Weekly Trek – December 12-18, 2016

As this 50th anniversary year winds down, I am spending these last several posts talking about the way the various Star Trek series, both on television and in the movies, ended.  This week we are have reached the final film featuring the Star Trek: The Next Generation cast, 2002’s Star Trek Nemesis which…

“I don’t want to watch Nemesis again.”

Do you mind? I’m trying to do the intro here.

“You’re introducing Nemesis, which means we’re going to watch Nemesis.  I don’t want to watch Nemesis.  Please don’t make me.”

Come on.  The Voyager finale was a lot better than we remembered.  I’m sure it will be fine.

“We’re going to regret this.”

Hush.

ONE MOVIE LATER…

So perhaps my inner voice had a point.  Before I go into specifics, let me preface this by saying I love Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG).  While I still think Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (DS9) is the better series overall, I am more attached to TNG and its characters.  If you asked me what sci-fi universe I wanted to live it, my answer is the Enterprise-D in TNG’s 24th Century. 

As I covered a few weeks ago, the final episode of TNG, “All Good Things…,” is beautifully done and leaves our characters heading off to new adventures on the big screen.  The first two films, Star Trek Generations and Star Trek: First Contact did well, but the third, 1998’s Star Trek: Insurrection, was a critical financial disappointment.  In the ensuing years, DS9 and Star Trek: Voyager wrapped up their television runs (Voyager’s Kathryn Janeway, played by Kate Mulgrew, is actually in the film briefly.), and a prequel series, Star Trek: Enterprise, premiered but was not generally well received.

Nemesis was put into development during was could be considered a troubled time for the franchise, and overall Star Trek head Rick Berman went in a different direction for this film.  Instead of using writers and directors with past Trek experience, he turned to screenwriter John Logan for the script and Stuart Baird to direct.  Logan, who wrote Gladiator, was a Star Trek fan and also a good friend of Brent Spiner, who plays Data.  Baird was best known as an editor, but he had moved into directing action films, such as US Marshalls

The resulting film was released in December 2002.  The best comparison of what this move was like is perhaps the release of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, which came out in the summer of 1989 against films like Batman, Ghostbusters II, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.  In the face of that kind of competition, Star Trek V got crushed.  Nemesis was released in the same general time frame as Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Die Another Day, and The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.  But none of those powerhouses were direct competition the weekend Nemesis was released.  That particular weekend, Nemesis was up against the Jennifer Lopez vehicle Maid in ManhattanNemesis lost that head-to-head battle as well.

When it was all over, Nemesis made only $43 million domestically, the lowest amount of any Star Trek film, and $67 million worldwide against a $60 million budget.  The general rule of thumb is that a film needs to make back three times its budget to be successful, so…ouch.  The critical response wasn’t any better with the film ranking just 37% on Rotten Tomatoes.  Only the aforementioned Star Trek V is worse. 

But is the movie actually that bad?  I didn’t like it the first time, and, after watching it again with some distance, I can say yes, it really is.  If you were to go into Nemesis without any Star Trek knowledge, much of it would seem silly; however, the spaceship battle in the end might come across as kind of cool.  If you are a TNG fan, though, large chunks of Nemesis are just plain painful.

I took a bunch of notes about the things that bothered me as I was watching the movie this time, but I don’t know that it’s fair of me to inflict the whole thing upon you.  Let me just cover a few main issues I had. 

  • Picard is once again put in action hero mode, careening across a desert in a dune buggy chase and single-handedly taking on multitudes of alien warriors.  But in other scenes, he just stands there when he really needs to DO SOMETHING!  This is particularly egregious at the end of the film when he stands around at the climax and basically has to wait for Data to show up to save the day.
  • Since he presumably had a lot of input into the script, Spiner is able to give into make of his worst comedic impulses as the Data prototype, B-4, a truly annoying character who exists somewhere between Data and the country bumpkin Bob that Spiner used to play on Night Court
  • The rest of the main cast is treated shabbily by the film when they aren’t being ignored.  I get that the TNG movies became the Picard and Data show, but LaForge is reduced to spouting clunky exposition, Troi is abused, Riker ends up in a ridiculous fight scene, and Worf is used for a couple of bad jokes and then ignored (Also no explanation is given for why Worf is there given his character’s development on DS9.  Michael Dorn, who is now the actor with the most hours of Star Trek under his belt by far, deserved better.).  Only Dr. Crusher escapes relatively unscathed but is absent for most of the last half of the film.
  • Tom Hardy, who plays the villain Shinzon, seems to be in a completely different movie, a campy one where he gets to have much more fun chewing scenery and generally hamming it up.  In fairness, our beloved site mistress much prefers this movie.  She’s edited Nemesis in her mind down to just his scenes.  As a side note, that outfit must have been impossible to move it.  He’s encased in rubber for most of the film, and I swear as I could hear it squeaking as he moved.

There’s more, but I’ll stop.  The point is that the TNG characters that I love are really done a disservice by this movie.  According to Rick Berman, there are about 50 minutes of character scenes that were edited out of the film.  Some of them have been included on the home video releases, but it’s not enough to salvage Nemesis as a whole.

That said the movie does have a few bright spots.  The ship combat is some of the best we’ve seen in Star Trek, and I enjoyed much of the wedding and bridge banter that takes place at the start of the film.  I also quite like the final scene of Picard walking through the Enterprise’s corridors.  It ends the film on an optimistic note that is fitting for Star Trek.  Overall, though, it is not a great film and is my least favorite of the TNG movies.

Nemesis was advertised with the line “A Generation’s Final Journey Begins,” but it was not intended to be the final film.  Nemesis screenwriter John Logan was developing a second movie to wrap up TNG.  Nemesis’ poor performance ended that idea in a hurry, though.  The movie also marked the end of filmed Star Trek taking place in the 24th century setting originally established in TNG and continued in DS9 and Voyager

For the next seven years, Star Trek would be absent from theaters, and on television it was only represented by Star Trek: Enterprise.  The embattled prequel series didn’t have that much longer to live, and in a very odd decision, TNG would play a big part in its ending.   

- Alan Decker

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