Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Questionable Trek vol. 5

Even at their worst, Star Trek films are still worth watching and they have a lot of good things going for them.

Question From Andrew: “Scott, You ranked Star Trek: Nemesis as your least favorite Trek film. Give me five good things about it.”

Scott's Answer: Some of these are technical in nature (which is to be expected) but here we go...

1. The acting - while much of the supporting cast, as usual, has nearly nothing to do, Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner are excellent. While I found the idea of yet another Data-type android a little too convenient, Spiner plays B-4 with his usual childlike naïveté. Stewart has some great moments with the villain, played by Tom Hardy who, in turn, isn't bad. He's saddled with some less than stellar dialogue and a director not known being an actor's director but it's clear there's talent waiting to be unleashed. Thankfully, Chris Nolan has turned Hardy into a star on the rise. (We'll all see him later this year as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises.)

2. The opening - this is the first Trek film to do away with an opening title sequence. Instead, we're plunged right into the story of political intrigue in the Romulan Senate. One senator excuses herself, leaving behind a deadly object which soon turns everyone else in the room to dust. Literally. It's actually pretty effective and kudos to the make-up and visual effects departments for starting this film off with a bang.

3. The music - Jerry Goldsmith returned for his fifth and final Star Trek film (and his third to last film before passing away in 2004). For this film, he reuses his Star Trek: The Motion Picture theme (better known as the theme for TNG), his four-note "quest motif" from Star Trek V, and even reprises some his TMP drydock music for a shot near the end in which Picard's Enterprise is seen in drydock. Sadly, we don't get to hear Goldsmith's melancholy theme for the film itself. There are no opening credits over which it can play and the end credits feature a jarring edit which disrupts the flow of the music. You can hear the full theme on the soundtrack album.

4. The visual effects - the Star Trek films always seemed to lag behind the various Lucas/Spielberg/Cameron films in this department. However, by the 21st century, Trek had managed to catch up to its more expensive peers. For this film, ILM was busy so the filmmakers instead turned to Digital Domain to produce the effects. The Enterprise has never looked better, the Data/B-4 duplicate effects are flawless, and the sequence in which the main viewer is destroyed and a crewman is blown out into space is a highlight (and something I'd always wanted to see).

5. The passage of time - sadly, many of these scenes were left on the cutting room floor but, in short, the filmmakers knew this would most likely be the last TNG film so they decided to "break up the family" so to speak. Dr. Crusher is off to Starfleet Medical, Riker and Troi finally tie the knot, and Riker is off to command a starship of his own. Meanwhile, Data doesn't quite understand the emotional impact of these events. There is an excellent deleted scene in which Picard tries to enlighten Data on the subject - how these events signify the passage of time. I only wish these scenes had remained in the film.

Andrew’s Response:

I can’t stand the whole B-4 subplot. I think it’s poorly thought out, doesn’t fit the story, takes the emotion out of Data’s death scene, and I really don’t like the way Spiner acts the character. I do like Tom Hardy a lot and he does an excellent job here, as does Ron Perlman (as always).

I absolutely agree about the effects. These effects are as good as anything out there.

The opening is very solid as well and helps set the tone of this film. Too many of the other films seemed to meander. This one starts like it’s shot out of a cannon.

The other thing I would add, and what I like best about this film, is that this was the first TNG film to feel like a genuine action film. The others tried, but never managed it because they spent too much time trying to give equal time to each of the regular characters and then wrote the plots around those scenes. This film cuts through the bull and spends its time on the plot. And that gives this one a much more intense and film-like feel than the others.

Scott's Reply:

I actually agree with about 90% of what you said. I didn't like the B-4 subplot either. Besides, Brent Spiner was interested in killing off Data because he felt too old to play the role, yet there was an episode in which we found out Data has an aging program, so it shouldn't have been a problem.

On the acting side, I disagree about Ron Perlman. I'm a fan but I felt he was wasted in this movie. However, a highlight for me was Dina Meyer, who I had only seen in Starship Troopers. I thought she was quite good.

