Star Trek: Nemesis
June 24th, 2002
This is not a goof. I'm only going to say that once. This is not a goof.
Now I'm not exactly sure what "paydirt" is, but apparently I've hit it, thanks to my work with FilmJerk.com. I received my first "spy package" today and it's a doozy. I'm such an idiot that first I spent 15 minutes trying to figure out if someone sent me anthrax, and finally just tore the sucker open, holding my breath. I know, I'm a dork. In the envelope was a plain, unmarked CD. It took me about a half hour to figure out it was a movie in DVD format and not something I was either supposed to play on my CD player or some new software sample. Hey, I'm new at this, so cut me some slack!
Anyhoo, sure enough, some intrepid soul (and I'm pretty sure I know who --- thanks!) sent along a copy of the rough cut "Star Trek: Nemesis" burned onto a DVD. Paramount, you guys really need to get a handle on your security. But so long as you're inept, I'll keep accepting advance copies of whatever leaks out.
Now this is a really, really rough cut. No music track at all, some scene markers, no credits, and to top it off it looks like it wasn't a direct dub, but maybe someone camming a video monitor. It looks third generation. Again, I'm not a tech whiz, so who knows. The problem is that with the image quality as poor as it was, I cannot really comment on the effects sequences. They look about on par with what we see nowadays, for certain.
I'm all a twitter over this, but let me get right into my review. I just watched it twice, so pardon me if I ramble a bit. Those of you familiar with my work won't notice anything different, I guess.
Now a lot of you think you know what my review of "Nemesis" is going to be even before I write it. For a minute, just ignore the fact that I've released an annotated version of the screenplay and have gone on record as thinking Rick Berman is screwing up "Star Trek." Let's take this movie--- and this review --- for what it is. Warts and all.
"Nemesis" has some warts, that's for sure. But there are some shining moments as well that certainly rise above the mess hardwired into it by the awful screenplay.
[MINOR SPOILER WARNING. I reveal some, but not all, of the plot points.]
First off, where the movie excels is in the actors' abilities to profit off of their long-standing, and already well-developed, chemistry. Recall that "Star Trek: The Next Generation" is the most popular Trek series, so it has a lot going for it purely on momentum.
In the film's opening moments we establish the relationship between these familiar characters with a humorous banter that performs better on the screen than it did on paper. The wedding scene is slightly different than that scripted in the leaked draft, but the major components are there: the love dynamic between Riker and Troi, the drunken Worf, the fatherly Picard. It's infinitely better on screen than on paper. One of screenwriter John Logan's better ideas was to re-establish this familiarity between us and the characters early on in the picture. Of course he did this so that he could spend the rest of the movie dismantling that familiarity, but that's another point.
The genius of Picard actor Patrick Stewart is his apparently God-given ability to deliver lines of absolute crap quality with absolute dignity and authority. When he's being goofy, he's often over the top, but thankfully he keeps his goofiness in check and delivers a great performance. Again, the lines are horrible, but Stewart utters them with convincing emotion. You believe he is a captain, and a father figure.
That role as father figure, however, is an almost accidental side-effect. The film really tries to delve into the Romulus/Remus iconography of brotherhood, but louses it up tremendously. Instead, Picard appears as a father figure, not a brother, assisted by Stewart's commanding presence and (unfortunately) advancing age. Whether he's bantering with Riker, philosophizing with Data, or even confronting Shinzon, Stewart comes off far more patriarchal than fraternal.
Riker, unfortunately, is relegated to the background as usual. I will never understand how this second-in-command character, the most Kirklike of all of them, who should have always been a much more prominent figure in both the series and the TNG movies, has had to take a back seat to Data. I am not convinced that Data is a more popular character, and certainly there are more fan websites dedicated to Riker's Jonathan Frakes than to the awful Brent Spiner and his vacillating android. This movie, if anything, shoves Frakes further into the scenery, where he is certainly not allowed to chew anything, and given only the one (now-famous) catchphrase "Hell is dark" crap to utter. Too bad. I always thought of all the character, Riker was the one most able to kick ass if someone would just unleash the poor bugger.
