7.01.2013

Captain's Blog pt. 37: Nemesis



My old job spent half a million dollars for an outside consulting firm to come in and have a look at how to improve efficiency within my division. They pretended to listen to us for a few months of meetings, then recommended giving raises to all the managers and hiring a couple of outside managers to boot, (over anyone internally.) This new cadre then laid off about half the staff. It's a cruel story but all too familiar.

That's a little how Star Trek: Nemesis feels to me. If Insurrection is as Ryan Britt described it (re: "Insurrection feels like Star Trek got a little drunk and tried to dance to a cool song, with cringe-worthy Napoleon Dynamite results.") - and I think that's fair - then Nemesis is Star Trek getting a make-over by clueless outsiders and shoehorned into a "surefire smash" action movie formula that satisfies no one and embarrasses itself for the attempt.



Early on in the Red Letter Media review of Nemesis, Mr. Plinkett speculates as to the conversation that must have preceded the making of the movie: "Hey, we should make another NextGen film before they get too old, one of them dies, or people stop caring. Let's see, we slapped the first one together, and it sucked, let's not do that again... But people like the Borg one, right? And that was dark and violent. So let's make this dark and violent! And The Wrath of Khan was popular..." He continues: "You have to be some kind of asshole to not see the similarities between these two movies (...) all it really did was shine a giant spotlight on how Nemesis failed to reach that level of quality."



Both films revolve around vengeance, a doomsday device, two villains who become increasingly fixated on their crazy revenge on the Captain of the Enterprise despite their having finally escaped a tormented existence in an undesirable environment, a space battle in a nebula that obscures aim and visibility and results in both ships being crippled, one of them self-destructing, and the Enterprise escaping only via the sacrifice of the franchise's second most important character. Nemesis even features a scene where Captain Picard bluffs/ stalls Shinzon while secretly preparing a sneak attack, just like Kirk with the command codes of the Reliant.

Yet, what makes sense in Wrath of Khan, as the script was good/ the problems thought out/ the action serves the plot/ there is a general theme in place about Kirk learning to face and accept the no-win-scenario (i.e. aging and death,) it is a garbled mess in Nemesis. One last quote from Mr. Plinkett: "None of that happens in Nemesis; all Picard learns is that if he grew up in a space mine, he'd turn into a violent psychopath."

(I am both heartened and frustrated by Mr. Plinkett's Nemesis review. It crystallizes so many of my own feelings on the film and puts forward observations in a funnier and clearer way than I ever have, but damn it, it took half of what I'd planned to write... But, so it goes. If you're familiar with it, though, chances are you've already heard most of what I'm going to say, here.)

To that end, in Nemesis, we see the Scimitar, the biggest, baddest ship the franchise has ever created. Shinzon's ship has 52 disruptor banks, 27 photon torpedo bays, a perfect cloak - something they keep talking about like a cloaking device, perfect or not, is in any way still exciting by this stage in the franchise - and some doomsday Omega-13 thing called a "thalaron radiation weapon."



The last forty minutes of the film feature the most prolonged space battle ever filmed for the franchise, and the Enterprise, disabled to the point where Picard can't even get it to self-destruct, rams into the Scimitar. People are flying out into space or dying left and right, Troi is crying, and the set is shaking like a Cinderella video. With all that going for it, this has to be the most exciting and memorable space battle ever filmed, right? At least for the Trekverse? You'd think so... and yet it's almost instantly forgettable. I was hard pressed to remember the name of the villain or the ship between viewings, and I'd completely forgotten Picard even tried to blow the ship up.


Which, by the by, is absurd. Picard seems to just shrug his shoulders and tell the computer to self-destruct, like he's as desperate for the film to end as the rest of us. And (once more from Mr. Plinkett:) "Psst. Don't tell the Captain all anyone had to do was fire a phaser at the warp core... Your secret's safe with me; I'm a coward, too." But really, considering five or ten minutes later, Data destroys the Scimitar in this fashion really underlines how little the production team cared even about their own movie, much less the internal logic of the franchise.
Three high-speed cameras caught the (again) destruction of 18-ft-diameter models of the Enterprise. How many millions were spent on stuff like this? To what end? Give me a story told within the budget of TOS (even season 3) over pointless excessive noisy destruction any day of the week.
Let's talk about the production team. Stuart Baird directed the film; the man knows nothing about Trek. Which is fine - neither did Nick Meyer, and he directed one of my favorite Trek films. Unfortunately, he also directed one of the bigger pieces of crap in the franchise, i.e. The Undiscovered Country, and it is that Nicholas Meyer being channeled here, alas. Couple of quick examples (and thanks again to the RLM reviews for the wording/ some of these pics:)


