As amusing detail in the Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987 to 1994) episode “The Pegasus” (Burton, 1994) is that the crew and children of the U.S.S. Enterprise-D celebrate “Captain Picard Day” on Stardate 47457.1, which roughly translates to this day, the 16th of June. They do this by producing drawings, models, and paintings that the bewildered Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) must then judge. I, however, am using this as another good excuse to delve into some more Picard and Next Generation content.
Released: 13 December 2002
Director: Stuart Baird
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Budget: $60 million
Stars: Patrick Stewart, Tom Hardy, Brent Spiner, Jonathan Frakes, and Marina Sirtis
After locating an earlier version of Lieutenant Commander Data (Spiner), B-4, in Romulan space, the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise-E soon discovers that the Romulan Empire has been taken over by Praetor Shinzon (Hardy), a young clone of Picard, who threatens to destroy both the Romulans and Starfleet with his highly advanced and unstable battleship, the Scimitar.
Following the conclusion of the popular Star Trek: The Next Generation, the crew, like their predecessors, moved into a series of feature-length films. Although the much anticipated meeting between Captain Picard and Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) failed to really deliver on the potential of its premise, it performed decently at the box office. The sequel (and one of my favourite Star Trek movies), Star Trek: First Contact (Frakes, 1996) performed much better, beating its predecessor by some $30 million, but the follow-up, Star Trek: Insurrection (ibid, 1998) failed to exceed at the box office or impress critics. For the fourth Next Generation movie, long-term cast member and director Jonathan Frakes was replaced as director by Stuart Baird, who wasn’t too familiar with the long-running franchise. Indeed, after numerous scenes depicting more character-based moments ended up being cut from the finished film to focus on action and many cast members questioned Baird’s suitability as director. For a film that was supposed to be the grand finale of the Next Generation crew, Star Trek: Nemesis was a crushing financial disappointment at the box office, with critics, and even with its main star. The film’s paltry worldwide gross of just of $67 million made Star Trek: Nemesis not just a box office bomb but also the lowest-grossing Star Trek film to date; it also saw any plans for a follow-up to be cancelled, and led to a major reboot of the franchise in 2009.
Star Trek: Nemesis begins without the usual Star Trek fanfare and drops us immediately into the political intrigue that forms the basis for the movie’s overall plot by opening with peace between Romulus and Remus being debated within the Romulan senate. Of course, this peace would be achieved through an imperial alliance under Praetor Shinzon that would allow the Romulan Empire to openly and directly oppose the might of the United Federation of Planets and, when the proposal is resoundingly rejected, the council is summarily executed. We then re-join the crew of the Enterprise-E at the long-awaited wedding between Commander William Riker (Frakes) and Counsellor Deanna Troi (Siritis), which also finally sees Riker being promoted to a position of captaincy and Data replacing him as Picard’s first officer. Picard’s best man speech is a particular highlight, emphasising his rapport with his crew and the central theme of the film: family. Picard sees his crew as family, his ship as home, out of both pride and necessity, since he is the last of his family line.
The wedding, of course, helpfully reunites the crew with Lieutenant Commander Worf (Michael Dorn), who picks up B-4’s positronic signal. The implications of such a signal intrigue Picard on Data’s behalf and (thanks to the ion storm of Kolarus III) gives him, Worf, and Data the perfect excuse to bust out a futuristic dune buggy. It’s not often we get so see wheeled vehicles in Star Trek so it’s a nice moment of levity for Picard, who begins the film in a far more jovial and mischievous mood than usual thanks to the wedding, and leads to a pretty decent, old-fashioned car chase and shoot out. Unlike Data and Lore, B-4 is an inquisitive, naïve, child-like being; a precursor to his big brothers, B-4 has the potential to be as advanced and evolved as Data but is limited by his less sophisticated technology and childish demeanour. His existence creates something of a crisis for Data, who begins to question his creation and life and the meaning of his own existence and raises interesting questions regarding our capacity for intelligence and how important experience and personality are to our development. The film briefly explores this by downloading Data’s memories and experiences into B-4 but it doesn’t immediately affect B-4 or allow him to evolve in the same way; for the most part, it seems to be a failure but, of course, by the end we’re left with the suggestion that B-4 could, in time come to be as advanced and experienced as his older brother.
Normally, it’s massively convenient that the Enterprise-E just happens to be the “closest ship” to the current crisis but, in this case, it actually does make sense since the ship was heading that way, drawn to nearby Romulan space by B-4’s signal, and it’s later revealed that the ship was specifically lured there by Shinzon. Shinzon is given quite a bit of build up prior to his actual appearance; as a Remun, a race bred to simply be cannon fodder and slaves for the Romulans, it is unusual that he has reached such a vaulted position but his threat is immediately established in the dramatic reveal of his supped-up warship, the Scimitar, and the monstrous appearance of his Reman viceroy (Ron Perlman).
Shinzon’s reveal is a stunning blow to the crew but especially for Picard; in Shinzon, he sees himself as a younger man, the son he always yearned for and the life he could have had were he exposed to the same traumas and horrors as the Reman warrior. As if it wasn’t immediately clear, Shinzon is a clone of Picard, bred to be placed as a destructive mole within the Federation, and exists as Picard’s obvious dark opposite. The crux of the film, and Picard’s arc, is reconciling that Shinzon’s true nature has been twisted, skewed by his experiences; to begin with, he believes he has finally found the chance to nurture a son and continue his legacy but, very quickly and harshly, learns that Shinzon desires nothing but power, destruction, and vengeance upon not just his Romulan overlords but the Federation itself. Shinzon is a charismatic and alluring antagonist; eloquent and calculating, he is perfectly capable of subtle manipulation and subterfuge and aggressive, uncompromising fury. Immediately after his introduction, we see that he has no interest in peace; he is merely curious by Picard’s existence but determined to destroy his enemies, viewing the Romulans, the Federation, and especially Picard with disgust and hatred. This is an intriguing element and really throws Picard for a loop but it’s unfortunately very underdeveloped as, almost immediately, we learn that Shinzon is a destructive, aggressive force, resentful of Picard and his other enemies, so he may as well have been introduced as a villain right away rather than through half-hearted subterfuge.
