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Thursday, February 13, 2014

Fishing in the Discount Bin - Star Trek Nemesis

Welcome back to Fishing in the Discount Bin, where I watch one of my DVDs and blog about it, because I sorely need a girlfriend.  Back in the spring of 2013, I wanted to watch every Star Trek movie before Into Darkness hit theatres, so you're joining us smack dab in the middle of that.  Well, near the end of that, actually, as we reach the end of the original film franchise with Star Trek Nemesis.  *sigh*  This is the way the franchise ends, not with a bang, but a whimper.  This originally appears in my notes at May 5, 2013.

Star Trek: Nemesis movie poster

Bad films can be forgiven. If they go on long enough, they eventually get declared “so bad, it’s good,” and become cult film items. But a disappointing film is so much more difficult to get over. I’m sure that’s the main source of hatred for the Star Wars prequels. They weren’t bad in as so much as they were disappointing. After being promised these films for years...no one quite expected that.

So, with that in mind, it’s time we get to the most disappointing Star Trek film, Star Trek Nemesis.

There was four years between Insurrection and Nemesis. Everyone started moving on to other things, their initial contract for three films having come to an end. So it took some time to get the band back together. And, following how Insurrection felt so much like a 2-hour special episode of Voyager, I was hoping some new blood would be recruited for the next film outing. I knew exactly what the problem was, too. Everyone working on Star Trek came from TV. I wanted movie people working on it. No offense to Jonathon Frakes, but it was time to bring in a big name director. Let’s get people who grew up on movies, made movies, are familiar with the scope that the big screen provides to give us a movie that feels...big.

And it looked with Nemesis, we were finally going to get that. For a few months before production started, they were teasing us with the fact that they had landed a big-name Hollywood writer to script it. And when they announced that it was John Logan, I was thrilled. Logan was fresh off his Oscar nomination for writing Gladiator. The guy who wrote Gladiator doing Star Trek? Awesome. Apparently, he and Brent Spiner are friends, and they came up with the idea together and worked on it together. (Other Logan screenplays include The Aviator, Hugo and Any Given Sunday.)

Time for a director, too. For a director, Paramount Studios selected Stuart Baird. Baird is a legendary editor, having edited the original Superman, the Lethal Weapon films, and the most recent batch of James Bond films. He dabbled in directing with US Marshals (the sequel to The Fugitive) and Executive Decision. Not really my first choice, but hey, he’s a movie guy.

When the reboot came out, I read one online comment that said everyone wants to make The Wrath of Khan, as that’s regarded as the best film. And what Logan and Baird came up with is the most blatant attempt to rip off The Wrath of Khan. EVERYTHING in this film can have the tag “...just like Wrath of Khan!” at the end. We get an enemy from the captain’s past seeking revenge, just like in Wrath of Khan! We get the captain’s descendant showing up, reminding him of how old he is, just like in Wrath of Khan! We have the emotionless member of the crew making the ultimate sacrifice to save the crew while the doomsday weapon ticks down and the Enterprise is helpless to escape...just like Wrath of Khan! DO YOU GET IT? IT’S JUST LIKE WRATH OF KHAN!

So the new characters in this film. First up, our villain, the Romulan praetor Shinzon. He combines the “enemy from the past” and “captain’s son” by being a younger clone of Picard, created by the Romulans as part of an abandoned black ops mission. He’s deeply resentful that Picard had the better life, while he was left to toil in the mines of Remus until he died. Shinzon was played by Tom Hardy. Yup, that’s right. Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. Hardy hoped that, after being a big deal on the British stage for a few years, this would be his big break into Hollywood, but that didn’t happen until Christopher Nolan put him in Inception 8 years later.

Of course, our villain needs a henchman, and we get that in the form of the Reman Viceroy, played by another legend of science fiction and fantasy films, Hellboy himself, Ron Perlman. He doesn’t get to do much besides stand and be menacing and occasionally use his latent telepathic skills to get all rapey with Councillor Troi. Great actor, such a minor part.

