Why not continue with what is clearly a theme for this week?
Star Trek: First Contact celebrates the 18th anniversary of its release tomorrow. Something about seeing that movie on the big screen must have been a formative experience for me (the first time I ever rushed out to see a movie on opening night, perhaps?) as I have continued to recall its anniversary on this day of the year. Last year, of course, it shared the date with the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination.
I thought I had written an earlier LiveJournal flashback entry about seeing First Contact on the big screen, but I can’t find it. So I will attempt to recount the experience here.
I was very eager to discuss the movie throughout that Friday of 7th grade, and various Trek fans sites of the time – probably message boards and magazines – had been counting down to the release for a while. Once evening rolled around, my dad, a close friend and I traveled to the Showcase Cinemas in Woburn, intending to catch First Contact. But (in this pre online and mobile ticketing era) it was SOLD OUT for the night! I was pleased that all signs seemed to indicate it would be a hit, but it wasn’t feasible for us to stay for the late show. Since we were there… we ended up at the premiere screening of the weekend’s other new release, Jingle All The Way, with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sinbad playing dueling fathers in the holiday shopping season. We drove back home to the North Shore with a slight sense of disappointment.
The next day, my dad and I traveled along with some family friends to the General CInema in Burlington to again attempt to catch First Contact. Unfortunately my friend who had come along the previous evening was not able to join us.. We succeeded in catching a matinee of the film along with a sold-out crowd at Burlington’s largest screen, cinema 5, right in the middle of the complex. I remember appreciating the synchronicity of seeing it there, as we’d seen the first trailer for First Contact when catching Independence Day at that same cinema during the summer of 1996.
My dad and I enjoyed the film so much we saw it again just a week later back at Woburn, and for a third time at the General Cinema in Framingham on a snowy night in early January 1997. In fact, I realize that “threepeat” viewing set a pattern that I followed for the subsequent two Next Generation films in 1998 and 2002… perhaps those can be “film flashbacks” in a few weeks.
The film was the perfect adrenaline rush for a die – hard Next Generation fan like myself. Its PG-13 rating signified that Trek had embraced a new edge, where all previous films had been rated PG, except the first one with an odd G rating. The Next Generation crew were solidly on their own in this adventure, and weren’t afraid to kick some ass with their longtime Borg arch-nemeses. My favorite character, Data, got a whole story arc of his own as a captive of the Borg Queen, and also got to assert himself as the film reached a climax. The music score showed veteran composer Jerry Goldsmith returning to the series with gusto, contributing a refreshed rendition of his title theme and many additional atmospheric and memorable cues. The special effects was very much au currant for 1996, most notably seen in an extended sequence on the new Enterprise’s deflector dish. Perhaps most importantly, each member of the Enterprise crew was given at least one moment to shine or show off a particular character trait, with results showing their range from devastating drama (Picard: “the line must be drawn HERE!”) to broad comedy (Troi: : “I don’t have the time… what was I saying?”) and with the sure hand of cast member Jonathan Frakes guiding them in his cinematic directorial debut, the sky was the limit and anything was possible in Star Trek’s 30th anniversary year.
Man, 1994 was a great time to be a Star Trek fan.
The long – running classic franchise was arguably at its modern – era peak, with many entertainment magazines eager to devote coverage to the Enterprise’s banner year. (A particularly good example is Entertainment Weekly’s FOUR covers devoted to the franchise over the course of the year – January, May, October, and a special collector’s issue, in addition to a cover story in its sister publication TIME. )
In immediate output, the year saw Star Trek: The Next Generation completing its seven season run in syndication in May, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine settling in to a steady run in syndication – finishing its second season and going right on to its third, Star Trek: Voyager beginning filming that October and set to debut in January 1995 on the new United Paramount Network, and Star Trek Generations, a new film uniting select crew members from the Original Series and the entire crew of The Next Generation, set to hit movie theaters on November 18.
And now here we are twenty years later, and Generations will be a 20 year old movie on next Tuesday. As Picard mournfully says in the film, “time is the fire in which we burn.” But I don’t think it’s that somber of an anniversary – at least, I hope not!
Looking back, this was the event movie of the season for me, as an impressionable 10 year old and recently minted TNG fan. I talked my mom, who wasn’t the fan – parent, into attending an opening afternoon showing at the Loews in Danvers, and am sure I also talked up my anticipation throughout that week of 5th grade, so much so that one of my two homeroom teachers continued to ask me about Star Trek topics for a few years afterwards, and probably would clearly remember it if I brought the subject up to her today. My dad, the fan – parent, and I caught an encore viewing of the film a month later at the then – new General Cinema in Burlington, which would be a frequent filmgoing site for us over the next couple of years.
I’d love to see any written thoughts I might have expressed about that first screening on the opening afternoon. I do recall feeling some disappointment at the downbeat nature of the story, such as Captain Picard being an emotional wreck rather than a fearless leader for the majority of the movie. I certainly enjoyed Data’s increased presence in the storyline, as he decided to finally jump into a world with emotions, and even experiment with swearing!
The film enjoyed a solid critical and commercial reception, ultimately grossing around $75 million in grosses. I recall that its video release came on my birthday in 1995, eight months after its cinema release. The film was allegedly the first to ever feature a website as a key promotional tool.
I watched the film again about a year ago and could not believe it’s slllooowww pace, which would not hold in 2014 filmmaking styles. On the other hand, it is refreshing to see the mix of CGI and model – based special effects, which has become a lost art in the current era. The story’s short shrift to the majority of the Next Generation characters is regrettably evident upon seeing it again, and became an unfortunate trend throughout the crew’s cinematic forays. Most Trekkers can’t forgive the film for its careless kick – out of Captain James T. Kirk, who is allowed an unfitting death scene near the end of the film, and seems tacked on to the narrative, again taking away from the Next Generation focus. (what might the film have been like if it did not include any Original Series cast members?)
Especially considering it was followed two years later by First Contact, the Next Generation crew’s finest cinematic hour, this film did not age well on multiple fronts. The writers voiced their retrospective opinions in a revealing interview that appeared on the internet earlier this year. Other TNG actors have noted the intensity of 1994 and the mixed blessing of finishing their series and going right on to the movie.
So Generations clearly has a place in Star Trek history, but it is remembered with mixed emotions by those involved – and perhaps by other fans who were eager to see it on the big screen but then not matched in their expectations to boldly go where no one has gone before.