L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 205, January 6, 2003
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
A Fan's Review of Star Trek: Nemesis
Special to TLE
WARNING: SPOILER! [- ed.]
I don't ordinarily do movie reviews. To to so means watching a lot of movies, and frankly, I find the overwhelming majority boring at best and offensive at worst. The entire "entertainment" industry is so Statist that it's very difficult to watch movies, TV shows, or even read books -- at least not without risking losing my temper and putting .45-inch holes through the TV, movie screen, or book.
That said, until my embracing of the Zero Aggression Principle, I was a Star Trek fan. A number of important events in my life have centered around Star Trek or Star Trek fandom. A prime example is the first meeting of my wife, which occurred when I was dressed as a Klingon for a Halloween party in 1989.
I'm also a lifelong science fiction fan. In fact, it was the works of seminal libertarian author L. Neil Smith that ruined Star Trek (and every other SF on TV with the exception of FOX's late, lamented Firefly) for me. Neil introduced me to the specifics of the Zero Aggression Principle: once I "got it," Star Trek became just another piece of Statist tripe.
Nevertheless, I still occasionally watch Enterprise, though I often complain that a Vulcan prancing around in a catsuit is as logical as Spock wandering the corridors of the original ship with a thirteen- inch codpiece dangling between his legs. I always go to the newest Star Trek movie, disappointing as the NextGen films have been. Sadly, Star Trek: Nemesis was no exception.
I wasn't looking forward to the movie, in all honesty. The script for the film has been available on the Web for over a year, and being the kind of fan that I am, I read it. There were enough distressing elements on paper that it didn't sound like it was going to be a very much fun.
You see, much like 99.9999999% of the moviegoing public, I go to movies to be uplifted a little. They're an escape. I want to walk out of a movie feeling better than when I walked in. Much like my initial reaction to The Wrath ofKhan, The Undiscovered Country, and Generations, I find no joy in watching the "final voyage" of characters I feel close to.
Watching Data be vaporized (or Spock die from radiation poisoning, or the original cast fly off into the sunset, or Kirk crushed under iron girders) isn't uplifting to me. I don't really care if they died well or nobly, I don't want to see them die. I would prefer to imagine that Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy, and the rest of the crew are still out there somewhere, exploring strange new worlds. To know that Kirk was explicitly killed by some second-rate bad guy doesn't make me feel uplifted.
Suffice to say, I wasn't looking forward to Nemesis. There are too many "final voyage" elements to make it a fun two hours for me. Indeed, for the first time in my life, I approached the movie with enough trepidation to avoid seeing it on opening day. In case that seems trivial to you, let me tell you about December 7, 1979:
It was a typically frigid December as I stood outside the State Theater in downtown Lincoln, Nebraska. I was sixth in line for the premiere of Star Trek - The Motion Picture: an event the fannish had been awaiting for ten long years. The movie premiered at 7pm on Friday evening, and I (with several hundred of my closest friends) had been standing in line since school let out at 3:00. The designated line- sitter had skipped school to get in line at 11am and then held a spot for the rest of us. By 6:00, the line for the movie stretched around an entire city block: the end of the line was only a few feet away from me when the doors of the theater opened.
To make matters worse, this was an era before the Chicken Pox vaccine, and I was in the middle of contracting it. I stood for three hours in near-Arctic wind chill with a fever of 103 degrees. It was so bad that when I went back to see the movie on Saturday, I was only able to sit through two complete screenings. During the third, I became dizzy when I got up to use the bathroom and had to be escorted home. I then spent the next week in bed, my mother occasionally admonishing me that I was suffering about as much as I deserved for having intentionally exposed over eight hundred individuals to a contagious virus.
So for me to not attend a Star Trek movie on opening night -- indeed, the first screening -- is a break of tradition that spans nine other films over nearly a quarter of a century.
Thankfully, Nemesis is not as bad as the script I read online led me to believe. What probably saved it was the removal of the Picard mid- life crisis elements. The movie as filmed was about half an hour longer than the final cut, almost all of which centered around Picard's third mid-life crisis in four movies. They also contained some of the most forced humor in the script, as well as explicit references to the cast breaking up. Even so, by the end of the movie, Will and Deanna have married and left the Enterprise, and Data has been killed in a tremendous explosion.
