Star Trek: Nemesis SCE Review
By the beginning of 2002 Star Trek was in trouble. Although only a few months after the new series Enterprise had launched, it was generally perceived as a franchise long past its sell-by date, a stagnating pool whose creative forces had long since lost that creative spark that had once seemed so fresh. With initial interest in Enterprise quickly waning when it became clear that, rather than the fresh start promised, it was cut from the same cloth as Voyager, the general consensus was that Trek needed a long rest, and should only be allowed back (if ever) when those whose hands were currently on the rudder had long since moved on.
It was only the momentum of the huge success of The Next Generation that had kept the series going thus far, and that momentum dictated that, no matter what travails the small screen versions were having, it was time for another TNG movie. Although the cinematic adventures of Captain Picard and co had started brightly at the box office (their second jaunt, First Contact, was the highest grossing of any Trek movies) the muted response of the last effort Insurrection awakened head honcho Rick Berman, who had been directly involved with the plotting of all the TNG films, that it might be an idea to bring in some fresh blood (why he didn’t think of this for Enterprise until two years later is anyone’s guess). It had worked when Nick Meyer was brought in back in the Kirk days and produced The Wrath of Khan so why wouldn't that tactic work again? Why, in fact, didn't it? Why did that new blood, writer John Logan and director Stuart Baird, screw up so badly? Why did they produce this lumpen mess, this amalgam of past ideas lumped together into a new turgid whole completely devoid of charm, wit or inspiration, this limp finale to a one great series?
On paper it’s hard to understand. Logan seemed a good choice to bring in. He was one of the hottest screen writers at the time with his Oscar win for Gladiator’s screenplay still fresh in people’s mind, as well as an avowed Trek fan with, as Brent Spiner says, a knowledge of the show that far exceeded most of the actors’. Choosing to put the Romulans centre stage for the first time (an unsurprising choice, given they are the Trek equivalent of the ancient Romans) was an intriguing idea, and his expansion of their mythos, giving Romulus a twin planet populated by bastard offsprings the Remans, while cute, had a certain innate logic and attraction. But oh dear me, from that solid foundation he built up a very rickety house, bricked by plot ideas nicked from past episodes and films and cemented with a paper-thin theme that was obvious, saccharine, and with nothing new to add to its sentiments. His tale, in which both Picard and Data meet clones of themselves and Picard’s clone Shinzon (Tom Hardy) launches an attack on Earth, is familiar to anyone who has seen any episode of TNG with Data’s evil brother Lore, while the overriding theme of an antagonistic power tentatively stretching out the hand of friendship to the Federation is The Undiscovered Country, only with ultimately not-as-interesting consequences. Couple that in with a finale directly ripped off from The Wrath of Khan, only this time completely messed up, and you end up with not so much a generation’s final journey as a generation’s greatest hits, chopped up and remixed, to become a generation's greatest sh-
But that is, of course, a fan’s complaint. One could argue that the film’s main audience (not that, ultimately, it had much of one) would not be familiar with such episodic minutiae only the fans would recall, and should be judged purely on its own merits (although frankly a film with an alternative title of Star Trek 10 is never going to have that much mainstream appeal anyway). So how does it stand up as a film on its own rights? The answer is: dreadfully. Its most basic flaw is that it is simply dull. One is never given a reason to care about Picard’s dilemma, or whether the Romulans are going to attack Earth, or whether Data and his new brother (called B-4 in a moment of rare genuine humour) are going to bond. Context is everything, and whereas other Trek films, and indeed films of this ilk in general, generally provide an audience identification point, here’s there none of that. Why should anyone care about the political machinations of the Romulan Senate, on which far too much time is spent? I’ve been a Trek fan as long as I can remember, and I don’t give a stuff, so why should someone who doesn’t even know the difference between a Gorn and Morn? When Shinzon sets off to attack Earth, we never see Earth in danger, and we never get a sense they’re anywhere near Earth. Indeed, we don’t even see any other Federation vessel at all besides the Enterprise, which is very odd (one of the things Trek films are usually excellent at is showing there is a bigger world going on out there beyond the bridge of the ship). The pacing is dreadful – nothing happens for ages, and then, paradoxically, the final battle drags on too long too, to a point where the audience begins to slumber and Picard has to ram the enemy ship to wake everyone up – and it still doesn’t. As a straight forward sci-fi action film it fails completely.
