Judge Victor Valdivia believes resistance is futile...as is everything else requiring any kind of effort.
Our reviews of Star Trek: First Contact (published July 28th, 2000), Star Trek: First Contact: Collector's Edition (published March 15th, 2005), Star Trek: Insurrection (published May 21st, 1999), Star Trek: Insurrection: Collector's Edition (published June 7th, 2005), Star Trek: Nemesis (published June 2nd, 2003), Star Trek: Nemesis: Collector's Edition (published October 10th, 2005), and Star Trek: The Next Generation Motion Picture Collection (Blu-Ray) (published September 28th, 2009) are also available.
"Make it so."
Having released a string of six generally successful movies with the original 1960s cast of Star Trek, Paramount decided in 1994 that the cast of the monumentally successful sequel series Star Trek: The Next Generation should get their shot at feature film stardom. The four films that followed, however, proved that what worked once wouldn't necessarily work again. Which is to say, don't hold your breath waiting for Seven of Nine: The Motion Picture any time soon.
Facts of the Case
Here are the four films collected in this set:
Star Trek: Generations
Star Trek: First Contact
Star Trek: Insurrection
Star Trek: Nemesis
Even the most devout Next Generation fans concede that the feature films starring the show's cast are not as beloved as the films starring the original Star Trek cast. While the original cast films have two smashes (The Voyage Home and The Undiscovered Country) and one widely recognized classic (The Wrath of Khan), the only film of this batch that earned any respect was First Contact. The others were critical and commercial disappointments, with Nemesis so reviled that it's widely credited as the film that torpedoed the franchise, at least until J.J. Abrams' 2009 reboot. So the release of this collection, which supersedes the previous two-disc editions that each of these movies initially received (and are all now out of print) allows fans to revisit them and see if they're really so second-rate. What emerges, sadly, is that they've mostly aged even less well than one could have hoped. In fact, they simply pale in contrast to the series' best episodes.
Take Generations. In retrospect, there's probably no way Generations couldn't have been a disappointment. It was the overhyped event that reunited the cast from the classic series with the Next Generation, that passed the torch from one cast to another, and that was released as Star Trek was probably at the peak of its popularity; the film even landed on the cover of Time before its release. All that baggage would have weighted down even the best film and unfortunately, Generations isn't even a particularly good one. The script is riddled with gaping plot holes, especially involving the time-travel mechanism of the Nexus. Considering that it was deliberately constructed as a deus ex machina that can be used to insert characters wherever needed, it still leaves viewers asking "Why didn't (character X) do this?" way too many times. It also doesn't help that the film is famous mostly for marking the final appearance of James T. Kirk, one of the most iconic characters in pop culture history, and yet his farewell is handled so clumsily that even if you've just watched the film, you'd be hard-pressed to remember it. There are some good moments in the film, most of which center around Patrick Stewart, but on the whole, it's simply a placeholder in the series, a film that fills a hole in the overall franchise but doesn't work by itself.
First Contact, by contrast, initially earned some of the best reviews and box-office in Trek's history. The film is indeed superior to the sodden Generations, full of action and humor and a reasonably coherent story. Unfortunately, it's also a film that, for all its surface pleasures, actually doesn't really stand up to scrutiny. Actually, this may the most overrated of the Trek films, especially when divorced from its initial excitement. Unlike the dense, dark classic Next Generation episodes like "Best of Both Worlds," there really isn't much tension here. The storyline involving Earth's first contact with an alien race is too lightweight to carry much dramatic punch. The Borg storyline is, if anything, even more disappointing. In fact, it's possible to argue that the character of the Borg Queen (Alice Krige, Chariots of Fire) is a huge mistake. Rather than continue the unusual and interesting idea of the Borg as a collective with a single mind, the filmmakers use the Borg Queen and her minions to turn First Contact into little more than a bald-faced rip-off of Aliens, with some James Bond villains thrown in for good measure. Though the best moments are, again, Stewart's (mostly centering on Picard's bitterness against the Borg for assimilating him), the rest of the cast gets a little more room to shine as well, especially Spiner and Marina Sirtis as Counselor Troi. Nonetheless, though Jonathan Frakes' direction (he also plays Will Riker) is brisk and assured, he ultimately can't escape a story that takes some remarkable opportunities and then doesn't really develop them all that well.
Coming off of the critical success of First Contact, it was easy to expect that the franchise would take a hit with Insurrection. In many ways, this is probably the hardest of the Next Generation films to assess. It's certainly not the worst film here—if anything, Frakes has actually grown as a director with this film that it may be the most visually impressive of the films here. It's the story that's problematic. Initially, the film was dismissed as little more than an extended episode of the TV series blown up to feature-film size, but when watching it at home on DVD this criticism becomes irrelevant. The real problem isn't that the story is too small—it's that when you think about it, it really doesn't make sense. If the idea is that the Federation's plan to relocate the Ba'ku against their will to make use of their planet's healing properties is a violation of everything the Federation holds dear, then why move them at all? The film makes clear that there's only six hundred of them, on a planet large enough to have a complex ring system; isn't there enough room for everyone to share? Are the Ba'ku so selfish that they won't allow anyone else on their planet for any reasons? If so, aren't they the ones the Federation should be dealing with, instead of wasting time and energy jumping into bed with someone else? Also, if you're going to call a film Insurrection, then the revolt in question should be far more epic than shooting down a few robot drones with phaser rifles. The writing is so unimaginative that even the usually reliable cast seems rather bored with the material—in this film, not even Stewart can find much to do with his storyline involving a putative love affair with one of the Ba'ku. Still, while this is not an entirely successful film, it does have some redeeming features, especially visually, so viewers who ignored or dismissed it at its release might find it worth a second look.
