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Those TNG Movies: What Went Wrong?

No matter what you may feel about the pleasures (or lack thereof) of Star Trek: The Next Generation the television show, I think it’d be fair to say that everyone can agree that the TNG movies were somewhat lacking, at best (With the exception of First Contact). What went wrong when scaling the series up to the big screen?

Following the finale of the television series, the cast and crew of the Enterprise-D (and then, Enterprise-E) went on to head up four movies: Generations, First Contact, Insurrection and Nemesis, with each one theoretically offering adventures beyond the scope of the television show and also allowing for character development that went further than what was possible in the relatively self-contained episode television format. The only problem was, three of those four movies seemed so uncertain and so uneven that it was if there hadn’t been seven years of solid (and, okay, occasionally ropey) storytelling practice up until that point.

Generations is, I think, the best of the worst, if that makes sense. Unlike Insurrection or the truly horrible Nemesis, its flaws feel more the result of flop sweat and trying to keep too many balls in the air than anything else, and there’s something almost forgivable about that; Generations is a very ambitious movie, and as such, I think it’s almost okay that it fails to come together into a totally cohesive movie in the end. If nothing else, having to try and wrap up the legacy of the lead character from the original incarnation of Trek is almost too much alone to deal with, never mind trying to do that, give equal time to the regular cast and tell a story. Call this one a valiant failure, then.

First Contact, on the other hand, is a success on almost every level; it manages to both feel like a TNG story and fulfill the needs and tropes of an action movie at the same time, expanding to become a movie, as opposed to an overgrown television episode. It helps that the movie has both memorable villains and a plot that feels as if it’s “large” enough to be worth a movie, if that makes sense; time traveling to ensure that humanity reaches the stars is a grand notion that feels like compelling enough be the central plot of any movie, not just something with the existing framework of a Star Trek, and that allows the movie to just have fun exploring that idea and taking it to dramatic places along the way to a conclusion we all knew was coming.

The same can’t be said of Insurrection, which feels more like a step backwards. Tonally uneven – there are far too many attempts at comedy that just fall flat through execution, with script, direction and (oddly enough) music cues conspiring to flatten performances that are trying their best despite poor material. That kind of sums up the movie; there’s not enough here to really make this an interesting piece, and the script is surprisingly weak considering the author (Michael Piller, who headed up the series during its prime), and as hard as the actors try, the movie never really comes to life in any real way. At best, this movie feels like a subpar episode of the series, only twice as long and in better definition.

Even that, though, is better than Nemesis, which just… feels wrong. The sense of trying too hard from Generations is back, but it’s mixed with a feeling that none of the characters actually feel like themselves, and that the usual TNG narrative logic has been thrown out to be replaced with something that just tonally doesn’t fit; it was clearly an attempt to reboot the franchise and inject some new energy, but the result is a sense of discomfort and awkwardness. Nemesis is a film that feels not just like a misstep, but a tumble down some stairs; a self-loathing Star Trek film that wishes that the franchise was something very different from what it actually is.

And with that, TNG essentially stopped. It continued in the spin-off novels and comics, of course, but as a canonical beast starring the actors, it was done. It’s a really sad way to go out, and one that was undeserving of the series that not only reignited the Star Trek franchise but arguably made it more popular than ever.

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Comments

  • That Guy

    I’ve really never understood the all-consuming hate for Nemesis.  t’s definitely got its flaws, to be sure, but it’s a solid enough movie.  For me, it’s the #2 TNG film behind First Contact, definitely ahead of Insurrection (which felt like an extended episode) and Generations.

  • road waffle

    I definitely agree about the comments about trying too hard with the comedy and making the characters “fun”, especially in the latter two. The characters should simply have been themselves, the same ones fans had been watching for seven years. Picard in Nemesis was particularly cringe-inducing.

    Insurrection was simply forgettable; Nemesis ranks lower because it fails in practically all its aims, has plotholes you could fly a starship through, and as a goodbye to the cast of TNG it is little short of insulting. Data dies, and we get no comment about it from Geordie, his best friend. That, among multitudes of other things, shows the amount of respect the writers had for the characters.

  • Rollo Tomassi

    Insurrection is the worst of the four.

  • fan4fan

    Insurrection was at least inoffensive… unlike Nemesis (which – as was mentioned above – got pretty much everything wrong).

