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Posts Tagged ‘Star Trek: Nemesis’

Writing about the same movie more than once is something that I hardly ever do, but taking a retrospective look at Stuart Baird’s Star Trek: Nemesis feels almost obligatory, given I’ve written about nearly all the proper Trek films in the last couple of months. There’s also the fact that when the film came out, no-one actually realised that it was a watershed moment in the history of the series. So here we go.

The review of Nemesis from its original release is here.

Well, looking again at my opinion from Stardate 5.1.2003, there’s not much there that I actually disagree with, although I am a little embarrassed not to have figured out that the reason the TNG mob kept making movies for so long was because they were much more popular than the people off the other TV shows. If anything I think I was a little too kind to a movie which has got some serious problems.

It’s not actually a problem per se, but looking at Nemesis again now, there’s something about it that places the film very firmly in the zeitgeist of its time – some of the other movies which queued up to crush this one at the box office were Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Die Another Day, and The Two Towers, and there is something curiously baroque and fantastical about the production designs here – it almost feels like the Enterprise is travelling to Mordor rather than Romulus, with the Orc-like Remans much more prominent than the traditional Romulans who appear (the Romulans finally get a major role in a Trek movie and it’s a duffer like this).

Before we get to the heart of darkness, though, the movie has an unexpectedly light tone, with the various goings on at the reception and Worf’s entirely understandable concerns about attending a nudist wedding. The whole buggy chase sequence does not appear to serve much of a purpose, either (and is it my imagination, or doesn’t there appear to be serious violation of the Prime Directive going on here?). More than this, the presence of the chase is emblematic of the movie’s choice to favour action-movie elements over plot and character – a large number of character scenes were cut from the film (the internet means they are now freely available to view), which may be why it feels so lacking in warmth and texture.

Then it all gets rather dark and perhaps just a bit overwrought. As mentioned, the subtext about Picard and Data’s clones is both laboured and obvious, and I find myself obliged to wonder what the point of the sequence where Shinzon violates Counsellor Troi’s mind is. Did Stuart Baird get off on this sort of thing? (A second sequence along the same lines was also cut from the film.) The interminable and rather unimaginative space battle which makes up most of the final act of the film also looks more like a mistake than ever. Script, direction, and design all feel like the work of people who are only passingly familiar with Star Trek.

But my main thought is that this is a film which is totally unaware of its main significance, that significance being that it really would prove to be the nemesis of the film series (in its original incarnation, anyway). While it ostensibly features the parting of the ways for the senior staff of the Enterprise-E, you get the sense that it would be easy enough to get them all back together one way or another (Worf has already been reassigned to the Enterprise from his posting as ambassador to Qo’NoS, after all), and apparently another film was planned. (This may be why the climax of the film packs so little emotional punch, despite featuring the death of a hugely popular character.)

Of course, it was not to be, and as it turned out this proved to be not just the last appearance of the Next Generation characters, but our final canonical glimpse of life at the end of the 2370s – an appropriately hopeful one, given this is Star Trek, with the prospect of a genuine rapprochement between the Federation and the Romulan Star Empire (I am inclined to disregard the suggestion of Romulus’ destruction a few years later in the same way I tend to ignore everything else introduced in the Abrams movies’ timeline). Long-term Trek producer and custodian Rick Berman seemed to be set in prequel mode from this point on – after a fifth TNG movie was canned, his next idea involved a trilogy of films set in the 22nd century (concurrently with parts of Star Trek: Enterprise, though with new characters), concerning the Earth-Romulus War referred to in the original TV show. This never got past the very early stages of development, with Paramount opting to summon up the dark power of the dreaded Abrams instead.

And so, in terms of the movie actually released to cinemas, our last glimpse of the future of Star Trek is oddly appropriate: the Enterprise in spacedock for a refit, missing a few key crewmembers, shown in a special effects shot that goes on perhaps just a bit too long while Jerry Goldsmith’s music plays over the top. Isn’t that where we came in, back in 1979? There may be a sense of the films unintentionally closing the circle, but it would be wonderful if one day we could visit the 2390s or 2420s and see what the Federation and its neighbours are like, generations after Picard and his contemporaries. Anything is possible, and if Star Trek is about one thing, it’s about being hopeful for the future.

 

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From the Hootoo archive. Originally published January 5th 2003: 

…it’s been a loong road, getting from there to here, it’s been a loong road – Heavens above, what’s this? There’s something a bit weird about the fact that the latest Star Trek movie is still showcasing the Next Generation cast, mainly because in the eight years since they knocked the TV show on the head, over thirteen seasons of Trek of various kinds have been broadcast in the States. Time and the franchise have moved on, but here they are, still plugging away, seemingly coelacanth-like in their staying power.

