Sunday, July 31, 2016

Star Trek into Darkness (2013)


So the 2009 version of Star Trek did something I didn’t think was really possible. It got mainstream viewers back into the theaters to watch a Star Trek film. Was it the magic combo of J.J. Abrams and lens flares, or was there some techno-babble validation that Spock could rattle off for us? In any case the success of the film was enough to convince Paramount to get a sequel in the works. I for one was looking forward to seeing where the crew trekked next. But was Into Darkness the destination I had in mind?


Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) finds himself in a bit of trouble when he ignores the Prime Directive during a mission, and exposes a pre-space faring culture to the sight of the Enterprise rising from the ocean. Kirk faces disciplinary action, but not before the Federation’s base in London is destroyed. Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller) believes that a terrorist named Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) was involved. After Starfleet headquarters are attacked in San Francisco, Marcus sends Kirk and the Enterprise on a covert mission to attack Harrison who is hiding in Klingon space.

Kirk is all for the mission, but Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Scotty (Simon Pegg) are disturbed by it. Scotty even resigns his post, and Dr. Carol Marcus (Alice Eve) picks up point on the new photon torpedoes that the Admiral has given them. As the mission proceeds, Kirk makes a fateful decision that will put him at odds with Marcus and face to face with an enemy who will spell doom to a member of the crew. Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, John Cho, Anton Yelchin and Bruce Greenwood join in this Star Trek into Darkness.

Good Points:
  • Amazing visuals and sound design in this film
  • Excellent acting by just about everyone in the cast
  • Has great pacing and tells a compelling story

Bad Points:
  • Aims for a more dower atmosphere
  • Some of the familiar plot beats are going to be too distracting for some viewers
  • Those looking for less action than the 2009 film are going to be disappointed.


This movie gets a bad rap, but it is solidly entertaining and is actually a better made film than its predecessor. Cumberbatch brings a lot of gravitas to his role and makes for an excellent antagonist to our favorite crew. Meanwhile the plot delves into a moral dilemma that is relevant in traditional Star Trek fashion. While I was hoping for a film more about space exploration, what we got instead was a military thriller set in the Star Trek universe. It works well and is worth checking out, if you can get past some of the familiar surface plot and character points.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 5
Sound: 5
Acting: 4
Script: 3
Music: 4
Direction: 4
Entertainment: 4
Total: 4

In Depth Review

You can't keep a good starship down.
I really enjoyed the 2009 version of Star Trek. I thought Abrams took a lot of the elements I love about the franchise and modernized them. He also brought a sense of fun and excitement to the films, something I feel had been sorely lacking in the last few installments of the series. That said, I was looking forward to seeing the new version of the crew journey to those strange new worlds and meet unique aliens and have adventures that thrilled and inspired. Well, Into Darkness has a very different agenda, and I have to say that I was a little disappointed when I figured out where this movie was headed.

I mentioned in my review of Nemesis that I think Paramount is really fixated on The Wrath of Khan, and that they feel that film is the template that all other Star Trek films must follow. I remember the writers saying early in preproduction for this film that they were going to focus on space exploration and not include a central villain in the story. They would instead have the conflict build from the unknown. That sounded great to me!

Has the Enterprise met her shadow self?
But at some point, gears were shifted and a new script was crafted. If this was a second movie in a “new” franchise then it needed to mimic the second movie the classic series. It needed to be Wrath of Khan. And how excited were the studio execs when they realized they could mimic the older film and get away with it because hell, this is a new continuity. So the ship was on course for Wrath of Khan with bigger special effects and lots more action.

The thing is Abrams and his writing crew took the story of Khan (and most importantly Space Seed the classic episode that introduced us to Khan) and used it as a starting point. Instead of making this a tale of one man’s revenge against Kirk, they turned it into a military thriller in which the crew of the Enterprise finds themselves trapped between a terrorist and a ruthless government. Into Darkness does what the 2009 film didn’t do: present us with current social problem in the lens of science fiction adventure.

This becomes the major stumbling block for a lot of people. If you can’t get past the concept of Into Darkness reimagining the story of Khan and his conflict with the Federation, then you just aren’t going to enjoy this movie. All the beats are there, with a few deviations. You know how the film is going to end, and even be able to predict some of the dialogue.

"No, I'm not Loki, I'm Khan. Not even the same actor...
are you even paying attention?"
Beyond that Benedict Cumberbatch is in no way Ricardo Montalban. Now some folks will say that is a good thing. But if Montalban’s performance as Khan in the original series is seared into your mind you may have disconnect issues seeing Cumberbatch in the same role (even if they spend the first portion of the movie calling him Harrison).

But leave aside those elements and focus on the film as part of the new direction of the franchise. Does Into Darkness continue the growth of the characters, the world of Star Trek established in the 2009 timeline, and provide an action packed adventure. I think it does. In fact, I hear people calling this one loud dumb movie, and I’m not sure where they are coming from. Did they see the same film I did?

