Film, Scene by Scene, Star Trek: Nemesis

Scene by Scene: STAR TREK: NEMESIS Part X – ‘Blue Skies’

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…

For such a relentlessly dark film, Star Trek: Nemesis ends on a bittersweet note of hope, but one that feels false. It serves as a good allegory for the film in general: a point of departure that never feels right.

Cast your mind back to 1991. The Undiscovered Country brought the curtain down after 25 years on the adventure of The Original Series crew with a stylised flourish. The so-called ‘end of history’ predicted by political scientist Francis Fukuyama allowed Nicholas Meyer’s film to frame the first Star Trek generation’s final adventure around the end of the Cold War, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and use it as a neat parallel for the embrace of a new world: peace between the Federation and their most intractable enemies, the Klingons, one we would see reflected in Worf being part of the Enterprise crew in the middle of the 24th century. It felt symbolic. It felt earned. It felt worthy of such iconic characters.

When you consider Nemesis, do you feel the same way for the crew of The Next Generation? Is this either a fitting end to a 15 year run which took in seven seasons of a hugely popular TV series (far more popular in its time than The Original Series was while broadcast) and multiple movies? What really does Nemesis say about this crew or who they are at this point? I’m not convinced it says much of anything or leaves any of them, even Jean-Luc Picard, at a reasonable point of closure. It just feels like a film made to satisfy the box office needs of a franchise that, by this point, was running out of steam. Hence: darker, bigger, more explosive, higher stakes, a megalomaniacal villain and a story that taps into the most celebrated Star Trek movie of all.

Nemesis ends with shellshock for the characters which mirrors the unfinished trauma of a film which serves as no real ending at all. We would have to wait almost two decades before we saw the seeds of a true conclusion to the Next Generation era.

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Film, Scene by Scene, Star Trek: Nemesis

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 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.

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Film, Scene by Scene, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Scene By Scene: STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN – Part VI – ”Round Perdition’s Flames’

As voted for on Twitter by followers, I will be analysing Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan scene by scene in this multi-part exploration of Nicholas Meyer’s 1982 sequel…

If we understand Nicholas Meyer’s approach to the Star Trek universe as exploring the naval tradition in space, of transposing 18th or 19th century nautical literature to an imagined star-sailing future, then The Wrath of Khan at the end of its first act lays these credentials fully on the table.

Before the inevitable first confrontation between James T. Kirk and Khan Noonien Singh, prepared for by one and unexpected by the other, Meyer presents the villain of the piece with a choice. It is not too late to change his fate. Khan’s chief lieutenant, the younger genetically engineered Botany Bay crewman Joachim, suggests they have the means at their disposal to start a new life. “We have a ship and the means to go where we will”; in the naval sense, they are commanders of their own destiny. They have received a second chance at life, after exile from Earth and being marooned by Kirk and the Enterprise crew by the end of Space Seed. “You have proved your superior intellect, and defeated the plans of Admiral Kirk. You do not need to defeat him again”. Joachim in this sense is, quite literally, the Devil’s advocate. He believes that destiny does not drive Khan in the way the man imagines, even if his people would never abandon him or mutiny.

Meyer here, nevertheless, fully establishes Khan as a twisted version of Herman Melville’s Captain Ahab from his classic 19th century novel Moby Dick. Kirk is his white whale, his obsession. It has gone beyond any sense of reason, any consideration for anything or anyone outside of his fixation. Kirk is Khan’s destiny. “He tasks me… He tasks me and I shall have him. I’ll chase him round the moons of Nibia and round the Antares maelstrom and round perdition’s flames before I give him up…” This is, of course, a direct lift and alteration of Ahab’s famous declaration from Moby Dick about the titular whale. “I’ll chase him round Good Hope, and round the Horn, and round the Norway Maelstrom, and round perdition’s flames before I give him up…” Ahab says this to Starbuck, and Joachim very much fits that template – the loyal second in command who may question his Captain but would never challenge him.

If Kirk’s destiny is to find a purpose like Ahab did his whale, Khan’s manifest destiny, and his Luciferian escape from the depths of Hell, sends him deeper and deeper into the realm of insanity.

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Film, Scene by Scene, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Scene By Scene: STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN – Part V – ‘First Best Destiny’

As voted for on Twitter by followers, I will be analysing Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan scene by scene in this multi-part exploration of Nicholas Meyer’s 1982 sequel…

Running through the broader themes in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan of life and death, birth and rebirth, is the concept of destiny. The idea that James T. Kirk and Khan Noonien Singh are on a pre-determined, fate-driven course.

Following the reveal of Khan and the establishment of the Enterprise crew of foundling trainees, not to mention the Reliant’s mission and the Genesis project on space station Regula 1, Nicholas Meyer works to begin tying these disparate threads together and stitch Kirk and Khan toward their inevitable confrontation. Carol and David Marcus begin to suspect that the crew of the Reliant—now taken over by Khan and his genetically superior Botany Bay crew—have more sinister motivations for taking control of the Genesis device, as communicated by a robotic, we know to be controlled Pavel Chekov. The order is not just political but personal, given Chekov lies that Kirk is behind such an order. “Scientists have always been pawns of the military!” decries a quite paranoid David, even as Carol refuses to believe quite what Chekov is suggesting.

It further underlines a persistent theme in Meyer’s script: his fascination with quite what Starfleet actually is, given how loosely defined the organisation was in Star Trek lore up to this point. Even before the Reliant is seized by Khan, David is suspicious of Starfleet’s motives as a naval, militaristic agency, and Chekov’s lies only further deepen that suspicion. “Starfleet has kept the peace for a hundred years. I cannot and will not subscribe to your interpretation of this event.” Carol asserts, convinced that Starfleet’s motivations are about the science, not its nefarious applications. Meyer’s lens is informed by 20th century history, nevertheless. He is fully aware of how Robert Oppenheimer believed he was building a weapon to defeat fascism, only to find the H-bomb corrupted into a terrifying agent of prevention at the cost of millions of innocent lives.

The Wrath of Khan pointedly attempts to wrap up these bigger political questions about Starfleet’s operation around Kirk and Khan’s mutual destiny. Their mutually assured destruction.

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Film, Scene by Scene, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Scene By Scene: STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN – Part IV – ‘Death and Life Together’

As voted for on Twitter by followers, I will be analysing Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan scene by scene in this multi-part exploration of Nicholas Meyer’s 1982 sequel…

Though it retains the innate sense of optimism built into Star Trek’s world view, The Wrath of Khan approaches Gene Roddenberry’s universe from far more of a humanistic, historical naval tradition.

Starfleet of The Original Series was a crew of cowboy scientists galloping, as James T. Kirk suggests, through space. Nicholas Meyer’s film recasts the organisation as a respectful militaristic structure riven with rule and tradition. The Federation may not be equivalent to the British Empire of the 19th century, but if Kirk is Captain Horatio Hornblower and the U.S.S. Enterprise his frigate, Starfleet most certainly is a classical ‘space Navy’ in a way that wasn’t apparent in The Motion Picture.

What facilitated this change? Why did Meyer see Starfleet, later described in JJ Abrams’ reboot as a “humanitarian and peacekeeping armada”, in terms of rank and file, of rules and regulations?

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