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Star Trek: First Contact

Scene by Scene: STAR TREK: NEMESIS Part IX – ‘Goodbye…’

As Star Trek: Picard begins, with the return of The Next Generation era, I’m going to take a scene by scene look back in the next couple of months about the tenth Star Trek film, Stuart Baird’s Nemesis, from 2002…

The so-called Battle of the Bassen Rift is designed, pretty unashamedly, to recall the Battle of the Mutara Nebula in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, with Nemesis even determined to sacrifice a major character at the end of it in a shock way to save the ship and crew.

When you think about the climactic battle in The Wrath of Khan, do you remember it riven with tension? A pitched, submarine or maritime fleet tet-a-tet in space between the Enterprise and the Reliant which was more about the aspect of quiet suspense and tactical superiority between Admiral Kirk and Khan Noonien Singh? We don’t come anywhere close to that in Nemesis. The Bassen Rift is a fairly routine, thunderous ship to ship battle, with a few Romulan ships thrown in for good measure, with the only unique selling point being Jean-Luc Picard’s decision to crash the saucer section of the Enterprise-E into the Scimitar, having exhausted shields, weapons and the self-destruct system. Even this, however, felt better done in Star Trek: Generations, when the separated Enterprise-D saucer slams into Veridian III.

Nemesis almost feels designed to be the culmination of every space battle Star Trek has delivered thus far in the 90’s era of the show, given they steadily built from a few skirmishes in The Next Generation to an entire war in Deep Space Nine or a horde of Borg Cubes battling bio-synthetic, inter-dimensional beings in Voyager. Everything about that ugly sword in space, the Scimitar, is a representation of how Nemesis simply relies on the dark, explosive set-piece when this crew, and these actors, are capable of so much more. Just look at that hilariously embarrassing Will Riker/Viceroy action set-piece, seemingly designed to give Jonathan Frakes one last run at Action Riker (or even something to do in a film where he’s done naff all). Apparently Riker was supposed to quip: “Don’t worry, hell is dark” before kicking the Viceroy to his death, though it was vetoed because they felt Riker would be enjoying the murder a bit too much. It’s a shame he didn’t. Some unintentional levity at this point would have been welcome.

By now though, the stakes are supposedly high. Shinzon has a WMD. He’s headed for Earth. The fleet are nowhere. The Romulans aren’t enough help. How, in the end, do you solve a problem like Shinzon?

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Scene by Scene: STAR TREK: NEMESIS Pt VII – ‘The Echo Over the Voice’

As Star Trek: Picard begins, with the return of The Next Generation era, I’m going to take a scene by scene look back in the next couple of months about the tenth Star Trek film, Stuart Baird’s Nemesis, from 2002…

The final few scenes of, roughly, the second and middle act of Star Trek: Nemesis underpin many of the issues about Stuart Baird’s film that we have already discussed, chiefly the tortured parallel between hero and villain.

Jean-Luc Picard, abducted by Shinzon and thrown in the brig of his gigantic warship the Scimitar, has the truthful showdown they danced around while speaking in the Romulan Senate. If that was Shinzon play-acting the diplomatic new leader, this is the outcast, spiteful clone child who never grew up in the bowels of his oversized toy, spitting venom at the man who encapsulates everything Shinzon is aggrieved by. And this conversation really does spell out that psychology: Shinzon hates what he is, and hates that he didn’t have the easier, more prosperous and respected life Picard had. All of Picard’s innate ego as a leader morphed and twisted into a nightmarish visage. “My life is meaningless as long as you’re still alive. What am I while you exist? A shadow? An echo?”.