  • bmiddleton2

    Insurrection, to my mind, is the best of the four, and the most true to the show.  It feels like Star Trek: TNG to me.  The cast gels, and the relationships feel solid.  

    First Contact is a great movie, and strikes a balance between Trek and a more commercial property.  A better balance than Star Trek 09.

    Generations still feels like a TOS movie.  It feels like they shoe-horned the TNG cast into a TOS movie, instead of the other way around.  

    Nemesis has it’s faults.  Part of this, I believe, is because there is a reasonably consistent feel between Insurrection and First Contact, and Nemesis kind of ditches that.  There were some nice character moments, but it definitely felt like they were running out of steam, even though the fans were still itching for more.

    I would have liked to see another TNG movie with Frakes at the helm for sure.

  • sandwich eater

     When I saw Nemesis I assumed that the next TNG movie (which never came out) would have involved Data’s resurrection Star Trek 3 style.  I mean there was a Data body in the movie all he would have to have done was back up his consciousness and have it downloaded into the other Soong android.  I think that the movie didn’t really deal with Data’s death because they planned on reversing it all along.

  • Lastnamecumbie

    Why do people hate in these movies they have flaws but so do all movies they were not that bad and the acting was always good so boo to the author.

  • Gsnake007

     i definetly agree with you on that plus insurrection was set during the dominion war so i didnt make sense for picard and them to be doing all that when they should of been on the front lines. That admiral and the bad guy(i forget his name) should of went along with that plan and move the people so we could use that radiation for our people against the dominion

  • karloff_fan

    Red Letter Media’s Mr. Plinkett has very comprehensive (and absolutely hysterical) video reviews of what went wrong with each of the Next Generation films. Totally worth checking out.

  • Wildstorm

     I would love to see the nearly 4 hour cut of Nemesis.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=827827625 ハワード ジョセフ

    I was just about to mention it and second your recommendation to check them out.

  • http://www.crimsontear.com/ Crimson Tear

    The main problem that caused the TNG movies to fail was the requirement to watch the TNG series first. There are many people I know who haven’t watch them and have no intention to watch them as they have never watched the episodes before it. They huge fans of Star Trek II through VI as well as the reboot, but they know there is no way they can relate to Picard and crew without getting to know them over the years. 

  • renamoretti1

    It all comes down to writing and directing.  Generations had laughably bad writing (except for the prologue) and the direction was entirely lacking.  It wanted to be “important” instead of trying to be a good film first (like all the good original ST movies were).  Berman, Braga and the ever terrible Ronald D. Moore at their absolute, most pretentious worst.

    First Contact is indeed the exception.  It’s actually amazing that it was any good given that Berman and Braga were completely out of juice and Ronald D. Moore is just a horribly bad writer.

    Maybe Braga, who used to be a good writer way back when had a final burst of inspiration.

    Insurrection is just a bad script (great music score though!) and Frakes’ directorial touch could not save it, while Nemesis had a script by John Logan (who is as horrible a writer as Ron Moore – see The Last Samurai).

    Did I mention I think Ron Moore is a bad writer? ;)

    It’s really too bad that Berman and Braga had been so written out by the time they did the movies and that they felt the need to involve Moore, but then again it’s Hollywood’s permanent problem that they want to milk success even after it’s obvious to everyone the milk is long gone.

    Maybe it was the Curse of Jerry Goldsmith and Star Trek as the genius composer managed to be associated with the worst films of the series.

  • renamoretti1

     You speak about Star Trek as if it weren’t one of the most commercial series of all time…

  • renamoretti1

     I forgot that one.  The “reboot” by J.J. Abrams (now that’s a really horrendous director).  The shaky camera was enough to make one want to render their stomach, but not enough to hide the bad script.

    Amazing the number of horrendously bad writers who work all the time in Hollywood.

    Maybe that’s the reason the industry is unable to generate any money or excitement (except if you believe their constant PR releases).

    I wish they had buried the series after ST VI.  At least they’d have had a great sendoff.

