Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Creatively, Generations turned out to be something of a nexus of the Star Trek generations. The much-anticipated feud between William Shatner and Patrick Stewart never happened. Each contributed to the story and the arc of the film. Stewart sharpened Picard’s tragedy by changing it from his brother’s death to the fire that kills his nephew as well. He suggested that the ensuing Nexus scene be set at Christmas. Shatner added the “making a difference” theme and lines to Kirk’s dialogue, and in general took charge of the Kirk character. Stewart subtly changed those lines about time as a companion, to make the rhythms his own.

(When I visited the Enterprise set a few years ago for my New York Times story, I was taken to the Paramount commissary. I hadn’t yet admitted the depth of my Trek awareness, so I kept one of my reactions to myself: among all the history that room has seen, it’s apparently where William Shatner first introduced himself to Patrick Stewart.)

Probably the most controversial element of the movie was Kirk’s death. Some fans thought it was done badly, while others thought it was a bad idea to do it at all. In fact, Kirk’s death in the film was the second to be scripted and shot. The first had Soran shoot Kirk in the back, which Braga and Moore likened to the shock and irony of a similar fate suffered by John Wayne towards the end of Sands of Iwo Jima. But a test audience hated it, and Paramount paid for a reshoot. However, it had to be in basically the same place and same situation.

Whether or not viewers believe Kirk died heroically enough, his death did carry the theme forward. It’s hard to make a film about mortality in which no one dies. Still, we all want to see these characters continue, to have more adventures we can share, not only because we like them but because we know them, and how they confront important situations and issues has richer meaning to us because of all that’s come before.

Certainly Shatner wasn’t really ready to let go of Kirk. Immediately after Generations came out, he published a novel (The Return) in which he resurrects Captain Kirk, and sends him off on new 24th century adventures, with Spock, Scotty and Bones (all of whom appeared in the 24th century on TNG.)

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