“Space … the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its continuing mission, to explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no one has gone before.”
From 1978 through 2002, 10 Star Trek films were released at the box office. The franchise almost ended with the first, but it was followed up by what I consider the best of the 10. The films are a collection of ups and downs, but you know you want the complete collection up there on your shelf. You already have the first six, starring the original crew. Now your wait for completion is over. The Next Generation films are out from Paramount Home Entertainment, and here they are ...
Star Trek: Generations (1994)
“I take it the odds are against us and the situation is grim?”
Nearly 20 years after the original Star Trek left the network airwaves, Gene Roddenberry set out to discover whether he could catch lightening in a bottle once again. Some say he did an even better job with Star Trek: The Next Generation. There are times I tend to agree. The Star Trek sequel series had a lot more advantages from the moment it was conceived. Star Trek, a series that barely registered on the ratings during its three-year primetime voyage, became a huge sensation in syndication. By the time The Next Generation came on the scene, the original show had been syndicated in over 20 different languages all over the world. It had launched an animated series, and a fifth feature film was already in the early stages of consideration. So it isn’t quite fair to judge the success or quality of The Next Generation over the original series. One thing is inarguable. The second would never have existed if not for the first.
The two points of Star Trek were about to collide in a rather fortuitous sequence of events. At the same time that the original crew finished making their final feature film, the cast of The Next Generation were about to wrap up their seventh and final season. It only seemed logical that the films would take the same course as the shows did. With the television series done and Kirk and his crew finally retired, it was time to take Picard and his crew to the big screen. Fans were offered a story that allowed the crews to pass the baton, giving Picard and his crew the authority to go forward and offering a kind of send-off for the classic crew and particularly one James T. Kirk. The result was Star Trek: Generations.
“Who am I to argue with the captain of the Enterprise?”
It’s the maiden voyage of the USS Enterprise NCC-1701B, and three of the ship’s original incarnation are invited to attend along with a large group of press. Kirk (Shatner), Mr. Scott (Doohan) and Chekov (Koenig) are the invited guests. The ship isn’t ready for standard duty and is only scheduled to do a loop around the old solar system with most of its staff and equipment coming Tuesday, in what becomes a running gag in the film. Of course, there’s a Starfleet alert, and they are the only ship in the area once again. Now I’ve bought this throughout the franchise, but it’s a bit scary that they are at Earth, the HQ of the Federation, and they are the only nearby starship. No wonder the Borg keep almost kicking their butts. A ship is in distress. They’ve encountered a kind of energy ribbon in space, and it’s tearing apart their ship. The Enterprise arrives in time to save the crew of the damaged ship, but they lose one of their own in the process. Kirk, ever the hero that Shatner envisions himself to be, risks his life to save the ship. What does he get for his trouble? He’s ripped out of the ship’s hull with a chunk of the ship itself. It’s finally bye-bye, James T. Kirk … or is it?
Jump to the Next Generation aboard the new version of Picard’s Enterprise. Turns out there’s this madman named Soran, and he looks a hell of a lot like Malcolm McDowell. We’ve seen him before. He’s a member of Guinan’s race, and you saw them both as members of the crew Kirk rescued on his final voyage. He’s blowing up stars so that he can steer that old energy ribbon toward a planet where he can get back inside. The problem is that destroying stars isn’t too good for the people on the planets that orbit them. So Picard (Stewart) and company must stop him. Unfortunately, they fail … miserably. The Enterprise crashes on the planet, and Picard ends up inside the Nexus that Soran wanted so much to rejoin. It appears that you can live out your fondest dreams inside that place. Picard finds himself with a family he has resigned himself to not ever having. But Guinan tells him that he can get out and have a second chance to save all those people, and she happens to know a guy here who might be able to help. So Picard goes to see a man about a horse. You guessed it. James T. Kirk rides to the rescue once again. They get their second crack at Soran, and all is well that ends well … except for … you guessed it. James T. Kirk. He’s dead, Jim. Again.
