Director: Stuart Baird
Cast: Patrick Stewart, Brent Spiner, Tom Hardy, and Ron Perlman
Runtime: 116 min.
by Brian Eggert
Original Release Date:
In Star Trek: Nemesis, both what’s on the screen and what’s not on the screen disappoint. It’s strange how despite the imagination inspired by episode after episode of The Next Generation television show, the pressure of maintaining the franchise through a feature film somehow makes everyone involved stumble over what should be second nature after seven seasons and three movies. To uphold the relationships among diverse crewmembers of the Enterprise. To tell a story that honors both the show’s roots and yet feels worthy of the cinema. These are challenges that the filmmakers just couldn’t accomplish this time, the disappointing tenth go-round in the series.
Following Insurrection, which was unfortunately considered a lackluster effort, Paramount Pictures took their time before releasing their next Star Trek film. Mostly because they had no idea of how to approach the problem. The previous entry made only minor profits, whereas Paramount needed a blockbuster. Four years later, after shuffling around ideas for a surefire hit, the answer wasn’t to perfect a script or find some brilliant director to put behind the camera, rather just to throw money at the problem and hope for the best. With $60 million, the most issued for any Star Trek film at that time, the studio probably believed the special effects alone would do the trick. They were wrong.
But their confidence in the eventual script is understandable. The Aviator and Gladiator scribe John Logan conceived the story with longtime Trek producer Rick Berman, and Logan’s Oscar-nominated clout went a long way. The pitch was simple. Why not repeat the formula that made The Wrath of Khan and First Contact such critical and financial sensations? Why not create a memorable villain, someone to provide a challenge both in the battlefield and in the mind? But what about the other characters—shouldn’t there be villains for the supporting crew? The story involved two doppelgangers, one for each of the series’ most popular characters, Picard and Data, to illustrate how TNG is more than just its Captain.
Opening with the marriage of Cmdr. Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and Counselor Troi (Mirina Sirtis), the film begins on a note of obvious fan service, complete with an unreserved chumminess between characters. The stern Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) cracks jokes. The emotionless android Data (Brent Spiner) sings a jazzy “Blue Skies”. None of their traditional personalities seem intact. Later in the film, Picard remarks, “This doesn’t feel right.” Could he mean the film’s tone? This isn’t an extroverted group, but a mixture of diverse characters who coalesce through their uniqueness, an exciting dynamic that’s largely absent within the establishing scenes. Not until about a quarter of the way through, when the plot begins to congeal, do the characters become themselves again.
After the wedding reception, the Enterprise stops on a planet near the Romulan Neutral Zone, the border separating their space from the Federation’s, because a signal suggests that another android like Data exists there. On this barren planet they find Data’s “long lost relative,” who we later learn is called B-4, a name that suggests that prior to its naming the creator was aware of what comes after. The double doesn’t have the wits of his older brother, nor a personality beyond that of a small child. Data transfers over his memory banks to bring B-4 up to speed, but it doesn’t take. B-4 remains a numbskull, even by human standards. Meanwhile, the Romulans request the presence of the Enterprise at their home planet after a coup d'état on their senate, offering the possibility for a new, unprecedented peace between races.
When Picard and crew arrive, they meet the insurgent leader from Remus, the twin planet to Romulus, who has taken over. Shinzon (Tom Hardy)—who is not Romulan but rather a clone of Picard himself, leftover from a scrapped plot to replace Picard and wage war on the Federation from the inside—says he wants peace. Nobody believes him, particularly after Picard discovers that Shinzon is carrying a potent radiation weapon that could destroy an entire planet. Picard would like to think his genes would be diametrically opposed to such actions, as if genetic coding somehow controls life experience to make us who we are… Data is the only one in the twenty-fourth century smart enough to realize that genetics do not make the Picard, the Picard makes the Picard.
Attempting to create a “Nemesis” for Picard analogous to Kirk’s adversary Khan, the filmmakers invented one rather than looking into the abundant source material of the show. Why not the omnipotent and dangerous pest Q? Why not Data’s reappearing evil brother Lore? Why not the Borg again? Instead we have Picard’s contrived test tube twin who’s driven by emotion, whereas Picard follows duty and honor and his humanist drives. Even Riker has a nemesis in Shinzon’s viceroy, Vkruk (Ron Pearlman), who psychically guides Shinzon into Troi’s head for a mind-rape. Riker eventually defends his wife’s honor by pummeling Vkruk. And then there’s Data, who doesn’t exactly fight B-4, an entirely wasted character until our favorite android sacrifices himself in the end to save his captain. Will B-4’s memory banks eventually be overcome by Data’s transferred knowledge, thus returning our favorite android to normalcy? The film’s tagline “A Generation’s Final Journey Begins” made little sense considering this hopeful, pseudo-cliffhanger ending. Not that audiences ever saw the outcome, given how Nemesis bombed, making about $44 million.
Inconsistencies to Star Trek lore—from electronic, non-Trek-like music to poor character development—may result from a director and writer unfamiliar with the gamut of shows and movies. Executive Decision and U.S. Marshals helmer Stuart Baird took directing duties, despite being completely unfamiliar with Gene Roddenberry’s world or TNG canon. His employment was no doubt based on his ability to direct an action scene, but that’s all. Baird’s choices remain the film’s greatest downfall. Consider scenes on the planet where the crew finds Data’s dumber counterpart: There’s desert-red color saturation that feels more appropriate for a Steven Soderbergh picture than a Star Trek film; and when our heroes are attacked by a local post-industrial culture, after their shuttle escape there’s not one mention of the Prime Directive, even though an alien race saw proof of their existence and advanced technologies. Trekkies no doubt threw their hands in the air in frustration over these irregularities—and this is just one sequence. All of Nemesis plays this way…
Several castmembers voiced their disdain for the production after their promotional obligations subsided. Entire characters feel nonexistent within the script, as many pointed out, such as Dr. Crusher (Gates McFadden). But that might derive from about 50-minutes of footage being removed, the majority of it character development otherwise absent from the final cut. Sirtis noted the poor timing of the film’s release, putting a niche-market product against tentpole releases from franchises involving Harry Potter, James Bond, and some journeying Hobbits. If the film had been released a few months after Hollywood’s holiday blockbuster rush, audiences might’ve someday found out the significance of B-4 humming “Blue Skies” in the finale. Alas, we can only wonder. Frakes also noted how he wasn’t offered the director’s chair, despite helming First Contact and Insurrection, and attributed the film’s incoherent tone to Baird’s admitted unfamiliarity with all things Star Trek. Considering his are two of the best in the franchise, Frakes’ point is valid.
What a disappointment. Nemesis failed for what seems pure laziness on the part of the filmmakers, and from sheer disregard from the studio. Its unnecessary commercial failure might feel more tragic if the film itself were better composed, except the resulting product proves so un-Trek-like that it’s impossible for even the most apologetic fan to find a creative success here. Non-Trekkie viewers might find the action scenes diverting, but it won’t covert anyone into a devotee. It’s particularly disconcerting that the film’s failure never completed the Data story arc, returning him in what should’ve been an inevitable B-4-centric sequel, liken to The Search for Spock. So on a downer note, The Next Generation’s legacy ends in an unfitting whimper when it deserved so much more.
More from this series:
Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984)
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)
Star Trek: Generations (1994)
Star Trek: First Contact (1996)
Star Trek: Insurrection (1998)
Star Trek (2009)
Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)