Admiral Marcus' model collection is the envy of the
From a visual standpoint, Into Darkness continues the look and feel that Abrams brought to the series. There are some new away team outfits as well as new ships like the Vengeance dreadnaught that appears in the second half of the film. Like the previous film there are neat touches like the Admiral uniforms that echo the admiral uniform Kirk wears in Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

Abrams does stick to his lens flares, so if those annoy you, well you aren’t going to get away from them here. But I did find this film to be edited a little smoother, and actually have a lot less shaky cam going on it. In fact most of the action scenes and big special effects moments are top notch, another high point for the series.

The subdued colors are seen when the crew is not
on the Enterprise.
Fitting the name, the visuals in this film shy away from the popping color of the previous film. Instead a lot of the film occurs in the dark or with the primary colors being white, black, grey and steel. This fits the films approach to the political spectrums in the film. Kirk is presented facts that he feels are concrete. Black is black. White is white. But once he meets Khan, he realizes that none of that may be true, and that Admiral Marcus may be lying to him for reasons that are very much grey.

Much of the sound effect work continues to be top notch. Once again Ben Burtt that mastermind behind the amazing sound effects of Star Wars returns to supervise the sound design. We get a mix of the old and new and it works wonders in supporting the visuals of the film.

Michael Giacchino is back as the composer. His work for the 2009 Star Trek was really impressive. He continues his winning streak with Into Darkness. He brings back his bold and heroic theme for the Enterprise and Kirk. This time he uses many variations to keep things interesting. He also brings back Spock’s theme a couple of times, but not quite as fleshed out as we got in the 2009 film.

"What are you looking at, smooth head?"
Where Giacchino really shines are with this three antagonist themes. First up is the brash and aggressive music for the Klingons. While not quite as distinctive as Goldsmith’s Klingon theme from The Motion Picture, we get a theme that uses bold choral chanting – in the Klingon language! Next up is the theme for the Vengence. This theme is a little sad, but one that can turn aggressive very easily. We hear it quite a few times in the film, often mixing and playing with Khan’s theme – stressing the relationship between Khan and Marcus.

Khan does get a theme, one that is calculating, building slowly to greater and greater intensity. Giacchino uses it to great effect in the score, again playing it subtly when Khan is at work. One of my favorite moments in the film and in the score is when Kirk and Khan attempt to board the Vengence by propelling themselves bodily through space. Giacchino plays Kirk’s theme in counterpoint to Khan’s creating one hell of a musical ride that builds and builds in excitement. Giacchino is one of my favorite film composers working today and his work in the Star Trek franchise is consistently great.

Scotty pleads his case to Kirk.
The cast continues the fine job they started in 2009. Pine as Kirk gives us a very assured performance, with some small Shatner touches here and there. Quinto really understands Spock and his interplay with Kirk and Uhura makes for some interesting moments in the film. He also gets to shine a bit at the end when he faces down Khan in San Francisco. Karl Uban is just plain awesome as Bones. He gets a couple of key scenes, but I wish he had a bit more screen time. The same goes for Saldana as Uhura, Cho as Sulu and Yelchin as Checkov. While each character gets to contribute to the plot in some way, they really seem to be background to the primary conflict between Kirk, Marcus and Khan. Only Pegg as Scotty gets a bit more meat in his role. He is the voice of reason against Marcus’ mission and plays an interesting counterpoint to Kirk early in the film.

Carol pleads her case to the Admiral.
For the new roles in Into Darkness we have some key performances. Alice Eve as Carol Marcus is good in the underwritten role. Sadly she feels like she was added to have another girl in the movie who ends up standing around in her underwear at one point. Ouch did that moment feel forced (and Abrams has pretty much admitted it was). Peter Weller makes for fine commanding officer. His fear and distrust come through in spades, and he does a good job playing against Kirk and Khan. Another key role is filled by Bruce Greenwood reprising his role as Admiral Pike. He is a surrogate father figure to Kirk, and his actions act as a catalyst for the main crux of the film. Greenwood’s performance really helps these two films, especially his relationship to Kirk.

Khan doesn't plead to anyone.
Finally there is Cumberbatch as Khan. I think he does an excellent job in the role. He is calculating, menacing and passionate. All these elements rolled into one very dangerous individual who is driven to accomplish his goals. Cumberbatch plays the part to the hilt, and makes one of the best antagonists in the series. It is a different take on the same character, but still feels true to the character. It took me a couple viewings to separate his performance from the one in Wrath of Khan, but the movie works as well as it does because Cumberbatch is fearsome and yet we understand why he is doing what he is doing.