The film tried to do too much, and while there are wonderful moments, there’s just not a lot for them to do. It was originally intended to have more original crew members. George Takei turned down a chance to have Sulu at the helm, as he considered it a demotion for the character. Instead we get his daughter. Leonard Nimoy was offered the chance to return as Spock and direct the film. After he read the script, he turned it down. At a convention I attended once, he told us that there was this character and his name was Spock, but that’s all they had in common with the beloved Mr. Spock. DeForest Kelley also turned down a return. What is most disappointing is that it appears Nichelle Nichols was the only original cast member who was never even asked to return. Again it didn’t matter, because there just wasn’t enough time to give everyone something to do. This is a Picard and Kirk , and even the rest of the Next Generation cast were relegated to a B storyline involving the ship’s crash. There’s no meat for any of them here.
The film also relied too much on the television sets and costumes along with props. Destroying the ship did give them a good excuse for having a more motion-picture-ready ship along with sets, but this one falls short in a lot of ways, scoring a few emotion scenes that were nice to experience, but not enough to carry a film. The torch was passed, and it was time to move on.
Star Trek: First Contact (1996)
“The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force in our lives. We work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity.”
- No one is going to buy that. Star Trek has always been about the box office and other marketing pathways. If the franchise makes money, it gets to go on, and even though Generations didn’t exactly overwhelm at the box office, it did enough to test the waters for a second effort. The future of any new Next Generation films would rest on this one. So they made some bankable decisions.
First they did what the original film series did to save the day. They went to the first officer. Here Jonathan Frakes would prove that he’s a hell of a better director than actor. This would go on to become one of the highest regarded of all of the Trek feature films. But it wasn’t just Frakes who … if you’ll pardon the expression … made it so.
Originally Frakes and Paramount wanted to bring back Q, hoping that a beloved bad guy would rekindle the series like Khan did for the original films. For some reason the script couldn’t be nailed down, and they went with the Borg. These guys have become the Klingons or Romulans of The Next Generation. They were an exciting enemy that also offered the opportunity to be visually huge on a feature film. It turned out to work. Then they decided to turn to another Trek standby also credited with revitalizing the earlier films. They brought in time travel.
The plot is pretty simple. The Borg have attempted an attack on Earth. It’s a tough fight, but the aliens are beaten. But just before their cube explodes, a small round ship escapes and is pursued by the Enterprise. The mission of these Borg is to go back in time and prevent Zephram Cochrane, played by James Cromwell, from flying Earth’s first warp ship. That flight would catch the attention of a nearby Vulcan ship and lead to Earth’s first contact with the Vulcans and the birth of the Federation Of Planets. If the Borg can stop the flight, Earth will be easy pickings for the Borg. So the crew step into history and help Cochrane fly his warp ship. Meanwhile those still on the ship are dealing with a Borg invasion of the ship headed by a Borg Queen, played by Alice Krige, who would make one of the franchise’s best bad guys …eh, girls.
The film did a great job of integrating action and horror with many Alien overtones on the ship itself. Picard teams up with Cochrane’s partner, Lily, played by an up-and-coming Alfre Woodard. As good as both actors are, there’s no chemistry here, and their story doesn’t fit the main narrative. A side trip to the holodeck and another Dixon Hill story appears so forced that I feel badly for Woodard, who has to make any of this work. She had better chemistry with Cromwell, and the story would have been better served keeping the two together.
Still, this is an exciting film that ecompasses all of what has been the best of Star Trek over the years and works on almost every level.
Star Trek: Insurrection (1998)
“I feel obliged to point out that the environmental anomalies may have stimulated certain rebellious instincts common to youth, which could affect everyone’s judgment … except mine, of course.”
This is the weakest of the four films included here. I’ve heard fans say it was more like an episode and would have made a good one. Just not so. This would have been just as bad as an episode. It’s full of the same moral traps that can make Trek tedious. Roddenberry knew how to make social statements without hitting us so hard on the head.
Data (Spiner) has been loaned out to a group of Federation researchers who have been observing a planet from a holo-blind. Data goes a little nuts and reveals their presence to the natives and threatens the research group. Picard is called to provide schematics for Data so they can work on him. Instead Picard decides to come himself. Admiral Dougherty, played by Anthony Zerbe, doesn’t want Picard showing up, and for good reason. The planet has healing abilities, and those who live on it enjoy long and healthy lives. Some members of the Federation want to team up with a rival race to remove the inhabitants and steal that life force from the planet. Picard isn’t going to stand for that kind of injustice, and it doesn’t hurt that he’s falling for one of the natives, Anij, played by Donna Murphy.
