On Star Trek: Nemesis

Continuing from Star Trek Generations, First Contact, and Insurrection is Star Trek: Nemesis, the final The Next Generation film, and the least entertaining in The Next Generation film series. For example, according to the Examiner‘s article, ““Star Trek Nemesis” review: Next Generation ends film run with so-so story“:

Although “Star Trek: Nemesis” has its share of watchable scenes and sequences, it suffers from a script full of plot holes and inconsistencies with “facts’ about the characters that were established in “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” In one scene, Picard shows Dr. Crusher a picture taken when he was a cadet at Starfleet Academy. Though the cadet uniform is accurately depicted, the young Jean-Luc is bald. This doesn’t jive with the flashback episode “Tapestry,” which features a young Picard (Marcus Nash) as a young Starfleet officer – with a full head of hair!

This is a minor inconsistency compared to the appearance of Michael Dorn’s Worf character in the “Next Generation” films even though the character transferred off the Enterprise and was assigned to Deep Space Nine for several years. Worf eventually became a Klingon diplomat after “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” ended its seven season run in 1999. At least in “Star Trek: First Contact” there was a tie-in plot device with “Deep Space Nine,” but there’s no logical explanation for Worf being aboard theEnterprise-E in either of the two movies that followed.

The problem here, as I see it? Lazy writing.

The film also suffers from lackluster directing by Stuart Baird. Baird is best known as a film editor who has helped craft such movies as “Superman,” (1978) “Lethal Weapon” (1987), and “Die Hard 2” (1990). In this role, Baird is peerless, especially in the action-adventure genre.

Baird does inject “Star Trek: Nemesis” with some of the high-energy vibe he gave those movies as an editor, but he was out of his element as a director in an established universe where the sets, costumes, and props already existed. He was unfamiliar with “Star Trek” and frustrated (per the audio commentary track on the DVD and Blu-ray) with the inability to make “Star Trek: Nemesis” with his vision.

As a result, the finished film is unevenly balanced with a heavy emphasis on action at the expense of characterization. Several scenes which focus on the Enterprise “family” were shot, but Baird and Paramount cut them from the finished film. This makes “Star Trek: Nemesis” highly dependent on hand-to-hand combat and space battles; those are visually cool, but “Star Trek” is at its best when it focuses on Picard, Riker, Troi, Data, and the rest of the crew.

While “Star Trek: Nemesis” is not as bad as “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier,” it does suffer from what producer Rick Berman calls “franchise fatigue.” It has a fair number of nice scenes, and Logan manages to give tips of the hat to the five “Star Trek” TV shows. In the end, though, “Nemesis” loses its zip and becomes a standard-issue shoot-’em-up space movie with only a few glimmers of Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the future.

Additionally, according to Den of Geek‘s article, “Star Trek: Nemesis – what went wrong?“:

1996’s Star Trek: First Contact took $150 million worldwide, on a budget of $46 million. 1998’s Star Trek: Insurrection managed to swallow a budget of $70 million and only return $118 worldwide, but after the critical feedback about that film, surely a darker action film along the same lines as First Contact would jump the box office back up?

That appeared to be the thought pattern at Paramount, as it greenlit a further adventure for the Star Trek: The Next Generation cast. Star Trek: Nemesis was born.

The film, released in December 2002 in the US, would go on to take $67 million at the global box office, off the back of a $60 million budget. It’d sell 1.3m DVDs in its first week in America, and in the scheme of things, was a financial disappointment.

On box office numbers alone, the film wouldn’t have crawled its way into the black. But the DVD steered it away from red ink, the disc being one of the most pre-ordered retail DVDs in the US and UK come the time of its release.

But why did Star Trek: Nemesis take so little at the box office? Well, let’s leave the critical view of the film to one side for the moment, as it was nowhere near as one sided in 2002 as it is now, with hindsight.

Looking at other theatrical releases around the same time, this relatively low-budget film was up against the behemoths of the second Harry Potter (Chamber Of Secrets) and the second of Peter Jackson’s Lord Of The Rings films (The Two Towers). 007 was also kicking around with Die Another Day. It would be fair to say that the competition was tough.

