Wednesday, 11 January 2017
Five Ways Star Trek: Nemesis Could Have Been Great
Every franchise has its black sheep, and Star Trek is no exception. Whether you're looking at the original series, The Next Generation and its successors, or the reboot, there's plenty to pick from. The worst of these tend to be the failures which cap off decades of greatness, and Nemesis is unfortunately regarded as the failure which killed the franchise.
Speaking personally, this film did not seem all that bad to me, but there were some definite missed opportunities. It should not have been the ending for Star Trek of this era, that's for sure, and it tended to pass up big attempts to breath new life into Star Trek over and over again. That and it should have definitely avoided drawing some unfortunate comparisons with past successes. With that in mind, here's just a few examples of ways they might have been able to fix things, and to turn a flawed release into a triumph.
5 - Less Wrath more Khan
This is the big thing which tends to stick in the minds of many people - The film was doing its absolute best to ape Wrath of Khan. While it can easily be argued that it was was taking heavy inspiration from the work over actually stealing things from it (and no Into Darkness, you weren't going to go unmentioned in this article) there's no denying the obvious comparisons. Many key plot points and general elements arise here just as the did in the previous film, with Data's sacrifice and the battle in the nebula standing out above all others. However, even this could have been somewhat forgiven if the drama built into the work leading up to this point had been better executed.
For example, Nemesis has one of the tightest focuses of the entire franchise - at least when it comes to the films - and tried to limit the drama to three characters: Picard, Data and Shinzon. Each was played by a skilled actor, and each had a definite history (or at least an arc) which was both strong and flexible enough to fit with most scripts no matter which direction they took. The problem, however, was that despite most of the drama focusing upon these three, it kept cutting away to other things time and time again. When you actually sit down and watch the film, the wedding sequence, the car chase and a few sub-plots like Shinzon's rape of Troi (one of the few truly unforgivable mistakes the film made) there is little time left for these three. It robs Nemesis of time to truly build up the relationship between Shinzon and Picard, until we're left with an extremely baseline link between the two and little else.
When you sit down and compare the film with the structure of Wrath of Khan, it's easy to see that it lacks the "fat" which weighed down Nemesis. We had more scenes with the villain thinking over Kirk if not directly interacting with him, a much snappier start and a far stronger basis for their conflict; not to mention a more promising build-up for the sacrifice and a less moronic means to achieve it. With more of a focus upon the character relationships and drama, and less upon the early moments which wasted the audience's time, Nemesis could have achieved the sort of dynamic it was looking for.
4 - A Crew of Many
Now, to contrast with the last point, let's say that there did need to be a broader focus. The crew of the Enterprise are beloved characters after all, so giving many of them a role in the overall film is hardly a bad idea. That said, if the film wanted to do something with them, it should have done something with them. Think about what Nemesis actually does for a moment, and what impact it actually had on the overall story. In effect, little to none at the end of the day, and despite this the film kept cutting away to them. The wedding scene, for example, took up a substantial chunk of the opening and it ultimately equated to very little. The only moment which might have granted a closer tie to the main plotline would have been a deleted scene where Picard speaks to Data about the future. Beyond that, the actual event was more of a tumorous lump which bogged down the rest of the story. If it wanted to use these characters, perhaps it could have done so by actually tying into their histories rather than using them for cheap gags.
For example, let's start with an easy one in the form of Worf. This is someone who is a combat veteran, who was on the frontline of the Dominion War and first to fight (and usually lose) most of the big dangerous aliens which showed up on the Enterprise. Combine this with his personal history, all the strife brought about by the Romulans, and you would think he would have something to say on the matter of peace. The idea that they could set everything aside and try to end everything, or even that the race itself had become enslaved to its underlings could have made for a small but powerful story for the character even amid the action.
Still, let's bring up another example - Riker. A long running problem with the show was the fact Riker had remained in the position of First Officer years after he should have become Captain, a point the series brought up more than once. Well, given his marriage, given his advanced age, perhaps the film could have finally resolved this. The thought out it could have been introduced and, while Picard is away from the Enterprise, something could have been done to finally have him take overall command and decide it was his time to move on. It would have made the ending where he finally accepts a captaincy all the more powerful, after all.
These didn't need to be big moments, nor did they need to truly take a massive amount of time away from the Picard-Shinzon dynamic. Yet, by just giving the actors more to do, it would have given far more life to the film and allowed its events to retain much more impact. After all, if this was to be one of the last films of this era, perhaps the fans would have appreciated seeing everyone tying up a few loose ends or getting in a personal "hurrah!" moment.
3 - Old Enemies, Future Allies
Much of the story surrounds the Romulan Star Empire and its sudden loss of power to the Remans. These were people who they had enslaved, taken over and even pressed into service as cannon fodder for generations, only to usurp them. This was, admittedly done with Romulan help, but more could have been done to actually play up this element and give some greater insight into the species.