We’ve also got B4, Data’s little brother, also played by Brent Spiner. B4 was an early prototype android created by Dr. Soong before he came up with the finished product, Data. His programming isn’t as advanced as Data, so he’s very simple and childlike. And let’s be honest, he’s only there so Data can do a mindmeld with him and that way Data can be resurrected...just like in Wrath of Khan!

That’s part of the heaping disappointment. For the longest time, the fans were saying if you’re going to rip off Wrath of Khan, then bring back Lore! Bring back Data’s evil twin! But no, it’s not to be. Instead, we get this frustrating tease.

And I’d also like to throw out an honorable mention to Commander Donatra, a Romulan commander and follower of Shinzon’s who eventually turns and helps our heroes. Played by legendary B-movie star Dina Meyer, who played Barbara Gordon/Oracle in the short-lived Birds of Prey TV series. Again, going back to the disappointment, when Denise Crosby heard that Romulans figured into the plot, she begged to come back as her character Commander Sela, the half-human/half-Romulan daughter of Tasha Yar. But, they say they couldn’t find a place for her character. Donatra could have easily been Sela.

I’m not the only one who found the film to be a monumental disappointment. Most of the Next Generation cast have pointed to it as their most disappointing film, and they squarely place the blame on director Stuart Baird. According to them, Baird did no research into Star Trek and had no idea what it was about. Even on the DVD’s running commentary, Baird projects a certain resentment at being given this whole, pre-fabricated sci-fi universe, and not allowed to create his own thing. And one thing I’ve learned from all the superhero films out there, if your director has contempt for the source material, you’re going to have a bad time.

The film came out in December of 2002, but I didn’t get to see it until April of 2003. What took so long? Well, this one came out during my time in Japan. I had avoided the spoiler-filled reviews online for months to save myself for this film. The day came when it was released in Japan, and I was so excited. I was going to see it on opening day, rush out to the theatre as soon as work was done on Saturday night. I was pacing nervously as work was almost done. I wound up having to stay late at work that night because one of my fellow teachers was dealing with a struggling student, and my manager had instituted a policy that no one could go home until all the students had gone home. (A policy that I foolishly had started because my last job at Extra Foods had the policy of no employees going home until all the customers had gone, and I just kept doing it out of habit.) As soon as that student was gone, I was out the door and heading off to the theatre at a brisk walk. I made it just in time. I got my ticket, and I sent a text message home to Canada, to my old college buddy who hated First Contact for the drunk Troi scene but loved Insurrection. “Finally about to see Nemesis!” I excitedly texted. “Don’t get your hopes up,” he texted back.

2 hours later, I walked out of the theatre, muttering to myself, “I had to wait four extra months for that?”

The film opens on Romulus, on the floor of the Romulan senate. I must admit, I do love the opening shot where we zoom in on Romulus, through the clouds, and finally settling on the Romulan senate. This was the first time I’d seen the new style of mattes pioneered in the prequels and the Lord of the Rings applied to Star Trek, and I loved it. But there’s subterfuge afoot, as a device goes off, the entire senate turns to ash, and crumbles to their doom.

We then cut to Earth, and a joyous occasion. Riker and Troi can no longer deny their feelings for each other, and they’re getting married. The film starts at their wedding reception. We also have sad news as we learn that, after years of denying it, Riker has finally accepted a promotion and is off to his own ship. This will be his final mission on the Enterprise, and then he heads off to command of the Titan. We get some gratuitous cameos from Guinan and Wesley Crusher, Data busts out a song, and then the Enterprise warps off to Betazed for a traditional Betazoid ceremony. And there’s much snickering because, as every Trekkie knows, the traditional Betazoid ceremony is conducted in the nude.

On their way to Betazed, the Enterprise picks up a mysterious signal. It’s positronic in nature. Since only androids like Data emit positronic signatures, the crew starts wondering if Data has another long lost brother. The planet is dangerously close to the Neutral Zone, but still safely on the Federation side, so the Enterprise changes course to investigate.

They land and we’re treated to the Argo, the Federation’s high-tech dune buggy that they use to tear ass around this alien landscape and gather up the android parts. They wind up pissing off the natives, and we’re treated to the first ever car chase in a Star Trek movie. The Enterprise safely makes it away, and I’m sure they did no damage to the cultural development of this primitive society by engaging in a car chase and shoot out with them.

