More than three decades ago, the television show Star Trek first chronicled the voyages of the starship Enterprise as it ventured through distant galaxies and strange seas of thought --- "boldly going," as the voice-over stated, "where no man had gone before." Those journeys almost always included a confrontation with an alien species or civilization, which usually concluded in either violent combat, meaningful communication, or something like an erotic encounter between the virile Captain Kirk and some appropriately amorous galactic being. Meanwhile, sadly, mankind still yearns for the stars. As any Trekker worth his dilithium crystals knows, the show has spawned whole generations of television sequels and spin-offs, along with what must be a dozen full-length motion pictures. The Star Trek concept, like the James Bond movies, has virtually created a genre unto itself.
Since much of the interest and entertainment of any given genre derives from the small and large variations and repetitions of familiar devices, each particular Trek film, including this one, consciously toys with the audience's knowledge of the past and its expectations for the present. The latest, Nemesis, reverses the usual patterns of comedy, beginning with a wedding and ending in a death --- with, however, the promise of resurrection. That flip signals other reversals to come. For the most part, the picture offers variations on the usual elements of the series --- the visit to a strange planet, the advanced civilization, the alien encounter, the mysterious menace, the space battles, and so on.
After an opening sequence in which the Romulan Senate suffers a particularly horrible mass assassination at the hands of the Remans (Romulus and Remus, twin planets, begin the picture's occasional references to ancient Rome), Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) appears in tight close-up, delivering a long and laboriously facetious speech at the wedding of Commander Will Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and Counselor Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis), the prettiest empath in the galaxy. The happy couple prepare to travel to Troi's home planet of Betazed, where they will marry again, this time with the whole wedding party naked, in accordance with Betazedian custom. That titillating prospect quickly vanishes, however, when the ship must make the usual detours: first to pick up a dismantled android, the prototype for Commander Data (Brent Spiner); then to investigate political conditions on Romulus.
Two plot situations grow out of the picture's basic concept of the double: Data's twin, an essentially immature version of Ol' Yellow Eyes, wittily named B4; and Captain Picard's duplicate, Shinzon (Tom Hardy), the Praetor of Romulus and Remus, who claims to be Picard's clone, a villainous younger version of himself. Despite its rich possibilities, the film, oddly, fails to develop the concept as fully as it deserves, especially in its rather perfunctory treatment of Picard's predicament. Although Picard acknowledges that his clone can anticipate his thoughts and actions, and therefore makes a formidable foe, the alleged duplication never really develops into the sort of confusion of identity and behaviors that it promises.
Picard's situation apparently couldn't sustain the script by itself, so the writers pad it with some quite unacceptable back story --- Shinzon relates a Dickensian recollection of a childhood working in the dilithium mines, which accounts for his hatred of the Romulans. The movie also depends heavily on an all-too-familiar series of shootouts, hand-to-hand fights, pursuits through the corridors and tubing of the starships, and, of course, a protracted battle between two vessels, with phasers blazing away, photon torpedoes exploding all over the place, force fields crumbling, and much of the Enterprise's interior scenery shattering and showering down on the cast.
Despite the opportunity to employ the ensemble of beloved regulars, the movie makes little use of the numerous important, secondary characters. Captain Picard and Data pretty much dominate the action, with a little assistance from Riker. One scene does employ the talents of the voluptuous empath, Counselor Troi, but she otherwise appears only sporadically. The rest of the crew --- Geordi (LeVar Burton), Worf (Michael Dorn), Dr. Crusher (Gates McFadden) --- unfortunately serve only minor functions.
Nemesis at least continues some of the grand themes of the original series, particularly its concern for the definition of the human. Following in the tradition of his predecessor, Captain Kirk, Picard attempts to instruct his counterpart in some of the simple lessons of humanity, while the action and the characters suggest an Emersonian concern for aspiration and transcendence, the yearning for the stars which apparently only science fiction now fulfills. The final gestures of Star Trek: Nemesis, moreover, assert the ennobling and redemptive possibilities of sacrifice --- no negligible affirmation for a television show or even a series of motion pictures.
Star Trek: Nemesis, starring Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, Tom Hardy, Ron Perlman, Dina Meyer, Kate Mulgrew; based on Star Trek, created by Gene Roddenberry; story by John Logan, Rick Berman, and Brent Spiner; screenplay by John Logan; directed by Stuart Baird. Cinemark Tinseltown; Hoyts Greece Ridge; Loews Webster; Pittsford Plaza Cinema; Regal Culver Ridge; Regal Henrietta.
You can hear George and his movie reviews on WXXI-FM 91.5 Fridays at 7:15 a.m.; rerun on Saturdays at 11:15 a.m.