Star Trek: Nemesis


This week Spock and Bones argue and Kirk falls in love with someone blonde.
      TV Listings magazine.

It is a well-known fact that only the even-numbered Star Trek movies are any good.

This proverb works so long as you limit your sample to the first two films. Star Trek-the Motion Picture is boring and pointless; Star Trek 2-The Wrath of Kahn is still the best thing that was ever done with the original characters. It falls down as soon as you recall that parts 3 and 4 were equally fun and parts 5 and 6 equally tosh.

It would be more accurate to say that each movie is a reaction against the previous one. So the monumentally pretentious part 5 (Kirk and Spock find God) is a reaction against the extremely silly part 4 (the universe can only be saved by a whale); part 8 (a sci-fi movie with only tangential connections to Star Trek) is a reaction again part 7 (an elaborate fan-wank in which Kirk meets Picard and the Enterprise blows up.)

Nemesis is an attempt at doing Star Trek in the epic style—Romulans threaten to destroy the earth; Picard meets his evil twin; spaceships ram each other and a major character dies. (Clue: Not Captain Picard.) It has a number of Easter Eggs for fan-boys including a cameo by a major character from elsewhere in the franchise (Clue: Not Ben Sisko.) It is clearly a reaction to the sedate and laid back part 9 in which every one takes an extended vacation on one of those planets of Eternal Youth and Picard falls in love.

The early Star Trek movies at least had a sense of occasion. We tolerated The Motion Picture because it was so utterly amazing to see the Enterprise crew reunited; we even put up with Undiscovered Country because it gave us one last chance to re-visit characters that we used to have affection for. It was cool to see Star Trek hyped up to the scale of a Hollywood action flick: Wrath of Kahn was the first time we had seen the Enterprise engage in a battle with a special effects budget of more than two dollars and twenty cents.

But we have grown used to Star Trek being an on-going series; so a new adventure is nothing special. TV budgets have also increased so that with the exception of the pointless sand-buggy chase there was not much in Nemesis which couldn't have been seen at 6PM on BBC 2 on any Wednesday night. And curiously even though this very likely is the last time we'll see the Star Trek: Next Generation characters together, there was little sense of attending a reunion of old friends. It came across as something curious retro disorientating. After watching sixteen seasons of Sisko, Janeway and Archer going back to Picard and Data felt …old fashioned.

Classic Trek was always cast in the cinematic mould. Kirk-Spock episodes were independent entities with no character development in between them. They typically built up to massive and decisive climaxes, usually involving Kirk punching someone. Extending them to full-length movies made a great deal of sense. Next Generation and Deep Space 9 were much more televisual: their language was that of soap opera. Characters developed from episode to episode. Love affairs simmered over half a dozen stories; children grew up. So it is a positive disappointment, having watched dozens of episodes of Ryker and Troi failing to get off together, to suddenly find out that they are married. Interesting plot threads regarding Data's emotion chip and Ryker's unwillingness to take a promotion away from Picard are resolved in single lines. Deep Space 9 depicted a war against the Dominion over something like 40 hours of TV time. It made a good stab at implying that this was a real war in which real people were really dying. It is really quite a comedown in Nemesis for the Federation to be in danger from nothing more than a super-villain with a ray gun.

Classic Trek had a hero and two foils; Next Gen had seven main characters (eight including the kid) who took it in turns to come center-stage in different stories. This doesn't work in a movie. Picard has to carry the plot by himself but also compete for screen time with a bloated supporting cast. Dr Crusher pockets her fee but is given absolutely nothing to do.

The relationship between TV and movie continuity is uneasy. We hear references to the Dominan wars but find that Worf—last heard of as Federation ambassador to Kronos—has been demoted to security officer of the Enterprise. The Troi-Ryker romance, definitely off in "All Good Things", is definitely back on in Nemesis.

All of which is a shame because, on its own terms, there is absolutely nothing wrong with Star Trek: Nemesis. We get scenes on Romulus, some new aliens, an evil clone of Picard and a very good space battle. I give them lots of points for making the clone of Picard a younger man who in most respects is entirely unlike him. They stick with a broadly televisual pacing which gives Patrick Stewart lots of space in which to discuss the philosophy of genetic essentialism with his double. The movie was a good deal more interesting at the beginning when Mini-Picard is presented as an ambitious politician who wants to free the Romulan slave caste; it takes a boring down turn when he says, "No actually I'm a villain and I want to destroy the universe for no adequately explored reason." The tragic climax is both climactic and tragic. The actors are comfortable in their roles; we get a few minutes of Geordie and Data doing their buddy-buddy thing and even some eye-meeting between Picard and Crusher. Sadly, Troi doesn't get to counsel anybody, but she does get to have kinky telepathic sex. The sub-plot about a replica of Data remains rather un-developed. A shame: placing Data in the role of having to teach someone else to be human could have generated some good scenes. The movie avoids the toe-curling dreadfulness of the bad bits of Generations but it doesn't have any jaw-droppingly good bits either. It was a better 'final episode' of Next Gen than the one that was actually transmitted.

And that was the problem of course: it was not much more than an above-average TV episode. The only reaction was really a great big "So what?"

It seems to me that if there is going to be a part 11, Berman really needs to sit down and think about what Star Trek movies are for. We don't need another bumper TV episode. We might possibly need a movie which just happens to occur in the Star Trek milieu and which also just happens to include some characters who we remember from the telly. Or perhaps a completely new set of Star Fleet characters who we only meet on-screen. Or, just possibly, some apocalyptic crossover that is big enough to seem really important. (Maybe just before Kirk fell into the swirly thing in Generations he was sucked back to the time of Archer and has totally buggered the time lines; so a god-like alien bearing a striking relationship to Ben Sisko sends Picard and Janeway back into time to sort things out.)

But the best approach of all might be to accept the fact that Star Trek and cinema are not really the most natural of bedfellows and to concentrate on thinking up some decent storylines for Enterprise.