"The needs of the many... oh wait, wrong movie."
Or is it?
For the most part the script to Into Darkness works well enough. It delivers plenty of action scenes. It delves into the political thriller element with skill and presents us with an interesting core conceit. How far should a society go to fight fear and terror? Is it right to put innocents in peril or attack perceived enemies in territories under the rule of others? Do we let fear turn us into what we fear most? By the end of the film Kirk and the crew deliver the message that we shouldn’t fall into that trap. Admiral Marcus could take the higher ground, but instead gives into his fear. He brings Khan back, and in so doing creates a new enemy that turns out to be his undoing. In an effort to protect people from a perceived threat, Marcus causes the injury and deaths of many in San Francisco at the end of the film.

On its own, I think this core concept is a great one. Unfortunately the writers are locked into the Wrath of Khan template. And so they are forced to kill off a key cast member, because Wrath of Khan did it. Some people defend this as a way of reinforcing the mirror concept of the two timelines, and Spock Prime’s key scene suggests such a thing. That’s all well and good, but it doesn’t change the fact that Kirk’s “death” in this film feels unearned and resolved way too quickly.

Let the rage of a million Trek fans consume you!
When Spock dies in Wrath of Khan it had impact because of the years we spent with him in the television series, books as well as The Motion Picture. Leonard Nimoy was the embodiment of that character and his death had impact. On top of that bringing him back was the plot of an entire film The Search for Spock. That movie made the price for brining back a friend very high indeed. It felt earned in both cases.

Sadly Into Darkness feels like it is just mimicking those films because they were beloved. Kirk’s death feels flat because we haven’t been with Pine’s performance over years and several adventures. And his return just seems too convenient and pat. It isn’t a deal breaker for me, but it does harm the ending the film when it wants to deliver its biggest punch, it falls flat.

One of the more creative and thrilling scenes in
the whole franchise.
That said, I really enjoy Star Trek into Darkness. I think it delivers a story that does have impact and power (until those final sequences). I think Abrams’ film is better constructed and executed over all. And while it wasn’t quite the space adventure film I was hoping for, it makes for a film that sits along well with Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country in its take on political thrillers.

"Wait, you're a guardian of the what?"
"Wait, you're a Rider of what?"
The Enterprise prepares for some Vulcanology.

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Friday, July 29, 2016

Movie Music Musing: Trekking with Giacchino

When J.J. Abrams was engaged on to help reboot Star Trek in 2009, he brought his composer of choice Michael Giacchino. I was thrilled by this because I think Giacchino is one of best film composers working today. His energy and enthusiasm come right through in his music. His is great at hitting the emotional beats of a story and keeping things moving with exciting action music that utilizes themes and doesn’t rely on the modern technique of making loud audio wallpaper.

Giacchino is also great at adapting existing themes into new and interesting variations. He did this with his scores to Speed Racer and Land of the Lost, so I knew he would be certain to take Alexander Courage’s classic Star Trek theme and give us something grand.

With the release of Star Trek Beyond Giacchino has joined the ranks of Jerry Goldsmith as being the only composer to score three consecutive Star Trek films. What is even more impressive is that his music for all three films has been consistently great. He’s created memorable themes, given us interesting and effective variations of those themes and not just supported the movies, but given them their own unique identity with music. I hope Giacchino stays on board as the composer for this series of films, but if he moves on, we have three excellent scores to enjoy.

So without further ado here are some of my favorite tracks from the three films.

Giacchino’s main Star Trek theme gets one of its best moments to shine in this track from the 2009 film. It is played when Kirk and Bones get their first glimpse of the Enterprise orbiting Earth. The track is called Enterprising Young Men showing Giacchino’s penchant for punny track titles.

For the film Star Trek into Darkness Giacchino gave us three new themes to enjoy. But one of the best is his character theme for Harrison/Khan. In the film we get to hear it in many different versions, but Giacchino got a chance to record a concert suite version of the theme, and here it is. I love how Ode To Harrison starts off quiet and sinister, but builds in a meticulous way until it becomes this powerful force of nature. Really fits the character.

When Star Trek Beyond rolled around Giacchino got a chance to write a lovely reflective theme for the crew during their time on the starbase Yorktown. This theme is quite different from what we’ve heard in the previous movies, but Giacchino makes sure it fits in his musical version of the Star Trek universe. The track Night on the Yorktown is already getting buzz for being a contender for track of the year in film score fan circles.

Later in 2016 Giacchino will score the Marvel film Doctor Strange so I’m looking forward to hearing what he comes up with for that (and if it will have a little nod to Harrison’s theme). But I’m glad he got a chance to score Star Trek Beyond and continue to build the audio world of this film franchise and take it boldly into an undiscovered country.

