Cutting the Heart Out of a Good Movie

I've finally seen Star Trek: Nemesis thanks to Dan Kukwa, but I'm sorry to say that the experience was a disappointment.

The movie had incredible spectacle, just like Star Wars: Attack of the Clones. There was a jaw-droppingly spectacular shot -- not the moment when the USS Enterprise crashes into the enemy ship (shown on most trailors), but when the two ships pull apart. The pieces of metal flowing into space, the silence of the scene (in space, no-one can hear you scream!), and the decision by the director to shoot "up" from "below", so we get a sense of the scale of these two huge battleships -- that scene alone topped anything The Wrath of Khan placed before our eyes.

And, unlike Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, there were no bad actors in sight. Everyone was comfortable in their roles, and played themselves true to character. The guest villain was well cast and suitably menacing, for all his boyish charm, and the other incidental characters held their own. There are some nice character moments between the regulars, and all told, it was a fitting good-bye to the Next Generation crew. Even Admiral Janeway's cameo went well.

But the story sucked. It has to be said. Even Star Wars: Attack of the Clones had a better plot (albeit marginally).

I think the greatest problem I had was with the motivations, or, rather the profound lack of them. The main villain is plunked onto our screen with a deep desire to kill Picard and annihilate Earth, and we're expected to just swallow it. Sure, in any other science fiction movie, we'd buy it without a second's glance, but this isn't just any other science fiction movie, it's Star Trek. A major coup happens on Romulus within five minutes, and we're given no reason for the Romulan military's support of this stranger (a human clone who has spent most of his life living with Remans -- the lowest caste in the Romulan Empire, that he has elevated to the top ranks with his victory), and little reason for the military's eventual turn against him. Sure, in any other science fiction movie, we'd-- but you get the idea.

Cap this off with a technobabble weapons threat, and it all rings false. I get no sense of the complex and groundbreaking storylines that Star Trek used to offer (especially in Deep Space Nine), and I wonder why I'm wasting my time.

After telling Dan this (a risky move, he is such a die-hard fan), he made an interesting point: the movie we saw was not the same as the script he read, which he had raved over. Forty minutes of this movie were on the cutting room floor. These cuts weren't just character material (lines for Wesley, Guinan, Leah Brahms, for instance), but included the main villain's address to the Romulan Senate, scenes explaining the Romulan military's support for this man and other scenes which make key elements of this movie make sense.

Why didn't Paramount release this material if it helped the story so much? They didn't want Star Trek: Nemesis to be two hours and forty minutes long. That's too much for an audience to sit through. Tell that to the Lord of the Rings watchers massaging their sore backsides.

This, my friends, is exactly the mentality that's coursing through the recent incarnations of Star Trek and destroying the franchise. The series that gave us one of the first ever interracial kisses on television now panders to its audience, hitting the reset button with every episode of Voyager and putting fluff before our screens in the form of Enterprise. Developing characters is no longer important. Telling complicated stories over several episodes is too risky. Just put out the same product week after week, don't take risks, and let the audience lap it up like docile cows at the trough, and Paramount is happy.

The Star Trek franchise and its fans deserve better. They deserve good stories that aren't restricted by commercial considerations. When I edited a fan fiction magazine, people sometimes asked "how long should my story be?" and the answer is "as long as it needs to be." But this is a part of a wider malaise, which is preventing Hollywood from taking risks, making movies that are story-focused rather than special-effects spectaculars, and require intermissions halfway through.

Star Trek used to stand for something special, but now it's fallen amongst the commercialized pack. I suppose I should be grateful that there was a good story within the movie that had been cut to pieces, but until Paramount loosens its grip on the series and let's it take creative flight, Star Trek now offers nothing that stands it out from the crowd.

The franchise is dead, Jim.


For those salivating over the prospect of a Two Towers extended DVD release, here's an article (unconfirmed) listing scenes cut from the theatrical release. Thanks to the Ivory Tower for this link.

I hope that the additional 30 minutes of running time lent to the Fellowship DVD release did not represent the full amount of material that was available. In other words, I hope that the material was added back in order to make a better movie, not just out of completism. Arwen participating (likely telepathically) in Helm's Deep does NOT sound like a good idea. On the other hand, Legolas and Gimli exploring the beautiful caves beneath Helm's Deep is a must-have inclusion.

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