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page created: 8/25/04
updated: 8/27/04

Star Trek: Generations
Special Collector's Edition - 1994 (2004) - Paramount

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVsEncoded with DTS & Dolby Digital 5.1 Digital Surround

Star Trek: Generations - Special Collector's Edition Film Rating: B

Disc Ratings (Video/Extras): B-/B+

Audio Ratings (DD/DTS): B+/A-

Specs and Features

Disc One: The Film
117 mins, PG, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at ??), dual keep case packaging, audio commentary (with co-writers Ron Moore and Brannon Braga), subtitle text commentary by Michael and Denise Okuda (coauthors of The Star Trek Encyclopedia), animated film-themed menus with sound and music, scene access (16 chapters), languages: English (DD & DTS 5.1), English and French (DD 2.0 Surround), subtitles: English, Closed Captioned

Disc Two: Supplemental Material
3 scene deconstruction featurettes: Main Title (3 mins - 4x3, DD 2.0), The Nexus Ribbon (7 mins - 4x3, DD 2.0) and Saucer Crash Sequence (5 mins - 4x3, DD 2.0), 2 visual effects featurettes: Inside ILM: Models and Miniatures (10 mins - 4x3, DD 2.0) and Crashing the Enterprise (11 mins - 4x3, DD 2.0), 4 Star Trek Universe featurettes: A Tribute to Matt Jeffries (20 mins - 4x3, DD 2.0), The Enterprise Lineage (13 mins - 4x3, DD 2.0), Captain Picard's Family Album (7 mins - 4x3, DD 2.0) and Creating 24th Century Weapons (14 mins - 4x3, DD 2.0), production photo gallery (all images 16x9), storyboard gallery with art for 3 scenes (all images 16x9), 3 production featurettes: Uniting Two Legends (26 mins - 4x3, DD 2.0), Stellar Cartography: Creating the Illusion (9 mins - 4x3, DD 2.0) and Strange New Worlds: The Valley of Fire (23 mins - 4x3, DD 2.0), 4 deleted scene featurettes with "play all" option: Orbital Skydiving (6 mins - 4x3, DD 2.0), Walking the Plank (2 mins - 4x3, DD 2.0), Christmas with the Picards (11 mins - 4x3, DD 2.0) and Alternate Ending (14 mins - 4x3, DD 2.0), animated film-themes menus with sound and music, subtitles: English and French

"They say time is the fire in which we burn..."

In the 23rd Century, retired Captain James T. Kirk and two of his former officers, Scotty and Chekov, are invited to attend the launch ceremony of the next generation starship Enterprise... the NCC-1701-B. Retirement hasn't sat well with Kirk, who seems all too uneasy about the ceremony. As luck would have it, however, on its maiden flight, the Enterprise-B receives a distress call from two El Aurian ships caught in a mysterious energy Nexus in deep space. The ship's rookie Captain asks Kirk and his officers for help, and they quickly spring into action, eager to get the old blood pumping again. They manage to rescue 47 of the El Aurian passengers, including an enigmatic physicist named Soran, but Kirk is lost in the effort.

78 years later, another Captain of the Enterprise, Jean-Luc Picard, receives troubling personal news. As he struggles to deal with this, Starfleet orders his Enterprise-D to assist a scientific observatory in the Amargosa system that has come under attack. When they arrive at the station, they discover that one of the survivors is the mysterious Soran. It seems that Soran has been conducting dangerous experiments that threaten the lives of countless millions of people... and he's got unlikely allies assisting him. Soran escapes, and Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-D give chase, knowing that they may have to pay the ultimate price to stop him.