I also agree that it's the first TNG film to feel like a "real movie." I attribute this to director Stuart Baird, a once and future editor who has directed a couple of action films (my guilty pleasure Executive Decision and the poorly-written but still kinda watchable U.S. Marshals). Unfortunately, he failed to do his homework and unlike other franchise newcomers like Nicholas Meyer, Baird is strictly a technical director, not a storyteller. He may have brought a sense of scope to the film but at the expense of its head and its heart.


tryanmax said...

Scott, you end on a note that continually baffles me. What makes it so hard to find a director with some affinity toward Star Trek? Why are so many of the films directed by guys who seem to have not even watched an episode of the show? One would think that Hollywood would be crawling with Trekie directors just jumping at the chance to direct the next movie. I don't get it.

Anonymous said...

tryanmax -

It's an age-old question. I'm not entirely sure that Hollywood is crawling with Trekkie directors (if only!) but many fans rightfully ask, "Why couldn't Spielberg or Cameron or Ridley Scott direct a Trek film?"

They could, but they would want to do it on their own terms, without having to necessarily worry about continuity. Plus they probably wouldn't want to answer to someone else, like then-Trek overlord Rick Berman. A journeyman like Stuart Baird could be made to follow orders, so to speak.

And in the case of Baird, from everything I've read, Paramount "owed" him a film after he helped them out with post-production on a couple of troubled films (the first Tomb Raider and Mission: Impossible: II if I'm not mistaken).

When Paramount brought on Harve Bennett to produce Trek II, the first thing he did was sit down and watch every single episode. He did his research. And he brought on Nick Meyer, who was not only a filmmaker but a novelist, well-versed in story and character. He wasn't just a tech guy whose sole concern was where to put the camera.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, That bothers me as well, plus the whole question of why is it so hard to find someone who respects their history? It is really possible that no good directors/writers every watched the television shows? It boggles the mind.

Anonymous said...

I think another problem is, the Trek directing job is probably seen my most directors as strictly a "work for hire" thing, like the James Bond movies, where the producers have most of the control.

On a slightly related note, famed Star Wars illustrator Ralph McQuarrie passed away. I keep waiting for BH to do a story on it... but I'm doubtful.

McQuarrie actually worked on the first Trek film in the 70s when it was known as Star Trek: Planet of the Titans. He worked under Bond production designer Ken Adam and you can read a short synopsis and see thumbnails of his sketches here.

None of this work ever made it into what became the first Star Trek movie.

Doc Whoa said...

I think I like this film more than both of you because it's just a good heart-pounding film. I agree the effects are fantastic and I love the fight scenes. I do find the whole idea that the Romulans have this slave race and then suddenly give in to them far fetched though.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I saw that yesterday. I doubt they will cover McQuarrie as they don't seem all that interested in science fiction.

I think you're right that A-list directors don't want to touch Star Trek because they see it as a work for hire. But you would still think some of then would want to be involved.

AndrewPrice said...

Doc, I don't dislike this film at all. I think it's an entertaining movie. It's just not very Star Trek... but I'm ok with that. :)

I agree about the Romulans. A war-like people with a massive fleet that could blow the entire Reman planet away would not hand over power to a slave just because he somehow secretly built the universe's greatest space ship.

DUQ said...

Nice discussion guys. I have to comment later, but I wanted to say thanks for the quick lunchtime read!

AndrewPrice said...

Glad you liked it, DUQ. Feel free to comment any time.

Anonymous said...

Andrew -

I couldn't care less if BH covers sci-fi/genre stuff. I just think it's newsworthy (even PJ Media did a story on it). But it's small potatoes. :-)

As for the Romulans, the subsequent novels have explored the political/cultural/military aspects of their culture. I know you don't count that stuff but, sadly, the film only hints at things that I wish it had explored further.

Ed said...

I never felt anything for the characters in this film. I know that may sound like an odd complaint, but for being such well-known characters they were really very cardboard in this film. You could have replaced any of them with brand new people and no one would have noticed.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Yeah, I don't care about the novels.

My guess is it won't be covered.

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, This film focuses almost exclusively on Picard and Data. The rest are there as props. And I'm not sure they got Picard's character right, which is probably the problem. I just like it as an action flick.

Anonymous said...

