- Year: 2002
- Director: Stuart Baird
- Series Rank: #9
- Year Rank: #122
- Oscar Nominations: none
- Nighthawk Nominations: none
- The Enterprise Crew: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, Gates MacFadden, LeVar Burton, Marina Sirtis, Michael Dorn
- Villain: Tom Hardy
I mentioned that Star Trek V was such a disappointment that it almost killed the franchise. Even though this is a better film than that one, it was such a disappointment that it did kill the film franchise. It would be another seven years before Star Trek would appear in theaters and that would be rebooted to younger versions of the original crew. There are a variety of reasons why this film did what the earlier film could not but there are also things to enjoy about this film and in the end, I still think it preferable, not only to two of the original films, but also the previous TNG film. Hell, it even has a villain played by an actor that I spent a considerable amount of time lambasting in my most recent Best Picture reviews and I still think it’s better.
Part of the reason this film killed the franchise was not about the quality of the film. The four previous Star Trek films had all opened at around Thanksgiving and had held the top spot in the box office for one week. But three of them had been bounced by kids films (Hook, The Santa Clause, 101 Dalmations) and the last by a romantic comedy (You’ve Got Mail). Nemesis didn’t even manage to win the box office in its opening weekend and then just five days later The Two Towers opened. Nemesis dropped an astonishing 76% in its second weekend because the geeks had something better to do. So, with tepid reviews, weak word-of-mouth and a lot of its core audience off to The Two Towers again and again, the film was dead in the water; it is, by $9 million the lowest of the franchise and when adjusted for inflation (13 years of which had occurred since the previous low in the series), it made barely half what the next lowest film in the franchise did.
Part of the reason this film killed the franchise was that it was already clear that the filmmakers were running out of ideas during the previous film. This one has a significantly better plot than the previous film – in this one, a clone of Picard (not giving away too much here – you find this out pretty early on) raised by the Romulans has taken over the Romulan Empire and invites the Enterprise for peace. But what he is really planning is to destroy the Federation (he has a new weapon equipped with deadly radiation). All in all, it’s not a bad plot, although we are made to sit through the concept of both a cloned Picard and yet another version of Data (there had been an evil version in several episodes of the show). The problem isn’t that – it’s that the filmmakers weren’t firm in their belief. They felt the need to ramp up the action, ramp up the drama and allow a lot of the character moments, the things that really made the TNG films good, drop by the wayside. The proof of that is in the deleted scenes for this film. They account for over a half hour of time, almost all of them dealing in character moments. But they were all cut from the film so that they could put in more and more action for the finale of the film (there are a lot of shots in the last half hour of buttons being pressed during the action).
The performances in the film are decent enough. Tom Hardy, who I have come to not think much of as an actor (see my review of Mad Max here), is a decent villain here, supported by a weird, creepy performance by Ron Perlman, buried deep in makeup (which is often par for the course for Perlman). The TNG crew give mostly solid performances – it’s just that, except for Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner, they’re aren’t really given anything much to do.
So, with all of that, why is it that I don’t rank this film at the bottom of the TNG list as many people do? There are a couple of reasons – the beginning and the ending. The opening of a film often sets the tone for how good a film will be and the ending for how highly we will think of it as we leave the theater. This film never matches up to those two moments, but they are good and important enough that they rise the film just a notch above Insurrection.
The opening of the film is the wedding of Riker and Troi. The relationship has been developing over the 15 years since the start of the show (one of the great things about the TNG films is that whenever they reference previous events, it’s clear that the timeline is consistent from the start of the show to the final film). It had been up and down through the show, but ended on a higher note in that great two-part finale, and then developed a little in the second film and a lot in the third one (with an important line from Worf about how Riker’s feelings about her have not changed since the day they met – a big line coming from Worf given the events of the final season of the show). It is a smart thing to bring things to this conclusion and allow them to sail off happily together, with Riker finally given the command he earned back in the early seasons of the show but had been kept from him so they could keep him in the crew. It is a good moment with a very good, humorous speech from Picard (and humorous realization that at the second ceremony, among Troi’s people, they will all be naked). If the rest of the film doesn’t match up to those moments, at least they are there to provide a nice opening.
But the real important moment comes at the end of the film. As I have been writing during the three previous films, the TNG films have been essentially an eighth season in which we explore Data’s journey towards humanity. Data goes to rescue Picard midway through the film, but Picard insists they escape together. At the end of the film, there is no chance for both of them to escape. Picard feels he is going to his death, but Data intervenes. In an emotional moment that brings Data to the point where he has fully become human, he sacrifices himself for Picard, with a whispered goodbye. When the ship explodes, Troi and Geordi think that Picard is aboard, only to turn and find him behind them, an ashen, stricken look on his face. If Picard has lost his friend, perhaps he also has realized that his friend has become as human as he always strove to be.
Brent Spiner had wanted the filmmakers to kill off Data in the previous film, feeling the character could go no further. When they sent Spiner the script for Insurrection, they included a note “Sorry. Kill you later.” It worked out better this way – it provides the right moment for the series to end. It’s far from a great film, but with that one poignant moment, the film redeems itself. This would be it until the series decided to reboot, but there’s no moment that I think that could have been a better one to go out on.