  • Paul1963

     I’m pretty sure Data’s death was intended to be permanent.  Brent Spiner had expressed concerns that it would look strange if ageless android Data reflected the changing appearance of the very human actor playing him.
    “Insurrection” felt like it was just a big episode of the series, and I didn’t necessarily think that was a bad thing.  The entire universe doesn’t HAVE to be in the balance in every film.  You don’t HAVE to wreck the ship in every film (seriously–Kirk’s Enterprise lasted nearly 20 years before being destroyed and replaced, and Picard lost TWO of them in less than ten years?).  That said, it was kinda neat when they used the weaponless Enterprise itself as a weapon: “Ha, you don’t have any weapons or shields, what are you going to do?”  “Well, I guess I’ll just RAM YOU WITH MY SHIP THAT’S THE SIZE OF A SMALL TOWN.”
    I also remember thinking, after seeing “First Contact” in the theatre, that Patrick Stewart was a more convincing action hero in his mid-to-late-fifties than William Shatner had been at the same age.

  • Paul1963

     In “Nemesis,” I meant when talking about ramming with the Enterprise.

  • Paul

    Since no one else has really said it, I’d like to mention the fact that Brannon Braga is an absolutely atrocious SF writer/producer.  He single handedly destroyed TNG if anyone did.

  • http://www.facebook.com/MickDanger Mike Marino

    http://redlettermedia.com/plinkett/star-trek/  I wonder what Mr. Plinkett thinks of them…

  • ultraaman

    Pretty spot-on analysis.  One of my biggest problems with the movies was also the never ending focus on Picard and Data.  Every. Single. Movie.  The other characters got short changed to no end as they were relegated to little more than performing their jobs.

    I’ve grown to appreciate Generations (esp now that I understand it was filmed during the early 90’s recession and had its budget slashed at the last minute).  But Insurrection I loathe for all the reasons you said and Nemesis just annoys me.  The original conceit of the story had so much potential but had so much cut from the final movie that it made little sense (the website actually filled in a lot of missing information that should have been in the movie; Star Trek 11 also had the same problem with the red matter which was fully explained in prequal comic book). The Picard clone story was interesting but really went nowhere and Data didn’t need yet another brother – B4? srsly?  I haven’t seen the extended to see if it is worthwhile.

    So much potential wasted.  Sucks.

  • Sleeper99999

    When will the madness stop?  FIRST CONTACT is not a very good movie.  Really, folks, it’s not.

    1) The Borg’s plan is stupid.  As others have pointed out, why not travel back in time in their home space and THEN go to Earth?  Why fly through a massive Starfleet armada and take enormous casualties if they’re just intending to time-jump anyway?  And why go to the date of first contact?  They don’t intend to subtly alter history by preventing first contact with the Vulcans, they want to assimilate the entire human race.  Why not go back to the Middle Ages or before Christ?  Maybe they couldn’t you say.  Maybe their time-travel tech was inexact or something.  Okay, maybe a line or two of dialogue in the movie to explain that, then?
    2) Keeping the Enterprise out of the battle is idiotic.  If they don’t trust Picard, just relieve him of duty and have Riker take command of the ship.  It’s a gigantic brand-spanking-new battleship.
    3) The Borg Queen.  This ruins the whole concept of the Borg.  They are a hive mind, the collective will of billions of beings.  Having them led by a scenery-chewing creepy dominatrix-type who vamps it up with Data is just awful.  It smacks of condescending to the audience, all but telling us that we’re dummies who can’t grasp the concept of a group mind and need a Bad Guy (or Girl) to root against.
    4) Falling-down blackout drunk Zefram Cochrane is also a dumb idea.  And I still am not exactly sure why he was hoping to get rich making a warp drive in a post-nuclear society that seems to have trouble with running water or food supplies.

    This movie coasts solely on “OMG it’s the Borg and they’re fighting and it’s so cool” and the sad part is, the fight scenes aren’t even all that great.

  • Knowles2

    You correct the shaky camera was not enough to hide the bad script, may be that the reason for the so bright it going to blind you bridge and the overuse lens flare effect use through out the film, which still did not hide the terrible script. 

  • Knowles2

    I agree Insurrection was the only TNG movie that tries to bring the feel of the show to the TV screen an get the crew doing some exploration in a film instead of blowing shit up every scene.  Generations also had a bit of exploration. 

    With Insurrection all they had to do was tone the comedy down, an thicken up the plot a bit more an it would have been a perfect star trek movie. 

  • Knowles2

    Star Trek First contact ; Almost perfect if you ignore all the flaws in the Borg plans.

    Star Trek Insurrection; The film is most like a Star trek episode. My only real complaint was that we did not see more explanation of why the admiral was so desperation, show do not tell, showing of a devastated planet or two may be even have the Enterprise flying through a debris field of Federation ships to show large and devastating the war with the Dominion was. It would have given audience a greater reason why the Admiral was willing to force relocate the Baku, why the alliance with those aliens were desperately needed. 