Re: not caring about the characters in the film, I hate to sound like a broken record but I think that goes back to having a director who wasn't well-versed in the characters or the show itself so he probably didn't have much to contribute beyond telling them to stand at X and say Y.

(I'm going to be out and about so I will chime in when I can.) :-)

rlaWTX said...

I have not seen this one. So, no comment.
But y'all are always an interesting read!!! :)

T-Rav said...

Wait a minute, when was Nemesis released? Hardy's not that old, or even middle-aged.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, But even beyond the director, there are writers, actors, etc. I would have hoped they would all have said something, but I guess not.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks rlaWTX! I'm glad you enjoy the articles. :)

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, 2002. He was 25 at the time.

Anonymous said...

Andrew -

Re: the writers, this film's screenplay was written a franchise newcomer (and self-professed Trek fan) John Logan, an Oscar-nominee for Gladiator. He's worked on other fine films but for this film, either he exaggerated his Trekkie credentials, or he was forced to include certain things at the request of Berman and the actors, or he simply isn't that good. The sad part is, the ideas are there but the execution leaves much to be desired.

As for the actors, while it's hard to find comments "on the record," more than one of the main actors has complained about Baird in recent years. I also recall reading something where one of the actors said they had to correct Baird on how certain things should/would be done.

If there is any truth to the IMDb trivia, Berman was forced to hire Baird. It still amazes me that, despite overseeing the studio's cash cow for years, Berman had very little clout. He would've been better off giving the job to Jonathan Frakes again.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I've always found the whole Star Trek "enterprise" to be pretty messed up. The "official" organization seems rather scattered and headless. They never seem to be able to find the right writers, directors, etc. They seem to have surprisingly little sway with the studios. They have little grasp of what makes their own shows work. Etc.

If they were a company, they would be bought out and gutted.

Anonymous said...

the whole Star Trek "enterprise"

I see what you did there. :-)

Well, on one hand, like any big studio franchise, there are plenty of cooks in the kitchen and people rushing to take credit, place blame, yadda yadda yadda. I'm not a member of the "Hate Berman" brigade but it's clear he didn't have the clout to say no, to either the studio or UPN where VGR and ENT were concerned. I don't know how he felt about those people, or how they felt about him.

Berman has said that he'd love to write a tell-all book and I'll be the first in line to read it (and review it for this site!).

When it comes to creative types, I think Trek was simply seen as this kind of novelty and no reputable writer would want to take part in it. And when you have multiple writers on multiple shows, I believe it's inevitable that some will work out (Moore, Braga, etc.) and others won't (the writers' room on TNG's first season was like a revolving door).

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, That is what I did there! ;)

I would love to read Berman's book as well because from the outside looking in, none of this makes sense. It's like no one had any control over anything and so everyone just fumbled around.

You're probably right about the creative types. It doesn't sound too rewarding to go into an established property and get stuck being forced to work within very narrow confines. But in the end, that's again the fault of the "management" who should have been better at either limiting the number of restrictions or finding better talent.

Anonymous said...

At the end of the day, I still think Insurrection is also a bad movie, but the different between NEM and INS is the difference between the A student who fails a test and the F student who fails a test - one is a massive disappointment while the other is simply inevitable.

I was chatting with a friend who hates INS with the fiery intensity of a thousand suns. He can only think of two things he likes about it: they used the captain's yacht (big effing deal!) and some of the effects. I even offered music score as a freebie answer. :-)

I think INS was a bad concept with good execution (Frakes did the best he could with what he was given)... whereas NEM was a good concept with poor execution.

Anonymous said...

Ron Perlman and Dina Meyer were the best part of Nemesis, but when the Enterprise reversed engines to extract itself from the Romulan supership, Star Trek jumped the shark (nuked the fridge, in modern vernacular).
Star Wars showed more respect for science than that!

Anonymous said...

mycroft -

I rarely notice scientific gaffes when I watch a movie for the first time, BUT...

...I totally noticed that!

Spoiler alert for those who haven't seen the film. The Enterprise collides with Shinzon's ship. The two become intertwined and later Picard orders "reverse." The Enterprise is able to untangle itself from the wreckage... however, in zero-g, it should've taken Shinzon's ship with it since that ship wasn't acting against it. Shinzon's ship should've reversed as well.