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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Hush (2016)


Don’t confuse this movie with Hush that came out in 1998 with Gwyneth Paltrow. This movie comes for the director of Oculus and the disturbingly dark Absentia. It moves away from the supernatural character based horror of his previous films. Instead we get a thriller that can sit along proudly with other recent takes on the genre like Grand Piano and Passion. You may want to get the edge of your seat ready for some use.

Maddie (Kate Siegel) is an author working on her latest novel. She figured the best place to do this is in her isolated cabin, where her only companion is her cat. Her nearest neighbors are Sarah (Samantha Sloyan) and John (Michael Trucco). Sarah has become good friends with Maddie’s and the two spend time talking about her work.

Well Sarah is also practicing her sign language, because Maddie is deaf and unable to speak. This makes things especially problematic when a masked stranger (John Gallagher Jr.) arrives in the night and decides to add Maddie to his escalating kill count. But has this over-confident killer taken on more than he bargained for, or will Maddie’s silent death be the climax of this tale.

Good Points:
  • Kate Siegel gives an excellent performance in tough role.
  • Director Flanagan knows just how to ratchet up the tension
  • Excellent use of a single location to drive the isolation fear

Bad Points:
  • Anyone looking for a movie with lots of gory kills is going to be disappointed.
  • Fans of supernatural horror will be disappointed – no monsters here
  • I can see a few people finding this boring.


While I wasn’t the biggest fan of Oculus I really did like this movie. Sigel does a great job in the role. You really like her and fear for her. Gallagher is menacing, and the script does a good job keeping him creepy but smart. Yes, the movie is a reimaging of Wait Until Dark, but I think this film does a fine job building suspense and thrills in equal measure. Well worth seeking out if you are looking for a good thriller.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 4
Sound: 5
Acting: 4
Script: 4
Music: 3
Direction: 4
Entertainment: 4
Total:  4

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Friday, July 22, 2016

Nostalgia Nugget: Star Trek was Always Around - Part 2

If you didn't get a chance to read part 1, check it out first to read my thoughts and memories about Star Trek the original series.

Q's Galactic Nets. Keeps freshness in and keeps
Picard out!
Star Trek was always around.

But I have to admit in 1987 I was way more into Star Wars. It was the ten year anniversary of my favorite space adventure series, and I was really getting back into it at that time. I was listening to the scores on cassette tape and reading my Role Playing Game book, and even writing my own fan fiction. But that is when I heard about a new Star Trek series coming to television

At this time I had a friend who insisted everyone call him Spock, even our teachers. Seriously. I went to school with "Spock" for two years of junior high, and he ended up going to a different high school. I ran into him a couple years later during summer school, and greeted him as "Spock". Wow, he looked like I had slapped him. The guy had gone all goth and Depeche Mode in the past couple years. Star Trek was far behind him. He may have insisted I call him by his true name, but I still thought of (and think of) him as "Spock".

Spot tried to watch Encounter at Farpoint.
I'm not sure what happened to "Spock" in those two years, but I can tell you what happened when I watched the first episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. It was actually a pretty big event in my house. We got the VCR ready to tape the episode, which was a full two hour (two episode) event. I don't remember if my grandmother was still living with us at that point (I don't think so), but we were still fans because of the films in the 1980s.

So Encounter at Farpoint starts, and we are enjoying the new characters, the new ship, the new look to everything, but also kind of puzzled at how much different everything looks and feels. Then about one hour into the episode one by one my family starts getting distracted and vanishing from the sofa. I was the only one left to see the ending. To this day, I don't know if the rest of my family has seen the whole episode.

Now, I do remember revisiting the taped version (commercials and all) a few times over the years and having the same issue. I thought maybe I just wasn't giving it a chance. But it took its damn time doing anything, and that the story just wasn't terribly interesting. I thought Q was pretty cool and funny, but the rest of the episode just felt kind of flat. I remember giving the next couple episodes a chance. But when you've got the one two punch of The Naked Now and Code of Honor, well let's just say, this isn't The Next Generation at its best. In fact Code of Honor is often listed as one of the worst episodes in the entire Star Trek franchise. You know right under Spock's Brain.

Wow, this picture is filled to bursting with nerdy
So I went back to Star Wars and kind of forgot all about The Next Generation for a while. I would catch episodes here and there. I specifically remember seeing Elementary Dear Data and Sarek which made a big impression on me. At some point I remember there being a big hullaballoo about Spock returning to Star Trek. I remember my family once again sitting down to watch both parts of Unification and wondering how it would all tie into Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. But time went by and I never really got into the series.

I still made a point of seeing The Next Generation films in theaters. But even though I found First Contact entertaining (Farmer Hoggit in SPACE!) I just didn't feel a connection to this crew. I ended up giving Insurrection and Nemesis a pass during the theatrical run, and saw them on home video.

