Tuesday, June 29, 2010

"Star Trek: Nemesis" (2002)

Starring Patrick Stewart, Brent Spiner and Tom Hardy
Written by John Logan
Directed by Stuart Baird

If 1996 was the apex of "Star Trek" in the modern era, 2002 is probably it's nadir.  It has been four years since "Star Trek: Insurrection" disappointed critics and audiences alike.  "Star Trek: Enterprise" is dropping fast in the ratings, and the "Next Generation" crew is mounting their final feature film, one that would be plagued by production problems and eventually become the lowest grossing "Star Trek" film.

On the Romulan homeworld, a bomb is planted in the Senate, killing the entire political leadership of the Empire.  Forces of the mysterious Reman named Shinzon (Tom Hardy) seize control, and reach out to the Federation, apparently anxious for peace.

Meanwhile, the USS Enterprise diverts to a nearby star system after detecting a strange signature on a planet's surface.  When the crew goes down to the surface, they discover an android nearly identical to their Lt. Commander Data (Brent Spiner).  Now the closest starship to the Romulan border, the Enterprise is then ordered to Romulus to respond to Shinzon's calls for peace.  When they arrive and meet Shinzon for the first time, the crew is shocked to discover that Shinzon is not Reman at all... he's a clone of Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart).  Picard investigates, not quite trusting his younger doppelganger, and suspects that Shinzon isn't quite being truthful about his peace overtures.

It seems that Shinzon has constructed a dangerous weapon, a larger version of the bomb that killed the Romulan Senate.  With this weapon mounted on his massive war vessel, the Scimitar, he plans destroy Earth and the Federation.  But Shinzon is dying, a result of the method by which he was cloned by the Empire, and needs an infusion of Picard's DNA to save his life.  Planting the android B-4 on an alien planet was a ruse to bring the Enterprise to Romulus in order to steal not just Picard's DNA, but critical intel that will allow Shinzon's ship to penetrate Federation defenses.

"Star Trek: Nemesis" is another entry into the franchise that has lofty ideas, but can't quite seem to make it all work.  Some kind of edict to keep the film under two hours ends up robbing it of most of its best character scenes, and some others are reshuffled into a strange order that somewhat deflates the proceedings.  Problematic also is director Stuart Baird, who was very unfamiliar with the franchise and makes a few questionable decisions as a result.  Digitally altering Michael Dorn's voice for all of Worf's lines, for example, is strange.  It had never been done before, so when they do it here it just sounds bizarre.

The "nature vs nurture" plot is intriguing, and gives the film some of its best scenes as Picard and Shinzon battle.  Particularly, a scene where Shinzon contacts Picard via hologram in the midst of battle, is a fine scene for both Hardy and Stewart, and distills the ideas of the script down succinctly.  The subplot involving the android prototype B-4, also played by Brent Spiner, is meant to mirror the story between Picard and Shinzon, thematically, but it's ultimately rather weak.  Only one scene in the entire film, where Data deactivates B-4 after the crew discovers how dangerous he is, is really worthwhile.

A set of escalating action sequences dominates the second half of the film.  The pacing of it all is a bit staccato, with breaks in between sequences of attack and retreat as the Enterprise and the Scimitar chase each other around a spatial rift.  It's the longest battle sequence in the film franchise, with lots of maneuvering back and forth and the characters attempting to discern what the other is doing.  There's some attempt at strategy, as well, as the Enterprise must present its strongest defenses to the Scimitar, meaning they must maneuver carefully as the ship takes a pounding from different sides.  Visual effects by Digital Domain are top-notch, as well. 

"Nemesis" is a solid film, but problematic.  The fact that a number of the deleted scenes on on the disc feature not only fine character work from the actors, but also are scenes of some importance, is unfortunate.  In particular, a scene with Data and Picard discussing family and mortality should have been left in the film to give more dramatic weight to the climax.  Certain scenes seem thrown in for no particular reason, like a dune buggy chase early in the film.  This scene exists purely so that there's some action in the front half of the movie, but that purpose is totally obvious, even if the scene itself is entertaining.  During the film's climax, Riker (Jonathan Frakes) fights Shinzon's Viceroy (Ron Perlman) in the bowels of the ship.  At one point, the two are fighting over what seems like a bottomless chasm, even though we know they're already on the lower decks of the ship (and beyond that, the design of the ship simple doesn't allow for something so deep).

Still, "Nemesis" gets a lot of things right.  After the absurd jokes in "Insurrection," "Nemesis" tones the humor way down.  There are a few jokes during the wedding scene, and a couple of lines thrown in for levity later on, but for the most part this is a serious picture.  Jerry Goldsmith contributed not only his final score for the "Star Trek" franchise, but also the final score of his career.  It's a solid score, though I'm sad to say not quite as good as his previous entries.  The score's finest moment, strangely, is in the end credits suite, and doesn't even appear in its full form in the film - only on the soundtrack album, which has a completely different end credits suite than the film.

With some re-editing, "Nemesis" would be a great swan song for the "Next Generation" crew.  As it is, it's an entertaining film, but it's disappointing that it comes so close to being much better than it is.

The blu-ray is an intriguing disc.  Unlike the previous films, "Nemesis" doesn't appear to have been scrubbed clean of grain.  It does, in fact, exhibit a rather nice grain structure, giving it the most film-like appearance of these feature films in that sense.  But other problems appear, though I'm not sure whether these are faults of the original production or if they're a problem with the blu-ray transfer.  Colors, for example, seem somewhat desaturated.  After seeing how bold and colorful "Generations" was, it's a little disappointing to see "Nemesis" looking somewhat drab.  I suppose this fits the tone of the picture, but... still.  Also, detail seems to vary.  At times, the picture seems soft; this might be the filmmakers attempting to hide the age of the cast, but I can't be certain of that.  Still, this is the best "Nemesis" has ever looked. 

Soundwise, things are also somewhat uneven.  Though the whole movie sounds crystal clear, bass doesn't really kick in until the second half of the film.  When it does, it rocks the house.  But even the dune buggy sequence in the early part of the film doesn't have the heft of the latter half of the film.