I’ve really missed Star Trek. Even at their worst, every Star Trek film has at least provided that initial thrill of the stars streaking by to familiar Trek themed score. Anticipation grows as horns swell with majesty and credits roll across the screen, announcing yet another return to old friends. This time, with their 10th, and potentially final installment, the crew of the starship Enterprise promised more than just a return, but an ending, one worthy of their long and fan filled past. Paramount even went out and tried something different, bringing in new people to the franchise both to direct and write the film, spending real money on the movie to hire better effects artists and quality designers, hoping to change the dismal low reached by the franchise with Star Trek: Insurrection. Because of that, Star Trek: Nemesis is not a total failure, but nevertheless falls short of greatness that could have been.
Let’s start with this: Fifty-minutes of footage was removed from this film. Does anyone realize just how much movie that is? In an era where movie studios are hesitant to put out anything over ninety-minutes, for fear of losing the interest of mentally dulled audiences who get antsy if they have to sit longer than an episode of “Baywatch,” Fifty-minutes is a significant number. This wasn’t Fifty-minutes of battle footage, or Fifty-minutes of effects shots, or Fifty-minutes of cameos that we just didn’t need. This was Fifty-minutes of character development, Fifty-minutes of story, Fifty-minutes of a collective group of science-fiction icons finally saying their last goodbye. I submit that perhaps that Fifty-minutes was the real heart and soul of Star Trek, because without it, Nemesis is emotionless if not quite flat.
So what we’re left with is another crazy madman stalking the universe in some over-muscled uber-ship with an unhealthy obsession for Captain Picard whom he just happens to have been cloned from. Cloning is of course one of the most tired, worn out plot devices in movie history. But, give John Logan some credit, he very nearly makes it work here, because he doesn’t waste time getting to his reveal. The clone thing is thrown right out there in the open for everyone to see from the beginning, freeing us from all the typically obvious “hide the clone” cliché’s that seem to riddle anything related to the subject. In fact, I really like the way they’ve developed the relationship between Picard and Picard-clone Shinzon. There’s none of the silly, melodramatic shock you so often see people emoting whenever they discover a double. Rather, there’s simply a quiet acceptance and curiosity about what might have been.
But this isn’t a movie about characters. This is running around and shooting. Nemesis opens with a wonderfully written, character-driven, wedding party thrown for Riker and Troi. It’s all to brief. From there, except for an occasional pause, most of the film is spent racing around in jeeps on alien planets and staunchly avoiding interaction with its characters. Nemesis is a host of wasted personality driven opportunities. For instance, when Picard drives the Enterprise’s gimmicky new ATV across a desert in what can only be termed as a “reckless” fashion, Worf simply sits in the back seat with his hands folded while Picard grins with impish glee at his own impetuousness. Last time I checked, Worf was the ship’s Klingon, not her Android. How about having him stand up and look eager, his Klingon blood boiling with thrill at his Captain’s display of unbridled, nearly dangerous abandon, barely constraining a howl of approval at Picard’s showcase of bravery and skill. No none of that. Like most of the characters in Nemesis, Worf is merely background, someone Picard beamed down to fill the other seat while he and Data do something important. But even background, with just a little effort could be interesting.
Most of the crew does not have lines. I’m not even certain the fabulous Gates McFadden was on the ship. Yet again, a reminder about the nature of Next Generation is in order… there is more to this crew than Picard and Data! Thankfully, we at least get a look or two at the others, with the overrated Counselor Troi solidly coming out on top. Even with their limited screen time though, whenever the actors involved in this film are given a real chance to come alive, they shine. There’s so much here, why couldn’t we have been allowed to see it? At the opening wedding scene, there's a brief moment, when Data sings for the crew... this cast looks so full of sheer bliss... it almost hurts. Data comes alive and everyone else right along with him. Why couldn't we have more of that?
At least we’ve stopped making fun of Worf. Where Insurrection was nothing but a string of tasteless and untreklike running jokes (most at Worf’s expense), Nemesis takes itself a more seriously, staying away from self-parody and instead drawing a line at mood lightening jokes. That in itself is a heartening improvement. In fact Nemesis does a fine job throughout of staying away from all those hideously insulting things, which made Insurrection so mind-numbingly bad. Producer Rick Berman, though he may be the source of all evil in Star Trek, at least isn’t a total fool, and learned a thing or two from those hideous Insurrection mistakes.
So we’ve lost those Fifty-minutes of character stuff, leaving Nemesis to be all about action. Hey! We’ve got cool things going on in space! I’m ashamed to admit it, but I’ve really missed that. Even the recent Star Wars movies haven’t honestly delivered a kick-ass space battle. Heck, I haven’t really seen anything worthwhile in that department since the first ten minutes of Star Trek: First Contact when it premiered way back in 1996. Gone are the schlocky, cheap, barely TV quality effects of Star Trek: Insurrection. This Trek has style behind those blasts. The ships are detailed and beautiful, the battles plentiful and extended. The sets are dark and sweetly lighted. Oh god how I’ve missed this. Granted, Enterprise E looks a little bit plasticy. But that’s what happens when you abandon models in favor the inferior quality of cgi. I doubt anyone in Hollywood will ever learn that lesson any time soon. Yet for as much money as was clearly spent developing spectacular battles sequences and slick digital FX, apparently nothing was spent on costuming or makeup. The Romulans look almost laughable, their makeup cheap and out of character. Their clothes look like leftover garbage, a mockery of the lovely shiny Romulan uniforms we’re used to from the series. The Reman makeup is decent, nothing to sneer at I guess, but again, hardly the sort of thing you’d expect from a franchise that has made a name for itself developing quality alien prosthetics. At least they had the wit to borrow some costumes from the set of Dark City to clothe their villains. That at least works, even if it is some strange parody of that better film.
