Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.
I don’t mean to make Rick Berman cry. Harry... he may well have meant to make Rick Berman cry. But me? I’m innocent, man. I’m just the messenger. After all, I haven’t even seen NEMESIS. I’m just here to present the always lovely and charming Alexandra DuPont, who wants to spit on...
... actually, why I don’t I let her explain it to you?
ALEXANDRA DuPONT's NOTES TOWARD A REVIEW OF "STAR TREK: NEMESIS" — with ACCOMPANYING MANIFESTO of UTTER DISGUST and CALL to ACTION
This is it, "Star Trek" fans. The party's over. The streak is broken.
Star Trek: Nemesis is the first-even-numbered film in the series to sport flaws that actually make it a bad, uninvolving film.
Think about that. Think about the middling standards the series has set for itself over the past few years. This is different. Now you "Trek" fans have two lousy films in a row — coupled with two mediocre TV series in a row — combined with slipping box office and ratings and the increasing marginalization of your audience.
I'm sort of a lapsed-Catholic Trekkie. I think "Star Trek" used to be great, that it used to court something like a mainstream audience, that it tapped into something special and universal. It was sexy and funny and passionate and goofy and dumb. It swelled with beef-fed ham actors arching their eyebrows and women in go-go-boots and bright colors and just the right mix of pretension, ideals, sex, and violence. No longer. Having seen "Nemesis"; having walked out of the theater numbed and bored, despite wanting the film to succeed; having realized that the series has been marginalizing itself for a while; and having felt my apathy turn to annoyance and then anger over the past few days; I feel compelled to address fans with something like a rallying cry.
Your beloved science-fiction series is at a crossroads, Trekkers — it's in a major state of crisis — and this is true no matter what Rick Berman says about the loyalty of his "core audience." We're talking last-two-seasons-of-"The X-Files" here. We're talking red alert with the warp core dripping antimatter on Geordi LaForge's head.
I know, I know: Fanboys and -girls have been saying this sort of thing about "Trek" for a while — ever since Insurrection and Voyager spread a marmalade of blandness over what used to be a passionate, ambitious, flawed franchise. This is different. This is sadder. And, I'd argue, this could be damn near fatal for "Star Trek"'s future.
Writing the above gives me no joy. Despite a reputation culled by my Star Wars prequel reviews, I actually, genuinely want all genre entertainments to succeed — as entertainment, as fantasy, as thematic riff, as pure cinema. I love big, bold fantasies the way little girls love ponies. (It's why I started submitting essays and reviews to Ain't It Cool News instead of, say, the letters page of the Cokono County Gazette.) And as a film writer and fan, there are few things I find more exasperating than a once-great series that's lost its way.
* * *
So what's wrong with Star Trek: Nemesis? Frankly, there's not much I can write here that Harcourt Fenton Knowles didn't express with more blind, passionate, three-dotted rage a couple of days ago; I agree with almost everything he wrote, and the less said about the film, the better. Suffice to say that Nemesis tries very, very hard to be Star Trek II — which I consider to be one of the great American movies, no joke — and in failing to actually be Star Trek II, it reveals every way that the series has gone to seed.
Where Wrath of Khan killed a major character and explored the cost of sacrifice, Nemesis kills a major character and immediately provides a perfect, albeit dumber, replacement — denying the audience some pleasant dramatic catharsis, playing it safe, making sure no one's too terribly traumatized, and boring the living piss out of every single person in the audience as a result. (All the dramatic betrayals of Star Trek III in the last five minutes!)
Where Wrath of Khan sketches a strong, motivated villain, Nemesis sketches an admittedly charming pretty boy who wanders in and talks about being evil. And Nemesis surrounds this pretty boy with a gaggle of back-stabbing co-conspirators, but never explores the Shakespearean proportions of their treachery.
Where Wrath of Khan is funny, Nemesis is occasionally goofy and mostly bland. Where Wrath of Khan has a propulsive, linear plot, Nemesis meanders through subplots about androids and weddings and gratuitous psychic rape — feeling more like a collection of set pieces the filmmakers wanted to string together than an actual story.
Where Wrath of Khan is clean and terse and memorable, Nemesis is entirely too chatty for its own good — and its story is propelled by just the sort of technobabble that pretty much every "Star Trek" fan but Rick Berman has had his or her fill of. (I mean, come on; the Enterprise is drawn into the story by detecting a bunch of android parts lying in pieces on a far-flung planet's surface? What the hell kind of booby trap is that? This from a series that produced the Genesis Device?! That produced V'ger?!)
Both movies are kind of cheap-looking. Nemesis is cheap-looking and poorly lit.
