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.
William Shatner does not need to keep boldly going at age 80, almost 81. And yet, like any good actor, he keeps saying yes, or may be afraid of stopping, or he may just want to work as long as he can. Or some combination of those three factors. In any case, his latest career turn has taken him back to the theatre, where he got his start but has not spent time for quite awhile. So he turned to a knowledgeable and easy to remember subject: himself. He brought his latest enterprise to Philadelphia for one night only on Tuesday, March 13th.
With celebrity autobiography shows like this, it can be hard to pick out the drama. Well, their life’s drama is often splattered around the stage, but the dramatic throughline of their presentation can be harder to discern. I thought back to my seeing Carrie Fisher’s “Wishful Drinking” four years ago in Berkeley, and how I’d let myself get wrapped up in her forcefully glamorous aura before being reminded by my also in the audience friend to think critically about Fisher’s presentation.
The same challenges exist in Mr. Shatner’s performance, and yet he has become so iconic (treasured?!) that I’m sure a good chunk of his Philadelphia audience took pleasure in simply seeing him LIVE. He did enter and leave the stage to a standing ovation, the latter round of which I joined in on.
This show, “Shatner’s World”, seems to have arisen out of a “now what?” or “why not?” phase of Shatner’s career. Actually, the expression is more likely to be “I’ve got nothing to lose!”
He takes the audience on a merry-go-round of a live autobiography, from the streets of Montreal to the hustle of Los Angeles to the infinity of outer space, and beyond. His most famous credit gets its due, but is not as closely scrutinized as I’d expected it to be. Shatner offers hints of what seems to be a larger theme of achieving personal (serious) acceptance of the role, something I would have liked to hear more about but may be difficult to describe in a public setting.
He doesn’t shy away from describing other parts of his career, but does keep the focus about 90% on his public life. His three daughters are only mentioned briefly, perhaps by their request, and there is no examination of the challenges of maintaining an acting career over so many years.
Shatner gave several unscripted asides to the audience about a range of topics from lighting cues to the eternal question of mortality. I found those thoughts to be more intriguing than the scripted material, and can understand why he’s gained popularity for his open mic and written word skills.
I’m certainly glad to have attended this performance, and realize that it adds to a relatively wide spectrum of Star Trek actors I’ve either seen or met in person – Shatner, Nimoy, Stewart, Spiner, plus two instances of one degree of separation links to Colm Meaney and Marina Sirtis.
And yet, in keeping with my theatrical sensibilities and desire for human insight, I know I might have even more enjoyed being a fly on the wall (or assistant director!) in the rehearsal room for this project. What must it be like to be so closely associated with a persona and therefore make your public life in conjunction with that role? Us it possible to show another side of yourself? How do those close to you feel about that side of your life? Or do they feel fortunate that they know you in real life? Do fantasy and reality blur to an inescapable nebula?
From what I gather, it seems that Shatner DOES ask some of those questions in his recent documentary “The Captains”, interviewing all five additional captain-actors of STAR TREK about their personal and professional lives. I considered buying a copy of this film at the souvenir table, but changed my mind after seeing it can be purchased for $12 less online.
It is clear you are a role model and still very present figure, Mr. Shatner. Thanks for your commitment and perseverance!