Star Trek had a collectable card game too, but I
didn't care. TEAM DEATH STAR!
By this time we are in the 1990s, and I was still a Star Wars fan. But an odd thing happened in that decade. With Deep Space Nine and Voyager on the air, there was a saturation point to Star Trek that Star Wars just didn't enjoy. I think a lot of Star Wars fans got a little bitter about the whole thing and this strange rivalry started. Suddenly, you couldn't like both series, you had to pick one. I was on team Star Wars for sure, especially when the Timothy Zahn books and the collectable card games came out. With the Star Wars renaissance occurring I declared Star Trek too boring and cerebral to have fun. I ended up avoiding all things Trek (aside from the original series movies which already had the nostalgia glow on them).

Even Mr. Triquarter is begging him to stop.
Looking back on the whole thing it just seems silly. Kind of reminds me of the whole DC vs. Marvel debate going on these days. Trek vs. Wars - there was no winner. Because Star Trek ended up with Insurrection and Generations, and Star Wars got the prequels. We all ended up losing.

Still, when Enterprise was announced in 2001, I was willing to give it a shot. I liked the idea of tackling that period of history in the Trek universe. I also thought that Scott Bakula would make a great captain. It looked like there was going to be a good mix of adventure and action, so I was looking forward to it. So my wife and I sat down to watch the first episode Broken Bow and wow was it underwhelming. I thought it was going to be more about the prequel elements of the concept, but that didn't really seem to be the point. Instead it we were given some bland storytelling with a new coat of paint. And don't get me started on that odd decontamination massage scene - wow was that embarrassing.

"So we want you to take this survey after you watch
Broken Bow and tell us what you think."
We gave Enterprise about two more episodes, and they were mostly harmless, but not really engaging. Or at least not what we were expecting from something that was supposed to be leading up to The Original Series. It seemed way too much like The Next Generation, and missing a lot of the fun and adventure of the 60s series. The the trailer for the next episode featured the hilarious "pregnant man!" gag, and we just said "no thanks" and went back to watching anime.

I eventually changed my tune about The Next Generation. I knew too many folks whose opinions I respect tell me about some of the really great episodes of that series. Hell, even one of my video store friends (who was also a huge Star Wars fan) got into Deep Space Nine when the Dominion war heated up. He kept trying to convince me to give it a chance. I called him a traitor to the cause and tried to Force choke him - but yeah that just never works out for me.

A fan's vision of Star Trek anime!
Eventually The Next Generation appeared on Netflix download. I decided to give it a chance, and try watching a few of the episodes that people kept telling me were so good like Inner Light and Darmok and of course The Best of Both Worlds. That convinced me. Off and on over three years I watched all seven seasons of The Next Generation. It was quite a ride and I had a good time, getting to know and appreciate this crew and some of their stories and situations. It made The Next Generation films have a greater impact for me, and made me appreciate the Star Trek legacy even more. In the last couple years I've delved into Deep Space Nine and have been enjoying that series. Might be time to give Enterprise another chance too.

I really liked the series finale. Thought it was better than
most of the TNG feature films actually.
That said, Star Trek has always been around. There have been good stories and characters and bad stories and characters.  But I kind of like the comfort at having that galaxy out there. It is a vision of the future that is unique in some ways and so influential in others. With a new television series coming soon, I'm actually looking forward to it. I just hope that the first few episodes are more engaging then Encounter at Farpoint or Broken Bow.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

And Then This Happened... Star Trek

When it comes to Star Trek  the original series, there are plenty of goofy moments to pick from. But that is part of what makes watching the series so much fun. There are great stories, great characters and some really interesting and thought provoking plots. But there are just as many hilarious and over the top moments, not to mention silly looking costumes and giggle inducing dialogue. And let's not just pick on the original series here. Pick any episode from season one or two of The Next Generation and you can have some goofy fun as well. But today, you get to caption this scene from the episode Is There in Truth no Beauty?

And then this happened...

Friday, July 15, 2016

Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)


Until Star Trek Into Darkness came out, this was the Star Trek movie most reviled by fans. It was also the movie that signaled the end of Star Trek as a viable film franchise. It came out the same year as Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Die Another Day. It pretty much failed to attract an audience in that crowded year. Is the movie as bad as history suggests, or is this a sci-fi gem that is dire need of rediscovery?


Get your Sunday best ready, because Will Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) are finally getting hitched. It is nonstop shenanigans as Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) delivers his best man toast, and Data (Brent Spiner) sings Blue Skies. Geordi (LeVar Burton) sees what is inside one of the wedding gifts and cant figure out of Dr. Crusher (Gates McFadden) is a big ol’ perv or knows something about Riker that he doesn’t. As for Worf (Michael Dorn) he spends the whole reception staring down Wesley (Wil Wheaton) over a slight that that occurred over a decade ago but a Klingon never forgets.