Thematically, too, it's a flop. There are two basic strands going on in this picture: the idea of time moving on, and with it people – with key members of the Enterprise crew leaving him, Picard feels the ending of an era, paralleling the sentiment among cast and crew that this would be the last TNG film to be made – and identity, the idea of nature vs. nurture. The first idea does not need much analysis: both marriage and death are thrown in but aside from speeches at the beginning and end we don’t actually get to hear what anyone thinks of the changes, and we certainly don’t see the same internal struggle to accept such things as we did with Kirk and co. It’s an idea that runs only skin-deep at best. The second is more interesting, but again is approached in a half-hearted, and even uncertain light. Picard looks at Shinzon, who due to his troubled youth has turned into a decidedly bad egg (no pun intended), and wonders whether he would have turned out the same had he gone through the same experiences. He asks this during the course of the film about three times, and then he’s told no he wouldn’t have, he’s his own person, which sorts it all out. More interestingly, on Shinzon’s side we have bitterness at Picard, at his being given the chances Shinzon never did, which is better, but in the final account Shinzon turns out not to be a corrupted, deeply evil man (no matter how much his bulging veins which throb with raw anger in the final few minutes would have us believe) as a petulant teenager, an adolescent who hasn’t fully matured yet. Thus he becomes instantly one-dimensional, and as a consequence far less interesting – imagine if Khan had gone round in a moody sulk, it just wouldn't have had the same resonance. This is not a battle of wits between the two men as it should have been, it’s a scolding between a father and a prodigal son who never did come home but who secretly wishes he could have done. There is little of substance here, making the entire idea of making the villain Picard himself little more than a half-thought-through gimmick, which is deeply disappointing. And even if one does take at face value that this debate has merit, the fact Picard ultimately fails to save Shinzon means thematically the film ends on a complete downer: he might save the Earth, but not the soul of Shinzon, and as that is at the emotional core of the film Picard loses. That, coupled with the death of a beloved character, ends the film – and, by extension, the entire cinematic franchise – on a terribly downer, the nihilistic view that our future is dead before us, that past trauma defines us and the future can never heal – hardly a sentiment Roddenberry would have approved of.
John Logan’s script feels as though it needed to go through at least another half-dozen script revisions and polishes before it became a finished piece of work. The shame of it is that there are some things in it that I really like, such as the Enterprise ramming into another ship (about time that happened), likewise the view screen being shot in, the car chase (superfluous I know, but fun to see in a Trek film) and the shuttle flying through Shinzon’s ship the Scimitar. But these are too often simply a series of set pieces in search of a story. Scenes are thrown in seemingly at random with little narrative coherence – suddenly we have Data downloading his memories into B-4 (hmm, wonder why that is), Riker engaged in a totally superfluous fist fight which has no purpose other than to give Frakes and guest actor Ron Perlman something interesting to do in the climax, a scene about Romulan politics which sends us all to sleep. A subplot about Troi having a psychic connection to Shinzon’s Viceroy would be nasty (Shinzon mentally rapes her, yet another thing that's been seen already on the TV series) if it was followed up, but instead it’s just another ingredient adding to the melting pot, to be brought up again for use in the finale. The Big Emotional Ending, meanwhile, is so rushed bizarrely it comes across as something the makers felt they wanted to get through as quickly as possible, rather than be the whole crux of the movie - comparing the eulogy scene here with the one given for Spock in The Wrath of Khan is rather like comparing the death of Cordelia in King Lear with the demise of Miss Hooley’s cat in Balamoray.