Looking at the budgets and worldwide box office takings, Potter cost $100 million and took $879 million, Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers cost $94 million and took $935 million while 007 cost $142 million and took $432 million.

It’s not hard to come to the conclusion that the film simply got overlooked. After all, Star Trek is a product of the small screen and up against the cinematic experiences on offer from the other films, it’s hardly surprising that cinema-goers may have simply decided to wait to see the film… if they even knew it was out.

With movie theaters desperately trying to get more showings of the other films in each day, it’s no surprise that the number of screens showing Nemesis dropped dramatically, very quickly. Paramount knew all this, though. The decision to go up against The Two Towers was made specifically to catch those who couldn’t get a ticket to the sold out fantasy epic. Indeed the pressure from the studio, and Rick Berman as its representative, was to cut the film’s running time, with the alleged intent to allow it to be shown more times a day per screen compared with Jackson’s film running at 172 minutes. History shows, however, that this strategy didn’t work.

Nemesis came as a bit of a surprise, to Patrick Stewart at least, as with the completion of Star Trek: Insurrection the contracts of the core cast (except perhaps, Michael Dorn due to his involvement on Deep Space Nine) were complete and none had any ongoing commitment to the studio or further Star Trek films. It was a phone call between Brent Spiner and his friend (and huge Star Trek fan) John Logan, the writer of Ridley Scott’s Gladiator, that led to the film’s development. One can only speculate how costly a one-film contract for the cast would have been.

An underlying theme of Star Trek: Nemesis was supposed to be that of the crew moving on and the family that they had become branching out into new experiences and adventures. Not only were Will Riker and Deanna Troi marrying and moving to the USS Titan (with the newly promoted Captain Riker taking command) but cut scenes also made it clearer that Data was to become the new first officer of the Enterprise, while Doctor Crusher was also leaving to head up Starfleet Medical (again). Cutting the film for time took out 50 minutes of footage (according to producer Rick Berman), though it’s believed most of that had not been fully completed (missing effects shots and the like).

However it does appear that an awful lot of character moments – essentially the heart, the Star Trek core of this film, were removed, leaving what is often thought of as a hollow action film by many. Behind the scenes friction can’t have helped while filming, either.

In a revelation that will shock few who have seen the film, Stuart Baird (helmer of films such as Executive Decision and US Marshalls, and long-time film editor) had no knowledge of Star Trek before becoming director of Nemesis. He even refused to watch any of the Next Generation TV series to prepare (and reportedly went so far to say he hated the franchise, and had to be forced to watch the preceding films, allegedly), so it’s no wonder so many fans feel the characters act strangely.

It’s reported that the director even kept calling LeVar Burton ‘Laverne’ and thought Commander LaForge was an alien. If you watch some of the extras on the DVD and the extra-extras on the Blu-ray it comes across that the majority of the cast were less than enamored with the director.

Jeri Ryan was approached to reprise Seven Of Nine in Nemesis and the part would have required a couple of months of filming, according to the actress. This was something Paramount wanted and Rick Berman was intending to plug her into the film. The actress had more sense, and even had to tell the production team that Seven being at the wedding reception in the movie would have made no sense bearing in mind the character hadn’t met any of the Next Generation crew. As a result, Vice Admiral Janeway makes a brief appearance to give Captain Picard orders instead, which some fans found a bit odd.

Deleted Scenes

The filmed scenes that didn’t make the final cut-to-the-bones version that was released included the Captain sharing a bottle of Chateau Picard with Data just after the wedding reception. Another was Commander Worf and Commander LaForge rounding up Commander Data’s belongings in his quarters following his apparent death, with Spot (Data’s cat) taking a shine to the son of Mogh.

The original plan for the opening credits was to show snippets of Shinzon’s life, specifically his banishment to the Reman mines, and the brutality he was forced to endure before his now Viceroy came to protect him. A much more abbreviated version of this footage was used later in the film in the end.

