2002’s Star Trek: Nemesis was a financial and critical failure, but is it as bad as Trekkies remember? Yes. Yes it is.
Star Trek: Insurrection was a disappointing entry for the Next Generation crew – both creatively and at the box office. It made $117 million worldwide, which was only about $30 million less than Star Trek: First Contact, but the budget was pretty hefty, thanks mainly to salaries, with the film costing $70 million, making it the most expensive Trek movie to date. While the studio likely eeked out a profit once it hit home video, the margins were slim. Thus, Paramount, which still hoped the franchise could bounce back in another movie, opted to shake things up for the ambitious Star Trek Nemesis. Yet, all the pricey talent they went after, at the sacrifice of some of TNG’s key creative players, could save the movie from being an all-out disaster that ended the Next Generation crew’s adventures on the big screen for good.
Jump back to 1998. Star Trek: Insurrection wasn’t a hit, and many assumed that was it for the Next Gen crew. It looked, for a while, like the whole franchise was dying, with Deep Space Nine ending in 1999 and Star Trek Voyager ending in 2001. Neither show was popular enough for the crew to cross over to the big screen. Paramount, for their next Star Trek show, tried to dial down the “trek-ness” of the franchise, making a prequel show called Star Trek Enterprise, starring Scott Bakula, which, in a bonehead movie, had a widely mocked Diane Warren song left over from the movie Patch Adams as its theme.
It was this mentality that infected Star Trek Nemesis. Some of the ideas were sound. Paramount hired screenwriter John Logan, who had written Gladiator, to pen the script, which would center around Picard meeting a younger clone of himself that the Romulan Empire created. While it wasn’t being called a “farewell” film, it did seem like Paramount was looking for a way to scale down the cast in future instalments. The movie opens with Riker and Troi being married, with them departing at the end of the film so that Riker can command the Titan. Brent Spiner also got his long-held wish to have Data get killed off, in a fashion, with him them finding an android resembling Data called B-4, that Data manages to download all of his memories into before dying. A bit of a cop-out.
It was the choice of directors that really sunk Nemesis. While Jonathan Frakes had become a good director for the studio, they decided to bring in an “action” director for a fresh look at the material. Rather than an A-lister, they chose Stuart Baird, who was best known as an editor. He had directed Executive Decision and The Fugitive sequel U.S Marshalls. Still, he also had a reputation as a fix-it editor who could save movies in trouble. The legend goes that Baird managed to whip Paramount’s Tomb Raider into shape and that the directing job on Nemesis was his reward for saving that troubled film.
Whatever the case, Baird admitted to not knowing much about the franchise. He made a point of not consulting with Frakes on-set, with the excuse being that he was fishing his own directorial vehicle for Paramount, the teen film Clockstoppers. In the commentary track for Insurrection, Marina Sirtis calls Baird an idiot. At the same time, Levar Burton said he didn’t even bother to watch Next Generation episodes and thought Geordi was an alien. Baird got into hot water when the DVD came out, admitting on the commonalty track that he couldn’t remember the names of his actors – which I’m sure went down like a lead balloon on set. Maybe that’s why Frakes, in a masterful moment of pique, refused to shave his back for a shirtless love scene with Marina Sirtis, forcing the studio to CGI out his back rug.
Of everyone, though, the one who got dealt the unkindest cut was poor Will Wheaton, who was supposed to make his triumphant return as Wesley Crusher. Well, he’s back – sort of. You can see him smiling in the Troi-Riker wedding sequence, but he has no dialogue. He was essentially an extra. Ouch.
If the movie is remembered for anything now, it’s for being one of Tom Hardy’s first movies. He plays Shinzon, the young clone of Picard, and indeed, he looks a lot like a young Patrick Stewart here, as it was before he started packing on muscle. It did less than nothing for his career, with Hardy admitting that he took the movie failing to heart, diving into booze, drugs and depression, and finally pulling himself together years later when he reinvented himself for Bronson. To note, Stewart himself thought Hardy’s career would never take off, only to be proven very wrong in the years to follow.
So how does Star Trek Nemesis hold up? Not well. It was bad in 2002, and it’s bad now, with Baird a lame choice to helm a Trek film. I understand why he was brought on, as they wanted to make the movie harder-edged and more action-packed, which is why there’s a car chase early in the film. Still, the choices here are bizarre, including a weird moment where Shinzon psychically rapes Troi, and the rest of the cast, including Worf, Crusher and Geordi, have nothing to do in the film. At least Riker gets to fight the secondary bad guy, Ron Perlman’s Reman Viceroy. The CGI is quite bad here, considering this came out the same year as The Two Towers, although the saving grace is that Jerry Goldsmith is around to contribute his final motion picture score before passing away.
In the end, Nemesis was a box office disaster. It only grossed $67 million WORLDWIDE, having come out opposite steep competition that included not only The Two Towers but also Die Another Day and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Next to those movies, Star Trek seemed old hat, and Patrick Stewart went merrily back to the MCU to continue playing Charles Xavier, a role that finally allowed him to escape some of his Star Trek typecasting.
Indeed, with the franchise later rebooted by J.J. Abrams, it looked like the Next Generation crew was going to go out with a whimper, but the rise of streaming led to a new show, Star Trek Picard, which, after two mediocre seasons, ended with a season-long arc that reunited the crew for one last adventure that many said played out like the last great Next Generation film. But what about that Trek reboot? We’ll talk about it in our next Trek Revisited episode!
Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/star-trek-nemesis-revisiting-the-worst-star-trek-movie-ever/