Green plastic cymbals? "How will the audience know they're in the future without them???"
"But we've seen the NextGen and Voyager casts use traditional woodwinds and instruments that have been around for centuries -"
"No, the audience will never understand that we're in the FUTURE without green plastic space cymbals!"
"And we need to make sure Picard is bald in this old picture, or the audience will never understand that Picard is looking at a picture of himself as a young man, despite the dialogue in the scene explicitly telling us so, because the audience knows that Picard is the bald Captain."
This is basically like having a film about Abe Lincoln with a flashback to him as a youth and putting him in a top hat and beard, because how would anyone ever figure it out without it?

Additionally, Stuart Baird comes across as really, really creepy in his introduction to the deleted scenes where he talks about the mind-rape of Counselor Troi.


A story where Troi isn't violated would be something. I suppose she isn't in her Voyager appearances. I wonder if that was a point of contention with her agent.
John "Gladiator" Logan wrote it, with a story credit for Brent Spiner and Rick Berman. I've defended Rick Berman before and will continue to do so re: his overall stewardship of the Trekverse, but here, he either truly did not care or was simply ignored/ outvoted. The latter makes more sense. (Although his and Braga's decisionmaking re: "These are the Voyages..." for Enterprise certainly suggests they no longer had their fingers even close to the pulse of fandom.) The studio wasn't happy with the receipts from Insurrection, so they went for this "sure-fire bet" of a movie. (If you'll recall Patrick Stewart's alterations/ improvements to that story from last time around, it's interesting to think about how comprehensively they were reversed/ ignored for this one.) Instead, almost as if the suits said "Well, we listened to Patrick last time; let's listen to Brent this time..." we get a script from Brent Spiner's good friend John Logan, which is filled to the brim with the kind of contrivances and illogical twists common to every piece of shit action movie - right down to the illogical, out-of-character, and just plain silly mano-y-mano at film's end, because how could we have an action film where Picard and Shinzon don't physically fight one another before something blows up? It'd be like a band in the future without green cymbals! - that wants to fool the audience into thinking they're seeing a complex story with lots of twists, drama and resolution. I like Gladiator as much as anyone, but it sure as shaving cream wasn't the script I (or anyone, I'd wager) was jazzed about.

Brent Spiner, speaking to TrekMovie, enthusiastically agrees with the interviewer when the latter says "Data's death was his final stop on his journey to being human." As if Data's death is the big problem with the movie.


Ok, so Brent thought he was aging out of the part and wanted to kill Data off. B4 is lame - and more than a little reminiscent of ProtoMatter Spock from TSFS - but fair enough. Why does no one even mention Lore? If even as a cautionary example? Oh, probably because if they did, they'd have to pay a royalty for the use of his likeness...
Wait a second!!
Spiner goes on to say everyone knew it'd be the last film, so why not end it on an emotional goodbye note so everyone has "closure." So, under guise of "completing Data's human journey" and "closure," we get a) a resurrected Data (in B4) that can easily be brought back if anyone ever wanted to, b) closure we perhaps did not receive specifically for Data in "All Good Things," but the send-off in that story complicates this idea that we needed something like this to drive the point home, c) introducing a character that really makes little sense; how on earth did he get on a dune-planet near the Neutral Zone? And how the hell did Shinzon even find him, while I'm asking questions? And how did he know only the Enterprise would pick up on the positronic signal. And... oh let's just move on.

So Data gets a "Hey, I have a clone, too" sub-plot to mirror Picard's to give the appearance of a script with internal counterpoint and complexity rather than writing one with those actual things.


We don't really need to look at anything the rest of the cast is up to, here, as they don't really have much of a point or purpose. Geordi gets some lines about stuff. Worf's along for the ride, despite being the Federation's Klingon ambassador. Riker gets a pointless showdown with Shinzon's number two and some creepy sex with Troi.

Dr. Crusher had some nice scenes with Picard that were deleted. The wedding scene is nice enough, besides the green cymbals. And the Irving Berlin, though hey, what the hell. Data sings; it happens. And it feels like a wrap party for the cast at least vs. the death wish/ child slave labor/ horrible dying of the rest of it. 