    Star Trek: Generations ; Like most of Star trek films, it needed a few more rewrites of the script, it was not bad, just a little messy. 

    Star Trek Nemesis, this could have been a truly epic film, about a slaves who rise up to overthrow there masters, a single star ship gone rogue to help the Reman free themselves against the prime directive, civil wars, a full scale Federation Fleet VS Romulan Fleet battle. We could have seen whole worlds annihilated by a single race seeking revenge on Federation,. .  

    In the end we ended up with a mess of a film, which was nowhere near epic enough to satisfy audience. An a border skirmish. 

  • David

    It certainly isn’t helped by the fact that it’s an essential remake of Wrath of Khan, when we got the TNG version of Wrath of Khan with First Contact

  • Ramone

    I really didn’t like it, mainly for the way it seem to blatantly punish the fans with bad character development. [SPOILER] They killed Data for Christ’s sake! And then replaced him with a far less advanced model–so that he’ll not only wont be “Data” but his potential was far lower than Data’s and he’ll NEVER reach the same level of inteligence or humanity. That’s spitting in the faces of people who loved the character. So wrong.

    The only thing good to come out of it was that Will and Deanna got married, which was long overdue.

  • http://twitter.com/JRSinason Joshua Sinason

    There is a book that Michael Pillar write before he died that’s circulating around the internet.  It was written about the making insurrection, he died before he could sell it to a publisher so his kids just posted it online.   It’s a pretty fascinating look at how they handled the movie franchise at that time.   http://halfblog.net/2011/01/08/fade-in-the-writing-of-star-trek-insurrection/

  • mike t

    I think the writers definitely dropped with Insurrection because it takes place during the Dominion War and this is what the Enterprise was doing? So much potential… and I hate how they magically had Worf show up all the time with some lame excuse as to why he was there instead of on DS9. Nemesis completely threw out anything and everything they did the character (Qo’nos ambassador, Jadzia dying, etc.).

    And Nemesis was them trying to do what Star Wars was doing at the same time. Attack of the Clones comes out, so Paramount decides to have a movie about a Picard clone. The only thing that was good about Nemesis was the Admiral Janeway cameo. (I love me some Janeway)

  • CrimsonA

     What are you talking about? JJ Abrams Star Trek was a masterpiece.

  • Lyle

    I really could not get through all the conspiracy theories and indecipherable rants to really get a clear idea what the sane people here think, so I am giving what I think is an obvious answer.
    How television and movies tell their stories are different, and both mediums have different strengths and weaknesses, and Star Trek always functioned better within the television medium.
    The Next Generation, more so than original Star Trek, was always focused more on character development, political intrigue, and more often solved their problems with conversations rather than with explosive battles. This works great on television, since you have 24 episodes a year to fill and you don’t always have the greatest special effects budget. Whereas, with movies, you have 2 hours to develop character and you have a pretty large budget to play with so you might as well blow a few things up.
    As for the different movies, I agree with the author’s opinion that you had too much to work with and it was hard to make it all gel. You had the entire cast of Next Generation and three members of original Trek to service, along with the villain and some kind of plot that could put all that together.
    First Contact did work because the Borg was the one enemy in Trek that they could not reason with, so a battle was inevitable. Plus, the Borg is a great villain and easy to explain, and the Borg Queen was a great personal antagonist for Data on a number of levels.
    Insurrection was just forgettable. Does anyone remember what it was about, and who the villains were? Also, the title sounded like a song from Schoolhouse Rock. Also, if this had been an episode, I get the feeling the whole thing would have been worked out diplomatically.
    Nemesis was just totally bad. This could have been great, since I always felt there was a good movie with a Romulan villain. But, the villain was not Romulan but a clone of Pikard, and his reason for being a villain seemed unclear to the point where, if this were an episode, I think Pikard would have talked him out of his evil plan. And, lets face it, Data’s death was the worst ever death scene. At least with Spock’s death, if they never made another Star Trek movie after that, I would have been satisfied with the way he did die. With Data, the movie was almost begging you to make a sequel to bring him back, and came off as a bit desperate. 

  • Lorrie

    Until an article like this reminds me, I forget that Insurrection and Nemesis exist, as I’ve never bothered to watch them again after seeing them in theaters.  I guess in my mind TNG ended with First Contact.