Nemesis is all about the darker ‘id’ of our hero trying to assert itself. Were we dealing with more of a skilled script that truly understood the film being made, we could suggest this is why Picard reacts so poorly to the violation of Deanna Troi, as discussed previously – a violation, indeed, that serves little purpose as B-4 contains the transponder needed to execute Shinzon’s plan, so mind-raping the Counselor just appears to be ‘sport’ for the villain, if it wasn’t distasteful a narrative choice enough. One could argue that Nemesis is attempting to literalise Picard’s internal darkness through Shinzon, a darkness we glimpsed in Star Trek: First Contact during his obsessive pursuit of the Borg (which Shinzon even alludes to here), but this would be giving the film too much psychological credit. John Logan is certainly shooting for those Jungian comparisons but you never truly feel, in any way, that Shinzon is some kind of Picard offshoot, except for the fact both men are folically challenged.

The fact is, Nemesis has already spent over half of the running time playing with a relationship that was clearly antagonistic from the very beginning, and now as those dominoes begin to fall, the emptiness of the film begins to show itself.

Scene by Scene: STAR TREK: NEMESIS Pt VI – ‘A Violation’

As Star Trek: Picard begins, with the return of The Next Generation era, I’m going to take a scene by scene look back in the next couple of months about the tenth Star Trek film, Stuart Baird’s Nemesis, from 2002…

One of the criticisms of the recent revival series, Star Trek: Picard, is that Jean-Luc is not acting at points in the manner one would expect from Starfleet’s most reasoned, compassionate Captain. While there may be some truth to this in places, the new series contains nothing as egregiously out of character as we see in Star Trek: Nemesis.

I’m referring, of course, to Picard’s insistence that his trusted Counselor, Deanna Troi, in the wake of a particularly traumatic sexual assault committed on her by villain Shinzon—via the mind powers of his Viceroy—through powerful telepathy, allow herself to go through the ordeal again as part of the bigger picture. The ship’s doctor, Beverly Crusher, is strangely dismissive for starters. “Aside from slightly elevated levels of adrenalin and serotonin, you’re completely normal”. When Deanna, understandably shaken and rocked by what she’s experienced, requests to be relieved of duty, Picard does not just deny it but doubles down. “If you can endure more of these assaults, I need you at my side now, more than ever”. Yes, you read that right. The hero of Star Trek: The Next Generation actually asks Deanna Troi to let herself be raped, again, in order to try and deal with Shinzon, his only reasoning seemingly being that they are “far from Federation space”.

This goes beyond a mere mishandling of character. Troi describes her assault as “a violation” but Picard’s response is without doubt a violation of everything we know about this man. Granted, he always traditionally struggled with inter-personal relationships across the run of TNG, but Movie Picard—a distinction we have discussed—is markedly more open and relaxed around his crew. Nemesis presents him as anxious about their departure, about the immediacy of changes to the “family” he discussed in the wedding speech at the beginning of the film. So would he really, at this point in his life and career, ask a dear friend—someone who counselled him through his own violating trauma after assimilation by the Borg, and someone he has just helped marry—to open herself up to a deep psychological and sexual assault after having just experienced one?

The answer is, of course, no. It is without doubt the most unpalatable and insensitive aspect of Nemesis as a film, which here uses serious sexual assault as a stepping stone of narrative in a troubling and even flippant way. …

Scene by Scene: STAR TREK: NEMESIS Pt V – ‘A Better Way’

As Star Trek: Picard begins, with the return of The Next Generation era, I’m going to take a scene by scene look back in the next couple of months about the tenth Star Trek film, Stuart Baird’s Nemesis, from 2002…

While Star Trek as a franchise, across all of its television series, has been defined by the philosophical and scientific approach its storytelling has taken to humanity’s future, Star Trek in cinematic terms often feels defined by the antagonist of each film.