 Guinan and Wil Wheaton show up at the wedding. (Not together)


 
 

but not Troi's mother. I assume Majel Barrett was too sick to join the cast, but someone could have mentioned her. I'm not even a Luxwana fan, but come on.


As for Shinzon, whose hologram recoils at Picard's physical touch...
Tom Hardy has proven everywhere else he's appeared that he's an actor of the highest caliber. And he doesn't exactly suck as Shinzon. But the character makes no sense. The Romulans abandon their plan to place cloned-Picard in the Federation, so they ship him off to a mine. To kill him or something, rather than just... kill him or something. He is taken under the wing of Vincent Hellboy, a Nosferatu-looking Reman with powers convenient to the plot. And he and his fellow miner/ prisoners build the biggest, baddest starship in the known galaxy... That last point drives me insane. If you think the folks at Guantanamo are building F-14s in their cells, or that Shawshank Redemption would be improved if Red and Andy built a submarine to escape through the sewers in, maybe you're more forgiving of it. But it makes no sense to me, and, like the whole B4 thing, I keep getting the feeling it's because I'm presumably too wowed by all the "goings-on."


And isn't it a little late in the game to add an entire new caste to the Romulan race? Never before mentioned? I guess, in other hands, this might have been interesting. As it is, it just comes across as a desperate attempt to make the Romulans interesting rather than develop what they already had built. Perlman's fun in anything, of course, even schlock.
What more can be said about the dune buggy chase with laser cannon fire. Whether it's the design of the vehicle itself:


Image from the RLM review.
The lack of credible attempt to make these stunt drivers even look like the cast...
i.e. no goggles / does not match the close-up.
I can even buy that Picard - a guy who quotes Shakespeare, listens to symphonic music and reads old books, and drinks tea - likes off-roading. But this whole sequence is just pointless action for the sake of having a dune buggy chase.
Incidentally, I think one of the stunt people in the Argo is Todd Bryant, i.e. Captain Klaa from The Final Frontier. If anyone has the 2-disc special edition of TFF, the featurette with him is pretty fun. He seems like a cool enough guy.

Meh. Maybe I'm being too harsh on this one. It's pretty roundly panned as it is, why pour oil on the blaze? I actually don't mind parts of it, and Spiner's performances are effective. But the script, execution, and inspiration for it all seems so damn muddled.


Some fun guest stars/ cameos, such as Bryan Singer.
 
Dina Meyer from Starship Troopers and one-time love-foil for Brandon on Beverly Hills 90210.
 
And Jude Ciccollela
Who'll always be Mike Novick from 24 to me.
And of course Admiral Janeway, whose promotion inspires a lot of nerdrage out there. And this I do not share. Who cares if she got promoted? At least becoming an Admiral didn't turn her into a villain like every other Starfleet admiral; that would have sadly been par for the course for this script.
I could deal with most of the above, actually, if the film had been named something else. This is perhaps splitting hairs too finely, but the lit-nerd in me rankles at the title the same way I do at The Undiscovered Country. But seriously, if it had been named Star Trek: Big Dumb Action Movie, or Star Trek: Freudian Death Wish,

or Star Trek: Fatigue (So very, very Tired.)
I could at least console myself with knowing they were just following through on the theme. But it's called Star Trek: Nemesis. "Nemesis" means something very specific, and it's not something we see here. Here's a link to the old myth if you need a refresher. Granted, its meaning has changed since Greco-Roman times and means more or less "enemy" now, but Star Trek: Enemy is a dumb title for anything. For this story? Especially dumb. Nor is it really accurate. But as ill-fitting as ST: Enemy is, it's ten times more effective than Nemesis, i.e. that twisted doppelganger we give birth to that must eventually destroy us.


Here is an accurate depiction of "Nemesis," from Sandman: The Kindly Ones.
"That was your Nemesis. You created your Nemesis." Okay, so maybe this is nitpicky - I'l even take Star Trek: Data Blows UP Nemesis - but this annoys me more than anything else.
I've always liked the Romulans, or rather, have always been intrigued by them and wish one of the movies or series would get them right or develop them more. So this movie is a double gut-punch for me. Not only do they add the Remans thing, they make them generic space baddies to fit the movie rather than the Trekverse. With apparently less Senate security than we have here on Old Earth. I know they take some pains to have the Senate brought down "from within," but does this really make sense to you? The most cunning, most paranoid, most suspicious race in the Trekverse doesn't even have cameras or sensors in the Senate chamber?