Even basic dialogue is rubbish, with lines clanging along the floor making no attempt at naturalism or trying to sound anything other than portentous and deep, but succeeding only in being repetitive and shallow. Shinzon tells Picard “You would be exactly like I am,” on their first meeting. Picard, unable to think of a witty reply, or a probing question, or indeed anything at all, just stares gormlessly at him. Later on Shinzon, evidently pleased with the effect he had, repeats the observation. Picard, having had time to come up with a reply, says “Ah yes, but you would be exactly like I am. Ha!” Shinzon, obviously, is immediately crushed. Meanwhile, any hope of intelligent discourse between Data and B-4 is wiped out in the clone’s very first scene, where his constant inane questioning “What’s going on, why is he bald, did I do a bad thing?” reveal he’s the equivalent of a rather stupid two-year-old, and is therefore nothing more than a plot device, and, perhaps, a get-out-of-jail-free card should Spiner regret killing Data off and want to come back in a few years (which I hate - if you're going to kill a character leave them dead please). And the moving eulogy for Data? Riker tells a story about how Data couldn’t whistle a tune when he first met him. Gosh, I hope I’m remembered like that some day: Data, the android who once couldn’t carry a tune. Truly moving. In short, on paper the script is a mess with so many narrative crimes it’s enough to condemn it to life on Rura Penthe with no chance of parole.
And this creative malaise isn’t just restricted to the writing department. It’s hard to recall another Trek movie (or, indeed, many episodes) which was so under-designed. Sets are often bare with a half-finished look, lighting is flat and uninspired, and new ship designs are generic remakes of existing models. A good example of how bored chief designer Herman Zimmerman appears is Shinzon’s big entrance which takes place… on a flight of stairs. Impressive, eh? The Romulan Senate has no majesty about it at all, the big finale takes place in a bland room with a green glowy weapon in the middle, while the new sets seen on the Enterprise are so boring they could have been designed for the rigours and constraints of the television series – compare the new Stellar Cartography with the magnificent one seen in Generations. The major new ship is the Scimitar, and, while I admit I have no interest in Trek tech in general and ship designs in particular, it doesn’t instil any sense of awe in me – Picard’s line on first seeing it (“It’s a predator”) feeling like one of exposition rather than reflection of the audience’s emotional response. When the most exciting thing to be seen in a film is Commander Riker’s bedroom you know you’re in trouble. Coupled with a below-par score from Jerry Goldsmith (although, as he died a few months after completing it, it’s hard to say to what cause that is) it comes across as the least epic of all four TNG films – and, given that list includes Insurrection, that’s quite an achievement.
All that said, Stuart Baird makes a decent fist of directing it, besides the afore-mentioned pacing problems. There were rumours of tensions on set between himself and Stewart but he handles the action sequences reasonably well, and certainly gives the picture a different feel to the previous instalments. It can’t be said that he makes it more cinematic – Frakes did a perfectly good job in his two films in that regard – but Berman’s new blood policy, in this case at least, isn’t the disaster it could have been.
Neither is the acting. Indeed, the actors’ obvious commitment to their roles this time around, no doubt fuelled by the end-of-an-era feeling, is painful to watch: it’s evident they think this is good, worthy work, and a fitting end to their voyage together. Patrick Stewart as usual gives it his all, giving Tom Hardy a challenge to keep up. The young actor tries his damnedest and does well, but never truly convinces, his performance a naïve blend of angst and anger that has a sense of the am-dram about it – you can see him straining at times to get the pain of this character across, but never really inhabits the character. Of the other regular Enterprise crew Brent Spiner phones it in but everyone else contributes good work: Frakes and Marina Sirtis’ chemistry means their characters are fun to watch for the first time in, oh, about ten years, while even Gates McFadden, who usually gets the short end of the straw in these big screen jaunts, feels more of a presence this time around. The guest stars, however, are wasted. The rule for these TNG movies has always been that there should be three roles for fairly well-known actors, but in this movie only Shinzon make an impact. Ron Perlman is so layered in make-up he is unrecognisable while Dina Meyer is ultimately only there to distract the Scimitar in the final battle. Both characters are little more than plot points and nowhere near as prominent or interesting as people like Alfre Woodard’s Lily in First Contact or Anthony Zerbe’s Admiral in Insurrection.
The fact that, when one comes down to it, there’s only one significant character other than the regular crew is a good summary of everything that is wrong about this picture – it thinks big, but acts small. It is, in short, a disaster from beginning to end. Not only is it the nadir of the entire film series, but in feeding so voraciously on the series’ old episodes for inspiration it acts as a perfect representation of the creative doldrums the franchise was festering in. It is so irredeemably bad it sometimes beggars belief, that a franchise that once gave us the majesty of a Wrath of Khan, the sheer joy of The Voyage Home and the old-fashioned knockabout fun of First Contact could have deteriorated so badly we end up with this half-arsed, flaccid waste of celluloid. A carbon copy of earlier, greater moments, with all the goodness boiled away, it was the clearest symptom yet that Star Trek had a terminal condition and needed putting down before anyone else suffered. In the month Harry Potter 2 and The Two Towers were released this died a death and it's little surprise. Irredeemable crap that makes The Final Frontier look like The Wrath of Khan, I loathe it and wish it didn’t exist. It’s dead, Jim, and it ain’t pretty to look at.
