Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Questionable Trek vol. 17

It’s easy to criticize, but much harder to create. We’ve criticized the Star Trek movies a good deal, so maybe it’s time to offer some tips on how we would improve them? This week, it’s Scott’s turn!

Question: "Scott, How would you improve Star Trek: Nemesis?"

Scott's Answer: Star Trek: Nemesis is a conceptually-flawed movie and it had several things working against it, including a director who didn't do his homework, a producer who had been involved with the franchise for a tad too long, two lead actors who had too much clout and veto power, and an overall sense of what many refer to as "franchise fatigue." Oh yeah, and a release date that put the film against The Two Towers and James Bond.

I confess I can't recall much about Romulan politics at the moment. Many fans consider this film a missed opportunity to do something with characters like Sela (Denise Crosby) or Tomalak (the late Andreas Katsulas) or even Spock and the Reunification Movement. I don't share their views but what I do mind is the ham-handed backstory: the idea that Picard was cloned by the Romulans years ago as part of some secret plan to infiltrate Starfleet. The plan was abandoned, Shinzon was sent to the Reman mines where he suffered at the hands of the Romulans until the Remans took him under their wing... and now he wants to go after Earth? Just why did the Romulans choose Picard all those years ago? How did they get that close to him? If they could somehow infiltrate Starfleet back then, why not go with a bolder plan instead?

I like the idea of a secret cloning program authorized (or not?) by the Romulan government. But I would've liked to see a sequence in which the various Romulan bureaucrats weed out potential Starfleet officers. Perhaps a pre-credit teaser where we see various "possibilities" displayed, with Picard getting the highest marks. "This one will go far..." Then we could meet the operative assigned to get Picard's DNA. A good old-fashioned undercover operation... or perhaps a suicide mission? What kind of man would take the job?

Shinzon's plan to annihilate Earth comes straight from the "Let's do it just like Wrath of Khan!" school of Star Trek filmmaking. Instead, perhaps Shinzon could've wanted revenge against the Romulans who created him in the first place, with Picard and Co. forced to intervene on behalf of the Federation in order to prevent a war. The way the film plays now, the "Nature vs. Nurture" theme is there but not explored to its full potential. With Shinzon going after the Romulans, we also get the "Son vs. Father" theme (it's all very Oedipal!). Perhaps Shinzon could actually meet the man (or woman) who created him and see their previous Shinzon clones that didn't work (shades of Alien: Resurrection). Shinzon admires Picard and what he stands for but is blinded by hate. He doesn't want war but he can't let the Romulans get away with what they did to him. The entire time, we'd be asking ourselves whether or not this is human nature (revenge), or part of his programming (a rogue geneticist at work?), or a symptom of the conditions in which he grew up.

I'd probably scrap the B-4 subplot though if I had to include it, I wouldn't have Data die at the end... or I'd have B-4 die at the end instead. In the film, Data dies but the emotional impact is negated literally minutes later by B-4's reappearance. It's a total cop-out. Brent Spiner has said on numerous occasions that he felt too old to play an android that doesn't age, however there was an episode where they mentioned his aging program. Problem solved! If the B-4 subplot goes, so does the irrelevant chase scene on the planet with the aliens we never meet again. I would also reinstate most of the deleted scenes, including a thematically-relevant scene with Picard and Data where Data ponders the passage of time.

I think this film was a lost opportunity to rekindle the Picard/Beverly romance. Here's my take: we start the film with the aforementioned Romulan/clone scenes, followed by a beautiful title sequence featuring scenic shots of the Alaskan tundra (accompanied by Jerry Goldsmith's score), and then the Riker/Troi wedding. Picard and Crusher can share a nice moment on the dance floor where they reminisce about things past and speculate, as all Trek characters do, about the future. At the end of the film, during the "wake" for Data, they could hold hands - faced with the death of a long-time friend and fellow officer who was supposed to outlast everyone else, they realize life is short after all. Instead of Admiral Janeway giving Picard his orders via subspace, I'd have her show up in person at the wedding, which would give a sense of urgency to the proceedings.

I apologize for the meandering nature of this piece. When it comes to this film, I feel there's nothing worse than squandered potential. What say you?