An unused alternate ending (also on the DVD and Blu-ray release), reveals the Enterprise in dry dock getting one hell of a refit, with a raft of new features, including a new Captain’s chair with seatbelts, demonstrated by a Starfleet engineer to the Captain much to Worf’s protestation.

In the same sequence Captain Riker tells the new First Officer, a Commander Martin Madden (taking the deceased Data’s intended place, and played by soon to be MACO Commander on Enterprise, Steven Culp) to take an informal stance on dealing with Captain Picard much to both Captain Riker’s anticipated and Commander LaForge’s on-screen amusement. Worf, again, was a little more wide eyed.

Thanks to LeVar Burton having a word with Rick Berman, Wil Wheaton finally makes an appearance as Wesley Crusher in a Star Trek: The Next Generation film. If you’re watching in widescreen, and you pay attention, that is. Wesley is seen at the left edge of the screen, during the wedding reception, in Starfleet uniform depicting his rank as Lieutenant in Engineering yellow.

However, here’s another wonderful little bit of footage,that was cut and really ought to have been left in. Wil had some lines with Gates and Patrick. The footage revealed that Captain Picard was happy to see him in uniform again, and though somewhat distracted by a young female guest, Wes reveals he’s gained an assignment on the night duty shift in Engineering aboard the U.S.S. Titan, Will Riker’s new command.

Watching further extras on the Blu-ray offers snippets of alternative or extended versions of scenes where more of the characters we knew from The Next Generationshone through the action film surroundings. Plus, there’s a film test of Tom Hardy feeling his way into the role of Shinzon (with obvious relish in portraying the distanced lost soul of the character) opposite an in-uniform Patrick Stewart. That too suggests more meat to their interactions.

In another documentary-type extra feature, LeVar Burton explains it was good to have John Logan on board, to look after the film’s characters. It’s not hard to take the inference that no-one else was, and Lore (Data’s other brother) is mentioned, suggesting that he had not been forgotten when developing the story. Does that, perhaps, suggest further cut dialogue at least mentioning Data’s evil twin?

Those extras on the DVD and Blu-ray release really do paint a picture of a different film that should have had a heart, and I strongly recommend exploring all the extras on the home releases of the film which puts a whole other light on the production… and leads you to discover Patrick Stewart’s enjoyment of the Argo all terrain vehicle as supplied by Ivan ‘Ironman’ Stewart!

Indeed even Patrick Stewart went on record to state (in an interview withDreamwatch): “I think if there was ever a real need for an extended edition of any work we have done, it would be Nemesis.” He went on to say “It wouldn’t be a Director’s Cut of the film..that may have been even shorter, but maybe an Actor’s Cut.”

Stuart Baird, however, commented that though Nemesis was “trimmed to the wire” and that any extended cut would be for the actors, and nothing to do with him.

What Star Trek XI Could Have Been

Star Trek: Nemesis left dangling threads, on purpose, as a story treatment for a direct sequel was already being worked on. The follow up film would have picked up on the slow re-establishment of Data’s neural net within B-4, as was hinted at the end of Nemesis. Probably in a way that was alluded to by Ambassador Spock, when he met his ‘old friend’ Captain Data, in command of the Enterprise-E in the official prequel to the 2009 Star Trek film, Countdown.

Other plans for the film included showing a little more of Starfleet than we had seen previously in the franchise’s cinematic outings, and according to multiple accounts, would have brought in characters from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager (depending on who was available). This may well have seen the starships Enterprise, Titan, Defiant, and Voyager unifying threads from all three series in a conclusion to that entire era of Star Trek, perhaps truly coming to the end of a whole generation’s final journey. Packing all that into two to three hours may have been a tall order.

Is Nemesis as bad as people seem to think it is? I would say not, and it’s not as bad as The Final Frontier or Generations. Would the film have been significantly better if Jonathan Frakes or LeVar Burton had directed? Quite possibly, but we can never be sure. Would it have made more money if either of those cast members directed? Not entirely sure it could have made any less, to be honest. A change in release date to avoid the competition would have helped it far more moneywise.