Until now it’s always been fairly easy to predict whether or not a Trek movie will be any good or not: the rule is that even-numbered entries are on average far superior to their odd-numbered kin. And in case you were wondering or had lost count, Star Trek: Nemesis is the tenth in the series, so on paper at least the omens were good.

Something is rotten in the state of the Romulan Empire and so Baldy, Beardy, Pasty-face, Cornish-pasty-face, Dopey, Bashful and Doc must squeeze back into their uniforms and fire up the warp engines one last time. (Although not before some schmaltzy goings-on at Riker and Troi’s wedding reception, where before you can groan ‘Oh, God, Data’s going to start singing,’ Data starts singing.) Pausing only to collect Data’s disassembled android twin and engage in a wholly superfluous dune-buggy chase, the Enterprise arrives at Romulus to find a coup has occurred and the suspiciously bald and English-sounding Shinzon (Tom Hardy) is now in power. Shinzon professes friendship towards the Federation but it turns out he has a giant magic technobabble ray gun and he’s not afraid to use it. With Data’s duplicate also proving treacherous, it soon becomes apparent that Picard and the gang are facing an attack of the – oh, bother, Lucas got there first, didn’t he?

John (Gladiator) Logan’s script if nothing else hits all the buttons to keep the hard-core Trekkie audience happy. Not that this is necessarily a good thing as Trekkies (like devoted afficionados of most cult TV) are as a rule so reactionary and hidebound as to make members of the average London gentlemen’s club look like pot-smoking libertarians by comparison. So Whoopi Goldberg gets a cameo, as does Wil Wheaton (his is tiny and dialogue-free). Fans of Voyager get an appearance by Kate Mulgrew as Janeway, fans of Enterprise get a teeny-weeny mention of the ‘USS Archer’ (presumably named named after Scott Bakula’s character) and fans of DS9 get… Well, apart from a couple of mentions of the Dominion War they get diddly-squat – Worf is back on the Enterprise, his posting to Kronos as Federation Ambassador forgotten about, along with the Romulan-Federation alliance – all rather irritating to those of us who actually prefer our Trek space-station shaped. Mmm, who was that just complaining about Trekkies being sticks-in-the-mud…?

But beyond all the Trek continuity (and if you’ve stuck with me this far you’re either amazingly tolerant, a member of the Post team, or a Trekkie and no doubt lusting for my blood – whichever, you have my apologies) the script is… mmm, well, it’s very much a latterday Star Trek script in that any subtlety or thematic content is banged on about repeatedly and at great length, which kind of defeats the object of including it in the first place. Including Data’s twin, B4, is arguably a mistake for exactly this reason: apart from counterpointing the ‘evil twin’ theme, attempts to use B4 to provide either comic relief or pathos fail, and his presence undercuts what little impact the climax has. The climax is, by the way, blatantly nicked from The Wrath of Khan but lacks shock value and genuine emotion this time around.

Director Stuart Baird does a pretty good job of making this look like a proper film as opposed to a big-budget TV episode (something Jonathan Frakes, director of the last two, couldn’t quite manage), but he’s hampered by the fact that most of it occurs on starships, and that the last segment is a very, very long battle which gets rather repetitive (some unorthodox tactics from Picard notwithstanding). The only member of the ‘guest cast’ who makes in impression at all is Tom Hardy, who gives a sly and witty performance as the Picard-clone. The great Ron Perlman, who’s virtually made a career out of acting under prosthetics, is almost wholly wasted as Hardy’s henchman – he gets a peculiarly long and involved punch-up with Riker that adds nothing to the plot, but that’s about it. A nearly unrecognisable Dina Meyer also gets one okay scene, but also falls foul of the assumption that the audience is only here to see the regular crew and (maybe) the villain.

The Star Trek movie series has struggled with one major problem this last ten or fifteen years: the existence of the various different Star Trek TV series. As a franchise, the makers of Trek clearly realise that their core audience wants roughly the same thing from whatever outlet they go to, whether that be a TV series, a book, or a movie. The result has been a string of movies that – for the most part – have seemed safe and cosy and predictable and little-more than large-scale TV episodes, and Nemesis is ultimately no exception. There are bigger, better, more cinematic SF and fantasy movies out there these days, and I can’t imagine the appeal of Star Trek: Nemesis extending much beyond the hard-core fanbase it was clearly made for.

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