Star Trek: Nemesis Review

by Mark R. Leeper (markrleeper AT yahoo DOT com)
December 16th, 2002

STAR TREK: NEMESIS
    (a film review by Mark R. Leeper)

    CAPSULE: As the "Star Trek" series seems slowly to lose steam, here is one late uncharacteristic burst of life and energy, a science-fictional examination of the nature-nurture question. Picard and Data
    each meet physically identical copies of their
    former selves and each must deal with the
    similarities and differences. The question faced
    is, what makes a person who he is? Also there are the usual battles in space including one showstopper of a scene. Rating: 7 (0 to 10), low +2 (-4 to +4)
Over the last few years there has been less excitement in things labeled "Star Trek." The series, perhaps like many of its original fans, seems closer to the end than the beginning. The excitement seems to have disappeared. For both the films and the television show the danger has gone out of their universe as the crews in each series comes out on top week after week after week. Diverse new alien races introduced are more and more a fashion show of rubber appliques. Major characters are killed for dramatic effect, then brought back from the dead or replaced with nearly identical copies. The old fun and jeopardy are just not there any more. Bones and Scotty and Kirk and Spock used to be as interesting for their personal interplay as for their parts in the science fiction story. Now in the films the personal moments are an embarrassment that the audience hopes end quickly. It would be smart for the Trek writers to give up on having their characters try to sing or play Shakespeare. But as the series cools, STAR TREK: NEMESIS may be one late bright flash.

The title STAR TREK: NEMESIS does not really fit this film. Or rather it fits any other "Star Trek" film with a villain just about as well as it fits this one. A much better name might have been STAR TREK: DOPPLEGANGER since the story is really about both Picard and Data meeting and dealing identical copies of themselves. Picard meets a commander who was cloned from his own cells. Data meets a prototype of his model of robot. How does one relate to an identical equal? How does one compete? That is what this episode is all about and the intelligence of that science fictional question is what sets this above other episodes of the series. Of course, more than interesting concepts are needed for a "Star Trek" film. The ideas alone will not carry the rest of the film. (The "Star Trek" film with the most intelligent premise, no less than in inquiry into what distinguishes a valid religion from a false one, was STAR TREK V: THE FINAL FRONTIER. The ideas were really engaging, but the rest of that film was way out of kilter, and it became the most unpopular entry in the series.) NEMESIS does offer more. The action has a slow start, but in the second half it takes off. About the best the script offers for action in the first half is a silly dune buggy chase. The second half, however, serves up a show stopping visual image that is worth the wait.

I will not go into detail about the plot. Suffice it to say that the twin planets of Romulus and Remus (those *must* be the Earth names for them) are undergoing political upheavals. Their new leader is the Reman Praetor Shinzon (Tom Hardy), literally a clone of Picard. Shinzon offers much-desired peace to the Federation. Unfortunately he is not played by a heart-throb, there are harsh phonics in his name, and there are sinister chords in the musical score when we see him, so Picard is rightly suspicious of him. Meanwhile Data (Brent Spiner) is fascinated with a new robot found in pieces on a desert planet and reassembled. It is B4, a prototype of the robots that became Data and it looks just like him (also played by Brent Spiner, of course). The plot is one of the better ones for the film series, and it is not immediately obvious where the story is going except it is a good bet that it will involve space battles.

The old crew is around and good to see. Patrick Stewart, is, of course, a fine actor always, even if the "Star Trek" people do not give him enough new to do. At one point he does get a chance to wax poetic and say that like other commanders he awaits the dawn. Ironically, the piece is edited right into a look at the exterior of the ship which is in space and clearly has a long wait before what one would call a dawn comes. Brent Spiner is getting a little old to play the never-aging robot Data. Old Data may be unreliable. Jonathan Frakes seems to take little part in this story other than to get Will Riker married. That is fine by most of the fans. It is not clear how he has survived so many years of Picard giving the order to "Fire at Will." Ron Perlman is hard to recognize under his makeup, but I imagine he is used to that. Tom Hardy does not look or sound enough like Picard, in spite of trying to affect the accent (as if that part were genetic). I would bet that at some point in production Shinzon was supposed to be played by Patrick Stewart. They pose together in one scene as if the viewer is supposed to be surprised seeing two copies of the same person, but they are not enough alike to make that scene work. Another less likely possibility is that Shinzon was supposed to be played by Ben Kingsley. Kingsley and Stewart are reputedly close friends who are often mistaken for one another.

Overall the special effects are done competently, though certain scenes look cartoonish. The "Big Scene" is executed very well with a lot of information on the screen in exquisite detail. When the DVD comes out I am sure the fans will play the scene over and over. Jerry Goldsmith has provided a fine score re- using some of his familiar but welcome "Star Trek" themes. I rate STAR TREK: NEMESIS a 7 on the 0 to 10 scale and a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale. One thing I will say that the filmmakers got right that most sci-fi films get wrong. Data is absolutely right that an identical clone is not another version of the same person. Identical twins can be quite different in many ways, particularly if they have different backgrounds. Films like THE SIXTH DAY frequently get that concept wrong.

Mark R. Leeper
mleeper@optonline.net
Copyright 2002 Mark R. Leeper

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