Back on the Enterprise, they reassemble the android and he introduces himself as B4. Because his positronic brain is much simpler than Data’s, they realize this was one of Dr. Soong’s early prototypes before he built Data. Once they get B4 going, Data decides to download all his memories and experiences into B4, hoping that this will jumpstart B4’s development.

With this done, we’re treated to a gratuitous cameo by Captain, now Admiral, Janeway as she delivers Picard’s latest mission to the Enterprise. There’s been a shift in government on Romulus, and the new Praetor, Shinzon, is making overtures of peace. The Enterprise is to head to Romulus as a diplomatic envoy and see how legitimate this is. Picard is even more intrigued when it’s revealed that Shinzon is Reman.

A little more exposition reveals that the Remans are the native species of Remus, Romulus’s sister planet. Living in perpetual darkness on their planet, they were the first planet conquered by the Romulans and have become second-class citizens in Romulan society. The Enterprise arrives at Romulus, and after waiting for a few hours, they’re finally greeted by the Scimitar, Shinzon’s flagship. They beam down to the Romulan senate and meet Shinzon. To their surprise, Shinzon isn’t Reman...he’s human. But not just any human. He’s a younger version of Captain Picard. Shinzon offers up a DNA sample, and analysis by Dr. Crusher quickly confirms it: Shinzon is a clone of Picard.

The next night, Picard and Shinzon have a private dinner. Shinzon reveals that the original Romulan plot was to create a clone of Picard and then, when the time was right, abduct the real Picard and replace him with the clone. However, a change in government made the Romulans cancel this project, and Shinzon was abandoned on Remus to die. However, Shinzon was taken in by his Reman Viceroy, and grew up tough and strong. And now that he’s won freedom for Remus and taken control of the Romulan Empire, Shinzon is hoping to form a lasting peace with the Federation. Shinzon wants to learn more about the Picard lineage with earnest, and find out how many similarities he and Picard share, but Picard is still wary. Picard’s doubts are confirmed when he returns to the Enterprise and discovers that there’s been unauthorized access to the computer, and the Scimitar is emitting a thalaron radiation signature...a highly dangerous weapon.

Meanwhile, Shinzon’s never seen a human woman before, and instantly starts creeping on Councillor Troi. Things come to a head when Shinzon uses the Viceroy’s telepathic abilities to set up some kind of threeway mind meld and telepathically rape Troi. Ew ew ew ew ew ew. Troi reports the incident and asks to be relieved of duty so she can recover. And then, in the most insane order Picard has ever given, he denies Troi’s request and is all like, “So, yeah, if you can allow yourself to KEEP GETTING RAPED, it might help us figure out what Shinzon’s plan is.” And before Riker can go, “THAT’S MY WIFE, YOU ASSHOLE!” and kick Picard’s ass, Picard is abducted by Shinzon.

Now Shinzon’s prisoner, Shinzon’s attitude changes to one of the embittered little brother compared to Picard’s big brother. Always living in the big brother’s shadow, unsure of his identity, and the only way to get his own identity is to get out of his big brother’s shadow. And since Shinzon is evil and such, that means killing Picard. B4 then appears, and we learn that B4 was reprogrammed by Shinzon to be a spy on the Enterprise, and it was he who accessed the computer to get Starfleet tactical information. All this was an elaborate ploy to get Picard to Romulus.

But, turns out our heroes are on to Shinzon. B4 is actually Data in disguise. After doing a quick download of the Scimitar’s databanks to find out what’s up with this thaleron weapon, Data rescues Picard and they make their daring escape. They make this escape in a Romulan Scorpion-class single pilot attack fighter. I was kind of thrilled when I saw this, because I always wonder if single-pilot fighter jets existed in Star Trek, and here one is. With Picard and Data back on the Enterprise, they warp the hell out of there and back to Federation space, but the Scimitar gives pursuit.