The sad thing is, that Nemesis just has no depth. The same people are there, but any life there might have been has either been sucked, or edited out of it. The worst thing is, that if any Next Generation film NEEDED some real emotional infusion, it was this one. Like Star Trek II before it, this Trek asks one of its crew to make the ultimate sacrifice. But that character’s sacrifice is glossed over, made to feel hollow and empty. You’re killing off a cult icon here, how about pausing to show the man some respect? There’s attempt at a memorial of sorts, but compare that to the insanely touching and moving funeral Trek had for Spock at the end of Wrath of Khan, and this one seems a hollow apology for throwing away the life of one so dear in a futile, money hungry gesture. The things said about his death are all the right things, but they just don’t say enough. It is too easy for the crew to move on, and Berman’s group wastes another opportunity for greatness by failing to take the time to let us mourn. Your audience is in pain! You could have helped us cry. When Spock died, the immovable Captain Kirk broke into tears. All the Next Generation crew can manage is a glass of wine and some brief, poignant gestures towards the past. What we’re given is nice, even touching, but never enough.
Trek fans will truly enjoy this 10th look at Roddenberry’s world. There’s no denying that Nemesis is a fun and entertaining return to our beloved Star Trek friends, but hardly what was needed to turn this sagging franchise around. This felt like the end, but was neither the best nor worst note to end on. Still, like the Trek fan I am, I stayed in my seat till the final credits were done, savoring every last note of the familiar “Star Trek: The Next Generation” theme and gazing, for what I fear may have been the last time, at the streaking lights of Star Trek stars.
Once upon a time these movies really stood for something, even at their worst. Draw a line in the sand and put quality back into the franchise or just get out. The TNG crew received a decent, worth watching sendoff… but could have, and should have gotten something better than a weak and occasionally illogical story. Whether suffering from Rick Berman’s notoriously foolish and heavy hand, or from some other unforeseen occurrence, the answer is clear. If Paramount isn’t willing to get this thing in someone else’s hands, then Star Trek is dead. Get rid of Berman… if it isn’t already too late.
DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN THE FILM! TO AVOID SPOILERS, THE REVIEW ENDS ABOVE! IF YOU HAVE SEEN IT READ ON BY HIGHLIGHTING THE PAGE BELOW THIS POINT!!!
Let’s talk about the most important moment in this film, just as an addon to the above review…. the death of Data.
What did they do to Data?? This movie so desperately wanted to be Star Trek II they had to kill him off? His death was abrupt and thus lacked the emotion and reverance a good death scene deserved. That was their first mistake and the way they handled his death was the thing that bothered me and actually HURT me most about this movie.
His funeral was not attended by the entire crew, only the familiar bridge crew, that was mistake #2.
His memorial service was WAY to short. Troi’s breakdown was the most unconvincing thing I have ever seen. That was mistake #3.
The song that B4 began to sing at the end was NOT “Pop Goes The Weasel”. If B4 had started trying to whistle “Pop Goes The Weasel”... I SWEAR TO GOD I WOULD HAVE BROKEN DOWN IN FULL ON TEARS!!! OH MY GOD!!!!!!!!!!!! Mistake #4.
The reaction on the bridge to Data's death was not strong enough, just blank shocked stares. Compare that to Star Trek 2 where Bones calls the bridge and says in the most FRIGHTENING VOICE, "Jim, I think you better get down here... Better hurry." Mistake #5
Geordi. Without saying anything, I think Geordi's was the most touching reaction really. He has this just total look of unbelieving, oh my god, how can it be on his face... Geordi was Data's best friend and the closest person to him. They should have spent more time with LaForge. Mistake #6
HOWEVER they did get some things right. Riker's story at the memorial service about how he first met Data (and actually that was the first time ANY OF US saw Data) was heartfelt and touching and I swear again, almost made me cry remembering that. Yet... why was Riker the only person with something to share? (ehem FIFTY-MINUTES OF FOOTAGE). The scene at the end with B4 was nearly PERFECT except again, for the song choice. But if they weren't going to do “Pop Goes The Weasel”, that was certainly the next best thing.
So it wasn't at total botch, touching and not terrible and got to me, but goddammit SPOCK GOT BAGPIPES!!! CAPTAIN KIRK THE TOUGHEST SONOFABITCH IN THE FEDERATION FREAKIN CRIED!! WHERE WERE DATA'S BAGPIPES???
I loved Data, and will dearly miss him. Even if this was a terrible movie, which it isn't, all Trek fans should see this, to honor him in his final hour.