James T. Kirk plunged to his death some 17 years ago in the film “Star Trek: Generations,” and Malcolm McDowell played the villain who sent him on his way — but the actor says that in hindsight he wishes the lion of Starfleet had been given a more memorable offing. “It was a paltry screen moment in a situation that called for something dramatic and inspired, something spectacular, even,” McDowell said.
I sat down recently with McDowell to discuss the 40th anniversary of “A Clockwork Orange,” but at the end of breakfast, the topic turned to the 1994 Starfleet movie that sent Kirk beyond the final frontier but did so in ungainly fashion. The hero defined by his cosmic gusto essentially took a bad fall off some scaffolding on a bleak, rocky planet. It’s a topic that comes up whenever McDowell runs into William Shatner, the colorful sci-fi icon who knows that his signature character went out with the narrative equivalent of a whimper, not a bang.
“I like Bill, he’s fun,” McDowell said. “You don’t take Bill seriously, he’s a lot of fun to be around. He’s actually very talented too. Every time I see Bill I say, ‘I’m the guy that killed you.’ And he says, ‘Yeah, you shot me in the back.’ I say, ‘Talk to the producers about that.’ They gave him such a lousy sendoff. I mean, what a cheesy move. He falls off a bridge; I shoot the bridge and he falls. That’s the best thing they could come up with?”
McDowell added: “It’s so nuts. It’s really a shame, to be serious for a moment, considering all of the history. This is an icon, loved for decades. And you know that Bill wanted to do a Jimmy Cagney [in the final moments of 'White Heat'] dancing on the way down the steps. ‘Top of the world, Ma!’ And we missed that because instead they let Kirk fall on some rocks off screen.”
McDowell said the fringe folks among the sometimes scary fans of “Star Trek” let it be known they weren’t happy about the death or the way it was handled. “I killed Captain Kirk and I got death threats. And some of them were in Klingon.”
– Geoff Boucher
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