“If “All Good Things” was the powerful philosophical journey that brought Star Trek: The Next Generation’s journey on television to an end, “Star Trek Nemesis” was its awkward older cousin.
Like most of the “Star Trek The Next Generation: movies, “Star Trek Nemesis” was burdened by a diffuse script, lazy pacing followed by brutal editing that made the movie feel jumbled and unnaturally short, unnecesarry action scenes and production values and acting that were more television than film.
If the original Star Trek began its cinematic journey helmed by such professional directors as Robert Wise, director of The Andromeda Strain, West Side Story, The Sound of Music and The Day The Earth Stood Still, followed by Nicholas Meyer, who while not in Wise’s league, had still boasted a career as a professional film director, before going over to the Nimoy era, who luckily for the franchise proved to be a professional director, and then finally the ill fated Shatner outing on Star Trek V, before returning to Nicholas Meyer, for the original series’ swan song… the Star Trek: The Next Generation films began with TV director David Carson on Generations, followed by two mediocre turns at the helm by series star Jonathan Frakes (Riker) and concluding with Nemesis, by Stuart Baird.
Stuart Baird has a professional enough resume as an editor, serving on MI2, Casino Royale and Superman. His turns as a director however were on the entirely forgettable U.S. Marshalls sequel to The Fugitive, minus Harrison Ford. Executive Decision, a movie no one much saw or remembers. On Nemesis, the editor was Dallas Puett, whose credits were on action movies like “The Fast and Furious”, “Lara Croft” and “Lethal Weapon 4.”
The problem on the direction end of course was quite clear. Star Trek Nemesis had an amateur unprofessional action movie director and an editor, whose experience was tied to action movies, which today tend to run 90 minutes with lots of quick cuts.
Star Trek films however are not action movies or shouldn’t be. Nevertheless Paramount has insisted on shoehorning them in as action movies. The result has given us four “Star Trek: The Next Generation” movies, all focusing on a single James Bond like villain plotting to blow something up, often the Earth. Earth was actually endangered in “Star Trek Generations”, “Star Trek: First Contact” and finally “Star Trek Nemesis.”
While the Earth had been endangered in original series Star Trek movies, from “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” and “Star Trek: The Voyage Home”, both times it was by a higher force that had to be understood, rather than simply shot at.
Original series Star Trek films covered a diverse territory, some philosophical, some action oriented thrillers and one downright adventure comedy.”Star Trek: The Next Generation” movies have all followed a very simple format. The Enterprise discovers a threat, investigates it, grapples with the villains, Picard overcomes whatever issues are troubling him this movie (loss of loved ones, Borg hatred, mortality, fear of clones) and with some self-sacrifice, the villain dies and the Enterprise returns, battered and beaten, home. (When it isn’t destroyed.)
This is not only a thoroughly dumbed down version of Star Trek, but the cookie cutter plots are inevitably silly and awkward. We’re given atypical action scenes involving Picard, some extremely unnecessary. “Star Trek Nemesis” wastes sizable chunks of money and time to have the crew racing around the desert in superpowered vehicles and having Picard fly a ship through the Reman ship. Meanwhile the Romulan makeup is incredibly awful, we hardly get to see the Romulans themselves as a matter of fact and time that should have been spent setting up the story is instead squandered on throwaway action scenes, that can’t remotely compete with what’s in theaters anyway.
The inevitable consenquences of “Star Trek” movies losing touch with what makes Star Trek work, is failure.
Star Trek Nemesis, released a week before the hugely popular “Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” smashed into theaters, was a lamb led to the slaughter. Its flaws were manifold.
Logan had insisted on writing a script about the Romulans that focused instead on an entirely new race called the Remans. The Remans lacked personality and expressiveness and their main interaction with the Enterprise crew came in the form of shootouts. Shootouts do not give a new race personality. They simply turn them into disposable cannon fodder.
Even so the movie did not even properly focus on the Remans, but spent the bulk of its energy on Shinzon, Picard’s clone, a Napoleon type figure who had taken over the entire Romulan Empire. Now had producers chosen to have Shinzon played also by Patrick Stewart, the results might have been quite dramatic. Instead he was played by far younger actor, Tom Hardy.
Hardy did not turn in a bad performance, but outside of being bald and British, there was little to connect him to Picard. Especially since the younger Picard we saw on the TV series, looked and acted nothing like Hardy. Hardy simply couldn’t hold the screen together with Picard or hold the viewer’s interest. And he, more than anything else, was the linchpin of the movie.
While Malcolm McDowell’s character in “Star Trek Generations” had been on the absurd side. Alice Krige’s overacting in “Star Trek First Contact” had been atrocious and F. Murray Abraham as Ru’afo in “Star Trek Insurrection” had been little more than a monstrous creature, all of them were still professional actors, entirely capable of commanding the screen, even when playing utterly ridiculous characters. By contrast Tom Hardy in “Star Trek Nemesis” vanishes, even when he is the focus of a scene. Hardy lacked any real screen presence and that left major portions of the movie drifting aimlessly. Jude Law might have pulled if off. Tom Hardy is lost from his very first scene.
Ron Perlman manages to have twice Hardy’s screen presence, even with a twentieth of his lines. Dina Meyer demonstrates yet again, that she can’t even deliver simple dialogue. The rest pass entirely unnoticed, which is just as well for them.
The writing in no way helps them. The movie’s scenes are strung together haphazardly. Shinzon’s motivation to attack earth makes no sense. The introduction of the B2 slows the movie down to a painful crawl and also makes rather little sense. Shinzon’s confrontations with Picard are ridiculously truncated. The editing is choppy, the dialogue that survives the editing is ridiculous. And thus the awkward production of Nemesis comes to an end.
Yet its strength lies in the beginning and end, in the natural camaraderie of the actors playing the crew who channel their decade plus working together into comfortable pleasant scenes.This camaraderie was properly exploited by the original series Star Trek in both series and film to achieve the famous relationships and the depth of character that made both so compelling. The “Star Trek: The Next Generation” movies ignored them too often at their peril.
The video on the right showcases the original extended ending of “Star Trek Nemesis” and it is a far greater piece of work than most of the rest of the movie combined. Like us the actors and their characters are saying goodbye, to this world and to each other. It is a fond farewell to an old friend that has become a part of you.
To a journey’s end.