(And I haven’t even mentioned the horrible green colour scheme. Or the fact we don't get to see Riker's replacement. Or that at one horrible moment bloody Janeway pops out of Picard’s desk. Or that the plot actually makes no sense. Or that Riker promises to get nude at one point. Or that we don’t get to see the Titan. Or that….)
This Special Collector's Edition comes on two dual-layered single-sided disks, the film on the first and all the extras (with the obvious exception of the commentaries) on the second, housed in a double-jewel-case akin to those of earlier titles in this series, although the interior this time has the disks housed in overlapping holders as opposed to spaces separated by an extra “page” in the middle. There is also a leaflet for Star Trek: The Experience in Las Vegas.
On putting the first disk in, one is first presented with the Paramount DVD logo followed by a rather nice CGI intro to the menu which sees the Enterprise arrive in orbit around Remus before zooming down to the surface and focusing on one of the mining stations, accompanied by the film’s score. There are four options: Play, Set Up (for audio and subtitle options), Scene Selection and Commentaries. The second disk is similar, only this time the zoom down is to Romulus, focusing on the Senate Building, which makes for a nice symmetry between the two of them. Disk Two’s Main Menu Options are: Production, The Star Trek Universe, The Romulan Empire, Deleted Scenes, Archives, Trailers and Set Up. The film and all extras are subtitled with the exception of trailers.
The film is presented in its original cinematic ratio of 2:35:1. The transfer lets the viewer down badly in that it’s not a completely black screen, but it’s still not crystal clear. None of these TNG SCEs have had especially good image quality and this is no different, although it is much better than the terrible Insurrection. There’s plenty of grain layered over the action, together with a flicker at times. That said, it could be worse, and certainly all the many CGI shots and close-ups are fine. Perfectly watchable, but not as good as it should be.
What he takes away with one hand he gives back with the other. Whereas the video has never been great in these releases, the audio is always first rate, and once again this is the same. The DTS sounds great, most notably in the extended battle at the end of the movie but really all the way through, from the desert sequences at the beginning on. Arguably the sound design isn’t as far-ranging as it could be, but that’s not the audio’s fault. Very good.
Audio Commentary by Stuart Baird
A mediocre commentary from the director in which he intersperses brief interesting titbits of information with descriptions of what's going on and periods of silence. If you like the film it's worth listening to - just. He doesn't seem to realise he made an awful film.
Audio Commentary by Rick Berman
Another slow commentary with lots of dead space and no apologies, although he does talk about elements of making the film Baird doesn't. Not very dynamic though.
Text Commentary by Denise and Michael Okuda
As ever a lot of fun, with the Okudas taking full advantage of the fact they haven't had a proper chance to discuss the Romulans yet. These trivia-filled subtitles are always worth reading, a veritable wealth of I-never-knew-that facts, statistics and other miscellania.
Nemesis Revisited (25:43)
Although its title suggests a retrospective, this is actually made up of interviews with the cast and crew at the time of the film’s making. A nice overview of the story, how it was developed and why (no excuses mind) and reflecting on what it meant to everyone involved. No one seems aware they made an awful movie.
New Frontiers: Stuart Baird on Directing Nemesis (8:42)
In which Baird talks almost exclusively about Shinzon’s character. A redundant piece, given anything he says here could have been said on the commentary.
Storyboarding the Action (3:36)
Storyboard artist Tom Southwell discusses his role in visualising the movie, shows us how he uses models to envisage certain moments, and we see a storyboard-final sequence comparison. No different to any of the other storyboard documentaries you’ve seen, and very short.
Red Alert: Shooting the Action of Nemesis (10:07)
Stewart talks about how much he enjoyed driving the fast car, other people describe how they enjoyed watching Stewart driving the fast car, Frakes talks about his big fight moment and the sequence in which the Enterprise rams Shinzon’s ship is briefly discussed. Superficial.
