Welcome to “Friday Favorites” which highlight some of my favorite movie-related things.
It would be safe to say that Data is one of my favorite characters in all of art, literature and storytelling. He’s most certainly my favorite TV character. There’s something about his story of an android longing to be human, without realizing that in all the ways that matter he already is, that’s innately compelling. Add in a dash of Pinocchio and Frankenstein’s Monster and you’ve got Data. Those of us who were big fans of Star Trek: The Next Generation were thrilled for many reasons when it transitioned to the big screen at the end of its run. But for me, one of the greatest joys of the movie is Data’s acquisition of the emotion chip, leading to this small scene, which remains one of my favorite things I’ve ever seen:
In the film, Data installs the emotion chip after a failed attempt at humor during Worf’s promotion ceremony. It immediately fuses into his neural net, and he begins to feel emotions. We see him experience revulsion at a disgusting drink (“I hate this!” “More?” “Please!”), laughter as he remembers all of the jokes he’s been told in his life, a moment of fear which allows Geordi to be captured, and now he has reconciled with Geordi and apologized only to be forgiven, with Geordi telling him, “You’ve been acting like a human.” What we get in this scene is Data’s first experience with happiness and contentment.
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve found myself humming the “Lifeform Song” without realizing it. Generations, and presumably this moment in it, were written by long-time ST:TNG writers Brannon Braga and Ronald D. Moore, and the way they handle Data in the film shows how much they’ve invested in him over the years. This seems like exactly the sort of thing Data would do in this circumstance, given everything we know about him from 7 seasons. As Tasha Yar said of Data in her death hologram, “You see things with the wonder of a child. And that makes you more human than any of us.”
It helps that Brent Spiner totally sells it. His performance of Data over the years is something of a masterpiece. It’s as though he and Data were destined for each other. But what really makes this scene is everyone in the background. From Riker’s confused and mildly concerned looks (he was always the master of the reaction shot on ST:TNG), to Data’s bewildered staring, to Troi’s fascinated amusement, the reactions are just priceless. In fact, the entire bridge crew stops whatever they were doing to watch, despite being in the middle of a crisis with millions of lives at stake.
It’s the little moments like this that make Star Trek so great. As a franchise, it’s created an entire universe, filled with interesting species and worlds, it’s dealt all sorts of big ideas and has given us a future to aspire to. But what’s more important are the characters and the relationships between those characters. Whenever I think of Data, this is one of the moments that pops to my mind the easiest. It’s a long way from “Measure of a Man” to this moment, and the context of everything that happened before makes it even more enjoyable.
What do you think? What’s your favorite Data scene? Am I the only one who thinks Generations is underrated? Are you going to have the “Lifeforms Song” stuck in your head the rest of the day like I am? Let me know in the comments!