The film certainly contains a lot of “cuteness”, but the opera that Picard sings to capture a rogue Data just jumps the shark big time. Picard finding his youth through tango among other elements just make this film almost unwatchable.
Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)
“It can be the future. Buried deep within you, beneath all the years of pain and anger, there is something that has never been nurtured: the potential to make yourself a better man. And that is what it is to be human.”
That appears to be a major theme in this final Next Generation film. It starts with the discovery of a positronic brain signal. That means there’s yet another Data out there, and the Enterprise heads to the planet where the signals originate. Here we are introduced to two new Trek inventions that we’ll never see again. There’s the shuttle called the captain’s yacht, and inside is a huge Mad Max dune buggy, and this is how we track down the several pieces of the new android, with desert dune buggy chases and a narrow escape. The parts assembled, we find it was an earlier prototype of the good Doc’s, and he was named B-4. He’s much more simple-minded, and Data makes the brilliant decision to download his own memories into B-4. It doesn’t make him brighter, but it does help him become a tool for bad guys. Of course, the memory bit was intended to save the character when Data makes a huge sacrifice to save his friends. It was an element not really explored again.
The big story is that Picard has been invited to the Romulan Council where a new boss has been installed. He’s a member of the Romulan slave-race, the Remans, but not quite. Remans like the Viceroy, played by Ron Perlman, look more like Nosferatu than Vulcans. But this new leader, played by Tom Hardy, is human in appearance. Turns out he’s a clone of Picard, and he has a universe domination plan that includes playing a little cat-and-mouse with Picard. He’s played by a young Tom Hardy, and the truth is this whole clone thing is really a distraction. They have a big new ship, and it’s a big space battle winner-takes-all.
This film I think is somewhat underrated. It’s not great, but it’s not bad either, and it has some undertones that maybe should have been moved more front and center. The problem is Stuart Baird was not a fan of the franchise and wasn’t very good at listening to the people who were. The end result is that we get four films, but most of the characters are pretty much ignored. The ending is too predictable, robbing it of its deserving emotional moment.
Each film is presented in its original aspect ratio. All sport brand new ultra-high-definition transfers and now appear in full 4K quality. Unfortunately, we can’t talk about the video quality here without bringing up the controversial subject of DNR (Digital Noise Reduction) once again. There is ample evidence that there has been some scrubbing on these transfers. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some wonderful things to talk about here. It just means that the video will not be as true to the theatrical release as many of us would like it to be. Even if we could agree that removing the grain is a good thing, which we can’t. You need to understand that the DNR process is not a perfect one. When you remove some of that “noise”, you change certain aspects of the film itself. Backgrounds lose some sharpness and focus. I propose that it is a matter of maintaining the integrity of the original filmmaker’s intent. Enough, for now, about DNR. There is no question that the films have never looked better insofar as detail and sharpness Colors are the real winner here. I’ve never seen any of these films look so bright and colorful before. Contrast is another huge standout. When you have such white craft against the blackness of space, it’s a real opportunity to show off a good contrast presentation, or to reveal a bad one. Fortunately this one excels in that area as well. Black levels are superb. It’s a package deal, and we either take it or leave it. The good does outweigh the bad here, and I wasn’t sufficiently annoyed with the flaws to avoid the set. I can only hope for a future release that restores all of the films and includes a transfer more faithful to the original film element..
The Dolby Atmos is an awesome upgrade here. Again the key is that it does not impose itself as a distraction. The surround mix is negligible enough to fit in with what we remember while adding more on the dynamic side rather than any kind of aggressive mix. You’ll hear sub response that I just never connected with the original films. The dialog has been obviously enhanced by the new mix with good results. The iconic incidental music is better than ever before. You get everything you’re used to, but better, in this audio presentation. Subs offer the best improvement adding a ton of depth to those starship fights and damage. The Borg ship offers a lot of creepy surrounds that honestly put you on edge.
The extras are pretty much ported on the Blu-ray copies from the original Blu-ray releases. The commentary tracks are also offered on the UHD discs.
Your Trek film collection on 4K is finally complete. These releases take us to where no Trek releases have gone before, and combined with the six original films and the three Kelvin timeline films, you can have that killer marathon you’ve been dreaming of. About 27 hours will get you through the marathon. Be sure to invite some Klingons. “Klingons never do anything small, do they?”