Troi's role, despite what some fans are surmising, is still as scenery, and with yet another strung-out crackwhore hairdo and overdone makeup it's not very pretty scenery. She is not the major player in this movie that many think from the leaked screenplay. She has some screen time, but it's unmemorable and her performance is awkward. It's clear to me that she wasn't given good guidance on her role in this film, and if asked, she'd probably admit she herself wasn't sure what the hell her part was about. For a future society where women are supposed to be equal, Berman, Logan and director Stuart Baird are still very much stuck in 14th century male chauvinism, making their female leads nothing more than sex pawns moved around the chessboard by their dominant male characters. And in this film, her usage is particularly grotesque.
Geordi and Beverly have no parts. Nothing. They could have been very detailed CGI effects for all I know, except I doubt it because the movie's budget wasn't big enough. I have to see the film again to make sure their scenes weren't just sampled scenes from earlier shows and movies put together with a new soundtrack. Poor Gates McFadden. At least LeVar's got Reading Rainbow and residuals on the sales of banana clips.
Worf, the once noble warrior, is reduced to primary comic relief, as he stumbles around drunk or embarrassed, frightened and uncomfortable, rarely ever showing even a trace of Klingon testosterone roiling around those (presumably) giant Klingon testicles of his. He's a big, fat pussy. No wonder they don't want him on the High Council; it would be like electing Pee Wee Herman to the Senate and then expecting effective leadership. I was never much of a Worf fan, but real die-hard Klingon Trek fanatics will wince at about 70% of his scenes. Only in the final hand-to-hand combat scenes do we get to see the tousled-haired, growling Worf-nut we're used to.
Data. Now, you have to remember that this script was developed by Berman, Logan and Brent Spiner from an idea by Brent Spiner. Not so oddly, Brent Spiner's total contribution to the storyline is a lame-ass B-plot that completely, and self-servingly, deals with Data. Not only Data, but a retarded twin brother named B-9. (Yes, "B-9" was the same name of the movie in the TV show "Lost in Space." One expects Doctor Smith to show up any minute.) Spiner wrote himself a dual role, and executes it with the same quality as those idiotic Van Damme "twin" movies.
The B-9 B-plot is so lame, so incredibly obvious, and so amazingly contrived that one has to wonder how it made it past the very first pitch session. Did Spiner spike the punch? What the fuck were they thinking? B-9 is Data --- an already irritating character who suddenly has forgotten his "fused" emotion chip --- but worsened by a factor of ten. Yipes. Okay, Jar Jar is still more annoying, but watching Nemesis one wonders if Spiner was really trying to knock Ahmed Best off his platform of "Character Actors You'd Most Like to Use as Conflagration Fuel."
The main story involves a convoluted (hey, this is Star Trek!) plot by a Human/Reman named Shinzon, who is actually a clone of Picard, to wreak havoc in the galaxy in the name of --- well, let's just stop there. One screenplay flaw that was not improved upon in the filmed version of Nemesis is the shifting, metamorphic motivations of our lead villain, a character touted by Berman and the Paramount gang as a worthy successor to Khan. They've even touted Shinzon as the greatest Trek villain ever. I mean, they named the film Nemesis for heaven's sake.
Shinzon wants to start a war with the Federation, but he also wants to abduct Picard to drain his blood to stop a degenerative side effect of his cloning. Oh, and he's pissed at the Romulans, too. Basically just pick one of those motivations and stick with it, ignore the others. Perhaps the movie will make sense to you then.
Shinzon uses the B-9 to lure Picard and the Enterprise into range of his big-ass (and pretty cool looking) ship, and then begins a senseless dance of diplomatic bullshitting, Deanna Troi mindfucking, and loopy hissy fits that prove what an unstable character he is. Or at least how unstable his character is portrayed.
What is good is the actor who plays Shinzon, Tom Hardy. This young man stands ably up against Patrick Stewart in both the confrontation scenes, and the otherwise faggy "you are my brother" coffee klatches. I would say expect good things from Hardy in the future, especially if he steers clear of Paramount from now on. A new Hugh Jackman? Maybe. Or possibly something sicker. Hardy has an scary, psychological edge that is utilized to some degree in this film, but under a different director I could see him playing young Hannibal Lector type character.
The standout performance, if there is one, is Ron Perlman as the Reman Viceroy, Shinzon's assistant. Under some pretty neat makeup (not nearly as good as it should have been, but what the hey), Perlman exudes menace and psychosexual creepiosity (yeah, I made that up) that really spices up the screen when he's on. I was surprised at this role, which in the script didn't really come out as all that spectacular. Perlman, no newbie to acting underneath makeup from his "Beauty & The Beast" days, kicks ass in this one, and it's a mental asskicking. He manages to succeed where F. Murray Abraham failed as the equally-latexed villain in "Star Trek: Insurrection."