What? That doesn’t sound like a great finale to the adventures of The Next Generation crew? Well how about a mysterious signal entices the Enterprise to stop by a world on the edge of the Romulan neutral zone. There they find a prototype of Data named B4 (also Brent Spiner). He isn’t quite as advanced as Data. This causes him to act like a five year old and make faces. Before (see what I did there) anyone can smack B4 too many times, the Romulans want to meet with Picard in person. Turns out their new leader, Shinzon (Tom Hardy) is eager to pursue peace. Picard is wary because the Romulans are tricksy folk. But he is an optimist. Shinzon turns out to be the leader of the Remans, a slave race that revolted against the cruel Romulans. But Shinzon himself appears to be human and even more disturbing – he is a young clone of Captain Picard. Before you know it Shinzon’s master plan to destroy Picard and the Federation is unveiled. Can our heroes defeat Shinzon and his massive new starship the Scimitar? And will one of our beloved heroes make the ultimate sacrifice to save the Federation?

Good Points:

  • Some of the best visual effects in the franchises history
  • Works an interesting theme of duality into the story
  • Patrick Stewart and Tom Hardy play off each other well

Bad Points:

  • The script is a mess
  • The movie can’t decide what it wants to be
  • Lacks the overall impact it should have


As far as series finales go Star Trek: Nemesis tries so hard to deliver. On the surface a lot of things seem to work. The movie has great production elements and the cast seems on board and does a good job. But the script tries to do too many things at once and does none of them very well. It delivers some good action set pieces and fine character moments. But anyone looking for a fitting sendoff for these characters should stick with the television series finale.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 4
Sound: 4
Acting: 4
Script: 2
Music: 4
Direction: 3
Entertainment: 3
Total:  3

In Depth Review

Oh pointy ship, oh pointy pointy.
It is strange that Star Trek: Nemesis and Die Another Day came out the same year. Both films have many of the same goals and the same problems. Both films ended up being one of the most reviled of the franchise. How did something that sounded so promising turning out so bad?

Quite frankly this film came out around this time Star Trek was feeling long in the tooth for a lot of folks. While some Trek fans were completely engaged in The Next Generation era of adventures, the general public still clung to the original series and its cast as the definition of Star Trek. First Contact was a success and got excellent critical marks, but it didn’t make as much of an impact as Paramount wanted it too. Insurrection fared worse, and many critics and fans calling it an expanded television episode that relied too much on knowledge of the series to pull in new viewers.

The studio wanted Star Trek: Nemesis to avoid those pitfalls. They wanted a big adventure movie that would pull in the viewers with action and edginess. It was also intended as the final hurrah for The Next Generation cast. The film would need to be some kind of celebration of these characters and all the adventures viewers had shared with them. In addition to all that, Paramount wanted a fresh perspective to the film. This worked well for them when they pulled in Nicholas Meyer in for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. They turned to director Stuart Baird who had never directed a science fiction film or Star Trek episode before.

Captain Picard is raring for off roading excitement!
One of the most obvious influences on Nemesis is The Wrath of Khan. This isn’t surprising, since Khan is considered by many fans and critics to be the best of the Star Trek films. In fact Khan’s influence looms large over all of the Star Trek films, usually to the other films detriment. So screenwriter John Logan has to frame his film like Wrath of Khan, with an over the top villain, a lot of space ship battles and kill a beloved character off. He also has to give each crewmember a moment to shine and give the film a finality to satisfy the Next Generation fans, something along the lines of the finale of The Undiscovered Country for the original crew.

It is tempting to call this script impossible. But lets just call it a supreme challenge. Sadly it was one that wasn’t conquered. The result is an unfocused script that harms a film with so much potential.

Let’s focus on some of the good points of Star Trek: Nemesis, because no matter how much it is hated, the movie does have some good elements. Visually, this is one of the best-looking Star Trek films. The visual effects hold up really well today and they looked spectacular when the film first came out. The starship battles are executed with skill and bring a lot of tension to the film. The Scimitar is one wicked looking ship, and is one of the coolest looking starships in the series.

Shinzon knows how to make an entrance.
The sets are pretty great looking too. My favorite is the Romulan Senate in the opening moments of the film. It provides a nice twist on traditional Roman architecture. Many of the ship interiors (where we spend most of the time) are also impressive. The room where Shinzon meets Picard for the first time is all shadows and mystery. It allows Tom Hardy to get a bit theatrical, and it works to his advantage.

One oddity is the decision to give this film a very dark look. Once the crew meets Shinzon most of the movie is a palate of grey, black and shadows. Even the Enterprise interiors are dimly lit. It is a stark contrast to the way the sets were lit in Insurrection and First Contact. It just feels like they were going for an obviously edgy feel, instead of working interesting lighting in as part of the story. That is something Star Trek: Generations did extremely well, and why it is probably the most visually dynamic of The Next Generation films.

