Our reviews of Star Trek: Nemesis: Collector's Edition (published October 10th, 2005), Star Trek: The Next Generation Motion Picture Collection (published October 19th, 2009), and Star Trek: The Next Generation Motion Picture Collection (Blu-Ray) (published September 28th, 2009) are also available.
A Generation's Final Journey Begins.
Nemesis: the biggest failure in Star Trek's theatrical history. I'm still in utter amazement that this film is the lowest grossing of the ten. In all honesty, this film is not that bad, and it does have the ability to stand on its own without the history of Trek at its back. How was it possible that this film received such bad press that it grossed lower than The Final Frontier or even less than the equally (or more so) reviled Insurrection? I simply do not know. Granted, there's a feeling of disappointment tinged with déjà vu after you've seen it, but there's still that problem that no one saw it.
I will gladly concede that there are many, many problems with the film and the story, yet it isn't deserving of the notion that it's probably the death-knell of the franchise. Poor receipts and concurrently low ratings for Enterprise do not bode well for too many more years of Paramount's cash cow. Who or what is to blame in all of this? Obviously, it's the fans, or lack thereof, but their growing disdain for the series must stem from something, no? Could that something be a someone by the name of Rick Berman? Many love to point their fingers at the man, and they call him the bane of Trek existence. They posit that he has almost single-handedly ruined the franchise with his dull vision, his lack of energy, and his insistence on taking the safe route.
Indeed, a generation's final journey has begun and unfortunately ended with Nemesis.
Facts of the Case
As detailed in the lore of Ancient Earth Greek mythology, there were two brothers named Romulus and Remus. In the lore of Star Trek, we have long known of the Romulans and the ongoing cold war between them and the Federation. We are now introduced to the twin planet of Remus, home to an undesirable caste of Remans, long since subjugated by the Romulans. Remus, in close orbit to Romulus, is locked in an odd rotation around its sun, causing half the planet to be in perpetual darkness. On that dark and cold half live the Remans, slaves in the dilithium mines. They have known nothing but servitude and despair, but their time has come. A bold new leader has charged their people and has led a deadly coup d'etat against the Romulan Senate. With the surprising help of the Romulan military, this new leader, Shinzon (Thomas Hardy, Black Hawk Down), has overtaken power of the twin planets and is now Praetor.
In all of history, a Reman has never held any power or influence within Romulan society. Thus, having a Reman as Praetor of the entire Romulan Empire is a remarkable and unparalleled event. But Shinzon's rise to power will not be the only remarkable event of his career, for he has called upon the Federation to send an envoy to begin negotiating a peace between the two powers. Captain Jean Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart, X-Men, Jeffrey) and the USS Enterprise have been dispatched to begin diplomatic negotiations with Shinzon.
But all is clearly not what it seems. While Shinzon purports a peaceful coexistence, he is holding many secrets that will affect the lives of those on both sides. His secrets will dramatically affect Captain Picard and his crew and have bold ramifications on the Federation. With Shinzon having more sinister inclinations, it is up to Picard to unravel the web of mystery and stop Shinzon from launching the quadrant into full-scale war.
I was one of the few people who saw Nemesis in the theater, and I'm one of the select few that saw it twice! I am more than happy to admit that this is not a strong film and surely not the best in the series; however, I refuse to acquiesce that this is a bad film. Yes, there are a few slow spots (but many films have them—The Matrix Reloaded, anyone?); yes, there is a lack of continuity to the Trek series (Picard had hair as a cadet and what about the Prime Directive on Kolarus?), and, yes, there are some massive lapses in logic (a boarding party steals aboard at the bottom of a ship, yet someone falls down a long shaft that logically cannot be at the bottom of the ship). Regardless, we all make concessions in films we see. To me, it seems that Nemesis was held to a higher standard while other films are given more allowance to slide. Then again, no one went to see Nemesis.
