Friday, November 19, 2010

Star Trek: The Next Generation Closes On A Downbeat With Duplicates In Star Trek: Nemesis!

The Good: Acting, DVD bonus features, Special effects
The Bad: Much of the character work, Plot makes no real sense, Disappointing edits
The Basics: When the U.S.S. Enterprise-E is sent to Romulus to investigate a political coup, they find a duplicate of Picard and senseless action-adventure fun.

I am, it ought to be noted, a huge fan of the Star Trek franchise. Lately, I've been able to watch the episodes - especially the original Star Trek series episodes with a lot more objectivity than ever before in my life. When the details of Star Trek: Nemesis began to be leaked, it was an exciting time for fans like me. Riker and Troi, who had had a prior relationship before the beginning of Star Trek: The Next Generation and who had rekindled their romance in Star Trek: Insurrection (click here for my review!) were going to get married. It was a geek celebration, it was going to be a Trekker event.

And then, fans began to hear about cutbacks. The film ended up long - over three hours - and was being drastically cut back. When that happened, my heart sank. After all, films like the works in the Lord Of The Rings trilogy (click here for my review of that!) proved that long movies that are good will sell and find their audience. Sadly, the studio did not want to risk it, which is a shame because perhaps if all the deleted scenes that appear on the two-disc DVD version of Star Trek: Nemesis had been in the film, perhaps it would have fared better.

Nah, the problems with Star Trek: Nemesis would have kept it down regardless; they are too great.

Following the assassination of the Romulan Senate and a military coup, a Reman officer, Shinzon becomes the head of state of the Romulan government. While the U.S.S. Enterprise celebrates the marriage of first officer William Riker and Counselor Deanna Troi, whose last tour aboard the Enterprise before taking command of the U.S.S. Titan will be to be ferried to Betazed for their second wedding there, Shinzon solidifies his control over Romulus by integrating the Remans with the Romulan military. En route to Betazed, the Enterprise discovers positronic signals emanating from a low-technology planet. Because positronic signals are only known to emanate from Soong-type androids like Data, the Enterprise reroutes to determine what is going on.

On a desolate world with minimal technology, Data, Picard and Worf discover a disassembled Soong-type android, which appears just like Data. Reactivating B-4, after the Away Team is chased off the planet, the Enterprise crew learns he was a prototype that preceded even Lore. Around the same time, Picard learns of the coup within the Romulan government and he is ordered to Romulus to meet with Shinzon. The meeting comes with a shocking revelation; the new head of the Romulan government, Shinzon, is a human! In addition to being a clone of Captain Picard, while Shinzon speaks about peace, he appears to have the most powerful starship imaginable at his command and his purpose with it seems anything but benevolent!

Star Trek: Nemesis asks quite a bit from fans like me and I shall not elaborate on the full depth of those leaps, but sufficed to say even with the excised scenes put back in, this film would have been a tough sell to fans of Star Trek and non-fans alike. The main reason for this is that in order to make yet another ridiculous Star Trek "kill the villain" film, Star Trek: Nemesis has to create a villain and the universal problem for any viewer of this movie is that the villain, quite simply, does not make sense.

Shinzon is a clone of Captain Picard. When the program to replace Picard with Shinzon was abandoned, Shinzon was sent to the Reman mines to dig ore, where he was abused by the Romulan guards. All of this is new material to fans and non-fans alike; the Remans were never seen in the Star Trek franchise before this film. Two things, then, make Shinzon villainous: the need to exsanguinate Picard to survive and his giant starship weapon that he seems to want to use against the Federation. The first part is never explained in a satisfactory way. We never know quite why Picard's blood will save Shinzon and, being that he is a clone, this makes little sense because Shinzon's blood would be the same as Picard's blood. Moreover, unless this is suddenly the Buffyverse where the source of blood truly matters, Picard's blood would not contain anything in it that anyone else with the same blood type would not already have (red blood cells do not contain DNA). So, this makes no real sense and seems somewhat preposterous and villainous for the sake of villainy, which does not sit right as a film viewer.

But then there's the weapon. The Scimitar is a massive starship that has an arsenal that makes what the Federation had at Wolf 359 seem small! This is a big, predatory ship and it is armed with a weapon capable of wiping out a population without destroying buildings. It's pretty much the doomsday machine that Picard and his crew are right to fear, especially when it becomes clear that Shinzon wants to turn it on the Federation. And what too few people in the audience tend to ask is "Why the Federation?" Shinzon is human, his only friends in the world - like his trusted noferatu-like Reman Viceroy - are Remans and both Shinzon and the Remans have been brutally oppressed and abused by the Romulans. Shinzon drones on quite a bit about how much hatred he has for the Romulans. So naturally, armed with the most powerful ship in Romulan space, Shinzon wants to attack . . . the Federation?! It makes absolutely no sense from a character standpoint or the standpoint of simple reason. It would be like freed slaves in the United States attacking Mexico following the Civil War.