Though I do like this visual recall of the star map from TOS "Balance of Terror."
I'm also not quite sure if Shinzon's takeover really works. Like everything about the character.
I do appreciate the attempt (with Brandon's ex and Mike Novick) to show some intrigue or distinguish the Romulans from one shiftless, guileless mass of generic bad guys. But how much more interesting would this movie have been if they had some kind of Romulan Dr. Soong to better explain B4? Working with Shinzon, perhaps? Forget the secret base where he builds the super-ship. Jettison the whole anachronistically-telepathic Remans altogether.

One last thing: Really, okay, their planet is named Romulus, and they have Centurions, Praetors, a Senate, etc. That's enough. Do they need to have "Remans?" Is there a wolf suckling twin babes, Caesars and Constantinople, too?



Save the Space Romans for R.M. Meleuch.

I'll probably do a big rank-the-movies post somewhere down the line, but it's pretty easy for the NextGen ones. Coming in last is Generations, followed by Nemesis. Second to the top (and a distant one at that, even if I do love it to pieces) is Insurrection. Which leaves First Contact as the only unreservedly great cinematic experience for Jean-Luc and the Gang. And it's one Captain Picard - the wise, compassionate and calm Captain - spends most of frothing at the mouth in rage.

It's a shame. Ah well.

I still hold out hope on a Star Trek: Worf series, (alternate title: Star Trek: K'Plagh! with the exclamation point, thank you) where (to borrow a joke from my buddy Mike) he starts every episode confronted with some "great day to die," then cheating death. His crew rejoices, but it gnaws away at Captain Worf, leading him to more and more suicidal adventures, each of which he continues to best. Until he finally accepts that perhaps today isn't a good day to die... 

Trust me, this would be the best Animated Series ever made.

11 comments:

  1. This is one I need to sit down and watch straight through. I've watched it piecemeal, mostly because it just grates on me. Something about the basic premise - Picard has a clone - just doesn't appeal to me at all. And then Data has a clone.

    Data's clones, or brothers, or ancestors, or whatever you want to call them, got old for me with Lore and Data's 19th century head. How many times were they gonna back-date Soong's creations? Plus, Soong's crazy old wizard/jedi in exile routine causes my patience to evaporate.

    The thing about closure, especially for Data, is that outright killing off a character is a tricky way to handle it. Witness Trip's death on Enterprise. In real life, death often occurs without giving us real closure, just an ending and a going on. In a show like Enterprise, or Trek in general, we expect something more, some glimmer of hope, or at least a sense of satisfaction of a life well-spent and given in service. Trip's seemed senseless, even if it was in service, and so did Data's. It's an indication of how far off-target these things were that they could technically be heroic and meaningful, yet somehow ended up being enervating. And that enervation seems to pervade Nemesis. The Trek franchise seemed sapped of life in that movie. Watching it made me so very, very tired...

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    1. And here I thought you'd be the only one to pick up on the RM Meleuch shout-out...

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    2. She's definitely one of my favorite writers at the moment. I picked up on it, but my mind was focused on Nesmesis; you make a good point about how the Romulan/Roman parallels are getting ridiculous. Meluch has a fun, clever explanation for her Roman Empire roaming the spaceways, while Trek's Romulans go beyond convergent evolution to uncanny (and increasingly silly) cultural recreation. On the other hand,TOS did have Magna Roma in Bread and Circuses, so the precedent is there.

      It seems odd that it took them so long to bring the Remans into the story. Plus, the whole Romulan/Reman thing gets even sillier when you remember oh hey, they're all descended from Vulcans. And let's not forget the implications of the Romulan villain going back in time to destroy the Vulcans before the events that would even cause him to go back in time in the first place. It begins to take on the air of comic book continuity, where everything is back-dated so it all fits together, no matter how ridiculous it is when you look at it out of context - "so Power Girl was Supergirl in another timeline?" "Sorta. At one time. But then there was a new timeline with another Supergirl, and then the other Supergirl came into this timeline and became Power Girl. But this is the New 52 continuity we're talking about; the original timeline was destroyed and split in two..."