I'll say this right now... Star Trek: Generations is my favorite of the films involving the Next Generation cast. That's right, I like it better than First Contact and better than Nemesis (the sleepy Insurrection doesn't even count in my book). The reason for this is relatively simple. Generations is easily the most cinematically interesting film of the entire Trek series. It was helmed adeptly by Brit director (and TV veteran) David Carson, but more importantly it was lit and photographed by a true legend... the late cinematographer John Alonzo, whose previous work included Chinatown. Consequently, Star Trek: Generations is a big, wide marvel of a film, epic in location, lush in color and highly atmospheric. This film is simply gorgeous to look at. Rather than completely reinvisioning all of the ships, sets, props and costumes (which is what seems to happen every time a new Trek film is made), for Generations the producers chose simply to take the Next Generation cast, sets and props, and shoot them in a more sophisticated and cinematic way. More attention is therefore paid to the performances, allowing the film to feel comfortably familiar, and yet also new and much more dynamic at the same time.

My preference for this film also has a lot to do with Malcolm McDowell, who is simply perfect as Soren. There's so much going on behind his eyes, and his scenes opposite Patrick Stewart as Picard are fantastic. You can feel the intensity in him and the slightly off-kilter intelligence - his performance is only enhanced if you're familiar with his years earlier appearance in Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange. The story here also has an emotional underpinning that not only rings true, but is surprisingly sophisticated. Star Trek: Generations deals with issues of loss and mortality... with the things we leave behind and the way we choose to live our lives... and it's not afraid to confront those issues head on.

There are, however, a few weaknesses in the story. First, we don't get to see Soren enough. McDowell is great on-screen, but we really need more time with him - time to see his building angst and explore his motivations more fully. Second, there was simply no need to involve the Klingon breast-plate brigade (Lursa and B'Etor) in this film. I hated them in the TV series, and they're no better here. The only purpose they serve is to titillate the adolescent sexual fantasies of young male Trekkies. I think I speak for every Trek fan when I say that the fact that these two manage to do what they ultimately manage to do in this film is an insult. It would have been infinitely cooler to involve the Romulans instead, especially as they're mentioned in the script. Finally, it should be no surprise to any of you by now, but if you haven't seen this film's ending, SKIP RIGHT NOW to the next paragraph, because the next sentence contains a major spoiler. The demise of James T. Kirk is... well, lame. Very lame. Instead of dying on the Bridge of the Enterprise as he should have (something Braga actually says he wishes they'd done instead in the commentary), Kirk falls off a bridge. Literally. Totally, absolutely and completely lame. Those three things aside, however, Star Trek: Generations has an awful lot going for it. For all its problems, it works in a way that the later films just don't.

Sadly, if there's one knock with this 2-disc release, it's the video quality. The film is thankfully (and for the first time) presented in anamorphic widescreen video on DVD. The colors are lush and completely accurate, and contrast is absolutely perfect with deep, dark blacks. The problem, however, is that the video has an overly crisp and digital look... and by overly I mean annoyingly so. Edges tend to jag and shimmer, and there's really no reason for it other than artificial edge-enhancement applied after the fact. Those of you with small, analog TVs will probably never notice it, but if you're watching on a big, widescreen anamorphic display or a video projector, it's definitely going to get on your nerves. Take a look at Worf's brandolier or the detailed rock faces on Veridian III at the end of the film. Ugh. The film is absolutely watchable, but you high-end videophiles are going to be ringing your hands.

Sonically, however, this disc excels. The disc includes both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 audio options. The DTS is outstanding and completely immersive, with smooth and dramatic panning, subtle and atmospheric ambiance and good low frequency reinforcement. Just listen to the scene where the Enterprise-B struggles to break free of the Nexus, or the later saucer crash sequence, and you'll be thrilled with this surround sound. The Dolby Digital track is also excellent if you prefer it. The sound field isn't as smooth - both ambient effects and panning are a little more directional - and the mix is a little more punchy on the low end. Still, it's still very good surround. Whichever track you choose, you're not likely to be disappointed.