"No seriously, that hair cut doesn't suit you."
I do like that the Remans look like aliens, not like humans with bumps on their head. I’m not sure why they look so different from the Romulans, it is never really explained. But I was just happy to see an alien that looked much different than a human. One thing I’m not a fan of is Shinzon’s outfit. I think they were attempting to make him look more like an insect with his iridescent chitin style armor. But there are some moments where he just looks silly and non-threatening, no matter how venomous Tom Hardy’s performance gets.

The sound effects retain all the traditional sounds of The Next Generation television series, but given a bit more power behind them. Since this movie features a lot of space battles, you get more weapon and explosion sound effects. Most of the new sound material revolves around the Scimitar and its weapons. All in all it is a solid mix of the familiar and new, just what you expect from a Star Trek sequel.

When it came to music, there was really no one else to go to. Jerry Goldsmith had provided scores to The Motion Picture, The Final Frontier, First Contact and Insurrection. He composed the main title theme for Star Trek: Voyager as well. In many ways Goldsmith was the musical sound of The Next Generation (along with Dennis McCarthy and Jay Chattaway who provided the bulk of the music for all the television series taking place in The Next Generation timeline). It was only fitting that Goldsmith compose the score to Nemesis.

That outfit... just... wow.
The movie Goldsmith was given to score was darker and more aggressive than any previous Star Trek film and this is reflected in his score. The primary theme is for Shinzon, and you can hear a really thoughtful and reflective version of the theme in the end credits suite. But through most of the score the theme is much more threatening and creepy. He works aspects of the theme throughout the score, underlining intense scenes or hinting at Shinzon’s role in the deception going on around the crew of the Enterprise.

Beyond that Goldsmith creates some exciting action music, using Shinzon’s theme, but also giving us a heroic version of his Star Trek theme from The Motion Picture. There is also a four-note motif that he uses quite a bit for the camaraderie of the Enterprise crew that he established in The Final Frontier and used in all his Star Trek scores since. He also reintroduces what some folks call the Federation motif that he used quite a bit in The Motion Picture whenever the crew was bustling around preparing for action.

This was one of the last scores Jerry Goldsmith composed for films. He was already very ill at the time of the composition. It was great to have him write music for one of the franchises he was best known for, and give us all one more spin around his musical galaxy.

"So, you seen Lore lately?"
One of the elements of the script that actually works well is the concept of duality and the concept of nature vs. nurture. Brent Spiner got to play off this with Data and B4 interacting in the film. The androids allowed Spiner to play to different roles, with B4 coming across as an even simpler version of Data. What is interesting is that the emotion chip that played a crucial role in Generations and First Contact isn’t referenced in Nemesis. There are a few moments where you think it would come into play, but it doesn’t. Still Spiner gives a very good performance as Data and B4, especially his farewell to Picard and the crew before he makes his final sacrifice.

Mirror mirror?
But the real highlight of the acting goes to Stewart and Hardy. The two men make for great counterpoints to each other. Obviously Stewart has played the role of Picard for years by this point, so he was very comfortable with the character. But I really like his performance as he faces a younger version of himself, one that was raised in an environment of hate and fear. Is there an innate quality of nobility and compassion in the DNA of Picard that can be brought forth? Or is Shinzon a completely different man, one forged by the fires of his experience. Hardy does a great job showing the potential for either option. His attempts to gain Picard’s trust feel genuine, but as the film progresses Hardy becomes more and more disturbed and vengeful. While not all of his motivations make sense (why attack Earth at all? Isn’t destroying Picard enough?) Hardy plays them to the hilt. He makes for an effective and challenging villain, certainly one of the best of the franchise – if he had only been given a script that was a bit more solid.

A couple of other new faces appear in Nemesis. Ron Pearlman plays the creepy Viceroy that hangs around Shinzon and looks sinister. Kind of a shame they don’t use Pearlman to better advantage, but he does a good job glowering at everyone. Dina Meyer as the Romulan commander Donatra gets a bit more meat to her role. She provides the Enterprise with some much needed information and aid. There is even a fun cameo by Kate Mulgrew as Admiral Janeway where she delivers some exposition, but it was nice to see her on the big screen.

The rest of the cast gets to have their moments to shine and all of them do a fine job. Frakes and Sirtis probably get the most interesting moments in the film, but they also seem like the most shoehorned into the plot – just to give them something to do.

Some of the best action in the franchise.
That brings us back to the main issue with Star Trek: Nemesis, the horribly messy script. With a cast of characters this large, it is very difficult to get them all involved in some way. But it can be done. As much as people like to dismiss Abrams recent Star Trek films, his scripts always managed to give key plot moments and dialogue to all the characters. Nemesis does the same, but in such a clunky fashion. Obviously Picard and Data are the main draws for most fans, and most non-fans do recognize these two characters. So the script focuses all the conflict on these two characters.