As a fan of the franchise, I think Star Trek fans are savvy enough to sit through a film where their heroes intervene out of concern for their enemy and they would have sat through a film where Romulus is decimated and Picard and his crew have to work with the Romulans to rebuild the planet. But no, this is a "kill the villain" story so it's essential to do that.

The problem, then, falls to the matter of how our crew does that and it's no surprise that the B-4 plot is related to the Shinzon plot. After all, if Picard has a duplicate, Data needs one too (they have a love that is illustrated through deeds that at least matches Riker and Troi's!) and here we get into the territory of ridiculous for the fans. When Star Trek: The Next Generation began, Data was unique. Then, he found his twin brother, the psychotic Lore. That's fine and it works. Data builds his own android daughter, who self-destructs, meets his creator who tells him nothing of the other Soong-type androids running around the galaxy and we know from "Inheritance" that there was one more. So the sudden idea that there was a B-4 before Lore (that's a fun phrase to write and say) seems ridiculous. The question of why haven't we seen him before becomes less easy to brush off when one considers that the homing beacon that allowed Data to find Dr. Soong activated an identical beacon in Lore. Why wouldn't B-4 have been included in that?

So, it seems from the outset that B-4 is a matter of plot convenience that his purpose in the film is to parallel Picard's story with Shinzon. That's just cheap, cheaper than pictures that show a young Picard bald (didn't anyone who worked on this film watch Star Trek: The Next Generation?!). From the outset, the viewer has to figure that Shinzon and Picard will get into some sort of special effects laden battle to the death and we don't much care what happens to B-4 either way. And the movie does degenerate into a very average special effects, big-budget action adventure film. There's a car chase sequence (of sorts), space battles, and even hand-to-hand combat. So even though it might not make much sense, it has it all!

What the film does manage to do to make up for the senseless plot and leaving the best character moments on the cutting room floor, is provide the viewer with an experience that is well acted and has pretty incredible special effects for the space battles. In addition to delightful cameo appearances by Whoopi Goldberg and Kate Mulgrew (Wil Wheaton's footage is only available in the deleted scenes), the guest performers come with their a-game intact. Ron Perlman is completely underused as the Viceroy, but Tom Hardy, who plays Shinzon is electric and menacing and wonderful.

The regular cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation is given more to do with Star Trek: Nemesis, most notably Marina Sirtis as Troi. She takes on a vital role when Troi is assaulted by Shinzon and the Viceroy. Sirtis plays shocked and scared well and her transformation from victim to survivor over the course of the film is well-represented by her. She proves what fans have known all along; if you give her the chance to act and shine, she will rise to the occasion!

But much of the film rests on the shoulders of Patrick Stewart as Picard and Brent Spiner as Data. Steward plays Picard as uncertain and shaken for much of the film and he is quite good at that. Picard is most often seen as an explorer and father-figure, commanding and always in control. Stewart plays those traits masterfully, but given the opportunity to play wounded, hurt and shaken, Stewart delivers. And in Star Trek: Nemesis, Stewart is part action-hero, part wary victim and he makes the viewer believe in both aspects!

But it is Brent Spiner who does the most heavy lifting as both Data and B-4. Spiner played Lore and Soong in the past and the acting challenge that he has with B-4 is to not make him seem like either of those two Soong's we've seen before! He does it. Spiner plays B-4 essentially as a child with a mental handicap and that performance separates him clearly from when he is playing Data (even more than the costuming does). Spiner easily reminds the fans why he was so popular and his performance of the emotive Data is well-balanced and memorable and his performance as the naive B-4 is equally on-mark.

The problem is the deleted scenes fix none of the problems, but they do add in more flavor and moments fans would love (though Wesley's return to StarFleet after being, essentially, a god for a decade makes no real sense either). Had the DVD been released as a director's cut with the original, longer cut remastered so that it at least fleshed out the good parts better, it would have been worth recommending.

As it is, with the deleted scenes separated out still and surrounded by featurettes and a commentary track that is less insightful or coherent than the movie, Star Trek: Nemesis is a pass. As a fan, it pains me to say that.

For the rest of the Star Trek cinema collection, please visit my review here!

For other films involving dopplegangers, please check out my reviews of:
Date Night
Blade: Trinity
The Little Mermaid


For other Star Trek reviews, please be sure to visit my index page for an organized listing!

© 2010, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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