In terms of extras, Disc One offers a thoughtful, often funny and always interesting audio commentary with screenwriters Ron Moore and Brannon Braga. They've got a number of interesting stories to tell about the development of the script and the making of the film. In addition, the interplay between the two is fascinating in and of itself. The two together wrote many episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, including the series finale, and so they've got a lot of history between them. In addition to the audio commentary, there's another good text commentary by Michael and Denise Okuda that's packed with bits of trivia and other interesting notes Trek fans will enjoy.

Disc Two is composed primarily of the same kind of behind-the-scenes featurettes we've seen on the previous Trek DVDs. The good news here, is that the featurettes are actually quite good and well conceived, thanks to the efforts supplement producer Donald Beck. The main reason they're good is that for this film, plenty of behind-the-scenes footage was taken during the production. While this means that they're all presented in full frame instead of anamorphic widescreen, it also means that there's REAL substance in most of these featurettes. Rather than just being the typical studio-produced EPK fluff, you're actually going to see many of the things you'd want to see about the production of this film.

Starting off with the Scene Deconstruction section, we get three featurettes which take a look at the creation of the main title sequence, the Nexus energy ribbon effect and the crash of the saucer section. We see early test animation, test renders, storyboards and the various film elements that went into each, and hear ILM effects technicians talking about how each scene was developed. In the Visual Effects section, we get two more featurettes, the first of which deals with how the Enterprise-D model was refurbished and filmed for Generations. The other takes us behind the scenes with ILM's John Knoll and his visual effects crew as they prepare to film the crash scene using a 12-foot model of the saucer and an 80-foot, outdoor miniature of the planet's landscape. The best of the featurettes is found in the Star Trek Universe section, which includes a fantastic tribute to original series production designer Matt Jeffries, a look at the design history of the various Enterprise ships, a very cool close-up look at Picard's family album from the film, and an interview with Gil Hibben, the "official" Klingon armorer. The Jeffries piece in particular is excellent (although I think it would have been much better suited to the Star Trek: The Original Series - Season One set than this disc, whereas the piece with Shatner talking about his horses on the Season One DVD would arguably be a better fit here - go figure). The Archives section includes a gallery of production and publicity photos, and another with storyboards from three scenes in the film, all in anamorphic widescreen. Production includes three more rather lengthy featurettes that focus on the on-set and on-location work for the film, and include great interviews with various members of the cast and crew (including both William Shatner and Patrick Stewart). Finally, the Deleted Scenes section includes just that - a set of four cut scenes including the infamous "orbital skydiving" scene that would have been part of the opening, and the original climax to the film involving Kirk, Picard and Soren (it was later re-shot). Producer Rick Berman provides a little context for each. My only complaint here is that the deleted scenes aren't anamorphic, but since most of the footage is work print material with unfinished effects, it's understandable.

I've got two more quick comments about this DVD. First, while the packaging says the set contains both the film's theatrical trailer and teaser trailer, they aren't on either disc of this set. So don't even bother looking for them. [Editor's Note: I've looked into this issue of the missing trailers, and have been informed that listing them on the packaging was a mistake. We're hearing that clearance issues prevented them from being included.] Second, the animated menus on this DVD are, in my opinion, the best on any of these Trek DVDs. The animation is close to feature quality and it really looks great. For Disc One, we're hovering just outside the hull of the Enterprise-B as it closes on the Nexus. For Disc Two, we're standing in Stellar Cartography as graphics swirl all around - a nice touch.

Star Trek: Generations is not the perfect Next Generation film by any means, but it was the first and I think the best so far. Sadly, thanks to lackluster storytelling and declining box office for all three of the films that followed it, we may never again get to see this cast on the big screen. They will never get to hit their home run, or pass the torch on-screen to another crew. But if Star Trek: Generations is their best effort, then so be it. For one brief moment, both casts stood side by side on a larger canvas, and the future of Star Trek seemed bright. While this DVD isn't perfect in terms of video quality, just about every other aspect of it is very satisfying indeed.

Bill Hunt

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