It Was… Fun – Star Trek: Generations (1994) 4K Ultra HD

Star Trek: Generations is neither the best nor the worst of the franchise’s many feature films. Looking across the entire range of them, it falls somewhere near the lower middle of the pack. Narrowed down specifically to the four Next Generation cast movies, it would have to land in second place – but to be perfectly blunt about it, that’s only because the last two Next Gen films were serious duds that make this one’s mere adequacy seem like a major achievement in comparison.

Despite its failings, of which it has many, I still have a soft spot for Generations. As the Next Generation crew’s transition from television to movies, it feels like a proper big-screen adventure, with a sweeping scope and plenty of action and spectacle. The plot and storytelling needed more work, unfortunately, but that’s true of a lot of Star Trek. I saw this entry in the theater in 1994 and am happy to revisit it from time to time, certainly more so than some of the weaker installments.

Star Trek: Generations (1994) - Captains Picard & Kirk

Title:Star Trek: Generations
Year of Release: 1994
Director: David Carson
Watched On: 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
Also Available On: Blu-ray
Various VOD rental and purchase platforms

By the time Star Trek: The Next Generation aired its television finale in May of 1994, the cast had already finished shooting their first theatrical feature, scheduled for release at the end of that year. The timing couldn’t have seemed more perfect. The Star Trek movie franchise had given its Original Series cast a crowd-pleasing send-off into retirement with 1991’s Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Meanwhile, Next Gen was coming off a very popular seven-season run on TV, and the fan base was eager to follow those characters as they took over the movie series, where they’d surely have as long and successful a career as their predecessors had.

Sadly, the franchise producers and the studio bosses at Paramount made a huge miscalculation right off the bat by insisting that the next movie had to explicitly bridge the gap between the two casts. Fearing that the fandom wouldn’t accept a Star Trek movie without Capt. Kirk, their meddling resulted in a very awkward compromise. The Next Generation cast would only be allowed to step up into the big leagues of feature filmdom on the condition that William Shatner was also present to pass the reins over to them. Thus, the first Next Generation movie became an ungainly hybrid of both Original Series and Next Gen parts.

This wasn’t actually necessary. It shouldn’t have happened. Trek fans would’ve happily come out to see a Next Generation movie without forced connections to the prior cast. The story contrivance necessary to put Captains Kirk and Picard (characters who exist eight decades apart in franchise continuity) together is terribly strained and undermines Kirk’s much more satisfying swan song in The Undiscovered Country. Further, the movie’s writing in general is a bit of a mess, with a weak plot about a mad scientist villain (played by Malcolm McDowell) whose master plan could’ve been much more easily resolved if he’d simply stopped being such a jerk and asked somebody for help.

I’ve catalogued many of the failures of Star Trek: Generations in a prior Blu-ray review (linked at the end of this article) and don’t feel like reiterating them all here. The worst of them is its total bungling of Kirk’s exit from the narrative and from the franchise, a sin that many fans still can’t forgive.

Suffice it to say, Generations never lived up to its potential. Even with that being the case, I still find it an enjoyable watch for the most part. The film has good character moments for its casts, both old and new. (I love Kirk’s struggle to stop himself from interfering with his successor on the Enterprise-B, and Scotty chiding him for it.) It also has some pretty good visual effects for the day, a very exciting action set-piece with the – sorry for the 30-year-old spoiler – destruction of the Enterprise-D, and a lovely score by Dennis McCarthy. Most of all, it feels like a real movie, something bigger than the TV show from which it came and worth paying to see in a theater. That’s regrettably not the case for all of its sequels.

Star Trek: Generations (1994) - USS Enterprise D

The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray

All of the Star Trek feature films up to that time were released on Blu-ray back in 2009 to mostly disappointing results. Although better-looking than prior DVD editions, the movies had all been scrubbed of grain with DNR and then electronically sharpened in a misguided effort to clean them up for viewing on television screens. However, the larger your screen, the worse the results looked. This is a problem that Paramount has continued to struggle with even into the 4K era. Fortunately, the studio seems to be coming around to more sensible treatment of its properties, at least sometimes.

When I reviewed the disc in 2009, I felt that Star Trek: Generations was one of the least egregious of the Trek Blu-ray transfers. If nowhere near perfect, it looked reasonably decent for the most part and was more watchable in projection than many of the other entries. That said, it had plenty of room for improvement. Looking at it again now, my eye is perhaps a little more critical and I have less patience for the digital manipulation. A lot of scenes in the movie are frustratingly compromised by the heavy-handed processing.