AndrewPrice said...

mycroft and Scott, That's a great point which again could have been fixed with a little bit of screenwriting acumen. All they had to do was note something like "the Scimitar has started her engines, they're trying to drag us away." Then it would all work.

Commander Max said...

I could only think of one good thing about Nemesis.
They killed Data.

It took me 6 years after that film came out to finally see it. I really couldn't get into it. Things seemed really out of place for even the STNG characters(Picard likes off-roading?).
Picard had hair when he was younger, but he went through a bald phase? Then only to loose his hair later.

Plastic cymbals at the wedding? (They must have been transparent brass). But all of the other instruments are normal?

Two ships of that size colliding? The only way to get them apart would be the future equivalent of cutting torches, or a very big explosion. It is a perfect jump the shark moment, at least that's when they killed Data.

If you haven't seen the Plinket review of this film I highly recommend it. I don't think it's safe for work.

Anonymous said...

Commander -

I've seen the Plinket review but it's been a while. I think he even spent five minutes on those "futuristic"-looking cymbals at the wedding, which always made me wonder, "What do wedding planers do in the 24th century?" I mean, are the musicians holographic? Are there still DJs in the future? Etc. :-)

I remember people complaining about the photo of Tom Hardy as young Picard when the film was still in theaters. "He had hair back then!" I don't believe this for a second but one possible explanation could be that cadets have to shave their heads at some point.

I didn't mind the off-roading sequence but it hints at something the movie pretty much ignores: Picard is clearly going through some kind of mid-life crisis or an acceptance that the family is "breaking up" but the film doesn't explore that and the scenes that actually do explore those ideas were cut.

I also didn't mind that they killed Data but it's done in the worst way possible: it comes out of nowhere (at least in Trek II, "the needs of the many..." was a running theme), and then we're left with B-4 which completely devalues the whole idea in the first place. The post-Nemesis novels even got rid of him the first chance they could!

Commander Max said...

One of the problems with films is they can't think of everything. Or even notice issues that would confuse the audience. In reality they could care less, they got our money and that is all that really matters.
The other bald actor(Hardy), it's very obvious they ignored past episodes STNG. I heard somewhere Berman stating something about he could care less about Trek continuity. Look at First Contact it took what we thought was the ST timeline and completely ignored it.

The off-road sequence was really out of place, plus it violated the prime directive. Stirring it up with the natives is a violation, killing(or at least injuring) some of the native population would put Picard and crew ahead of a Starfleet tribunal. Plus in a world where getting to places is very easy, why would you need a vehicle with wheels?

I know it would be a very boring action sequence. Since Patrick Stewart really likes to go off-roading lets go for it. But Picard was portrayed as someone who like to recreate in something more intellectual and dull(like your average self important(but very bored) Lib).

They like to go back to TWOK stuff, it shows the lack of creativity Hollywood has been suffering from. At least in the writing department, B4 was a really dumb idea, when I first saw it I thought Lore was back. Which would have made a better film. But with Spinner doing some of the writing, well...I guess he was looking for an acting opportunity.

AndrewPrice said...

Commander Max, I agree on all points. I am amazed at how little they care about continuity, especially easy continuity? It's like they go out of their way sometimes to crap on the fans' expectations.

I agree about the off-roading stuff. In a world of shuttle craft and transporters, there's just no need for such a craft.

The two ships colliding was a neat effect, but didn't make a lot of sense. Indeed, there is so much wrong with it. Why don't they explode? Even if they don't, how do they have shields to keep the air in? How do they pull apart? It really makes little sense. And then Hardy orders them to separate so they can continue to earth? How? They won't have shields or a cloak. The ship is broken.


Anonymous said...

I agree the off-roading scene is totally a violation of the Prime Directive and was unnecessary for the film.

As for continuity, it's just one of those things. Many Trek writers in later years have labeled the franchise as "unwieldy" and, while they would try to pay attention to certain things, other things would have to be ignored for the sake of the story. After listening to Ron Moore and Brannon Braga's commentaries on Generations and First Contact, I gained a new respect for what these guys had to deal with when it came to writing for established characters and history. I'm not defending their screw-ups but they tried.

