Adam Clarke looks back on the 24th century and the last Star Trek: The Next Generation movie.
When the original Star Trek crew segued from television to films, the resulting six films expanded and deepened the characters and their relationships in a way the series never did. The James Kirk of each episode of the original series is more or less the same guy, barring the occasional re-appearance of an Evil Kirk Doppelgänger. In the films, we watch these bold heroes age and, more importantly, learn to act their age. The Dr. McCoy of the films, for example, has warmed around the edges considerably from his more prickly TV self and is all the better for it. So, too, do the other characters benefit from aging thoughtfully and gracefully, barring the occasional campfire song.
The four Star Trek: The Next Generation films somehow ended up with the opposite effect. Rather than deepening or developing the characters, the films largely forgot who they were.
To start with the many problems with the TNG films, let’s work backwards with…
Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)
While the characters of TNG were never that intricate, you knew who they were and they each had their moments of greatness. Over the course of the TV series, Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) went from a repressed man who behaved like some kind of school principal-in-space to a refined, contemplative, ballsy diplomat. While the underrated Gates McFadden was not well-used by the series, she brought a strength and intelligence to Beverly Crusher that was well-served whenever she was the focus of an episode (such as I, Borg). Episodes focussing on Will Riker (Jonathan Frakes), Geordi La Forge (LeVar Burton), Data (Brent Spiner) and Worf (Michael Dorn) gave them plenty of moments to shine. Even Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis), whom the Enterprise needed about as much as a space-fish needed a star-bicycle, got that cool episode where she was disguised as a Romulan.
Star Trek: Nemesis has everything you’d come to expect from the TNG film series: the focus of the film is entirely on Picard (yay!) and Data (meh), it turns Star Trek into a bad action film (again), the characterization of the regulars is somewhat off, it mistakes Brent Spiner for a comic genius and it pits our heroes against a poorly-conceived villain.
Nemesis sees the Enterprise in a transitional phase. Riker and Troi are transferring to a brand new ship, as is Dr Crusher. Worf is back on the Enterprise for… some reason. And Commander Data has apparently won every pie-eating contest in the galaxy.
The latter two TNG films presents indisputable evidence that time has not been kind to this generation’s Enterprise crew, and none more than Brent Spiner. Observe:
The plot of the film involves doppelgänger of Data and Picard being discovered by the Enterprise crew. (Thomas Riker, Will Riker’s duplicate, was remembered by no one and not invited to join the attack of some clones.) Shinzon (Tom Hardy, Inception), a genetic clone of Picard who looks nothing like him, uses Data prototype B-4 to infiltrate the Enterprise. Shinzon wants to destroy Earth as part of his dastardly plan, which includes mind-raping Counselor Troi with the aid of his own pet Nosferatu, Vkruk (Ron Perlman)… for some reason.
There’s a reason I brought up the “classic” Trek films earlier. I’m arguing here that the TNG films failed not only to develop the characters or worlds of the series, but they also failed to create original stories for the Next Gen crew or give their film series any kind of identity. After their unusually sombre debut, the original crew’s adventures ranged from fighting a vengeful superman to raising the dead and kicking Christopher Lloyd in the face to going back in time to save the whales to Captain Kirk punching God in the face to courtroom drama, zero-gravity assassinations and Klingon diplomacy. This variety of stories, combined with the aforementioned character development, gave the original series’ crew a film series that stood on its on merits, removed from nostalgia.
The only way to enjoy Nemesis would be as a nostalgia trip. If you want to see the actors you grew up watching once more time, well, here they are. And I mean actors, not characters. As movie reviewing internet treasure Mr. Plinkett aptly put it, TV Picard and movie Picard are totally different. The intelligent diplomat has been replaced by a guy who rides around giggling in a dune buggy and laughing at his own jokes during a cheesy toast. The character’s not written like Picard, but almost like a parody of Captain Kirk. Perhaps he’s meant to be Zapp Brannigan.
Meanwhile, the movie is built around Data’s heroic sacrifice (to free Spiner, the actor, from the role) while leaving the character of B-4 around for a thankfully unrealized sequel.
Um, doesn’t that conflict with freeing the Augustus Gloop-like Spiner from Star Trek?
Nemesis‘ real problem is that it’s such a lousy end for the TNG characters, unlike its TV series finale. That television story gave a sense of closure, the perfect antagonist for Picard and afforded some nice moments for all the characters. It’s a perfect sign-off. Nemesis just feels like business as usual and is arguably worse than — gasp! — Voyager or Enterprise.
Next week: Insurrection!