Thankfully, Paramount has remastered the movie for the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray edition. The accompanying Blu-ray in the package also comes from the new film scan, and is not just a copy of the old disc. The new Blu-ray and the 4K disc have some big differences that I’ll explain in a moment, but the first important takeaway is that both have a much less processed appearance, with a natural-looking texture of film grain and no (or at least fewer) noticeable sharpening artifacts.

I’m not set up to take 4K screen captures yet, so the following images compare the old Blu-ray against the new one. At first glance, the 2009 disc may look superficially sharper, but it’s harsher and has an ugly edge halo down Malcolm McDowell’s back. Film grain has also been wiped away from the sky behind him. The new disc has a more film-like appearance that’s easier on the eyes when watching on a large screen.

Star Trek: Generations Comparison - 2009 Blu-rayStar Trek: Generations Comparison - 2023 Blu-ray

In 1994, the ability to digitally composite visual effects was still a new and exciting technology that seemed like a huge improvement over the older methods of optical compositing. As you’d expect, a lot of that work doesn’t hold up very well three decades later. Most of it was likely done at somewhere less than 1080p resolution. As a result, many of the effects shots in the film look noticeably worse than the footage around them. This especially stands out in the 4K edition. If anything, they blend a little better on the regular Blu-ray.

Generations was photographed by Oscar-nominated cinematographer John A. Alonzo (Chinatown), who made a conscious effort to give the movie a very cinematic look that would distinguish it from the TV show. He also faced the challenge of working on sets built for television that wouldn’t necessarily hold up to scrutiny on a movie theater screen. To hide that, he gave most of the starship interiors very stylized, dim lighting very different than the brighter, industrial lighting used throughout the TV series. The difference was almost comically apparent in the theatrical release, leaving many fans to question whether the Enterprise crew forgot to pay their electric bill.

Prior video editions, including the first Blu-ray, raised the brightness of those scenes a bit so they wouldn’t look as distracting. The new Blu-ray does as well, perhaps even more so. Some of the ship interiors have an elevated, milky black level and flat contrast. On the other hand, the HDR grading of the 4K edition is much darker during those same scenes. If more faithful to the theatrical look, I have to be honest that the dimness is frustrating and I tend to prefer the contrast balance of the older Blu-ray as the best compromise. Brighter daylight scenes, meanwhile, look pretty comparable across all three copies.

The movie’s photography is also fairly soft and doesn’t necessarily have a 4K level of detail. The Ultra HD Blu-ray’s 2.39:1 image looks only moderately crisper than the new Blu-ray. Aside from those overly-dark scenes, the HDR grade is mostly subdued and I frequently wished for brighter highlight detail in things like phaser blasts or the Nexus energy ribbon. Colors benefit the most, such as the rich reds of the Enterprise uniforms.

Star Trek: The Next Generation 4-Movie Collection 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray

The Dolby TrueHD 7.1 soundtrack from the older Blu-ray has been carried over and is the same audio from 2009. It has active surrounds, rumbly bass, and some big and broad music, but fidelity seems a little rolled-off. It’s fine, but nothing I’d pull off the shelf for an audio demo.

Extras on the 4K disc itself are limited to two audio commentaries ported over from earlier video editions, plus a text trivia track that first appeared on a DVD in 2004 but was not on the 2009 Blu-ray. The new Blu-ray in the case carries the rest of the supplements, all of which are also repurposed from prior releases. The best of them is the Library Computer graphic trivia interface.

The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray edition of Star Trek: Generations is available either separately or as part of a 4-Movie Collection box set with its three sequels.


Note: All screenshots on this page were taken from standard Blu-ray editions of the film and are used for illustration purposes only.

2 thoughts on “It Was… Fun – Star Trek: Generations (1994) 4K Ultra HD

  1. I really got a kick out of seeing Generations in the theater after finishing up the Next Gen series. I recall enjoying the cinematography and liking how the story and the production was fairly cerebral. I still like First Contact a little better, but I’ve always felt First Contact was more an action movie in the NG Trek universe than it was a Trek movie. Agree with your review. The commentary from Braga and Moore are well worth a listen regarding the decision to cram Kirk into the story.


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