— 10:29 PM on August 3, 2003

I finally watched Star Trek: Nemesis a couple weekends ago, and I was intrigued by my own reaction to the movie, in part because I think it explains why this movie failed at the box office. The Trek fan in me thought it was a reasonably well-done Trek movie, and it was good to see the Next Generation cast, which is still the best. But as a movie watcher, I wasn't all that impressed. The big knock on many of the Trek movies, of course, applies here: "It was just like a big episode of the TV show." That's very true, but there's so much wrapped up in that sentiment.

The current custodians of the Trek franchise are not ones to take risks, so there is very little at stake whenever a story is told in the Star Trek universe. There are too many intersecting timelines and plot ripples for a single movie to risk something monumental happening. Thus, we always know the stakes are low.

And boy, are they. The Enterprise might get blown up, minus her core crew.


The only possibly worst event might be the introduction of the Voyager cast into the story, which would be really and truly devastating.

The low-stakes problem, of course, is the very antithesis of good sci-fi, and there are an awful lot of decent sci-fi and fantasy movies out there now that will really take the viewer somewhere interesting. Trek is tired because it is formula, because it's a franchise, and because one can't upset the franchise by putting all the pieces on the chessboard into play for real. The baddies may have Earth or the Federation in check, but everyone present knows full well there will be no checkmate.

In this insular little world, "history" repeats itself. [Spoiler coming.] Nemesis was a prime example, as the genetically-engineered baddie set out to destroy the Enterprise with superior firepower, only to be undone by his relative lack of cleverness. But not before inflicting significant damage on the Enterprise, and the situation could only be resolved by a crew member sacrificing his life. To our amazement, the most logical member of the crew proved the most altruistic, giving his all to save the rest. All mourned, but the movie closed by sowing the obvious seeds of this character's semi-miraculous return.

They might as well call the next one The Search for Data.

Then again, fan that I am, I've always liked Trek best when it ignored the rules Gene Rodenberry set for it, from the Prime Directive to his goofy late-20th-century liberal misreading of human nature. One can't tell a good story without conflict between strong characters, and Rodenberry's vision of the human future typically precluded that.

I’ve heard from friends that Deep Space Nine did a good job of telling a bigger story, but I just couldn’t ever get into it; the show wasn’t accessible to the casual viewer, and it aired at the wrong time for me to catch it weekly. To this day, if I hear the phrase “Gem Haddar,” my eyes glaze over.

Now comes news that they are looking at juicing up the Enterprise series next season with a real war and really new outfits for T'pol. I'm all for both. Last season, ratings tanked as we got episodes that were way-too-thinly veiled wet-noodle morality plays about war in Iraq, AIDS, and the like. These episodes just sat there on my TiVo, one-third watched, until they were mercifully overwritten. (And boy, those episodes were nothing if not overwritten.) I suppose if the war gambit doesn't work, season four will be nothing but 60-minute-long sessions of T'pol in the d-con chamber. I wonder: is it too late to save Trek?

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