I can understand why people disliked Star Trek: Nemesis; for me, the film’s glaring flaw is the pacing. The film is very short and wastes a lot of its potential; it’s not often we get to really peel back the layers of Picard’s officious and complex personality and seeing him vulnerable, somewhat helpless against his dark doppelgänger was genuinely intrigued…for all of ten minutes or so. Similar to Star Trek Generations, the film squanders its potential but, unlike that film (which is largely a snore-fest), Star Trek: Nemesis does, at least, have a lot of action sequences packed into its run time. I mentioned in my review of Star Trek: First Contact that one of the few flaws of that film is the lack of space-based combat and, while Star Trek: Nemesis doesn’t really have a space battle until the finale, it does include an entertaining chase sequence and a shoot out between Picard, Data, and the Remuns aboard the Scimitar.
Again, though, the bulk of the film’s focus is on Picard and Data; given the plot of the film, this isn’t entirely unsurprising but it is still a bit disappointing. Riker and Troi’s long-overdue wedding is a central focus of the early part of the film but, very quickly, Riker is pushed to the background as simply a voice of concern among Picard’s crew. Troi gets an interesting sub-plot where Shinzon, enamoured by her appearance, initiates a mental invasion of her mind via his viceroy that is a very blatant allegory for rape but, again, this is only briefly touched upon. Clearly Troi is affected by this experience and she does get to extract a measure of revenge against her tormentors, but she also disappears for a lot of the film between these two events. Similarly, Doctor Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden) is barely in the film, Lieutenant Commander Geordi La Forge (LeVar Burton) exists mainly to debate the merits of B-4’s potential, and Worf doesn’t really get much of anything to do but man (Klingon?) the phaser banks.
As I mentioned, this isn’t entirely surprising and the film’s primary narratives revolving around Picard and Shinzon and Data and B-4 do go some way to making up for this. Picard is heartbroken and enraged at how selfish and disappointing his “son” is and the final confrontation with his doppelgänger is as much a fight for his (Picard’s) survival as it is against himself and the dark side that dwells deep beneath his morals and ethics. Similarly, Data is saddened by his younger brother, his childish nature, and his position as Shinzon’s slave. I mentioned earlier that family is a central theme of the film and that’s true; the idea is that the bond between a surrogate family of close friends and colleagues is just as strong as those between blood relatives. This is even reflected in Shinzon, who literally needs Picard’s blood to survive and who only truly confides and trusts in his viceroy, treating everyone else as disposable and expendable filth. In the end, both Picard and Data choose their surrogate family over their actual family, with Picard exorcising his dark half and Data willingly sacrificing his existence to ensure the survival of his family.
Of course, this ending draws immediately and blatant parallels to the classic finale of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (Meyer, 1982); while Data’s sacrifice kind of comes out of nowhere, so did Spock’s (Leonard Nimoy), if we’re being really honest, and both relate to the aforementioned themes of family and sacrifice that are prevalent in both movies. It’s a sudden and heart-breaking end to a beloved character but one, perhaps, long overdue since Spiner had desired to be killed off for some time. Like Spock, Data is able to create a kind of back-up or failsafe to ensure his legacy lives on, in some way, through B-4. The similarities don’t end there either, really: Shinzon is a more blatant dark mirror of Picard but Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalbán) was also a dark reflection of Kirk, his ship a dark opposite of the Enterprise, and his motivations similarly based on horrific experiences that he largely blamed his opposite for. It’s a deeply personal story for Picard, one that ties into themes that have brewing since, at least, Star Trek Generations and demonstrates that the difference between nature and nurture is often an extremely blurred line.
I can understand, to a degree, why Star Trek: Nemesis wasn’t received all too well but, honestly, I find it to be the second-best of the Next Generation films. It’s not a complete bore-fest like Star Trek Generations or Star Trek: Insurrection, featuring a lot more action and thought-provoking narrative elements but it’s still not quite on the same level as Star Trek: First Contact. Sadly, however, the film does squander a lot of its potential; the pace is very brisk and the film just doesn’t focus itself in the right ways. There’s a very intriguing story here, a deeply personal one, for the normally composed Picard but the potential of that story is thrown out the window all too fast as any question about Shinzon’s motivations is immediately rendered mute shortly after we’re introduced to him. Shinzon is, in many ways, a fascinating antagonist; he has every reason to hate his enemies and his motivations are as understandable as they are abhorrent but, sadly, not enough is done with the concept of him as Picard’s dark mirror. Still, I feel Star Trek: Nemesis is an underappreciated and overlooked film in the franchise; it’s worth a view for the potential of the Picard/Shinzon story and Data’s ultimate, poignant sacrifice alone and it’s easily the most aesthetically impressive of the Next Generation movies so I’d say it’s worth a bit more consideration that it got upon release.
What did you think to Star Trek: Nemesis? Where does it rank against the other Next Generation and Star Trek films for you? Do you agree that the film isn’t as bad as people made it out to be or do you think it deserves its negative reputation? What did you think to Shinzon and his position as Picard’s dark mirror, and to Data’s sacrifice? Do you think these elements were warranted or do you feel they were squandered? Would you like to see another go-around for the Next Generation crew or do you prefer to see new, unique takes on the franchise? How are you celebrating Captain Picard Day today? Whatever your thoughts on Star Trek: Nemesis, or Star Trek in general, go ahead and share them below.