This past December, the December of 2002, I eagerly saw three big movies on their first days of release--Steven Spielberg's "Catch Me If You Can", "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers", and "Star Trek: Nemesis". To my surprise, I found myself thinking of "CMIYC" as a lesser movie than "Minority Report", "A.I.", and "Saving Private Ryan". To my surprise, "LOTR 2" was barely on the side of my good graces, meriting a six on DVD Town's ten-scale (I rated "LOTR 1" between an eight and a nine). Also to my surprise was that "Nemesis" turned out to be as good as "CMIYC".
Yes, I'm DVD Town's current "Trek" reviewer, but I've always thought that the franchise held more promise than has been realized. Most of the feature films are too long or don't have enough happening in them to sustain undivided attention. Some of the movies and TV episodes are downright bad. Therefore, no matter how excited the trailers for "Nemesis" made me, I had my reservations about just how good the film could be. I'm glad to report that "Nemesis" made up for how disappointing "Star Wars: Episode 2" was when it comes to space sagas.
"Nemesis" begins with William Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and Deanna Troi's (Marina Sirtis) wedding. In honor of the characters' different ancestries, the first ceremony takes place on Earth in Riker's Alaska. Later, en route to Deanna's mother's homeworld of Betazed, Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) receives orders to proceed to Romulus ("With or without the entire fleet?"). Apparently, the Romulans would like to make peace with the Federation and the Klingon Empire after centuries of hostile relations. What Picard and his crew don't realize is that a coup d'etat has occurred in the Romulan Star Empire, and for some reason, the inhabitants of the enslaved planet of Remus have become the new heads of state. Even more disturbing than the disruption of the Romulan political hierarchy is the fact that Shinzon (Tom Hardy), the leader of the Remans, is a Picard clone once considered to be used as a spy by the Romulans. Of course, there is the inevitable space battle between the Enterprise-E and the villain du jour.
If you've followed the "Star Trek" movies, you'll recognize many familiar elements in "Nemesis". From "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan", "Nemesis" inherits an angry antagonist hell-bent on destroying the captain of the Enterprise, space battles between a handful of ships that resemble submarine encounters (in the "Star Trek" tradition, you don't see whole armadas unless someone is fighting a devastating enemy like the Borg or the Founders), biological warfare, and finally, a major character who "dies". From "Star Trek III: The Search for Spock", you get the feeling that the dead character might be living in someone else's mind. From "Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country", "Nemesis" borrows the political détente narrative as well as the "emotional finale" feeling. After all, many character arcs have been closed by the end of the movie, and the poster tagline was "A Generation's Final Journey". True, "Nemesis" recycles numerous elements from previous installments in the "Star Trek" feature films series, but it re-uses only the best parts from its predecessors and fashions them into a spectacle that imparts a real sense of loss upon the viewer.
Of course, "Nemesis" isn't a perfect movie. A detour to a desert planet in order to retrieve a Data prototype named B4 feels extraneous, as if the filmmakers wanted to show off a cool all-terrain vehicle for the sake of showing people how the budget was spent. It's also very obvious who the good guys and the bad guys are, so long chit-chats between various characters don't really add much to the psychology of the story. Still, these faults are marginal since they merely delay the inevitable rather than disrupt proceedings. (Also, I had hoped for cameos by Denise Crosby [playing Sela, Tasha Yar's daughter] and Leonard Nimoy [as Spock, now one of the leaders of the Romulan dissident movement], but a brief appearance by Kate Mulgrew [Admiral Janeway, the captain of Voyager for seven years in "Star Trek: Voyager"] and an extended cameo by Dina Meyer as Romulan Commander Donatra were acceptable substitutes.)
The big news concerning "Star Trek: Nemesis", the tenth "Star Trek" theatrical release, was that it grossed less money at American box offices than any other "Star Trek" movie. Its $40-something million take is a new low-point regardless of adjusting figures for inflation. (In fact, adjusting numbers for inflation makes the "Nemesis" gross look even more disheartening than if you simply leave the numbers alone.) Paramount really did itself a disservice by releasing a genre picture right before New Line unleashed "LOTR 2". December is a great time for romantic comedies and prestige productions, so "Nemesis" ate everyone's dust. The film could've been a breakout hit had it faced less direct competition than it did in theatres. (Sigh...)
In my opinion, "Star Trek: Nemesis" is the best "Star Trek" theatrical release to date--not because it's the most recent one and had technological advances at its disposal but because it's a lean 'n' mean fighting machine with spirit, emotions, and intelligence. The acting is superb across the board (even if some characters don't have as much to do as one might expect)--something that can't be said about the other movies. The cinematography makes the most of scenes set in the void of outer space, and the production values are high enough to remove (temporarily) memories of the cardboard sets used for the original TV series. Finally, for some reason, I loved the fact that Worf was the one who uttered the line, "The Romulans fought with honor." "Nemesis" may not be a message movie like "The Voyage Home" or "The Undiscovered Country", but it is an entertainingly rousing action yarn.
