- Year: 1994
- Director: David Carson
- Series Rank: #8
- Year Rank: #45
- Oscar Nominations: none
- Nighthawk Nominations: none
- The Enterprise Crew: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, Gates MacFadden, LeVar Burton, Marina Sirtis, Michael Dorn, Whoopi Goldberg, William Shatner, James Doohan, Walter Koenig, Alan Ruck
- Villain: Malcolm McDowell
It had been made clear at the end of Star Trek VI that the original crew were flying off into the sunset (or the second star on the right). So, us Star Trek fans were anxiously awaiting what would happen with the future of the film franchise. They had considered rebooting it back to the Academy days when they made the sixth film. There was talk of a TNG film, but TNG was still on the air – would a film take place between seasons? In the end, they would finally announce that the next film would be a combined film, with members of the original crew handing things off to the Next Generation crew. The show would wrap its final season in May with the film being released in the fall. And, the key thing that became a selling point, was that Kirk would die.
The question that everyone was waiting for was how this was going to work. We already knew what happened with some of the crew – an ancient looking McCoy (137 years old according to Data) had appeared in the TNG pilot. Spock, looking much less ancient, had appeared in a two-part crossover around the time of the release of Star Trek VI. Scotty would apparently become stuck in a transporter and reappear in a late TNG episode. How was all of this going to work as a crossover and how would Kirk die?
Well, the answer to all of that is involved in the “Nexus”, a temporal anomaly that sucks Kirk in during the early part of the film. In the later part of the film, Picard will also end up sucked into the Nexus, will convince Kirk to come out of the Nexus and they will battle the villain of the film to save the day. I throw that all out in a couple of sentences because for people who are confused by time travel it will really hurt their heads (and breaks down if you really think about it) and because it’s the massive weakness of the film. It even involves Whoopi Goldberg as the annoying TNG character Guinan (who, thankfully, won’t be in the next two films). It takes too long for Picard to get Kirk to join him and it’s simply a plot device. Worst of all, it takes away from the rest of the film, which is actually mostly solid.
The beginning of the film is okay, as the three old cast members (Kirk, Scotty, Chekhov) have to try and save two ships being battered about by an energy ribbon on a new Enterprise that is under-staffed and missing key components. After Kirk seemingly dies in that incident, we jump forward 78 years and we really get into the film.
The original Star Trek show explored the stars. Its episodes were fascinating even when they weren’t very good. The second show focused a lot more on the characters who inhabited the ship. True, they had four more seasons to do it, but they always gave it more of a focus. So, it’s only appropriate that they would focus on the characters in the films. We get great character moments like Worf earning his promotion on the holodeck, or Picard finding out that close members of his family have died or the friendship between Geordi and Data. All of these moments are handled very well and the key one I will discuss in just a minute.
First, I’ll pause and move back to the plot. The plot involves destroying a sun so the “Nexus” will move its path and Dr. Soren, who was on board the ship back aboard the old Enterprise can get back to it. Soren is played by Malcolm McDowell and he’s definitely a delight in the film. He plays the villain quite well and he’s not afraid of anyone, shooting at Starfleet, punching Klingons, destroying stars. He’s not up to the level of the two Khans, but he’s right behind them on the list of Star Trek villains and he’s one of the real strengths of the film.
Another is the acting from the new crew. As a group they were always better actors than the original crew and that follows through here. Just look at the bravado that Shatner put into the word “Fire!” at the end of Star Trek VI compared to the way Jonathan Frakes says the same word here.
Now back to the character development. This film has a key development moment in that Data puts in the emotion chip. That drastically affects his actions in this film (and the next three) but is a major step in his development. It allows for a couple of mis-steps in the film (Riker’s “Fire” is undermined by Data’s first-pump), but it also allows for a great moment between Data, who feels he has let Geordi down, and Picard who is demanding that one of his officers perform his duty. In essence, you can view the four Next Generation films as an eighth season of the show, with moments for the rest of the crew, but primarily focusing on the relationship between Picard and Data and Data’s evolution. I won’t say more here, but this film sets everything in place for all that will develop over the course of the next three films, and if the last two films are ultimately disappointing, they are still part of a greater whole.