When people think of The Wrath of Khan, do they immediately imagine Kirk’s grapple with middle age or his emotional and physical rebirth? Maybe, but they’re probably more likely to conjure up Ricardo Montalban with his buffed tanned chest and wild hair spitting Shakespearean poison. Who can think of The Undiscovered Country, equally, without imagining Christopher Plummer’s General Chang twirling happily in his chair barking lines from Hamlet? Alice Krige’s sultry, mechanical and haunting turn as the Borg Queen is just as synonymous with First Contact, to the point she holds a pride of place position on the film’s poster. In so many Star Trek films, the villain is crucial. The last three pictures have all boasted star name bad guys perhaps even more famous than the main cast – Bana, Cumberbatch, Elba, all A-list Hollywood surnames who people instantly recognise. Think about some of the names who’ve inhabited these roles previously – Christopher Lloyd, Malcolm McDowell, F. Murray Abraham. Legendary character actors to a man. There is almost as much cache in playing a Star Trek villain as there is a James Bond antagonist.

Retrospectively, Tom Hardy sits on that tier of household name bad guy, even if when Nemesis came out he was a youthful, unknown quantity no doubt cast because of a passing visual similarity to Patrick Stewart, but in hindsight Hardy ended up being a ‘get’, even if Shinzon never sits in the tier of the greatest Star Trek cinematic bad guys, some of which have been mentioned above. The truth is, while Star Trek has always engaged with excellent, well-known actors to play these parts, the villains themselves often end up overshadowed by the Starfleet crew themselves. Sybok, Tolian Soran, R’uafu – does anyone really know who these characters are outside of Star Trek fandom? Arguably the only villain to truly break out into mainstream popular culture is Khan Noonien Singh, especially given his lease of life recast in Star Trek Into Darkness more recently. Khan set the bar as a character (and in The Wrath of Khan) that the franchise has been striving to equal ever since. Shinzon, however, is the most unashamed attempt to cash in on Khan’s charismatic mania.

As we start to peel back the layers of Shinzon, learning his backstory and of his bizarre connection to Jean-Luc Picard, Nemesis’ blatant mission statement to replicate what made Khan work becomes ever clearer. …

Scene by Scene: STAR TREK: NEMESIS Pt III – ‘Unsafe Velocities’

As Star Trek: Picard begins, with the return of The Next Generation era, I’m going to take a scene by scene look back in the next couple of months about the tenth Star Trek film, Stuart Baird’s Nemesis, from 2002…

It almost seemed a direct, deliberate counterpoint to the stripped back, low-fi prequel aspect to Star Trek: Enterprise, the dune buggy in Star Trek: Nemesis. Captain Jonathan Archer barely had room for a dog, let alone an indulgent race car, not to mention a personal Captain’s yacht, which we saw in previous film Star Trek: Insurrection.

Enterprise was in its second season when Nemesis premiered in cinemas and was by then flying the flag for Star Trek on television, and was in a diametric position to the crew of the Enterprise-E. If Nemesis in 2379 represented, at that point, the top end of the timeline, Enterprise was positioned over 200 years earlier at the other – the beginning. Captain Jean-Luc Picard’s two Enterprise’s were galactic, diplomatic cruise ships. Archer’s was a submarine in space. In Enterprise, androids were centuries away and Romulans were enigmatic to the point no human had ever seen their face. In Nemesis, B-4 represents how central the idea of synthetic life has become to 24th century Star Trek, a factor which will heavily influence and continue in Star Trek: Picard beyond this. This is a film which opens Romulus and it’s people up, more directly, than any Star Trek story in history.

The existence of the Argo is the most potent example of how Nemesis strives to fuse together The Next Generation-era’s futurism with the near future modern aesthetic of EnterpriseStar Trek historically replaces the motorised vehicle with the shuttle or hover vehicle, a symbol of Trek’s utopian future, but Picard seems gleeful at the opportunity to test drive a ground based car with wheels and an engine – though no doubt one powered with some kind of fossil fuel free zero point energy or such. “I will always be puzzled by the human predilection for piloting vehicles at unsafe velocities” Data remarks, an acute observation for the fact Picard has never historically appeared to be a ‘petrol-head’ interested in vehicles like this. You believed it when child Kirk stole his stepdad’s Chevy at the beginning of Star Trek 2009 for the thrills. It’s less in character for a measured Captain such as Picard.

