Thursday, May 7, 2009

Review: Star Trek: Nemesis

Directed by: Stuart Baird
Produced by: Rick Berman
Screenplay by: John Logan
Story by: John Logan, Rick Berman & Brent Spiner
Executive Producer: Martin Hornstein
Cinematography by: Jeffrey L. Kimball, A.S.C.
Production Designed by: Herman Zimmerman
Edited by: Dallas Puett, A.C.E.
Costumes by: Bob Ringwood
Co-Producer: Peter Lauritson
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith

Cast: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Marinia Sirtis, Tom Hardy, Ron Perlman, Dina Meyer, Jude Ciccolella, Shannon Cochran, Michael Owen, Kate Mulgrew

2002 / 116min / Rated PG-13 (Sci-Fi Action Violence and Peril and a Scene of Sexual Content)

When a coup d'etat on Romulus overturns the established government, the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise, on their final voyage together, are sent to meet with the new praetor, Shinzon. But Captain Picard discovers a surprising connection to Shinzon, in that Shinzon is a younger clone of himself.

Nemesis is not a bad movie, it's only a decent movie. There I said it. Despite it being one of the most hated film by all of fandom (in some circles of fandom, the most), it's biggest faults probably lie in it being the wrong Star Trek movie at the wrong time, which probably is why it is so hated.

Nemesis has plenty of good ideas and has the right goals, but it lacks the heart and soul needed to make it a big success. The plot is filled with holes, but even a plot that is thin or filled with holes can be forgiven if it's got plenty of heart and soul. Look at The Voyage Home; thin on plot, but filled with heart, and one of Trek's best. It also suffers from a story that borrows too many elements from previous Trek entries.

From the beginning, writer John Logan and producer Rick Berman said their example for making Nemesis was The Wrath of Khan. Reasonable, considering The Wrath of Khan is widely considered the definitive Star Trek movie. Unfortunately, instead of using it as an example of how to make Trek movie, Logan and Berman used it as their template. Borrowing peace elements from The Undiscovered Country, an evil twin from TNG itself, a super weapon right out of The Wrath of Khan, a big space battle and the death of a beloved character at the end are all elements that have been used in previous Star Trek entries. Unfortunately, they were done better. Nemesis feels too derivative.

The great thing about the Genesis device in The Wrath of Khan was that it was a means to a better future that could easily be manipulated into a deadly weapon. That's not so in Nemesis. A deadly weapon is used as a deadly weapon. For The Wrath of Khan, producer Harve Bennett wanted something that stayed true to the principals of Star Trek, hence the Genesis device's terraforming properties. In Nemesis, thaleron radiation is a made-up biological weapon that does not try to improve anything, only destroy.

The big battle at the end may be impressive in terms of technical and visual wizardry, but in terms of suspense it doesn't match the duke-out at the end of The Wrath of Khan. Khan's brilliance was in that it was two ships that were blinded trying to battle on another and the outcome was determined by strategy. In Nemesis, there is no strategy; merely whoever scores the most hits wins. It's neither compelling nor inventive, and while it is impressive, it's lacking in creativity and enthusiasm. We've seen plenty of battles in Star Trek, and many have been done better then this.

Some of the lack of heart is a result of very little characterization for the cast of The Next Generation. This is meant to be their final voyage, with several key members of the crew heading off for new careers. It takes risks in its marriage of Riker and Troi, and Riker's promotion and reassignment to captain of another starship. Unfortunately, the attempt at giving a family theme fails because most of the characterization is rumored to have been left on the cutting room floor. Nemesis' first cut was rumored at being 160 minutes, with the theatrical release clocking in at 116 minutes. That's a lot of material that is cut out, and most of it is rumored to be character moments. It's greatly missed. Whether it would've improved the quality of the movie depends on whether it was solid material, but one can only wonder. As it is, Nemesis lacks the heart that should be present for TNG's swan song.

Unfortunately, while it is meant to be TNG's final journey, including the death of Data, there are elements that are present to suggest that they were ready for another film. It almost cheats the audience, especially when concerning the death of Data. It makes Data's death almost meaningless, when really it should be as meaningful and significant as Spock's death in The Wrath of Khan.

The villain is found in Shinzon, a clone of Picard depicted by Tom Hardy. Shinzon is a mixed bag as a character. Hardy delivers a strong performance, but the writing for Shinzon is all over the map. His motives are never really clear, nor is his reasoning to destroy Earth. It's just not clear why he has this obsession with destroying Earth. This makes it all the more frustrating when Earth never really seems in danger. It's mentioned, but we never actually do see Earth in jeopardy. The threat isn't very real to us.

The supporting cast of Ron Pearlman and Dina Meyer are wasted in their respective roles. Pearlman's only purpose seems to give Riker something to do during the big battle at the end, while Meyer could easily have been left out entirely.

The pace is very slow. There's never a sense of urgency, and the first hour drags on. The car chase in the beginning is pointless and could have been left out in favor of character development. Even the climactic battle at the end, which goes on for almost half an hour, moves slowly and never really feels suspenseful. It seems more like an exercise in pyrotechnic and space battle effects then anything else. The ideas for something great are there, but they're never given the chance they needed to reach their potential.

Stuart Baird's direction is very bland, adding to the problems in pace. His lack of knowledge with Star Trek adds to the lack of heart. Someone more familiar with the franchise at the helm could possibly have resulted in a better film.

Performances are mixed. While Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner are strong, with Spiner doubling as the B4 android, the rest of the TNG cast is only going through the motions. Perhaps they've grown a little too comfortable in these roles that they are just coasting through them because of a lack of material.

The special effects are some of the best seen in a Star Trek movie. The production values are top notch, but the material that it's used for just doesn't match. Jeffrey L. Kimball's cinematography covers the sets with shadows, giving Nemesis the look and feel of Star Trek's darkest film outing.

Jerry Goldsmith's score is also rather mixed. His material during the second half with all the action is strong, if uninspired, but it's very weak during the first half. A lack of a standout theme adds to it. It's unfortunately Goldsmith's weakest Trek entry.

This isn't to say Nemesis is entirely bad. There is some good stuff in here, and the attempts to draw parallels between the Picard/Shinzon and Data/B4 plotlines is intriguing, as is the exploration of what makes us who we are. This very inner exploration is what is at the heart of Star Trek. The attempt to move the characters forward with their lives is a bold risk, departing what has been done previously. These characters are given a new direction, and it's definitely more then previous entires attempted, which were too happy in keeping everyone where they were at, just like a weekly episode. It's too bad not enough time was spent on the family and characterizations, because this could've greatly improved Nemesis. The ideas are present, but they're not given the time they need to develop. Nemesis could've used another rewrite or two to favor the characterization instead of the action.

Nemesis had plenty of potential and plenty of good ideas, but it's held back by weak execution and a sense that we've been here before, and have been there better. The results are a film that came at a time when Star Trek needed a big success, but got something weak, almost bringing down the franchise. The worst part about it is that this is the final film for the crew of The Next Generation. Not only is it a disappointing movie, it's an even big disappointment as a swan song. for the beloved crew of TNG. Their final journey should have been much, much more. Just Is it bad? No, not really. It's just not great. It's watchable, but it's lack of heart prevents it from being more, and sees The Next Generation crew retire with a whimper.

1/2 (of 4)


Dave said...

Thanks for the review. While it is not one of my favorites, I do not think it was a bad movie.

Evie said...

It's an okay movie. I don't mind watching it occasionally, but I wish the TNG crew had gotten a better farewell.