Director: Jonathan Frakes
Starring: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Alice Krige
Release Date: 22nd November 1996 (UK)
Star Trek, above and beyond, was a failure. After two seasons, the original series was cancelled, only to be brought back at the last minute after popular demand and then immediately axed again before the third season ended due to lackluster ratings and a perceived lack of quality in the episodes. After laying dormant for thirteen years, Star Trek was revived in the form of its first movie, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, itself borne from the ashes of the aborted Star Trek: Phase II series, an admittedly cynical attempt by Paramount to cash in on the science fiction blockbuster craze of the late 1970s.
A new film would come out every few years thereafter until its fourth installment, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home in 1986 did so well financially that it spawned what this reviewer and many other Trekkies will name the greatest spin off of the five, Star Trek: The Next Generation.
After seven years and the fantastic series finale All Good Things, The Next Generation made its feature film debut with the 1994 crossover film Generations. In brief, I found it fairly lackluster, it felt like three or four episodes of the show glued together with a high budget for sets, Malcolm McDowell (who I once served – and gave him a very scornful look for this film which even Clockwork Orange isn’t enough to gloss over this one) and out of place lighting. Two years later, we get the first The Next Generation only movie, and in brief it is as close as the entire 50 year franchise gets to perfect.
Sorry for the somewhat lengthy introduction, trust me I tried to keep it as brief as I could without sacrificing content. This is barely scratching the surface of the history of this half century long franchise, but that is a story for another time. Let’s start the review shall we?
The first thing about this movie is it thoroughly modernises the franchise. The adversaries of the movies had long been the arguable Star Trek stand ins for the Soviet Union, the Klingon Empire. Even as late as the previous film, they were the adversaries. But in modernising the franchise with enemies which had only been seen in a small handful of the then hundreds of episodes in the Borg, and giving the nameless and faceless collective and hitherto unseen central face leader in the Borg Queen, it gives the franchise as a whole and this film specifically a much needed gloss of fresh paint. For one thing, it means that the over used shot of a Klingon ship exploding is nowhere to be found in here (trust me; it crops up in numerous films and episodes). The Borg’s aim for adapting for perfection may as well be the driving force behind this movie and the franchise as a whole when it is at its best as almost everything it did during 1996, its 30th year hopefully shows. I personally recommend not only the Voyager episode ‘Flashback’ and Deep Space Nine episode ‘Trials and Tribble – ations’ for further proof that in their 30th year, this franchise could do no wrong.
Patrick Stewart is on fine form as usual, but if I am honest, he is easily one of the finest actors that I have ever had the privilege to see. Stewart is fine in everything he has ever done, from this year’s Green Room to his turns with the RSC decades ago to David Lynch’s Dune to of course, his turn in the little known X-Men franchise from 2000 onwards. On fine form as well is director Jonathan Frakes who is not only making his feature film debut with an absolute classic as well as turning in a great performance as a supporting lead during the Earth set scenes and aboard the initial Enterprise E scenes, in my opinion, no mean feat. He gives us a virtual tour de force performance here as Captain Jean Luc Picard, both drawing on his dual role as the aforementioned Captain Picard and Borg Locutus in two part series three finale and series four opener, The Best of Both Worlds Parts I and II and expanding upon it at the same time to give us perhaps the greatest role in this exceptionally vast franchise.
James Cromwell and Alfre Woodard also turn in fantastic performances in their roles as Zefram Cochrane and Lilly Sloane respectively. While Cromwell wasn’t a Star Trek outsider (he had a guest role on The Next Generation years before), both play characters outside of the norm and both give great performances that will resound in Trek for years to come, and for Cromwell this is doubly an achievement, as Zefram Cochrane was already established as a character nearly 30 years before this film in the original series.
The set design is fantastic this time out. With a massively successful science fiction franchise, this is to be expected, however in the last movie, the sets were modified television ones quickly made to look movie worthy, augmented with some frankly hideous lighting, so to finally see sets made for motion picture use is a welcome relief and I am sure it will convey the same message to you.
Overall, the TNG crew only made four movies (Generations, this, Insurrection and Nemesis) and this is by far the best of those, but overall I would go as far as to say that taken as a whole, this is one of, if not the best installment of the entire movie franchise (not including this year’s Star Trek Beyond, not fair to include it until I’ve seen it, something I already have plans to do.) and you would do well to see it yourself. Especially given how the fantastic actor director, Jonathan Frakes would eventually follow this with 2004’s Thunderbirds, a fantastic mess which only serves to highlight how great this motion picture is.