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    3. By the way, I'm referring to the 2009 Star Trek when I bring up the Romulan destroying Vulcan. I meant to make that clear, but didn't...

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    4. Good point re: TOS establishing an unfortunate precedent for the Space Romans thing!!

      I guess the idea was (and this is just speculation) that the Vulcans who left Vulcan long ago to become the Romulans conquered the Remans and took over Romulus/ Remus or something? Not entirely illogical, just I agree: it starts to take on the air of comic book continuity.

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  2. Yeah, this movie sucks and for most of the reasons you listed. I have vivid memories of sitting in the theatre watching this and cringing. The dunebuggy chase, the very existence of B4, the absurd ease with which Shinzon dispatches the Romulan Senate, the Scimitar, the Remans (except Ron Perlman, he was badass), the ease with which Data fools the Remans by posing as B4, the failure of the autodestruct (seriously, does that thing ever work? That and the warp core ejection system are constantly knocked offline.), the climactic battle scene straight out of TWOK. Ugh.

    Like you, I realized right away the Scimitar makes no sense. How could they build such a ship? The economics alone makes it impossible. I might have been able to buy the idea of a suped up warbird but then the model makers wouldn't have had anything to do for this movie.

    Wasn't B4 supposed to steal some info about Starfleet's defenses? What for? The Enterprise is the "most advanced ship in the fleet" according to LaForge in First Contact, and it's no match for the Scimitar. Why does Shinzon care about Starfleet's defenses? He can fly right through them either cloaked or with guns blazing and they would be unable to stop him. The same thing occurs in the first Abrams movie. Why does Nero torture Pike about earth's defenses when he has a ship that can reduce a fleet of starships to space junk? I really loathe the idea of B4 and would have been fine without him around.

    The battle in the nebula looks gorgeous so props to the effects crew. But we've seen it before. Really, aside from the visuals and the appearance of the great Ron perlman, this movie doesn't have much going for it.

    Finally, a small quibble that happens all too often in Trek. Why is it always this crew (or members of it) who are instrumental in new peace treaties? Riker and the Titan are dispatched to the Neutral Zone to begin peace negotiations with the Romulans. Really? Riker? Unless he's shuttling a bunch of diplomats (no mention is made of there being any) it means the Federation is counting on the negotiating skills of a newly-minted starship captain to make peace with their longest running adversaries. It happened in TOS, TNG, DS9, etc. Unless, of course, the diplomats get in Riker's face and take command of the mission and bring the Titan to the edge of destruction before they get themselves captured, which seemed to happen to Kirk roughly every other episode of TOS.

    The TNG crew deserved a better sendoff than they received here. We didn't even get the "cast poster" final shot, either!

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    1. Funny you mention the cast/poster shot... in the theater, as soon as I saw that it started with a wedding and they had a succession of full-cast poster shots, I thought "Oh, ok, someone won't be around at the end." Data's death was unspoiled for me, so I didn't know who it was going to be, but that was a strong indication that they wouldn't be able to frame such a shot at film's end.

      That's a good point about diplomats/ ambassadors, particularly their penchant to go on petty power trips.

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  3. It's a lousy movie, no doubt about it. I don't think I can add much to the conversation other than to say that one year at Dragon*Con, James Marsters said he had very nearly gotten the role of Shinzon. I think he would have made a very good Picard clone, although the dude they actually got seems to have done fairly well for himself...

    I remember the next movie I saw Tom Hardy in: "Inception." He kinda leapt off the screen in that one, and I spent the whole movie sorta squinting my mental eyes at him and wondering where I'd seen him before. I stuck around through the end credits and saw the name "Tom Hardy," and put two and two together. "HOLY SHIT, THAT WAS SHINZON!" I hollered. (I work at a theatre and was screening the movie with only other employees in attendence, so this was not AS rude as it might sound.)

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    1. Hardy seems to give career-defining performances left and right these days; that guy just oozes "screen presence," even in smaller roles.

      But if you ever get the chance, hunt down a copy of "Bronson." That one blew me away - his performance in particular. Only after I watched it a couple of times did I put it together that the same guy was Shinzon. Whew.

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    2. Never seen "Bronson," but it's been on my to-see list for a while now.

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  4. He also played one of the American soldiers in Black Hawk Down. It was either that or Band of Brothers (another American soldier role) where I first saw him.

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