The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen image looks beautiful. The filmmakers used a wide variety of colors and lighting schemes, so the video will give your eyes a feast. Much of the movie has been set in the shadows, but you can see just about every detail that the on-set cameras captured. Even the muted interiors of the Enterprise and of Shinzon's ship don't look murky. You'll appreciate the smooth, sharp feel of the video as well. While ILM did some of the visual effects work seen in "Nemesis", nothing looks muddy the way that effects-heavy sequences in "Star Wars 2" did (even on DVD).
In the interests of truthfulness and fairness, I report that I did see some teeny-tiny spots that dotted the print once in a while. I don't know why the video's handlers didn't see them, but those dots could've been removed with ease. They are the only things keeping me from rating the video a "ten".
There's a separate pan&scan DVD edition with the same extras as this disc. Avoid that version since cropping a 2.35:1 picture is analogous to putting blinds over a horse's eyes.
I found a minute flaw with the video transfer. However, the audio on the "Nemesis" DVD is awesomely good. The Dolby Digital 5.1 English dynamically immerses viewers into a cauldron of blazing sound effects. Spaceships and weapons fire zoom around the room with pinpoint accuracy. The well-designed mix features a complex array of modulated booms, clinks, hisses, etc. so that the audio environment feels very real and plausible. For example, I liked how the sound designers included a barely audible metallic tap that accompanied one of the Remans (he uses a metal cane as a show of his authority, and he uses it only for minimal walking support).
You may opt to experience "Nemesis" with a DD 2.0 surround English track (recommended for those of you watching the movie without digital sound set-ups) or with a DD 2.0 surround French track. Optional English subtitles as well as optional English closed captions support the audio.
The extras on the "Nemesis" DVD aren't as good as the extras made for the recent two-disc special editions of the first couple of "Star Trek" films. This is due to the fact that the extras on this DVD have of-the-moment interviews rather than retrospective musings. "Hindsight is 20/20", as they say, and given the lack of hindsight on display here, everyone tends to speak of "Nemesis" as greater than it really is. Stills, fans of the film will lap up the disc as if it were condensed milk.
First things first--there's an audio commentary by director Stuart Baird. A newbie to the "Star Trek" franchise, Baird talks a bit about his new-ness to everything and about how his fresh approach to the material may have given the film the jolt that it needed in order to break free of the cutesies that seem to dominate the "Star Trek" big screen adventures. However, since Baird has long worked as an editor, I think that his work on the film says more than he himself does during his commentary, lol.
Next up are a couple of featurettes that really could've been joined together as one long-form documentary. (However, if anything runs for more than thirty minutes, then a studio has to pay the talent royalties beyond their compensation for the movie itself.) "New Frontiers: Stuard Baird on Directing 'Nemesis'" covers most of the ground that Baird's commentary does. "A Bold Vision of the Final Frontier" and "A 'Star Trek' Family's Final Journey" seem to imply that "Star Trek: The Next Generation" has changed for good, but they don't really touch upon how "Nemesis" has significantly altered the politics of the "Star Trek" universe (the Federation, the Klingons, and the Romulans? Talk about an intimidating bloc!). "Red Alert! Shooting the Action of 'Nemesis'" gives us glimpses of how the action sequences in the film were created.
The best extras on the DVD are the deleted scenes--though Wesley Crusher (or Wil Wheaton) fans will not see any of the once-and-promising cadet. Some of the filmmakers introduce some of the deleted scenes, but most of them play as stand-alone moments. The best one involves Riker playing a joke on the Enterprise's new first officer, played by Robert Culp.
Finally, there is a photo gallery of sketches and designs as well as previews of "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" on DVD, "Star Trek: The Experience" at the Las Vegas Hilton, and "The Hours" (the studio's biggest prestige project and award-winner since "Titanic").
Sadly, Paramount seems to have followed in Buena Vista and DreamWorks's steps in deciding to drop the film's trailers from the DVD. Back in the days of VHS-dom, people rejoiced at the inclusion of trailers. Now, studios are dropping them after they became a standard during the early days of DVD? Yikes!
A glossy insert provides chapter listings.
"Star Trek: Nemesis" didn't do well at the box office because it was released less than a week before "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" hit theatres. Still, given how influential "Star Trek" has become in American (and even global) culture, a home video release will do much to fortify the film's tarnished reputation. I think that "Star Trek X" is the first one in the film series to have a heart, a soul, and a mind, so it's the most satisfying for me to watch. The makers of "Nemesis" took the first step towards re-imagining the politics of the Alpha and Beta Quadrants in the "Star Trek" universe, and it'll be interesting to see where Starfleet will go in the immediate future.
Note: Paramount has been re-releasing the "Star Trek" movies on DVD as two-disc special editions. Since this release of "Nemesis" is only a one-platter affair, I would guess that a two-disc SE will be in the offering sometime in the future. However, given the rate that the SE re-issues are appearing, a "Nemesis" re-visit might not happen anytime soon. For now, this DVD is a welcome addition to any library.