It perhaps further establishes how Nemesis, and particularly the two films before them, provide a clear delineation between ‘TV Picard’ and ‘Movie Picard’, while at the same time nudging Star Trek—at the end of the 90’s era of the franchise—toward the retro-futurism the franchise would employ once it reboots itself.

Scene by Scene: STAR TREK: NEMESIS Pt II – ‘Captain’s Prerogative’

As Star Trek: Picard begins, with the return of The Next Generation era, I’m going to take a scene by scene look back in the next couple of months about the tenth Star Trek film, Stuart Baird’s Nemesis, from 2002…

It almost became a running joke across Star Trek: The Next Generation… when exactly *would* Will Riker accept a promotion to Captain and command his own starship?

It’s a question that defined perhaps the most legendary episode of TNG, Season 3’s finale and Season 4’s premiere The Best of Both Worlds, in which Riker has to step up and truly command the Enterprise when Captain Jean-Luc Picard is abducted and assimilated by the Borg, challenged all the way by spunky first officer Elizabeth Shelby. Riker, ultimately, refuses to take the logical next step in his career for many years. For the remainder of TNG’s run on television. Even during the big screen outings, indeed we see Commander Worf, the Enterprise’s chief security officer, captaining a ship before Riker in Star Trek: First Contact, as he commands the USS Defiant against another Borg invasion. Riker resists his destiny right up until the very last moment, the ‘generation’s final journey’, and it comes in tandem with finally tying the knot with the love of his life, Counselor Deanna Troi, after their romance was rekindled during previous film Star Trek: Insurrection.

The fact Star Trek: Nemesis pulls the trigger on these seismic personal events for Riker is further proof of just how *final* this film was meant to be for the crew of The Next Generation. That show, born as it was of an episodic television structure designed for later syndication and built on many of the episodes being watchable out of sequence, would resist time and again the natural promotion for Riker and relationship with Deanna, both of which almost certainly would have taken place on the serialised, riskier Deep Space Nine at the time. Nemesis has the freedom to change Riker and Troi’s circumstance by virtue of the fact we were never supposed to see them again. Their adventures on Riker’s new ship, the USS Titan, were a chapter meant for tie-in novels and fan fiction, not the canonical Star Trek universe. Nemesis could instigate these developments because it was where the line was being drawn.

Nevertheless, it remains a huge moment for the crew of TNG, the wedding of Riker and Troi, and particularly for Picard himself. He may start his best man speech in jest, yet there is truth beneath his words. “I have commanded men in battle. I have negotiated peace treaties between implacable enemies. I have represented the Federation in first contact with twenty-seven alien species, but none of this compares to my solemn duty today …as best man.”

Picard understands nothing will ever quite be the same again.

Scene by Scene: STAR TREK: NEMESIS Pt I – ‘A Generation’s Final Journey Begins’

As Star Trek: Picard begins, with the return of The Next Generation era, I’m going to take a scene by scene look back in the next couple of months about the tenth Star Trek film, Stuart Baird’s Nemesis, from 2002…

‘A Generation’s Final Journey Begins…’

That was the uniquely ominous strap line for Star Trek: Nemesis at the end of 2002. The promise of closure. 

After fifteen years, since The Next Generation launched on television in 1987 and triggered the second era of Star Trek, the voyages to go where no one has gone before for Captain Jean-Luc Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-E (formerly D) would be coming to an end in the fourth and final film for a dynamic new crew slipping gracefully into middle age. Voyager had just ended on television after seven years but Enterprise was in its second season, and there was every indication more spin-off shows would eventually line up alongside it. To Paramount, franchise producer Rick Berman, and the cast and crew, it felt like the right time to bring the curtain down on these characters.