Visually, the movie looks pretty good, although the post-Kirk movies have all had a similar look. Space battles are always set against a cosmic storm backdrop, and there are lots of looming ship shots. Again, you really can't judge CGI on this kind of image (it needs to be on the big screen), and even putting it on my hotshit new plasma flatscreen TV didn't help and made it worse. I can comment on the staging and direction of the effects scenes, however, and it's safe to say that "Nemesis" doesn't really break any new ground. For example, I always liked the scene in "First Contact" where Worf and Picard detach the deflector dish, walking on the hull with magnetic boots. Well we don't get any such coolness here. Sure, the ship drives around with the front window broken, but it's really overdone, as if the filmmakers are saying, "Look! Ain't that cool?" There is a ramming scene that is sooo short and undramatic, I am certain that it will be lengthened in the final edit. If anyone is listening, anyway.
This is not "The Wrath of Khan." Where Khan succeeded in bringing to the screen the submarine battle tension of... well... a submarine battle movie, this one doesn't quite pull it off. For all the pre-release chatter by Rick Berman insisting that this is the most exciting Trek battle film ever, he and the creative gang fall flat. Sure, there are some neat battle sequences, mostly all robbed from previous films or Trek episodes, but is that all we come to Trek movies for? We are supposed to care about the little squishy humans inside the metal ships, not just ooh and aah over the metal ships themselves.
"The Wrath of Khan" was a favorite because the villain was known, his motivations simple (revenge), and the battle sequences surprising and fresh. Nemesis has none of these components, and thus falls apart on itself. Not helping things is Baird's pedestrian direction, wherein he apparently summons up all his skills from editing movies like "Die Hard 2" and "Maverick," and directing those non-blockbusters "US Marshals" and "Executive Decision" (I challenge someone to tell me what that one was about), mixing them up into a frothy stew of blandness not seen since... well, "Star Trek V: The Final Frontier."
All in all, "Star Trek: Nemesis" is a missed opportunity. Instead of concentrating on our first cinematic encounter with the Romulans, who themselves could have undergone an image enhancement similar to what "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" did for Klingons, the movie concentrates on a new race, the Remans, who are not very threatening at all. The Romulans, scourge of the galaxy, are reduced to cavalry, fighting alongside the Enterprise. Sheesh! And whereas a story with Denise Crosby reprising her role as evil Romulan villainess Sela (perhaps a part that would have not only given us a great villain but also re-cemented Crosby's role in Trek) might have been a good take, we get Shinzon, a completely new invention with no fan recognition and a character who will possibly become the fastest-forgotten villain in all of Trek filmdom.
Nemesis squanders its possibilities, and worst of all it effectively dismantles the TNG franchise by breaking up the cast and sending the characters into a zillion different directions at film's end. Remember how difficult it was in each TNG movie for the writers to explain how Worf, who was supposed to be on DS9 during those movies, managed to get back on the Enterprise for two hours? Imagine, then, the gyrations we can expect when future writers have to explain how Beverly comes back from Starfleet Medical, Troi and Riker come back from command posts on the USS Titan and Data returns from Android Asgard. Fun!
Overall, this film is a mixed bag. The acting and visuals certainly manage to take the rough edges off of Logan's otherwise abominable plot, and the direction and cinematography is competent (if shallow) enough to make it a likeable Trek film. (I said "likeable," not loveable.) The established characters help breathe life into the bland dialogue, and the action sequences appeared pretty exciting, as far as I could tell.
But the stolen scenes (perhaps a new Star Trek Canon Drinking Game can be invented where you name the movie or episode that each scene of Nemesis is taken from?), pirated ending, dopey Data/B-9 plot (complete with singing), the destruction of the cast's interpersonal dynamic, and silly villain all detract, detract, detract. Existing Trek fans will feel a similar sensation to what they felt during surprisingly unfulfilling death of Kirk in Generations. New Trek fans will run back to the safety of skintight, fakeboobed catsuits on Enterprise, and everyone else... well, this movie has zero appeal to non-Trek fans, so let's not even bother going there.
I would have loved to have seen this at a screening with other folks. As it stands, the only other input I had was when Maggie (a huge TNG fanatic) turned to me at film's end and said, "Well, there's an hour-forty I'm not getting back."
My rating: D