The poor receipts for the film sadden me, but reality is finally settling in and I shall have to open my eyes to the truth: Trek fandom is waning. It's easy to rationalize the poor ratings for Enterprise by stating that it's on UPN, and that network isn't available to everyone in the country. Besides, who really believes those Nielsen numbers anyway? Every set needs to be plugged into the system, a la Max Headroom, to give accurate numbers, but that isn't going to happen for some time. However, my rationalization is but a simple delusion to hide the truth. The core base is dwindling, and people have found new TV shows to like. Trekkies are a dying breed who no longer go to conventions in geeky attire nor care to spend their money on Trek films. It is the end of an era…yet I still hope it stays around for a little while longer.
Many have likened Nemesis to the crème de la crème of Trek films, The Wrath of Khan. While Nemesis does have some glancing similarities to the film, I find the comparison tenuous at best. There is a distinct lack of quotes from Herman Melville for starters, yet trying to relate the two because of massive space battles seems uncouth. Perhaps it's the battle of wills between Picard and Shinzon? On that count, we're getting closer: Shinzon hates Picard; the two share "some history," and the two do have dinner together (though Kirk and Khan ate together 15 years prior to their face off). Perhaps it's the ending? That's a no-brainer, but I don't want to talk about that yet (see below). For me, I'd rather not compare Nemesis to any other Trek film. As odd as that may sound, for us Trekkies are constantly ranking the ten films, I feel Nemesis needs a little time to stand on its own feet. It needs some time alone so people will finally have a chance to watch the film and form their own opinions and not be a part of the herd.
A key intellectual facet of the film that is often overlooked is the discussion of nature versus nurture. The film presents both sides of the argument in the relations between Picard and Shinzon. What makes the man? Can the man aspire beyond what he is given? Is he really the product of nurture or are there some inherent natural tendencies that can overcome his upbringing? Is there really any choice in the matter? Beyond the amazing space battles, Nemesis allows its principal actors the chance to act. Star Trek is often ignored in that field, though Patrick Stewart does get his kudos, yet this script really tried to bring a human factor into the equation. The many "slow parts" of the film are really the dialogue intensive scenes where Picard and Shinzon are trying to figure each other out. They have many similarities, yet are two incredibly different people. As the tension mounts and the danger rises, they try to use their intellect as much as their brawn. These scenes attempt to add more to the film and balance out the massive action sequences. They allowed Stewart and Hardy to bring dimensionality to their characters. I believe the two did an excellent job, and their performances were sadly overlooked. Unfortunately, as is usually the case in a Trek film, the rest of the cast is basically ignored and given little chance to flesh out their characters (especially poor Beverly Crusher).
And, even though he is a complete dolt when it comes to Trek, I have to admit that Stuart Baird (Executive Decision, U.S. Marshals) did an excellent job in directing the film—aside from agreeing to shorten the running time (see below). As a complete novice to the Trek universe, he was able to bring some new ideas to the board. Unfortunately, his lack of intimacy with the franchise is also an obvious detriment as well, as he repeated too many themes from the previous films. From the man who calls a turbolift an elevator, Baird directed well but rehashed too much. Perhaps he failed in his crash course in learning Trek or perhaps he only read the Cliff's Notes. In either case, this should be a great indicator: if there is to ever be another film in the series, your director must have a working knowledge of the shows. As innovative as his style and direction may be, the film cannot hold to the history of the show unless your leader knows that history.
Paramount is the undisputed master of the double dip, and it would seem likely that Nemesis is in line to follow in the footsteps of its predecessors. For those of you unaware of the evil of the Paramount double dip, here is how they've played it with this franchise. A few years back, they released the films in reverse order, from Insurrection back to The Wrath of Khan, in mostly bare bones form. Then, when they reached The Motion Picture, a double dip was avoided by releasing a director's edition of the film, with a new cut and a decent assortment of bonus features. This two-disc set was Spartan compared to other studios' director's editions, but it was the finest outing in the Trek line. Since then, Paramount has been releasing two-disc DVDs of the films, in chronological order, and we're currently up to The Voyage Home. Lining up the discs on your shelves, the first four films in their two-disc sets all have a similar look. Further, the films from The Final Frontier to Insurrection also have a similar look, though different from the two-disc sets. Hence, giving a sign that Paramount will yet again do a double dip on the latest Trek movie, the packaging of Nemesis looks like neither of the previous designs. As Mr. Spock would say, that is highly illogical. Logic dictates that the studio would follow a uniform design scheme for all films in the series. Hence, logic surmises that there will be a double dip on Nemesis.