Many remembered how just over a decade previously, The Undiscovered Country had quite naturally retired the crew of The Original Series. It felt apt, with a group of characters born in the heart of Cold War detente and futuristic optimism, to see Kirk, Spock et al warp off into the sunset as the Soviet Union fell and the geopolitical paradigm changed. Nemesis struggles to replicate that same feeling of finished business. The Next Generation crew never entirely gelled with the cinema in the way The Original Series crew had, and arguably only First Contact stands out with time and distance as a truly great Star Trek movie. Kirk & company found each other again in middle age and discovered a creative renaissance, triggered by the success of The Wrath of Khan. Picard and his crew went immediately from the end of their series into Generations and a movie saga, stuttering across a decade in which the world changed around them.

Nemesis, released in the long shadow cast on all American storytelling by the horrific events of September 11th, 2001 in New York, as a result feels like the reluctant last gasp of Star Trek’s second era, wedged amidst the embers of Reaganism and the post-Cold War ‘End of History’ that 9/11 blew out of the water.

It feels, oddly, like a crew who aren’t quite as ready for retirement as everyone thinks.

Plugging Gaps: How backstory is *becoming* story

Remember the time that backstory was just that? Backstory.

Many of the most successful TV shows and movies are specifically built on a sense of their own mythology and world building. Game of Thrones has a series of vast novels to draw on which detail an incredibly complicated social and political eco-system, for example. Backstory, the details of the universes of these tales and the histories of many characters within the stories, provide the unseen depth and ballast to the tale we are being told, the tale we are invested in.

In recent years, however, the trend of this has begun to shift. Our biggest stories within popular culture are now becoming obsessed with backstory not just being developed to enable the narrative, they are instead *becoming* the narrative. Storytellers are actively attempting to try and ‘plug gaps’, for want of a better term, in continuity and canon, believing it seems that audiences are as obsessed with these minor details as the writers of these properties appear to be. We are losing the element of ambiguity, surprise and mystery.

We are losing backstory by exploring too much of it.

Making it So: the Return of Jean-Luc Picard & Star Trek’s Nostalgic Future

A couple of months ago, I pontificated on whether the pursuit of nostalgia was a good thing for my second favourite entertainment franchise, Star Trek, in the wake of rumours that Sir Patrick Stewart may well be reprising his iconic role as The Next Generation’s Captain Jean-Luc Picard. This weekend, at the Star Trek Las Vegas fan event, those rumours became reality. The second captain of the USS Enterprise is, officially, on his way back.

What does this mean, now, for the future of Star Trek?

Book Trek #9: Star Trek: Strange New Worlds – ‘The Beginning / Forgotten Light’

In an attempt to try and tackle the onerous job of looking into the Star Trek book universe, thanks to the help of Memory Beta’s chronology section, I am intending to look at the saga in book form from stories which take place earliest in the franchise’s timeline onwards. This hopefully should provide an illuminating and unusual way of examining the extended Star Trek universe.

These stories take place, in part, 200,000 years ago.

One of the most exciting aspects of the Strange New Worlds, non-canonical anthology books which were released amidst Star Trek novels over roughly a ten year period, is how they could explore all kinds of territory the TV shows or movies would never have gotten near – perhaps even to a greater degree than the tie-in novels, which always usually had to revolve around characters we know from the screen. The Beginning and Forgotten Light are two such key examples.

Now I’ve decided to talk about these short stories together because both of them, unusually, cover the exact same topic, just in different ways and contexts: the creation of the Borg. If ever a race in Star Trek were likely to have an origin story, it would be the terrifying cybernetic beings first encountered by the USS Enterprise-D in The Next Generation’s second season episode Q-Who?; a collective of telepathically linked drones who travelled the galaxy in cubes assimilating every species they come into contact with, believing they were technologically superior and that knowledge of all cultures inside their collective would allow them to reach perfection. A fascinating alien creation, the Borg cast arguably the biggest shadow over Star Trek in the 90’s as the Klingons or Vulcans did in the 1960’s.