Build and Rebuild (7:43)
Art director Cherie Baker discusses how sets are used multiple times. I have nothing more to say about this.
Four-Wheeling in the Final Frontier (10:12)
I have no interest in cars at all but still quite enjoyed this profile of the vehicles involved in the chase sequence, including contributions from Ivan “Iron man” Stewart – the King of Off-Roaders it appears – and the unfortunately named Rich Minga.
Shinzon Screen Test (6:28)
Now this is interesting, as we see Hardy nailing his performance from Shinzon right from the beginning in this test he did with Stewart. Given the lack of atmosphere the flaws in his technique are magnified, but compare this version with the final cinematic version and there's very little difference.
The Star Trek Universe
A Star Trek Family’s Final Journey (16:15)
A discussion of the film’s deeper themes. Still no one notices they’ve made a rubbish film.
A Bold Vision of the Final Frontier (10:16)
Aside from an out-of-place discussion at the beginning about the design of the Scimitar, this is similar to the New Frontiers featurette and just as superfluous. In it, Baird skims over some of the action scenes in the film and we get even more footage of Patrick Stewart enjoying his car. I’m beginning to wish he’d crashed that damn car.
The Enterprise E (11:36)
This is a relatively interesting look at redesigning the Enterprise for the movie’s needs, but fans of those cars shouldn’t get itchy feet as they soon appear, and – good news as we hadn’t seen it nearly ten minutes – we get to see some of the chase sequence again.
The Romulan Empire
Romulan Lore (11:50)
Jolly look back at Romulan history as established thus far in all the series with prolific Trek authors Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens, who also manage to get a lengthy plug in for their new book (Captain’s Blood, available from all good booksellers and online retailers now).
Shinzon and the Viceroy (10:00)
This fine piece has Hardy and Perlman discussing their characters. Perhaps it’s simply because they are not as immersed in all things Star Trek as nearly all the other interviewees seen on these featurettes, but everything they have to say has a fresh ring to it, bringing a different slant on stuff the rest of the cast and crew (and us dyed-in-the-wool Trekkers) have long since become blasé to.
Romulan Design (9:04)
Another good one, this looks at – you’d never guess – Romulan design, encompassing the look of the planet, the ships and the Remans themselves.
The Romulan Senate (8:57)
Dull account of designing and building the set used in the film’s opening scene. Would undoubtedly have been improved if Stewart had driven his car through it at some point.
The Scimitar (13:13)
Those who designed Shinzon’s ship talk about its look and some of the decisions that went into it looking as it did. I would have liked to have seen the version of the Bridge that Berman said a flat out “No” to.
Deleted Scenes (27:11)
A pretty good selection of scenes ending up on the cutting room floor. Highlights including finding out who takes Spot the Cat in, what Wesley’s up to these days (he’s joining Riker’s ship: truly that is a voyage of the damned), seeing Riker’s replacement meet Picard, and a touching scene between Data and Picard that is far better than most of the stuff in the film itself.
Three sections - Storyboards, Production, and Props - make up this background section of reference materials. Each section can be viewed separately and all are made up of a slideshow of illustrations which have to be manually moved on. The storyboards from four sequences – Data and Picard’s flight through the Scimitar in the shuttle, Riker’s tussle with the Viceroy, the Enterprise’s ramming of the Scimitar and Data’s jump across the ether – included, to be perused at leisure. The Production segment starts off with various sketches and artwork of the pre-production period before moving on to show some of the sets and some stills and posed photos from production itself. The Props are pictures of props, which I guess has a crazy logic to it.
Two trailers for the movie, the teaser and theatrical, are included, as are – oh yes – the Borg Invasion trailer for the Experience attraction in Las Vegas. Which means Janeway appears twice in this DVD set. Which is two times too many.
A generation’s worst journey gets only reasonable extras. The two commentaries are average but okay for what they are, but there’s a fair bit of general repetition in the various featurettes (yes, Patrick, okay, we get it, you liked the car). But, for those that like the film, and those who live for Star Trek minutiae, the amount of detail packed into the extras will keep them happy for days - shame there wasn’t more of a general retrospective over TNG’s fifteen years but aside from that omission there’s little else that could have been put on them Still, only for completists.
Last updated: 19/04/2018 07:04:42