Andrew's Reply: I like what you've done here, Scott. I think the biggest flaw at the center of this film is that the cloning plot has nothing to do with the rest of it. In fact, that sounds like it would have made a better film. But instead we just get, "Oh yeah, the guy from that cooler movie wants to destroy Earth for no apparent reason." I think at least adding the intro you discuss would have helped a lot, so would tying the rest of the movie into the cloning plot. At the very least, it could have added intrigue to a movie which was little more than "go there, shoot, end movie." I also like the idea of the Picard/Crusher romance as that would have been a stronger bit of character development than them focusing on how Data differs from his moronic cousin. . . and, as an aside, I still don't understand where the Romulans found him? Nice work, Scott.


Tennessee Jed said...

Applaud the analysis, guys. I didn't see this one, but you probably already knew that since I've admitted to living in a parallel universe where "Next Generation" never really occured.

Anonymous said...

Andrew - I'm at work right now so I probably won't be able to chime in till later today.

I can say that the Picard cloning backstory was covered in one of the novels but I know you don't count those. :-)

Tennessee Jed said...

I should mention that Amazon delivered my paperback editions of "Without A Hitch" and "Wrongful Death" this morning and can happily report that printing, binding, and covers are all very professionally done. All that is missing is the author picture with tweed jacket (including patches) cordouroys, and crashing surf in the background. I look forward to re-reading both and will then supply a totally unbiased review to the good folks at Amazon :)

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I will comment shortly, am kind of wrapped up in responding on the other site. :(

Jed, I'm glad to hear they look good! I ordered some copies, but they haven't shown up yet.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Excellent work, I agree with you. I think refocusing this story on the cloning and making that the central "mystery" of this film would be the way to go. That would give the characters more to do than just going to Romulus, waiting, and then getting attacked -- which is a very weak plot.

Doc Whoa said...

I never thought Nemisis was horrible, but it's just not that interesting. I think Scott's changes would have improved it dramatically. Well done! :D

Commander Max said...

I'll say the same thing again, the best improvement would have been to just say "no" to another Trek picture.

When someone in the NG cast/crew said, "The original cast made movies, we want movies too, waaaaah!".
"If we make the film with the NG cast, they will shut up."
"If they make money, we will keep making them, no matter how dumb they get."
"Yea, the same thing we did with the geriatric cast."
"God, I hope the other casts don't want the same thing."

I always thought the NG movies were a lost opportunity.
I heard Nemesis was so bad I saw it 5 years after it came out. Yea it was pretty bad.
What I would change, do not let actors who played a part for years write a movie.

AndrewPrice said...

Doc, I didn't think it was horrible either, but it is a very flat indifferent movie. I think what Scott proposes would have changed that and made it much more interesting.

AndrewPrice said...

Max, I agree that these films were a lost opportunity. They really should have gone a different route with them entirely and thought about them as episodes first and then made them more theatrical rather than just trying to write a movie for characters from a series. I think that change in mindset would have made a huge difference.

rlaWTX said...

I haven't seen this one. I didn't know that Riker & Troi got married (not surprised, just didn't know). I didn't know that Data died. I didn't know that Picard had a clone. Didn't we already meet Data's "brother" in the TV show (Loki?)? [is the new Data twin the aforementioned 'B-4'?]

It sounds like I'd enjoy Scott's version.

[checking out the ST movie list on Wiki, I have seen the first 4 (#3 is very fuzzy, but vaguely familiar) and First Contact. That's it. I liked the whales, Vger, Khan, and First Contact - in that order.]

AndrewPrice said...

rlaWTX, This is like Data's "slow cousin." He's an incomplete model, perhaps found at a Romulan Dollar Store. But that the end of the film they suggest they turn him into Data with a little education.

//rolls eyes

Picard didn't know he had a clone either until this film. And the guy isn't a great clone in any event as he's in his 20/30s.

rlaWTX said...

"Romulan Dollar Store" LOL

So, cloning & age regression/stopping - very exciting stuff!

AndrewPrice said...

rlaWTX, That's the one. Plasma by the gallon, scratch and dent cloaking shields, lots of knock-off Romulan Ale in plastic boxes.

Anonymous said...

Jed -

I know TNG is a frequent whipping boy around these parts but it's not a bad show! Hell, it's the show that got me into this stuff in the first place. And there are plenty of worse movies than the TNG movies, or at least the three (out of four) that aren't that good.

If one ever comes on TV one day and you have nothing to do, there are worse ways to kill two hours. :-)

Anonymous said...