One of the items left on the cutting room floor was the explanation regarding Worf's presence on the Enterprise. As fans of the franchise know, Worf was last seen being appointed a Federation ambassador to the Klingon Empire. For him to be back at his security post on the Enterprise begged some kind of explanation. Similarly, when last seen, Wesley Crusher was in the process of evolving into a godlike life form of incredible power. For him to return in a Starfleet uniform -- even as a cameo with no lines -- was jarring.
If the movie had done better at the box office, we'd see everyone back together again in three years, probably just as inexplicably. Data would be "alive" again, as B4 (the SECOND evil twin of Data seen in the franchise) would have no doubt evolved in the intervening years to be exactly like Data. To be honest, I'm a bit thankful that the liklihood is that we WON'T see this. It's just another example of creative bankruptcy of the franchise.
In fact, my overall reaction to the movie was simple boredom. At one point, I was LITERALLY sitting in the seat thinking to myself, "Good grief, not ANOTHER pointless phaser firefight."
With the glut of SF on the market and in particular Lord Of the Rings and the "first" Star Wars trilogy, even the fight scenes are humdrum. Attack Of the Clones was a poorly-plotted movie, but you can't deny that the Yoda/Dooku light sabre battle was pretty amazing. By comparison, the fights going on in Star Trek are trivial.
Even the big, climactic space battle was a snoozer. The entire time I was watching the Enterprise-E crashing into the Scimitar, I was thinking, "I've seen this. Three movies ago, when they crashed the E-D on Veridian III. It's better SFX this time, but I've sat through this scene already. Why am I watching it again?"
The real surprise was the fact that this was an "evil twin" movie. In addition to the aforementioned evil twin of Data, the primary antagonist of Nemesis was an extremely two-dimensional evil twin of Picard. The character, Shinzon, is a particularly ruthless, bloodthirsty breed of madman. He engages in a number of very random acts of brutality, the most gratuitous of these being some kind of mind-rape of Deanna. His motivation for such an act is never even hinted at, and we're left with the impression that he's got somewhat less depth than Ming the Merciless.
Why an "evil twin" story in this day and age? The NextGen cast did at least THREE of them on TV, not coincidentally all of them involving Data's evil twin, Lore. We've SEEN THIS BEFORE. And it was ON TNG!
What's worse, the evil twin concept is probably the most hackneyed plot device in all of dramatic history. It's so over-used that TV Land has dedicated entire weeks of their programming line-up to evil twin episodes. Even The Brady Bunch had evil twin episodes.
Did it never occur to Nemesis producers that arguably the best evil twin story in all of TV history was done by Star Trek in 1966? It was "The Enemy Within," a story in which a transporter malfunction splits Kirk into his "good" side and his "evil" side. However, the twist in that episode was that good NEEDS evil, and vice-versa. The message distinguishes "The Enemy Within" from every other evil twin story ever done.
The message in Nemesis is far more trivial: we are a product of our environment. I have news for the producers, who apparently have overlooked the evidence of whatever children they may have: environment isn't the sole producer of character. I've got two girls who were different from each other from the day they arrived on planet Earth, and my experience in this regard mirrors what every parent has ever told me.
In short, the message of this film is utterly wrong, and ample proof of this is found wherever there are children.
It's all been done before. All of it. The evil twin story: been there, done that. The incredibly deadly weapon being wielded by a madman bent on destruction: been there, done that, a LOT (see The Wrath of Khan, Generations, Insurrection, and half of the episodes in the franchise fordetails). The logical, unemotional character transcending his limitations and giving his life for his friends: been there, done that (see Wrath of Khan again). The huge ship crashing spectacularly into something: been there, done that. The secondary bad guys having a change of heart and turning good: been there, done that (most recently in Insurrection). Picard having some variation of a mid-life crisis: been there, done that -- three times in the last four movies! Data having an evil twin: been there, done that -- three times, over four episodes, no less!
