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Star Trek: Nemesis, written by John Logan, directed by Stuart Baird, 2002, 120 min.

The tenth Star Trek movie is a considerable disappointment. Nemesis has pacing problems, wildly uneven characterization, scant attention to its purported main ideas, and less of a sense of scope and visual impressiveness than a big budget version of a television series should have. Worse, my sense of annoyance with the movie and its wasted opportunities soon faded, and Iím left with a mild regret at having seen it and not much else. This review will probably be more favourable than if I had written it immediately after watching the movie, mainly because of this absence of feeling.

Two storylines make up the main narrative of Nemesis. The crew of the Enterprise find an undeveloped prototype of Data, the famous android on the series, and subject to a number of such wrenching existential dilemmas. For an android who wants to be human, Data faces innumerable such challenges. In any case, the story develops in such a way that another member of the crew gets to share Dataís usual problem. As it turns out, the pieces of Data found on a remote planet were actually planted there by design, in order to lure the Enterprise into the schemes and snares of a rebellious faction of the Romulan Empire. For long a secretive enemy of the Federation of our heroes, the Romulans now come into the light, and they prove to be a less than worthy adversary. For one, their entire ruling body is rather easily assassinated by poison gas. Even more embarrassingly, the person who has taken over the Romulan empire is actually a human, and in fact a clone of Picard, a clone whose political usefulness never came about and was thus exiled to slavery. Now returned, and with an attitude best described as whiney, the Praetor Shinzon has it in for Picard. Will Picard have to face an enemy as wily as himself? Why did Shinzon turn out to be such a villain and Picard such a hero? These issues of nature vs. nurture and the ethics of cloning are raised but not really resolved, as the story falls into conventional plot necessities, complete with glowing doomsday devices and the threat of the death of a main character.

Apart from the Data/Picard story, the now-secondary characters get almost nothing to do. Riker and Troi get married, and later Troi gets mentally assaulted in a plot detour that doesnít make much sense. If Shinzonís sidekick has the ability to attack Troi, the Enterpriseís Counsellor and strong psychic, why not make better use of the power? The engineer and doctor roles are hardly worth the effort for LeVar Burton and Gates McFadden, while Michael Dorn as Worf has perhaps even less to do. Dini Meyer and Ron Perlman as supporting Romulans also have to contribute what they can from beneath heavy make-up. That means that the movie has to rely on Data and Picard, and their stories just arenít strong enough.

Iíve already mentioned the doomsday device aspect of the movie. I guess thereís not really any other choice for supreme villains, by definition, except to try to destroy Earth with the ultimate doomsday device. It gets old fast though.

I know this is an old complaint, but the Prime Directive never seems to be foremost in the Federation officer modus operandi. The Prime Directive is a fabled bit of Star Trek history, a law for the enlightened society of the future by which they are prohibited from interfering with less advanced societies. The crew of the Enterprise usually ended up breaking the Directive, usually with good reason, and a good heaping of drama to go along with the decision. The Next Generation episodes mid-series were especially good at this. In Nemesis, they break the Prime Directive, and for a silly reason. Picard drives around a massively conspicuous dune buggy on the planet where they are trying to find the pieces of the prototype Data. The primitive natives soon show up, and shooting commences. Not very responsible! Especially since the sequence is not very exciting, itís edited flashily, overexposed as if that would make it interesting, and essentially pointless. It gave me time to think though: yes, the drama of the series requires that the captain or other officers make the trip to the surface, but any society that would take the Prime Directive seriously would take the time to build on their advanced teleportation technology to make a completely non-intrusive way of investigating less advanced societies.

That last bit sounds perilously like nitpicking, so Iíll wrap up my review before I get worked up about the contradictory societal impulses of the Federation. Star Trek: Nemesis is by no means the worst entry in the movie series, and it has a certain well-worn charm. Itís too bad that since the movie was such a flop that the series might not continue, or at least only continue after another long break. Star Trek didnít get to be one of the longest running science fiction stories by accident, so the franchise deserves another try. And maybe a break will let some stronger ideas percolate and come to fruition.


Last modified: May 6, 2003

Copyright © 2003 by James Schellenberg (james@jschellenberg.com)


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