Star Trek flashback: Nemesis

Fellow genre entertainment fans, most reviews of J.J. Abramssuccessful cinematic reboot of the Star Trek franchise (including mine) have compared it with the late-1960s television series or the movies featuring the original crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise. However, here again is my review of Star Trek [10]: Nemesis. The previous entry in the long-running space opera series, which I screened in Boston several years ago, was better than I had expected, but unfortunately, that’s not saying much.

Last of the Next Generation
Star Trek: Nemesis cast

For many speculative fiction fans who came of age during the 1980s, Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s crew is still the best and the brightest of the franchise. This review assumes at least some familiarity with Star Trek, which has become a pop-culture phenomenon over the past 35+ years.

Plot and Script: Supposedly the “final journey of a generation,” this outing with the bridge crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701-E was written by Gladiator‘s John Logan, an avowed Trek fan.

The movie opens with some long-awaited gifts to “Trekkies/Trekkers” everywhere: character development. In an early scene, Capt. Jean-Luc Picard (Patrik Stewart, also known for playing Prof. Charles Xavier in the successful X-Men superhero movies) toasts newlywedsCmdr. Will T. Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and Counselor Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis), who are about to take command of a ship of their own.

The cameos by Wil Wheaton (as Ensign Wesley Crusher) and Whoopi Goldberg (as former bartender Guinan) have been cut distressingly short, and only fans of Star Trek: Voyager may be pleased to see Kate Mulgrew as “Admiral Kathryn Janeway,” who reassigns the starship Enterprise to Romulan space to investigate a coup among the long-time foes of the United Federation of Planets.

Apparently, the Remans, a Nosferatu-like subject race of the Romulan Empire, threaten to overthrow the balance of power in the quadrant under the leadership of Praetor Shinzon (Tom Hardy [now on TV’s syndicated fantasy Legend of the Seeker]), who turns out to be a deranged clone of Capt. Picard. Yes, I’ve given away some “spoilers” here, but the trailers and previews have already done so.

Like Die Another Day (James Bond 20), Nemesis raids its predecessors for plot devices. Sometimes, this works, as in the use of a nebula for a blazing space battle. However, having megalomaniac villains spouting Shakespeare and scenes of telepathic rape by a Reman viceroy (played by veteran character actor Ron Perlman [Hellboy]) have become cliches, even for Trek. The version of the script that was leaked to the Internet several months ago inspired even less confidence, however.

Star Trek II: the Wrath of Khan is widely considered to be the best movie in this series — including by me — but it has been copied a bit too slavishly in many of the subsequent flicks. Yes, Capt. James T. Kirk (William Shatner) and the 1960s-1980s crew were swashbuckling/cowboy adventurers, but Picard and company‘s strengths were as diplomats and explorers, which hasn’t really been shown in their movies.

Cameos by series veteran Spock (Leonard Nimoy) [which eventually happened in 2009’s reboot] or mischievous godling “Q” (John DeLancie) would have been more interesting than yet another crazed villain, IMHO. Even the fascinating Romulans are underused.

For the record, I believe that Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was about intrigue and preserving Starfleet‘s ideals on a turbulent frontier, Star Trek: Voyager was about maintaining teamwork while being very far from the comforts of Earth, and Star Trek: Enterprise hoped to tell the story of humanity’s first real steps into a then-unexplored galaxy. [As other reviews of mine noted, Enterprise got better too little, too late and was canceled because of low ratings.]

The parallels between Capt. Picard and Shinzon with Data and “B4,” another Sung prototype android, are overdrawn, but they suit the needs of the story. The issues of similarity and sacrifice were dealt with better in Wrath of Khan.

There is some “technobabble” in the dialogue, and the script pays lip service to Gene Roddenberry’s ideals of cooperation and having a sense of wonder. On the other hand, I was glad to see continuity respected, as events from the previous movies and television series were mentioned, such as the Dominion War.

Acting and Direction: “The fault lies not in the stars, but in ourselves.” Although the acting and direction were good, as a Trek fan, it was difficult to feel any sense of suspense. As always, it’s comforting to see familiar characters interacting, and the Next Gen crew was especially relaxed this time around. Director Stuart Baird does bring some fresh energy to the tired franchise, and the action scenes are decent.

I was disappointed to again see the excellent supporting cast so underused, from the Klingon Lt. Cmdr. Worf (Michael Dorn), to Dr. Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden), to chief engineer Lt. Cmdr. Geordi LaForge (LeVar Burton). I’ve been fortunate to meet most of these actors at conventions over the years.

Cinematography: From a dune-buggy chase to the aforementioned battle between capital ships, the action is certainly magnified over the previous Star Trek [9]: Insurrection, again evoking Wrath of Khan and even First Contact [8].

The devastation aboard damaged ships is better shown than in the past (I understand that computer-generated imagery was used rather than models this time), but the hand-to-hand fights are still a combination of poor phaser/disruptor aim and fisticuffs. The soundtrack and end credits were more unobtrusive than in the past.

Summary: Overall, I’d give Nemesis only about a 7 out of 10. Does that correspond with the “even/odd-numbered curse?” As I’ve noted before, as one of the largest fictional universes, Star Trek has some of the best and some of the worst examples of space opera. Much of the best Trek material lately hasn’t been onscreen or in the numerous spin-off novels and comic books, but in the role-playing games [I’ve only glanced at video games, board games, and multiplayer online games]. Here are my ratings (out of 10) for the various Star Trek series:

Television series:

  • Star Trek (1966-1969) 9
  • Star Trek: the Animated Series (1973-1974) 8
  • Star Trek: the Next Generation (1987-1994) 9
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993-1999) 8
  • Star Trek: Voyager (1995-2001) 6
  • Star Trek: Enterprise (2001-2005) 7

Movies:

  • Star Trek [1]: the Motion Picture (1979) 7
  • Star Trek II: the Wrath of Khan (1982) 10
  • Star Trek III: the Search for Spock (1984) 7
  • Star Trek IV: the Voyage Home (1986) 8
  • Star Trek V: the Final Frontier (1989) 5
  • Star Trek VI: the Undiscovered Country (1991) 8
  • Star Trek [7]: Generations (1994) 7
  • Star Trek [8]: First Contact (1996) 9
  • Star Trek [9]: Insurrection (1998) 6
  • Star Trek [10]: Nemesis (2002) 7
  • [Star Trek [11] (2009 reboot) 9]

Role-Playing Games:

  • Star Trek (FASA rules; 1980s) 7
  • Prime Directive (wargame/RPG; 1980s) 7
  • Star Trek (Last Unicorn version; 1999) 10
  • Star Trek (Decipher version; 2002) 9
  • GURPS Prime Directive (Amarillo Design Bureau; 2002) 8
  • Prime Directive D20 (Amarillo Design Bureau; 2005) 8

>>May all your holidays be happy, and live long and prosper, -Gene (“Capt. Tzu Tien Lung”)

As you can see, despite some missteps, the Trek is far from over!

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