Most critically, where Wrath of Khan climaxed in a space battle that was painful and funny and kind of cheap-looking but nevertheless laced with dramatic beats and structure, Nemesis climaxes in a much more convincing and elaborately staged battle that nevertheless lacks something essential — that little extra bit of dramatic passion that distinguishes a film sequence from a video-game cut-scene.
I'm probably being too harsh. Maybe hard-core fans will find something to recommend here. There are some good ideas and shots and performances here, particularly from ever-reliable Patrick Stewart. Tom Hardy is sexy and well-spoken as Shinzon. Geordi looks surprisingly cool. The new Romulan warbirds are graceful and swooping and long, and I've always had a soft spot for the treacherous look of the Enterprise-D. But the whole thing just utterly fails to hang together, to compel. The result is a sort of brown noise that made me feel something that even the worst Star Trek movie never made me feel — a real sense of waste.
* * *
The reason I'm writing so "angry," BTW, is because I know what "Trek" has been. The original series wrestled with Big Ideas on paperboard sets, and it was positively dripping with sex and charm. (That fab "Deep Space Nine" episode where they travel back to the "Trouble with Tribbles" episode riffed on the series' lost sensuality at some length.)
"Classic Trek" also had a real sense of showmanship; the actors, to a thespian, just dove right in and made that nonsense sing. Sure, every other planet looked like a high-school staging of "I, Claudius," but it didn't matter; there was so much good will on display, so much goofy liberal idealism underpinning everything, that when George Takei ripped off his shirt and twirled a fencing sword, you just sort of rolled with it. And for God's sake, it featured television's first interracial kiss — and it was a damned good kiss, to boot.
After a rough start, the film series carried the standard. The Motionless Picture had the Big Ideas, but the paperboard sets were gone, and with them went the sex and violence. The whole thing felt like a glorious floating board meeting. But then Wrath of Khan poured all the passionate camp back in, along with some big-screen tragedy — and the result was a remarkable scene chew.
As the film series chugged and sputtered along — often flawed, occasionally stupid, but always fascinating — "The Next Generation" reinvented small-screen "Trek" as a terrific maritime soap opera, all of it shouldered by some of the most charming (and, in Stewart's case, versatile) actors ever to grace the small screen.
At this point, which probably marks "Star Trek"'s true Golden Age, the series was firing on all pistons; like the best James Bond movies, "Trek" made its audience feel "sophisticated" even as it indulged certain base desires. Bond indulged a need for sex and violence while making you feel cool; "Trek" indulged a need for sci-fi thrills while making you feel like you were grappling with something, you know, "profound." (AND it threw in some sex and violence, to boot.)
And then things started to dilute.
As a casual fan, I never really got into "Deep Space Nine," but I hear it ended up being pretty good and mammoth and Shakespearean, and it starred Hawk from my favorite TV show ever, "Spencer for Hire." But excuse me while I climb the lofty slopes of Mt. Obvious and write that "Voyager" and Insurrection are where "Star Trek" really, genuinely lost it — where "Trek" started looking like it was set in a Sheraton hotel lobby and the series became obsessed with maintaining its "universe" and the story editors started piling on temporal anomalies and other ass-forged deus ex machina in a blatant underestimation of their audience and nobody ever got their shirt ripped during a fight or got dirty or drunk or laid. The series, which had started out glorying in all that was human and raw and sexy, confined its "sexuality" to icy bondage queens like Seven of Nine and T'Pol.
I really think, in latter-day "Star Trek," that this confinement of "sexuality" to closed-off, repressed women in S&M bodysuits is more telling about the failure of the series than people realize. (Nemesis has the same problem; the only real sex in the film involves a fairly graphic psychic rape perpetrated on Deanna Troi that's just plain ugly. And Picard asks her to submit to it again for the sake of the crew!) On the other hand, Classic "Trek" was omnivorously lustful — everyone always looked like they were about to rip off their clothes and tumble into bed with one another, sweating and arguing all the while. It was human, in other words, and that was comforting.
* * *
When you see, Nemesis, you may feel the same way I did — appalled, but only because you've loved "Star Trek" and want good things for it. I throw down the gauntlet: What are you, the true fan, going to do about it?
Here's what I propose: Cancel "Enterprise." Take a year off. Create a new series set on the original, 1960s NCC-1701, commanded by Robert April (who, according to "Trek" lore, preceded Captains Kirk and Archer on the paperboard bridge). Cast a cheesy, over-emoting, handsome actor as Capt. April; a friend wisely suggests Cary Elwes. Bring back the bright colors, the curvy women in big hair and boots, the beefy men who profess Jeffersonian ideals while punching their enemies and arguing with their friends and drinking to excess. For God's sake, put the Hemingway back into "Star Trek."
I'll be happy to write the pilot episode on spec.
Warmest, Alexandra DuPont.firstname.lastname@example.org