Star Trek: Nemesis (no spoilers, just a lot of grousing)

Just came home from seeing this one. I don’t have to review this film for any secular media, and I’m afraid there’s no great thematic depth to it that warrants any coverage in the religious media, AFAIAC. So instead of writing a “review”, I’m just going to post a few random thoughts.

The trailers for this film didn’t excite me all that much, and the film itself didn’t excite me either. Having clones of Picard and Data was a little much, I thought, and the villain kept reminding me of Dr. Evil. It’s never a good sign when the villain reminds you of Dr. Evil and the actor plays him straight as though he didn’t notice the resemblance.

It occurs to me that there have been two Austin Powers movies since the last Star Trek movie. Two Star Wars movies too, for that matter. Four years between Star Trek movies is a long time — until now, the longest delay had been the nearly three years between the generations (that is, between The Undiscovered Country in late ’91 and Generations in late ’94). This is also the first Star Trek movie since ’91 that didn’t have to worry about being consistent with the continuity of the current TV shows. So, with all that time to come up with a story, and with all that freedom to take the story anywhere they wanted … well, they botched it.

I may as well get my recurring action-movie gripe out of the way. Years ago I began to object to the fact that, thanks to Star Wars and films of that ilk, it seemed like every space movie was made by people who worked under the assumption that space movies had to be all about blowing things up. The genius of the original Star Trek series, as my dad pointed out to me when I was but a wee lad, was that each episode could be any kind of story — you could have stories of scientific discovery, battle stories, medical emergency stories, family drama stories, comedies, dramas, romances, etc. To this day, the two arguably most popular episodes of the original series are ‘The Trouble with Tribbles’ (comedy) and ‘City on the Edge of Forever’ (tragic romance). So the series premise lends itself to many kinds of stories besides space battles. But with only a couple of exceptions, every Star Trek movie has been a space-battle movie.

There are two exceptions to this space-battle thing, sort of. The very first Star Trek movie began with the disintegration of three Klingon ships and a Federation science station, but after that, it was more of a cerebral psychological mystery than anything else — and it’s not widely regarded as one of the better films in the series. But then there is The Voyage Home — the time-travel, save-the-whales movie — which remains, to this day, the top-grossing Star Trek film of all time in raw dollars (and that’s before we take into account the fact that ticket prices have gone up considerably over the last 16 years!). The characters still have to save the Earth, but they do it in a nice, non-violent way — so the franchise can obviously work without all the running and shooting.

Now, I like space battles, when they’re done right. The best Kirk movie and the best Picard movie, in my opinion, were both space-battle movies — and Wrath of Khan and First Contact worked as well as they did because they threw themselves into their space battles with real conviction, and there were larger issues at stake. But the last movie, Insurrection, was a classic, unfortunate case of action-because-the-formula-demands-it,-even-if-the-filmmakers-don’t-really-have-their-heart-in-it. Patrick Stewart and others said they wanted to get away from the seriousness of the previous films and do something lighter and different … and yet, it seemed they still felt obliged to throw in lots of running and shooting. But it was obvious that they would rather have done something else.

The new Star Trek movie just throws more running and shooting at us — and although Nemesis is more committed to darkness and seriousness than the last film, the running and shooting still isn’t done very well. Too many sequences are built around phaser battles in narrow corridors, and none of them are all that exciting or plausible. (Supposedly, the Remans are “bred for battle”, but they fall over as easily as battle droids, at least when Picard boards their ship all by his lonesome.) One thing I do appreciate about this film is the way it shows people acting in very direct, physical ways when all the projectiles and energy beams have run their course — one ship rams another, Data leaps across space from one ship to another after the transporter breaks down, Picard strikes a Reman with the butt of his phaser rifle, etc. If you’ll pardon the cliché, there’s a fair bit of “thinking outside the box”, there. But it takes forever for the projectiles and energy beams to run their course.

Hmmm. I think I may have more gripes to make, but I’ve spent too long rambling about this one aspect of the film, and I see it’s getting late. For now, let’s just say that the big shocking irrevocable thing that happens near the end of this film (you’ll know what I mean when you see it) is better integrated into the storyline than the death of Kirk in Generations, but is nowhere near as satisfactory or as essential to the film thematically as the death of Spock in Wrath of Khan or even the destructions of the Enterprise in Search for Spock and Generations.

So I leave the film looking back on the origins of ST:TNG, and wistfully recalling how I watched the very first episode with my classmates at a Bible school in the prairies in the fall of ’87, and pondering how much water has gone under the bridge over the last 15 years … and I find myself wishing the film had been a lot, lot better than it was. I mean, Insurrection may have been lame, but at least it was kinda just like another episode — you could forget it had ever happened, if you wanted to. But you can’t forget what happens in Nemesis. Ah well.

– A version of this post was first posted to the OnFilm discussion group.

About Peter T. Chattaway

Peter T. Chattaway was the regular film critic for BC Christian News from 1992 to 2011. In addition to his film column, which won multiple awards from the Evangelical Press Association, the Canadian Church Press and the Fellowship of Christian Newspapers, his news and opinion pieces have appeared in such publications as Books & Culture, Christianity Today, Bible Review and the Vancouver Sun. He also contributed essays to the books Re-Viewing The Passion: Mel Gibson’s Film and Its Critics (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004) and Scandalizing Jesus?: Kazantzakis’s The Last Temptation of Christ Fifty Years on (Continuum, 2005).


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