Andrew -

The cloning stuff is there in the movie but I felt they didn't take full advantage of it. Shinzon wants Picard to die because, in Shinzon's view, Picard's existence renders his own life meaningless. Unfortunately, that's about as deep as it gets.

Anonymous said...

Doc -

Thanks! It's not the worst movie ever made but even when I first saw it in theaters (10 years ago!), I just felt "meh" about it afterwards.

Anonymous said...

Max -

I think it was inevitable that TNG was destined for the big screen but they still approached the films with a TV mentality and what worked best about the show (the ensemble cast, scenes of people talking, etc.) didn't work as well, hence the need to make Picard an action hero.

Anonymous said...

rlaWTX -

They're all certainly worth watching. I like to think there are decent bits to be found in even the worst films (and I say that as a defender of the much-maligned Star Trek V!)

We had met Data's "evil twin" Lore in the series. In this film, everyone mysteriously forgets about him!

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I disagree. The cloning stuff is only in the film to the extent of it having happened a long time ago and one guy is still upset about it. It's like saying a movie about two guys who rob a liquor store is "about the Superbowl" just because one of them went to the Superbowl the prior week and there decided he needed to rob a liquor store.

I think you're idea is an automatic 50% improvement no matter how they write it.

AndrewPrice said...

LOL! Yeah, they do kind of forget about Lore don't they?!

Tennessee Jed said...

Andrew - I am not really trying to dis the next TNG. My only point is that due to the problems of trying to succeed the OST coupled with where I happened to be in my life at the time, I never really watched it, and as a result am woefully unprepared to discuss it intelligently. It isn't really a question of snobism either. I actually got into the last one they did while I was recovering from surgery about ten years ago, but for whatever reason, have never gone back to try and get into TNG. It is probably my loss :)

Anonymous said...

Andrew -

Yes, they forgot about Lore. Not to mention the idea of being able to pick up a positronic signal from God knows how many lightyears away. (Does that mean other ships can pick up on Data?)

By the way, not to go too off-topic but there's something in the wedding scene that I've always wondered about. We see a small band playing music, including a drum set with some transparent futuristic-looking symbols (even RLM made fun of this).

I started wondering how this worked. With the economy of the future, do they still have wedding planners and DJs? Is the band a hologram?

Speaking of the wedding, something about the entire crew sitting at the dais bothered me. Usually, it's just the bride and groom but something about the shot screamed "TV ensemble cast!" to me.

(And no, none of this has anything to do with my brother getting married... just random thoughts!)

Anonymous said...

Jed -

No worries! There are plenty of shows I never got into simply because of where I was in my life. But that's what Netflix Instant is for. :-)

Koshcat said...

Got my books from amazon in mere seconds. Started on Wrongful Death first as Andrew promised I wouldn't get annoyed as a physician. I'm about half way through. Started a little slow but starting to pick up. Medical part has been well researched and I feel like I'm getting a glimps of how lawyers really work and it looks a lot less glamorous than LA Law. The characters feel real which is tough as many people are generally not interesting enough to write a book about.

AndrewPrice said...

Koshcat, Thanks for buying them!

That's pretty cool that you can get books in seconds, isn't it?!

One of the things I strove for was to give the readers a glimpse into how it really is to practice law -- dealing with clients, financial issues, the kinds of personalities you run into (the people in this book are very much what you will find in law). And yeah, it's not very glamorous.

The medical stuff, by the way, comes from a case I had where I got to learn way more than I ever wanted about aortic dissections.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I don't mind if you dis TNG. Everyone is entitled. That said, I understand your point and I'm sure TNG does not take offense! :)

Scott, In the future people do things like take out the garbage or work weddings because they want to, not because they get paid. Don't you know anything? LOL! Seriously, this is just another area where they say things but don't think about how to really handle them.

The wedding never struck me one way or the other, it has the feeling of a fake movie wedding where you see improbably highlights and you're just meant to accept it as real.

Anonymous said...

Jeez, I can't believe I spelled "cymbals" incorrectly!

The wedding was appreciated but rather perfunctory and is probably a great example of a scene that could be improved by a director who was familiar with Trek. Too bad we couldn't get some cool TNG guest cameos.

darski said...

I'm starting to think I may not be a trekkie anymore.

...Another one that got the go-by from me. When all else fails; deny reality as in there are only 6 Trek movies.

Will check in again next week for the possibles.

AndrewPrice said...

darski, I have no problem with you denying reality! LOL! Sometimes, that's necessary.

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