heads off the bad guy on a planet below. Then, at last, comes the moment every viewer is waiting for. Picard meets Kirk, Stewart meets Shatner, baldy meets the super-rug. Toupee or not toupee? By the end, there's no question that Kirk is the captain of captains.

When Picard, all worried and sensible, finally seeks his help, the retired Kirk can hardly hide his delight at getting back into the fray. "I take it the odds are against us and the situation is grim," he exults. And they're off to save the cosmos. Kirk may be retired, but in a matter of moments, he's the boss. Perhaps Picard reminds him of Spock. Or perhaps Picard is just being gracious.

By all rights, Stewart, the agile Shakespearean actor, ought to outshine Shatner, the geriatric pop icon. But Stewart is taking himself and the part seriously. He's probably even taking Shatner seriously. Of course, Shatner isn't an actor, he's an action hero. Action is what's expected in big-screen sci-fi flicks. Stewart's captain is thoughtful, a bit hesitant. Shatner's goes as boldly as a photon torpedo.

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