Which leads to Nemesis, the film that many blame for (temporarily) sinking the franchise. It would be tempting to reappraise this film and claim that it's a misunderstood gem, the lost classic in the series. Alas, that's not the case at all. Not only is this the worst film in this set, it's possibly the worst Trek film ever made. Part of the problem is that this film doesn't really seem like a Star Trek film at all; it incorporates two elements—gloomy black-leather nihilism and car chases—that have, with good reason, never been part of the Trek universe. Those departures might have been forgivable, however, if the script hadn't been so muddled and incoherent. Shinzon's intricate plan involving Picard, Data's clone B4, the Romulan Senate, and a ship that spews lethal radiation, is so ridiculously convoluted that it's impossible to decipher. Even worse is that the few times that Nemesis is coherent is because it's aping earlier Trek films, especially The Wrath of Khan. Mysterious weapon that isn't fully explained but is probably dangerous? Check. Climactic battle in nebula? Check. Tear-jerking death of beloved character to save shipmates? Check. Add in Stuart Baird's misguided direction, which emphasizes eye-bruising visual pretensions over characterization and story, and you end up with a film so botched that some cast members disowned it upon its release.
Technically, the set is quite good. The new anamorphic 2.35:1 transfers are lovely. They do improve slightly on the previous transfers, weeding out some of the noise and grain and showing off more realistic colors. The Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround mixes are fine, too. The dialogue is crystal-clear, the explosions are loud and ear-shattering, and the surrounds are fully used in almost every scene. However, these mixes are only a hair better than the previous Dolby 5.1 mixes and are inferior to the DTS mixes that came with the earlier DVD issues that have now been excised from these new releases. These are not spectacular improvements so whether or not these are such a big step up that's worth shelling out for this box is hard to say, considering this set's $55.98 list price.
This new set also comes with a heaping collection of new extras, but while they may seem initially generous, most of them are much less interesting than they appear. Each film comes with a brand-new commentary track: Generations with director David Carson and 24 writer Manny Cato, First Contact with Lost producer Damon Lindelof and Anthony Pascale, webmaster for StarTrek.com, Insurrection with Frakes and Sirtis, and Nemesis with designers and Trek historians Michael and Denise Okuda. The Generations and Insurrection commentaries are by far the best, containing some stories and thoughts on the films from those who made them. The First Contact commentary is amusing but has little to do with the film itself, and the Nemesis one is dry and arduous. It's almost as much of an ordeal as Nemesis itself. Again, whether or not these are worth getting the set is hard to say. It depends on how much you need to know about Generations and Insurrection that hasn't already been covered elsewhere.
The discs also come with a selection of featurettes, most of which are not nearly as interesting as they sound. The most significant is an interview with Spiner, which is split up over the four film discs. This really should have been kept as one long piece, since he rarely talks much about the films themselves. Nonetheless, he has a lot to say about Trek and how it affected him. Sirtis sits for two interviews, one on Insurrection by herself and one with Frakes on Nemesis. Both are lighthearted fun. The rest of the featurettes, on the other hand, are forgettable. Each film comes with a "Roundtable" in which Pascale and other sci-fi writers debate their merits, but these are too self-congratulatory to matter much. There are tributes to crew members, like the effects crew at Industrial Light & Magic, designer Andrew Probert, makeup artist Michael Westmore, and composer Dennis McCarthy, but these are too brief to be enlightening. The remaining featurettes have nothing to do with the films at all. Instead, they address issues vaguely suggested by the films. Nemesis has several pieces on the advances in robotic technology, First Contact has several pieces on the advancement in spaceflight technology, and Generations has several pieces on the advancements in astronomical technology. Really, what's the point? Anyone who cares will find far more in-depth information elsewhere, and fans who wanted to learn more about the movies and didn't get the original two-disc DVD editions will be irritated. Finally, each disc is rounded out with a useless little clip supposedly put together by the Federation addressing whatever made-up scientific issue appears in the film (i.e. the Ba'ku, time travel).
The set also comes with a fifth disc titled "Evolutions," but this one is even more disappointing. Though it boasts that it contains 77 minutes of special features, many of those are taken from footage of the "Star Trek: The Experience" ride at Las Vegas that was recently shuttered. There is an extended behind-the-scenes look at the show's last days titled "Farewell" (28:03) and two filmed snippets from the show, "Klingon Encounter" (3:28) and "Borg Invasion 4D" (5:12). There's a look at the different designs of the Enterprise over the years titled "The Evolution of the Enterprise" (14:21) that's mildly interesting. "Villains of Star Trek" (14:03) contains interviews with various Trek writers and directors discussing the films' villains. It's decent but way too short. The same is true of "I Love the Star Trek Movies" (4:33), which is identical except it addresses the overall film series. Finally, the disc is rounded out by "Charting Out the Final Frontier," and interactive feature in which a map of the Trek universe displays important points in the film franchise (such as the Mutara Nebula from The Wrath of Khan) and plays a short video lecture. None of these are really the sort of thing you'll want to watch over and over again.
Ultimately, there's very little reason to buy this set. If you already have the previous DVD issues, you probably don't need it. The new special features, apart from a couple of commentaries and featurettes, are dull, and the new transfers are better but not that much better. If you've never seen the films, this is even less useful. It's understandable that The Next Generation's producers felt the need to transfer the show's cast to the big screen, but judging by the generally lackluster scripts seen here they really had no new compelling stories to tell. None of the films here, even the much-vaunted First Contact, are as good as the best Next Generation episodes. You'd be advised to start with those instead rather than shell out for this collection.
Guilty of pointless redundancy.
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What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
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Review content copyright © 2009 Victor Valdivia; Site design and review layout copyright © 2013 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.