I've always found the "Star Trek" series enjoyable simply because it often provided good sci-fi, with well-defined characters and compelling plots. Although not a "Trekkie", I've gained greater appreciation for the series - and, more specifically, the "Next Generation" cast and crew - after going through the several seasons of the show via the DVD box sets of the series.
Yet, even at their best ("First Contact", for example), I've always felt that something was slightly lacking. Although the "Next Generation" films have benefited from a strong cast, advanced special effects and stronger action sequences, a darker tone (if the "Next Generation" films have one weakness, they don't integrate humor quite as smoothly as the original cast - drama and action are their strengths, and should be explored in greater degree) and fresh perspective might provide a boost. "Nemesis", although not a complete success, is one of the better "Trek" pictures in recent years, and certainly an improvement over the last one, "Insurrection".
"Nemesis" opens with a wedding between Will Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis). Data sings (see previous note about attempts at humor that don't work). Meanwhile, a human named Shinzon (Tom Hardy) has taken over the Romulan Empire, with bigger plans to destroy Earth. Of course, that's not all there is to it - although I won't give away the "twist", it becomes apparent that Shinzon and Picard (Stewart) have more in common then Picard could imagine.
"Nemesis" is one of only a few "Trek" films to be helmed by someone outside of the "Trek" universe - in this case, Stuart Baird (director of "Executive Decision" and editor of plenty of action movies, including "Mission Impossible II"). Baird is known for his involvement in standard, straightforward action pictures. Although "Executive Decision" and especially "US Marshals" had their flaws, Baird is able to skillfully stage an action sequence, apparent early on in "Nemesis" with a nicely tense car chase. The film was also written by someone without prior involvement in "Trek", "Gladiator" screenwriter John Logan. Although reportedly a fan of the series, Logan doesn't have as strong a grasp on these characters as other "Trek" writers have. I liked the action and I liked the different tone, but there weren't quite as many good character moments as there usually are in these films and some of the supporting cast members ended up being underused.
Performances are, as per usual, quite good. Patrick Stewart is once again superb as Picard, able to once again make this one of the most compelling characters in recent sci-fi. Brent Spiner (in a dual role as Data and his clone) is quite good here, too, although a few moments of humor are iffy. Jonathan Frakes (who has also directed two "Trek" features), Levar Burton, Michael Dorn and others provide fine support, although as I noted before, this feature seemed to take a bit less time for each of the many supporting characters. Tom Hardy walks the line between involving and over-the-top as Shinzon, but does well with the character and makes it into one of the better villians in "Trek" features.
Technically, this is also one of the finest "Trek" features. The special effects are quite good at times, and more smooth and vivid than past features in the series. Jeffrey L. Kimball's cinematography has always been very stylish ("Stigmata", "Mission Impossible: 2"), but interesting to watch. Like the overall movie, his cinematography here is darker in tone than most "Trek" fare, but I found the film's lighting and compositions very enjoyable.
Overall, while not one of the best "Trek" features overall, it's certainly one of the better recent efforts. I liked the change in look and tone, and felt the action sequences were exciting and visually impressive. Hopefully, the film will find a larger audience on video.
VIDEO: "Nemesis" is presented by Paramount in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Although not without a few very little concerns in a couple of spots, this is largely a stellar transfer. Sharpness and detail were exceptional throughout, as the image remained rock-solid and even offered superb depth and clarity even in the film's many darker scenes.
The only thing keeping the presentation from perfection was a couple of little specks on the print used. Other than that, everything's in order - no edge enhancement was spotted, no pixelation was seen and even the tiny print issues were really of little concern, given how wonderful the rest of the presentation appeared.
SOUND: "Nemesis" is presented by Paramount in Dolby Digital 5.1. Although more action-oriented, this film's sound design (by a team including - Tim Walston, "Fast and the Furious", Thomas Causey, "Jurassic Park III" and Harry Cohen, "XXX") is certainly more enjoyable than any of the other "Trek" pictures. Surrounds are used very aggressively throughout much of the pictures, but never moreso than the battle sequence in the second half of the film, where ships fly through the room with impressive power and authority. Weapons fire, whether from phasers or ships, is strongly heard throughout the listening space, very convincingly and distinctly heard from the rear speakers. A few sections of the film offer what I'd consider demo-worthy sound use.
Audio quality throughout the presentation was wonderful, with strong low bass, crisp dialogue and crystal clear effects. No edginess or other issues were encountered. There are a few stretches where the picture is more dialogue-driven, but the action sequences in this picture provided exceptional and very entertaining sound use.
Commentary: Director Stuart Baird offers a full-length audio commentary for the feature. It's a fairly good commentary when Baird actually does speak - the director does a fine job going over his intentions for the feature (such as darker tone and different look and feel) and how he approached the task of directing, given the fact he was unfamiliar with the "Trek" universe. While Baird does provide some good tidbits when he does speak, the track does get a little spotty, as there are the occasional bits of silence.
Stuart Baird on directing "Nemesis": This nearly 9-minute feature focuses on non-"Trekkie" Baird's entry into the "Star Trek" universe. It's got a bit too much "happy talk" from cast/crew about how wonderful Baird's fresh perspective was, but the director's comments in the interview segments are insightful. Another, similar featurette ("A Bold Vision") largely continues along the same lines as this one.
Red Alert: The Action of "Nemesis": This is a 10-minute piece that discusses the more complex action sequences that can be found throughout "Nemesis". The featurette gives some idea of how these sequences were staged through interviews with cast/crew and some behind-the-scenes footage.
A Star Trek Family's Final Journey: Although seemingly more about what appears to be the end of the cinematic "Trek" series (at least this version), this is more a general "wrap-up", with interviews from the cast, who all discuss their feelings about "Nemesis". 16 minutes.
Also: A little under 20 minutes of involving deleted scenes, some with introductions. A photo gallery is also offered.
Previews: Previews for "Star Trek: DS9" DVD sets, a "Star Trek" Vegas attraction and, one of my favorites of 2002, "The Hours".
Final Thoughts: While I'm not sure how much longer "Trek" can go forward, I certainly don't understand the somewhat negative reaction this picture seemed to receive upon theatrical release. I found it to be an entertaining feature, with solid effects and action, along with good performances. The DVD offers outstanding picture and sound, along with a few fine supplemental features. Recommended.