Friday, June 11, 2010

Star Trek: Nemesis

If you want proof trek had run its course in the Rick Berman/Brannon Braga era, look no further than Star Trek: Nemesis. Seriously, if you look any further, you will have to watch episodes of ENT. That show was not fit for human consumption.

I am not fond of Nemesis. I will get to why in a minute, but I am not alone. There was a profound lack of enthusiasm for the film. It premiered on Friday, December 13th 2002 (I am not a superstitious soul, by the way) behind Jennifer Lopez’s Maid in Manhattan. It was the only trek film to not premiere at number one at the box office. It wound up the lowest grossing trek film, earning a little less than $ 44 million.

As the ultimate insult, several cast members, including LeVar Burton and Marina Sirtis, have gone on record as saying they did not like the film. Consider how tightly Paramount controls all news coming out of the trek office when considering the significance. Nevertheless, Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, and Brent Spiner have all praised the film, so there must be some virtue, right?

Let me add my personal twist before answering the question. Nemesis was the first Trek film besides The Motion Picture I did not rush to see. It was released during exam time in my second year of law school. Chalk it up to my being frazzled by briefs and oral arguments, but Nemesis did not inspire the enthusiasm in me most trek did. Granted, I was also at a Christian law school in which the largely vanilla study body thought enjoying science fiction was one step below practicing witchcraft, so I had to keep my enjoyment on the down low. It was tough. Insurrection had been released on my birthday in 1998. I went to see it with a couple friends and we made a day of it. Nothing like that could ever happen at Savonarollas at regent.

Anyway, I finally watched Nemesis on DVD quietly one night on DVD. I did not like it. I wanted to like it. This was going to be the last hurrah for TNG and I wanted it to go out with a bang. But just could not pull it off. Nemesis failure comes down to three problems: continuity errors, Brent Spiner’s vanity, and logical flaws.

It is easy to name who is responsible for the continuity errors. Director Stuart Baird had never seen an episode of TNG when he agreed to direct Nemesis. Word has it he kept referring to LeVar Burton as Laverne, which may explain why Burton has publicly stated he hates the film. (Troi’s sexual assault may explain Sirtis’ frank assessment.) It is never a good thing to hand over a project with years of continuity and an army of dedicated, nitpicking fans over to someone completely unaware of what has gone before.

I am a bit more forgiving towards screenwriter John Logan. He claims to be a ardent Trek fan. At the time he was hired to write the script for Nemesis, he was coming off gladiator with Russell Crowe, which I consider one of the best movies of the decade. Baird’s biggest hit until this point had been US Marshals with Tommy Lee Jones. Not a bad movie by any stretch, but not the resume builder one would hope for in the director of a science fiction epic.

Rick Berman also took part in the script, which is never a good thing. I am not entirely certain which of Nemesis’ failings can be pinned on him, but history says it is a lot.

Brent Spiner, a good friend of Logan’s, shares writing credit. T makes sense. Yet again Data is a central part of the story just like every other TNG era film. Spiner’s creative hand makes much of data’s involvement wish fulfillment along similar lines to William Shatner in The Final Frontier. I will give Spiner some credit for understanding more characters than his own. Granted, many members of the cast were phoning in their performances here, but I do not think that was Spiner’s fault. All that said, his hammy singing of Irving Berlin, his double role as data and B4, and the clear attempt to copy the drama of Spock’s sacrifice in The Wrath of Khan I the climax all have Spiner’s ego written all over it. Data has always been my favorite character, but even I thought his role here is obnoxious.

Let us talk of continuity. There is not any. In the previous two films, the rationale for getting Worf involved have been embarrassingly flimsy. Here they do not even bother with one. He is back to serving on the Enterprise even though he is supposed to bean ambassador. Wesley is back, too, as a lieutenant. What happened to him traveling other planes of reality instead? It does not matter, I guess. Is it not also strange Lwaxana is not at her daughter’s wedding? Not that I miss the character. I am just being logical here. Where are Sela and Spock? Tomalok? This is not the Romulus we knew.

To bad Nemesis does not have a shred of logic within it. How did Shinzon get a hold of B4? How could he be so certain the Enterprise would be the ship to respond to B4’s signal? Considering the trouble they had with Lore, how did he know they would not just destroy the pieces rather than put them together?

For that matter, Shinzon himself is dumb. He was cloned from Picard. Okay, I can accept that, although it is getting incredibly implausible how special Picard supposedly is. The Romulans are disappointed with him, so they dump into slave labor as a five year old child. He winds up among a race of beings called Remans, which we have never heard of. They are also slave laborers. In spite of all this, they manage to build state of the art ship right under the Romulans’ noses and muster enough power to take over the empire. I cannot buy it. They do not have the resources or secrecy to do such a thing. I sense the Sparta us homage, but it does not work when you are talking about an interstellar empire.

While all this is going on, Picard is racing dune buggies on a desert planet while being shot at by primitives. I really cannot add anything to that.

I will say the film ends on a fairly high note. The final battle is a bit overwhelming because so much is going on at once, it is hard to focus on one thing. The space battle is drawn out and busy. The fistfight between Riker, who is really getting too old and paunchy for such a fight to be plausible, reminds me too much of Kirk and Soran battling it out. Grumpy Old Men in Space, as it were. Less time should have been spent on those two sequences and more dealing with Picard and Shizon. Maybe he would have come across as a better villain if they had. Since the dynamic between the two is not fleshed out well, I have time think about how stupid it is that Shinzon got to the lofty perch he currently enjoys..

I wish I could ay Data’s sacrifice is as meaningful as it should have been, but it just is not. Perhaps it is because the situation mirrors Spock’s effort to save his friends from Genesis so much. You cannot top that, so why try? Like I said, data is my favorite character, so I make the best effort to cut the sequence slack. But Data’s death does not resonate. I do consider the continued existence of B4 a contributing factor. It smells of a cop out--a way to bring Spiner back as another android in need of learning about human culture. It is worse than Spock injecting his soul into McCoy before doing his thing.

The TNG move franchise definitely ended on a sour note. Of all four movies, First Contact is the only one I can ever see myself voluntarily sitting through again. Even then, I am only marginally enthusiastic. I do not feel there is a great sense of finality here even though the fate of several characters is set. Why, if you are going to send beloved characters off into the sunset, do you and the movie over to a director who knows nothing about them? It is going to result inexactly what we got-- an unsatisfying movie that limps to the finish line. It is highly disappointing, but still a notch above the illogical mess that is Insurrection, but that is not saying much.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

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