But the rest of the cast has some minor moments to work on. Dr. Crusher helps analyze Shinzon’s blood and determine the medical issues the antagonist is facing. She helps Geordi with B4. Speaking of Geordi, he is pretty much around to be Data’s friend so when the big death scene happens he can look depressed. But Geordi and Data had formed a bond in the show and that does get played into a bit here. Worf gets to glower and say some ironic lines. But mostly he is around to shoot from the back of a dune buggy.

Some of the goofiest action in the franchise.
Yeah, that whole moment with the dune buggy chase and the lasers and aliens and Picard going all X-games on us… Well, it is just hilariously out of place. I end up laughing each time I see it. This is one of the main reasons the film feels so shallow at times. You get the feeling that these scenes were manufactured to get teen boys riled up about Star Trek. But I doubt it worked.

Then you have the whole Viceroy/Troi/Riker thing. In an attempt to give Troi something to do, the writers say that she can use her empathic abilities to find the Viceroy in the cloaked ship? How is this possible? Because the Viceroy and Shinzon try to mind rape her at one point in the film. Um… yeah. It is never explained why they attempt to mind rape her. Shinzon thinks she’s hot? I don’t know. Anyway it happens when Riker and Troi are getting steamy and it kind of kills the mood. Riker doesn’t like anyone killing his mood. So when the Viceroy leads an attack on the Enterprise Riker and the Viceroy engage in a pretty uninvolving and extended fight scene. Yeah Riker was always the man of action, but I’m sorry it just doesn’t work in Nemesis.

Now there's a Romulan!
Finally there’s the big sacrifice moment. You can see the writers attempting to mimic Wrath of Khan. It has never been confirmed, but I believe it was Paramount who keeps insisting the Star Trek films mimic Wrath of Khan time and again. The thing is, they miss the real reasons that Wrath of Khan is so beloved. It gives us a villain with stakes, a villain with a driving need to directly attack our heroes. It also gives us a sacrifice that is earned. We feel the death of Spock like a gut punch. Each time they attempt to do Wrath of Khan again, they fail at one of these elements.

In the case of Nemesis I think they actually got the antagonist correct. He does have a real reason for wanting to destroy Picard. The mirror can’t keep seeing itself. There has to be a “real” person. For Shinzon, Picard is the reflection that must be destroyed. Because of the medical issue of his cloning, he must kill Picard to save his life. Those are high stakes and they make perfect sense. But adding the destruction of the Federation to the mix is pointless and clutters the story in a way that is never delivered.

The sacrifice fails because of how it is resolved. I was invested when Data makes his final move. It feels right that he should attempt to save his friends and his father figure: Picard. It completes his journey to become human. Likke his human companions, Data is no longer immortal. He can die, and he chooses to die out of compassion – an emotion that he has developed over the journey of the story.

So far, so good.

"Is that seriously the last episode of Enterprise?
What the hell was that?"
But then you get B4 and the fact that all of Data’s memories were slid over to him. The film ends with a funeral that seems so subdued. Sad, yeah, but also kind of limp. When B4 wanders in, you get the feeling (right or wrong) that the crew realizes they still have Data around, and he’s been reset to Season 1 (or even earlier) so they can start all over again. Data isn’t really lost. This feels like such a cop out. Were the writers that afraid of killing Data? Nemesis loses its entire gut punch in those final scenes. And you realize that the only reason B4 was even in this mess of a script was to give them an out when they killed Data. Is that because they thought Nemesis would be a huge success and they might be able to squeeze out another film? Was it to give Spiner a chance to reprise his role in a later television series? Who knows. But it comes across as very misguided. The same issue would hurt Star Trek into Darkness.

Even at a wedding you can keep Picard from speechifying.
Director Stuart Baird ended up with a lot of footage for this film. He ended up having to trim it down quite a bit, and most of what was cut were character moments to celebrate the crew of The Next Generation. We found out what happened to Wesley, why Worf was hanging around and all kinds of stuff. But all that material had to be trimmed to keep the movie at two hours. Baird did the best he could, but the film ends up paced really strangely. It moves briskly and has plenty of action, but you feel all two hours. I’ve seen this film a few times and I still can’t figure out why the pacing feels so off.

Sadly Star Trek: Nemesis falls apart. All the seams in the script become painfully obvious. The manufactured feeling of the film further undermines the final experience. Insurrection has its flaws, but in many ways it feels like a better script more realized and grounded in the world of The Next Generation. Nemesis feels like a franchise flailing for relevance. It didn’t need to flail. It needed to trust its characters and the world it created to deliver an excellent, exciting and relevant story. At its core Nemesis has those kernels, but they never quite sprout. By the end of the film, you’ve had an entertaining time with the crew, but it feels like a missed opportunity.

The fine crew on their last voyage.