Bowing in some small measure, Paramount did not release Nemesis completely devoid of any bonus materials. Surprisingly, the features are fairly solid and are close to the level of other studios' DVDs. The first is an audio commentary with director Stuart Baird. How interesting this track could have been if he had taken the time to at least mention the failure at the box office; unfortunately, he did not—though it's truly an unfair expectation. Instead, this dry and rather dull track does not go into great detail about anything. Baird, speaking in a rather low and "husky" voice, wanders around a variety of ideas and makes some truly dumb and obvious comments. This is a very disappointing track that offers no great insights into the film. And, is it possible for someone to have a "light fetish"? If it is, then Baird has it. His favorite comment, which he probably repeats a hundred times, is how moody and dark the lighting is.
Available next are four featurettes: "New Frontiers: Stuart Baird on Directing Nemesis" (8 minutes), "A Bold Vision of the Final Frontier" (10 minutes), "A Star Trek Family's Final Journey" (16 minutes), and "Red Alert: Shooting the Action on Nemesis" (9.5 minutes). It's obvious that these were all created before the film flopped, as there is no hint of failure to be found. And, unfortunately, none of these features are particularly thorough or interesting. The most interesting (read "amusing") factoid is during the "directing" feature where Baird likens Nemesis to Rebel Without a Cause. Now that's a bold statement and also an unjustifiable one. Also of note is that the "directing" feature is lacking focus on the directing aspect of its story and instead focuses on everyone lavishing way too much praise on Baird. If you want to get a tiny insight into Baird's ideas on directing, then you should watch the "Bold Vision" feature instead.
And now we come to the feature that I've been looking forward to the most: the deleted scenes. Surrendering to some asinine studio pressure, Nemesis' running time is just under two hours. In the first cut, the film ran closer to three hours. Granted, that may be a bit long, but there was obviously a lot of story cut to make it run at a more palatable two hours. Buzz on the net was that there were many, many scenes cut that would have helped fill in some of the gaps in the film and make it better. Many of the scenes had already been glimpsed in the excellent preview trailers. Hope was that most of these lost scenes would be cut back into the film, to help flesh out the story. Unfortunately, Berman and Baird didn't believe the film needed any aid. Hence, we are given seven deleted scenes to watch, with a total running time just short of 16 minutes. Obviously, there are still 30 minutes of footage available out there, somewhere, and even Baird mentions a few times during his commentary that extra footage is available. On the deleted scene menu, there's a one-minute introduction by Rick Berman, who acknowledges the original running time but then states that it was right to trim down the film. Keep that in mind. For three of the deleted scenes, there are introductions: one by Patrick Stewart and two by Stuart Baird. Baird, of course, takes the Berman stance and agrees with the cuts made to the film. On the other hand, Stewart states that his scene was very "potent" and had important ties to the end of the film; Stewart basically says it's an integral scene to the film. So, there's the terrible dilemma: the actors are stating the scenes are necessary to the film while the studio men state the cuts are necessary. In my opinion, six of the seven deleted scenes would have made massive and vital improvements to the flow of the story and should have been left in. Who cares if a movie runs over two hours? If you have a story to tell, then tell it as completely as possible. If these scenes had stayed in the film, I truly believe there would have been fewer complaints. The deleted scenes are:
• Chateau Picard, 2267 (6 minutes, with a 1 minute introduction
by Patrick Stewart): This is the infamous talk about life's choices between
Picard and Data en route to Betazed.
Rounding out the bonus materials is a photo gallery, with many conceptual prints and a couple photos of sets and props, and trailers for Deep Space 9 on DVD, Star Trek: The Experience, and The Hours. Obviously missing here are the two excellent trailers for Nemesis itself.