There was literally not a single novel element in the entire movie. Not ONE. It's as thought the production staff has a Monopoly board game: Star Trek edition. They roll the dice, advance five squares, and draw a card: "A character finds an evil twin of himself on an alien planet. Lose a turn." Roll the dice again, draw a card: "The holodeck malfunctions, advance two spaces." Roll the dice, draw another card: "Last-minute technobabble saves the ship: advance three spaces."
All this despite the fact that the movie was written and directed by non-Trek regulars, people who each had a reputation as talented individuals completely outside of the genre. One can almost forgive the formulaic approach to drama that seeped into Voyager and now Enterprise: it's the same production staff who's been doing Star Trek for fifteen years, now, and they're clearly running out of ideas. For the writer of Gladiator and the director of Executive Decision to be unable to do better is unforgivable.
You would think that outsiders would at least be able to steal from other venues and genres. How about making "Lawrence of Arabia" in outer space? "Casablanca" in outer space? What about "The Tempest" in outer space (we could call it Star Trek: Forbidden Planet). "Butch Cassidy and the Sunance Kid" in outer space would have sufficed (though Firefly pulled this off better than Star Trek ever could have, the idiots running FOX notwithstanding).
If the best you can do is steal plot elements, why not do it from sources other that Star Trek itself? Why must they constantly re-hash the same elements Trek has used for nearly on FORTY YEARS?
Last (but certainly not least) was the movie's score. I'm an enormous fan of classical-sounding movie scores. It's literally one of the few kinds of music that I've ever listened to. I'm a big fan of James Horner, John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, and Alan Silvestri. I have a "Bill Stone's Party Mix" CD that's made up almost exclusively of their music.
I have a great deal of respect for Goldsmith specifically. His score for Star Trek - The Motion Picture was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal movie. Indeed, Goldsmith was told by TMP director Robert Wise that since time constraints were going to cause the movie's final cut to be very rushed, the score needed to literally take the place of a sound effects treatment. Goldsmith succeeded admirably with that movie's score, and it was only with the recent release of the Director's Edition of ST-TMP that it became apparent just how much of the movie relied on the score.
(As an aside: I heartily recommend the aforementioned Director's Edition. ST-TMP wasn't finished by the time it hit the movie screens in 1979. Robert Wise went back and finished the movie, tightening the edit and adding a handful of storyboarded-but-never-completed visual effects sequences that truly "finish" the movie. This wasn't done with the gratuitous approach used in the Special Editions of Star Wars, Episodes IV through VI, either. These are shots that were in the original storyboards and simply never completed due to time constraints. While the script is such that it will never be GREAT, the Director's Edition is a much more polished film than was released in 1979.)
It's hard to imagine that the same Jerry Goldsmith whose score literally carried ST-TMP is responsible for Nemesis. As an example: I usually make a point of sitting through the end credits of Trek movies in order to listen to the music through the end. Goldsmith's Trek end credits music are all classically formulaic (which is actually a GOOD thing for the end credits): they begin with the Alexander Courage "Star Trek Fanfare," which leads into Goldsmith's own famous Trek theme. After the second refrain of this, themes from throughout the movie are repeated a few times, followed by another couple of refrains of the Goldsmith Trek theme. It all winds up with a large fanfare as finale.
All was going normally, but timing was so bad that the finale came and went -- and the credits kept running! The score then went into more themes from the movie, which simply no longer fit after the ending fanfare. The only time I'm aware that this was done previously was John Williams' score for Superman, and in that instance it was forgivable: Williams wanted his "Love Theme From Superman" track to run unaltered because director Richard Donner completely ruined the onscreen version with Margot Kidder's awful voice-over. In that instance, it works. In the instance of Nemesis, it's just poor timing and lazy scoring.
This is, unfortunately, extemely indicative of the quality of the score in general. The only bright spot in the is in the last five minutes of the movie, when Goldsmith echos his "Enterprise" track from ST-TMP over shots of the Enterprise-Ein drydock. Of the five Trek movies that Goldsmith has scored, this is his worst. It may have been the worst score of his motion picture career, though I'd previously given that dishonor to Supergirl. I don't intend to buy the soundtrack CD until I can find it used: twenty dollars is far too much to pay for it.
Been there. Done that.