And remember, anyone writing for one of these films had to satisfy the actors - Stewart and Spiner wielded a lot of clout by this time.

As for Berman, I think he was just getting burned out. And as for TWOK, I agree - the studio and the filmmakers seemed to think this was the basic template to use... sometimes it worked but most of the time, it didn't.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Allow me to be the contrarian. I honestly don't think it's that hard IF YOU CARE. I've got the whole history of the two series in my head and I'm not even obsessed or anything. I just remember what I saw when I saw the episodes.

So if I was writing and they came to me and said, "look at this line where Kirk says 'I lost a brother once but I got him back.'" I would know right away, uh... Kirk had a brother and he died in "Operation Annihilate." Or I would know Chevok never met Khan and I would say, make it Sulu. Or I would know Picard had hair and I would say throw in a line about going bald sooner than Picard.

These aren't hard things to keep track of or to fix.

The problem is that they do this so regularly that it begins to seem like disrespect.

Commander Max said...

And people wonder why Trekkies are such a picky lot.
We put up with a lot, heck Lucas has kept up better continuity in Star Wars than the people producing Trek. (That's scary to say).

I agree with your comment on disrespect Andrew. It's quite clear they have no respect for the fans. When they change something all of the fans know it. But they ignore the alteration because the show is labeled "Star Trek". It makes me think of the scene from Animal House-
Whack! "Thank you sir, I'll have another". Whack!

Scott I've heard it's even worse than satisfying the actors. You have the studio executives constantly making suggestions.
I've heard of producers who were 25 years old, with no experience but they've seen as lot of movies.

AndrewPrice said...

Commander Max, That's a scary point that Lucas has more continuity than Star Trek... but it's true.

I know that whenever someone points these problems out, they get immediately attacked as fanatics or hardcore fans who don't understand how films work and are hypersensitive, etc. etc. But that's just not true. Think about it. If in the second Rambo film, his backstory suddenly became "he came home from the Korean War and opened a barber shop and was loved by the town, but now he needs to go back to war", people would have scratched their heads and complained that the director really blew it. Ditto if Gone With The Wind II had Scarlet growing up in Dallas. No one would have accused the fans of nitpicking if they complained in either of those cases. Yet the Star Trek fans are accused of nitpicking.

And I understand that sometimes the fans do go way over the top -- "hey, my schematics show that Room 112 should be there instead of 114!" But when you're talking about major moments in characters' lives or things which were the specific focus of episodes, then it's simply wrong to say the fans are nitpicking.

And the fact the Star Trek producers keep doing this over and over tells me they have an utter indifference to the fans, to the characters, and the stories. And that is insulting.

Commander Max said...

In the end it's about the money. Who cares what a bunch of fanboys think, as long as they all go see the movie opening weekend.

I think they nitpick because that's all they/we(lol) have. The production teams sure are not listening to the fans.

If you want to see nitpicking and Trekkies, try the prop world.

AndrewPrice said...

Max, I can believe it. Once you get into an "expert" endeavor, people get really detail oriented.

BTW, I love the Enterprise you've put together! I tried commenting at your place, but it wouldn't let me for some reason.

Commander Max said...

Thanks Andrew, I haven't been able to figure out how to get the comments to work. According to my control panel they are on. But After I update the site they are off.

Go figure?

I really do want comments. Some guys turn them off to save their sanity.

Very diplomatic way to put it Andrew. I would add once your at the expert level one sure doesn't feel like an expert.
But there sure are plenty of self appointed experts willing to offer their opinion.

I have to admit it gets very entertaining when 'Mr Expert' doesn't have a clue.

AndrewPrice said...

Max, I wish I could help you, but I have no clue. I've got things turned on/off here as well which don't do what they are/aren't supposed to do. Blogger is just very glitchy.

The funny thing about being a genuine expert in something is that you basically need to get to the point first where you realize how much you don't know. If you haven't reached that point, then you're not there yet. But too many people think they know it all and then declare themselves experts.

That said, it's always great to run into someone who really does know their stuff and has a passion for it. I always make time to talk to those people, even when it's an area that hasn't interested me to date because passion is infectious.

And yeah, it's pretty funny when a self-declared know-it-all expert doesn't know what they're talking about.

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