Unfortunately finishing off special effects and creating an ‘Actor’s Cut’ of the film is less than likely, so we’ll probably never see the film as it was written – just what was left after garden shears were used in the editing room.

Would such an extended cut be a better film? Based on just the deleted scenes on the home releases, many have suggested it would not have made that much of a difference. I personally disagree and the scenes mentioned above are part of the film to me. However it seems there is far more footage to integrate than those few scenes.

Would an Actor’s Cut be better Star Trek? In my mind that’s without doubt, but with that material being less ‘cinematic’ I am feeling that Star Trek is, and always will be, a better experience when allowed to be presented in a longer, televisual form that only a mini-series or season can bring.

According to Roger Ebert:

I’m sitting there during “Star Trek: Nemesis,” the 10th “Star Trek” movie, and I’m smiling like a good sport and trying to get with the dialogue about the isotronic Ruritronic signature from planet Kolarus III, or whatever the hell they were saying, maybe it was “positronic,” and gradually it occurs to me that “Star Trek” is over for me. I’ve been looking at these stories for half a lifetime, and, let’s face it, they’re out of gas.

There might have been a time when the command deck of Starship Enterprise looked exciting and futuristic, but these days it looks like a communications center for security guards. Starships rocket at light speeds halfway across the universe, but when they get into battles the effect is roughly the same as on board a World War II bomber. Fearsome death rays strike the Enterprise, and what happens? Sparks fly out from the ceiling and the crew gets bounced around in their seats like passengers on the No. 36 bus. This far in the future they wouldn’t have sparks because they wouldn’t have electricity, because in a world where you can beam matter–beam it, mind you–from here to there, power obviously no longer lives in the wall and travels through wires.

I’ve also had it with the force shield that protects the Enterprise. The power on this thing is always going down. In movie after movie after movie I have to sit through sequences during which the captain is tersely informed that the front shield is down to 60 percent, or the back shield is down to 10 percent, or the side shield is leaking energy, and the captain tersely orders that power be shifted from the back to the sides or all put in the front, or whatever, and I’m thinking, life is too short to sit through 10 movies in which the power is shifted around on these shields. The shields have been losing power for decades now, and here it is the Second Generation of Star Trek, and they still haven’t fixed them. Maybe they should get new batteries.

I tried to focus on the actors. Patrick Stewart, as Capt. Picard, is a wonderful actor. I know because I have seen him elsewhere. It is always said of Stewart that his strength as an actor is his ability to deliver bad dialogue with utter conviction. I say it is time to stop encouraging him. Here’s an idea: Instead of giving him bad dialogue, why not give him good dialogue, and see what he can do with that? Here is a man who has played Shakespeare.

The plot of “Star Trek: Nemesis” involves a couple of strands, one involving a clone of Data (Brent Spiner), which somehow seems redundant, and another involving what seems to be a peace feeler from the Romulan empire. In the course of the movie the Romulan Senate is wiped out by a deadly blue powder and the sister planet of Remus stages an uprising, or something, against being made to work as slaves in the mines. Surely slavery is not an efficient economic system in a world of hyperdrives, but never mind: Turns out that Picard shares something unexpected with his rival commander, although once I tell you that you can no doubt guess what it is, since the movie doesn’t work you very hard.

There is a scene in the movie in which one starship rams another one. You would think this would destroy them both, and there are a lot of sparks and everybody has to hold onto their seats, but the “Star Trek” world involves physical laws which reflect only the needs of the plot. If one ship rammed another and they were both destroyed and everyone died, and the movie ended with a lot of junk floating around in space, imagine the faces of the people in the audience.

I think it is time for “Star Trek” to make a mighty leap forward another 1,000 years into the future, to a time when starships do not look like rides in a 1970s amusement arcade, when aliens do not look like humans with funny foreheads, and when wonder, astonishment and literacy are permitted back into the series. Star Trek was kind of terrific once, but now it is a copy of a copy of a copy.

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2 thoughts on “On Star Trek: Nemesis

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