Today, December 13, 2012, marks the 10th anniversary of the release of Star Trek: Nemesis, the final film with the Next Generation crew and last film before the JJ Abrams team took over the franchise. Today TrekMovie’s John Tenuto takes a look back at Nemesis ten years later.
Nemesis – Great Promise after a long wait
10 years ago, Star Trek: Nemesis premiered with great expectations. It was being directed by veteran editor Stuart Baird, responsible for such films as Superman: The Movie, and it was written by arguably one of the most in-demand screenwriters of the day, John Logan, who was just coming off an Oscar win for Gladiator. Logan volunteered to write for Star Trek because he was such a big Next Generation fan. Nemesis featured a promising story by Rick Berman, Brent Spiner, and Logan that would reveal more about the history of the Romulan Star Empire. The entire main TNG crew of actors had re-assembled, along cameos from Whoopi Goldberg and Wil Wheaton, and audiences were being told this was the "final journey" of the Next Gen crew. Jerry Goldsmith (another Oscar-winner) was also back, along with veteran makeup artist Michael Westmore. Everything was promising a big Star Trek film with success at the box office.
On television, Star Trek: Enterprise was in its second year. It had been four years since a Trek film had graced the big screen. The gap between Insurrection and Nemesis was the longest since the film franchise kicked off in 1979. It took some convincing to get Paramount to do another film with the TNG crew following what Paramount felt was underperforming box office of Insurrection. Apparently the cast even took pay cuts to make the film happen.
Teaser poster for ‘Nemesis’
I saw Star Trek: Nemesis under unusual circumstances, for me, anyway. My wife Maria Jose and I had recently had a son, Nicky, who was only six month old at the time of Nemesis’ premiere. We both had to see the film individually on opening day, taking turns watching our new son. Maria Jose went first, to the 3:25PM show. There were few people in the theater, but that wasn’t surprising considering it was a December afternoon with students finishing their semester tests. I was confident the later show I was attending would be crowded, and while there certainly were more people there, it was not as packed as previous Trek opening days had been. I began to worry then as the entire “franchise fatigue” bells had started to ring in the media.
I was bolstered, albeit temporarily, by Nemesis earning $18 million its opening weekend, number 2 at the box office. We did our part, going again the next day with my parents. The excitement would diminish when the film earned only $7 million each week for the next two weeks and it became clear that Nemesis was not resonating with a wider audience. In the end the film grossed $67 million off a reported budget of $60 million. After factoring in the cut for distributors and cost of marketing, this would be the first Star Trek film to take a loss at the box office. While Nemesis may have gone into the black with home media, it was dubbed a ‘bomb.’
Me – excited to about to see ‘Nemesis’
But why? All the ingredients were there for a good film: great actors who knew their roles, talented behind the scene Star Trek veterans, excellent special effects, and an intelligent script written by John Logan that respected the characters. The film also introduced audiences to Tom Hardy as Shinzon, and he has gone on to a very successful career, including Christopher Nolan’s Inception and The Dark Knight Rises.
Certainly some of the perceived plusses actually became minuses. Baird’s direction has been famously revealed to be unsuited to the Star Trek world. Logan’s script is very good, but it was heavily edited because of the long running time. Indeed, the film may have been more successful if they kept it to its more than 2.5 hour running time despite that meaning there would be less showings possible per day in theaters. The budgetary limitations, with the actors reportedly agreeing to less money to help the film get made, were also quite evident with the sets and some of the effects.
It did not help that the film was poorly promoted. A Del Taco promotion, a website, some television commercials, and a few toys were not enough to tell the general audience why they should see Nemesis. It also did not help that a James Bond film, a Harry Potter film, and a Lord of the Rings film all opened around the same time.
Director Stuart Baird with Patrick Stewart on set of ‘Nemesis’
Still a worthy Star Trek movie
Yet, I liked Nemesis then, and I like it now. Data’s relationship with Picard is one of loyalty and friendship, seen excellently in the film. In fact, the camaraderie between the characters is undeniably good in Nemesis, from the wedding sequence to Data’s funeral. Picard’s solution of ramming the Enterprise into the Scimitar is fun and surprising, and there are plenty of Trek easter eggs, like Admiral Kathryn Janeway’s appearance or the name of a ship being the U.S.S. Archer, provided by Logan’s script. It was great to learn more about the Romulans and their history, something the unfilmed and edited moments from the script go into even more detail about. The film does all this with some of the best dialog of the franchise, showing a wit and literacy missing since the Nicholas Meyer scripts. Of course, Goldsmith scores again with his score.
New ships like the Scorpion attack fighter and the excellent lighting and cinematography on Kolarus III help distract from some of the other budgetary limitations. Data’s death, yet promised rebirth, offers an appropriate melancholy end to the TNG adventures. Data’s idea that what makes us human is our trying to better than we are is pure Trek, and quite right. And as sociology professors, how could my wife and I not like a film that argues that we are more the result of our social experiences than we are our DNA?
Data says final goodbye to Picard in ‘Nemesis’
What is important is that Nemesis has a place in Star Trek history. It is the last filmed adventure of the TNG crew, at least as of this date (there is always hope!). It is an important timeline moment, with fans discussing the post Nemesis adventures of the extended universe and the pre Nemesis filmed adventures. And, ironically, the failure of Nemesis at the box office meant a radical regrouping of the film franchise resulting in Star Trek 2009. A bald Romulan leader with a long coat from Nemesis may have inspired Nero and his band in more ways than one.
When I think of Nemesis, and when I think of 2002, however, I remember a time when Picard and crew ruled the film franchise. I think of a film where I said goodbye to my TNG friends. And I think of midnight feedings of our new son, while playing the Nemesis music to stay awake.
Publicity photo of the TNG cast for ‘Nemesis’
More on Nemesis @10 to come
The next couple of days TrekMovie will be remember Star Trek: Nemesis with more looks back, including a deep dive into the merchandise. So stay tuned
POLL: How do you rank Nemesis?
You have had 10 years to reflect on it, so now how do you rank Star Trek: Nemesis ?(10 being best)