Tying back in to the deleted scene with Commander Madden, there's a new character by the name of B-4 in Nemesis. I don't want to go into details, but let's just say that he has potentially profound implications to the Trek universe. All I want to say is that this character was absolutely and completely unnecessary to the film. I understand the two-fold purpose of B-4, to bolster the Picard/Shinzon subtext and to soften the film's ending, yet it is unwarranted. By utilizing B-4 as the ending of the film, you wholly belittle the preceding actions. You've erased whatever feelings were aroused and tarnished the memory by taking the easy way out. The film would have been far more poignant had B-4 never been introduced.
Now to the important stuff: how does the disc look and sound? Quite simply, Nemesis is the best-looking and best sounding of all the Trek movies. That makes perfect sense. The anamorphic widescreen is very, very good with excellent colors, rich and saturated blacks, excellent details, and an overall lifelike presentation. It's almost perfect, but there are a few minor quibbles. The most notable is during the opening scene as we zoom from space down into the Romulan Senate. There is some minor artifacting in the halo of the Romulan sun and also some more artifacting as we pass down through the clouds. It's there, it's noticeable, but it's not terrible. Also, I noticed some minor shimmering during a couple of the "beauty passes" across the USS Enterprise. All in all, it's wonderful to finally see Trek in a sparkling print. As for the audio, the 5.1 Dolby Digital track is wonderful: dialogue is clean through the center, the subwoofer is very powerful, and the directionals and surrounds are used remarkably well. Everything comes to life quite mightily during the major action sequences, and you may find yourself turning the volume down a bit at those times. There's no hiss or distortion anywhere on the track. Again, it's the best Trek has ever sounded.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
You're too slow, old man.
It's disappointing. The film is a complete rehash without a new idea in its presentation. Nearly every facet of Nemesis has been done in either the previous nine Trek films or other major films of the times. Nothing is fresh and innovative. Yes, the space battles may be impressive, but even those feel borrowed at times. Dialogue? I know we need to advance a plot, but these people are forever talking and going on and on. Let's step up the pace; let's make things brisk; let's come up with our own ideas instead of borrowing from everyone else.
It's the end, and the moment has not been prepared for. Star Trek is dead. Nemesis proves that Berman and his crew are out of new ideas. Thirty-five years was an excellent run for the franchise, and they should be very pleased with the vision they helped foster over that time. By continuing to push secondhand ideas to the public, they are tarnishing the image of a somewhat venerable institution. Trek was once great; it is no more.
I'm afraid that you won't survive to witness the victory of the echo over the voice.
Odds are you don't like this film. Either you've heard bad word of mouth and stayed away, or you did see it and found it quite disappointing. I know this film is not without its flaws, yet it is redeemable. In watching it at home this week, I came to another very sad realization: Nemesis is a glorified episode; consequently, it works very well on your TV. Many complained that Insurrection was the same thing, and they're probably right on that, even though I enjoyed that movie too. Maybe Star Trek has lost its way, and they no longer know how to create events big enough to propel a movie. Maybe Trek is best when served to you at home. On DVD, resting on your comfortable sofa, I believe that you will find Nemesis very satisfying. The movie has a better pace and intimacy on TV, and I found myself enjoying it more than when I saw it in the theater. I positively recommend it as a rental. With a decent assortment of bonus materials, especially the deleted scenes, and the high quality transfers, I cannot imagine that you'd not get your money's worth from it. Of course, as a die hard Trekkie, I'll be bold enough and recommend the disc as a purchase too, even though the double dip is almost certain.
Nemesis has been unfairly demeaned and is worthy of more than your disdain. Give it a chance now, even if you were too busy watching The Two Towers last year. I think you might be mildly surprised that this movie is better than what you've heard. Form your own opinion and break free from the herd.
Stuart Baird and Rick Berman are found guilty of not understanding the Trek franchise. Mr. Baird is hereby sentenced to sever all ties with Star Trek and never set foot in that universe again. Mr. Berman is hereby sentenced to three years of hard labor in the dilithium mines of Remus for his adamant refusal to allow fresh blood and ideas into the waning franchise. His way is not always the right way.
Nemesis is found not guilty on all charges.
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Scales of Justice
• Audio Commentary with Director Stuart Baird
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