For starters, as Shinzon gets more and more out of hand, a Romulan character could begin to realise what kind of monster they had unleashed. Perhaps, after a few acts, it starts to become enough for them to question if the Empire can survive with its current xenophobic view of the galaxy, or if its sins are catching up with it. They could even have an older character begin to realise that older attitudes in a much changed universe were only harming their efforts rather than actually ensuring their future.
As with the previous example, this could have easily been put down to a series of implied or minor points here and there. It could have even been used to resolve a few questionable plot points as well, such as the Scimitar. Rather than just having the Remans suddenly create this thing, the Romulan Empire could have ordered its construction, basing it upon Dominion Battleships. It was something they planned to introduce as a show of might against the Federation, given how the two were the only real powers left in the Alpha Quadrant, or as a final threat to end things. Seeing it turned back upon them, seeing it used as a means to enslave the Empire to their will, would have been enough.
Still, let's take it a step further - Rather than employing a character unseen until that film, Nemesis could have used a series villain to help enforce the need for change. Tomolak or Sela would have both been good choices, and given the talent of the actor and actress playing them, it could have enhanced the story through their performances. Sure, throw in a few shout-outs to their history or even a brief detail of past conflicts, but leave most of the connections to the audience to piece together while the fans enjoy the nod between the two.
Whatever the case, it would have added another perspective the story desperately needed.
2 - The Choices of One
A big point of Nemesis' storyline was a nature vs nurture element which never seemed to truly come to fruition. Shinzon is supposed to be a dark reflection of Picard after all, and a sign of what someone could become if they were merely born in the wrong place. It's a good idea to be sure, and a classic one, but it seemed more of an excuse to have a villain more than anything else. Really, much like the above points, little time was really devoted to properly exploring and detailing how this went, and how this younger man differed from Picard himself. Tom Hardy was certainly up to the task, and you could still see shades of a younger Picard beneath the acting, but few moments were really brought up to make use of this.
Really, beyond growing up in a mine and being used by the Romulans, what do we know of Shinzon? Yes, he's Picard's clone, but what did he consider to be his family down there, why was he so attached to the Remans, why did they take him in, and why did he push for totalitarian control? Better yet, why did he choose to annihilate Earth over everything else? Was it some desperate effort to make his mark on the galaxy given his impending death, or even to prove to the Romulans he could achieve within a year what they had failed for generations to do.
Even without going specifically into Shinzon's character though, also think what could have been done at Picard's end as well. His clone could be used to reflect back on his longer life, perhaps even to tie into the likes of Tapestry, in considering how a few choices can completely change a person. Perhaps it could be used as a point to drive him to make Shinzon a better person, or even steer him clear of the mistakes he almost made, before slowly realising Shinzon has made infinitely worse ones. It could even be used to make Picard think about the lessons he can leave behind to others, and the good he has done over the years. Hell, if you really wanted to just go for the basic one, perhaps tie it into Data's interactivity with B-4. They're almost copies of one another, after all, so it could be enough to make Data become the mentor to someone new after spending so many years being taught by others.
1 - Passing on the Baton
This, above all others, had to be the big one. Even if this wasn't to be the final Star Trek film of this series, it needed to show signs of winding down. Yes, there could have been a "Second star to the right, straight on 'till morning" moment, but also a scene to show the opposite of that as well. Perhaps display that, rather than being stuck in the same roles for years on end, the crew are starting to part ways. After all, rather than remaining as a single entity or grouped together for decades, many of these people could do far better for the Federation in other positions. It's why, when it came time to show All Good Things, the crew had split up and were working on their own. While I would personally still argue that this should not have been the end, it should have been their last role as a single united entity, and perhaps being forced to rejoin for the final run.
Why would this have been important? Simply put, it would have reflected once more upon change and choice, and helped to reinforce the themes of the film. Not everyone can remain fully active forever, after all, and we all need to step aside to let someone else take up our role some day. The question is then, who? If the Picard-Shinzon conflict is the focus, perhaps Picard could be considering leaving Starfleet for good, and considers Shinzon to be a possible successor. Perhaps not so much a replacement as someone who could unite the Romulan Empire and Federation, or succeed him in his own way. Hell, perhaps even serve as something of a son, given Picard himself never sired one.
There are ultimately a few ways this could have been treated, but by showing that the end was in sight, it could have been used to give a take on things which Wrath of Khan never did. Or perhaps offer a chance for the actors to step away for good, whichever you think would be the best.
Those are just five ideas though, and there are plenty of others which could be brought up here. Some have suggested reworking the script so it was more of an internal story with less explosions, and others that there should have been more explosions to go the full mile. Personally though, if the creators had just fixed a few of these points, I personally believe we would have been left with a far stronger film.