Back on the Enterprise, Dr. Crusher has finally figured out why Shinzon seems to have become obsessed with Picard. There was a flaw in the cloning process that created Shinzon, and he’s dying. The only cure is an infusion of fresh DNA from the original. And, with the intel he tried to get from B4 and the Enterprise computers, Shinzon hopes to use his Thalaron weapon to destroy Earth and cripple the Federation. But, they hope he’ll come after Picard first.

Picard and Data share a few words about their long lost brothers having re-appeared and tried to muck up their lives. Data points out that the difference between them and their brothers is their brothers don’t aspire to become more than they are. On their way back to Federation space, where a fleet is waiting to help them take down the Scimitar, the Enterprise enters a mysterious rift that neutralizes their sensors and communicators. Looks like the final battle is going to take place in a nebula that puts everything on equal footing...just like in Wrath of Khan!

So about the whole last half hour of the film is a giant space battle between the Enterprise and the Scimitar. A couple of Romulan warbirds show up to help out, but it’s not much. They finally penetrate the Scimitar’s cloaking device by Troi using the earlier telepathic link with the Viceroy to track them in space. She even gets to crack the action hero one-liner “Remember me?” as she blows them away. With weapons disabled, the Enterprise disables the Scimitar by ramming it. Both ships are crippled. Seeing no other option, Shinzon fires up the Thalaron weapon. With no way to stop it, Picard beams over to shut it down manually, and he and Shinzon have their final battle.

I should mention that, during the space battles, Bryan Singer, director of the first two X-Men films, makes a “blink-and-you’ll-miss-it” cameo as an Enterprise crewman. Just more disappointment. Why couldn’t we get Singer to do a Star Trek film? He tells a tale of how he was a film student and getting a tour of the Paramount lot, and how he snuck away from his tour group and broke into the Next Generation set so he could sit in the captain’s chair. THAT’S the guy I want making a Star Trek film.

I’ve got to admit, Shinzon’s death is pretty cool. Picard impales him with some debris hanging from the wall. Shinzon actually pulls the debris deeper into his chest so he can get closer to Picard to utter his dying words. With Shinzon dead, Picard having lost his weapons in the battle, it looks like there’s no way to shut down the weapon. But then, Data appears, having flown through the vacuum of space to get to the Scimitar. Data tags Picard with a brand new, emergency one-man transporter, beams Picard to safety, and then sacrifices himself to destroy the Scimitar and the weapon.

The crew has a brief memorial service on the Enterprise. They return to Earth to begin repairs to the Enterprise. And, I will admit, the only scene that gave me goosebumps...the only scene that made me geek out hard...was seeing the Enterprise in drydock at the end of the movie. Because composer Jerry Goldsmith decided to reprise the exact same music he composed for when we first saw the Enterprise in drydock at the start of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. That was such a subtle thing, and since everyone kind of knew this was going to be the last Next Generation film, it was nice “coming full circle” moment. Jerry Goldsmith is still dearly missed. This was officially his second-last film that he did the music for before he passed away in 2003.

Picard and Riker share some final words as Riker goes off to command the Titan. Picard fires up B4 (having been shut down ever since it was discovered Shinzon programmed him to be a spy) so Picard can eulogize Data to Data’s brother. But, as Picard leaves the room, B4 begins singing the song that Data busted out at Riker’s wedding, leading us to believe that Data’s spirit has survived in B4...just like how Spock’s spirit survived at the end of Wrath of Khan!

And that’s Nemesis. Disappointing all around. I think my disappointment can best be summed up in Data’s death. Thanks to the international release dates, about two weeks after this came out in Japan, X2 (aka X-Men 2) came out. And when I saw X2, I felt something when Jean Grey died at the end. But at the end of Star Trek Nemesis, I felt absolutely nothing when Data died. The fact that they could kill off my favourite character in my favourite franchise and make me feel so...indifferent about it was the biggest disappointment of all.

And that’s it. The franchise was dead. On TV, Enterprise limped through two more seasons, and then, there was no more Star Trek. But as the decade wore on, and sequels and remakes became more in vogue, we knew it was just a matter of time before Paramount brought out this old franchise once again. And to bring it back, they uttered a word most Trekkies dreaded: reboot.

Next up, the 2009 reboot.

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