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How Star Trek: Nemesis Killed The TNG Movies


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Star Trek: Nemesis' failure not only killed the Star Trek: The Next Generation movie franchise but it also helped usher the end of the TNG era of Star Trek. Released in 2002, the 10th Star Trek feature film was directed by Stuart Baird and written by Academy Award-winning screenwriter John Logan (from a story by Logan and Brent Spiner). From a production budget of $60-million, Star Trek: Nemesis grossed just $67-million worldwide, ranking it as the lowest-earning Star Trek movie as well as regularly ranking near or at the bottom of Trekkers' personal favorites.

Granted, Star Trek: Nemesis was released in the holiday season of 2002, which put it up against fantasy genre blockbusters Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Yet Star Trek fans simply didn't turn out for Nemesis as they had for the previous TNG movies, especially Star Trek: First Contact in 1996, and those who did see Nemesis gave it poor word-of-mouth. The indifferent response that greeted the previous TNG film, Star Trek Insurrection, in 1998 was also a factor in the lack of enthusiasm for the return of Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) and the crew of the USS Enterprise-E to the big screen. But scoring an A-list screenwriter like John Logan, who is a die-hard Trekkie, was a major coup, and director Stuart Baird, while an outsider to the franchise, was an A-list editor who had directed action films Executive Decision and U.S. Marshals. Meanwhile, the cast of TNG was eager to put their best foot forward and deliver a classic Star Trek film fans would enjoy. Yet it all went terribly wrong.

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Because of Star Trek: Nemesis' failure, the Star Trek movie franchise ended completely for seven years until director J.J. Abrams' 2009 Star Trek reboot, which featured younger actors playing Captain James T. Kirk and the crew of Star Trek: The Original Series. Abrams' trilogy continued with 2013's Star Trek Into Darkness and ended with Star Trek Beyond in 2016. Meanwhile, the Star Trek TV franchise that TNG kicked off in 1987 also ended; by the time Nemesis hit theaters, the lone Star Trek show on TV was Star Trek: Enterprise, which was in its low-rated second season and was canceled after season 4 in 2005. Star Trek wouldn't return to TV until 2017 when Star Trek: Discovery launched, marking a resurgence for the franchise on CBS All-Access (now Paramount+). But Star Trek: Nemesis was one of the final - and arguably the biggest - nails in the coffin for Star Trek's TNG era and a post-mortem indicates just how much its misfire damaged Star Trek overall.

Star Trek: Nemesis Was Just A Wrath Of Khan Retread

While no one involved in Star Trek: Nemesis set out to make a bad movie, it was obvious to Star Trek fans that the film was just a retread of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. In the Star Trek oral history The Fifty Year-Mission: The Next 25 Years by Mark A. Altman and Edward Gross, screenwriter John Logan freely admitted that Star Trek II is his favorite film and he modeled Nemesis' main story beats after Wrath of Khan. This included Nemesis' villain, Shinzon (Tom Hardy), a clone of Captain Picard who was also meant to evoke the charismatic antagonist Khan (Ricardo Montalban), who had a personal score to settle with the Captain of the Enterprise. In place of Spock (Leonard Nimoy) sacrificing his life to save Kirk and his friends, it was Commander Data (Brent Spiner) who gave up his own life to stop Shinzon. And just as the seed was planted for Spock's resurrection, Data was teased to return since his memory engrams existed in his android 'brother', B-4.

The blatant recycling of arguably the most well-known and best-loved Star Trek story did Nemesis no favors, but those weren't the only problems. Director Stuart Baird didn't understand Star Trek and the producers' desire to deliver an action movie resulted in sequences like dune buggy chases and interminably long starship battles (which, again, echoed Wrath of Khan). Meanwhile, the murky themes of Star Trek: Nemesis, which was ultimately about Picard confronting an evil version of himself and suffering a tragic loss but finding the will to continue boldly going where no one has gone before, were lost in the complicated and dreary plot involving Shinzon wanting to destroy Picard and the United Federation of Planets. Even moments like the long-awaited wedding of Commander Will Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and Counselor Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) felt gimmicky. Star Trek: Nemesis wasn't intended to be the end of TNG but by the time it was over, most Trekkies felt they'd rather watch reruns than supporting any new voyages of the Enterprise-E.

Star Trek Was Already Suffering From Franchise Fatigue When Nemesis Failed

By Nemesis's release in 2002, the Star Trek franchise was already in trouble. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine wrapped up its 7-season run in 1999 and Star Trek: Voyager followed suit by concluding its own 7-season saga in 2001. This left the prequel, Star Trek: Enterprise, carrying the franchise on television, but that series also felt like a pale retread of stories that were done better in TNG and the other series. By this point, there had also been 500+ hours of Star Trek that were still available in reruns or home video for an audience that was becoming increasingly fractured in regards to which series was each Trekker's personal favorite.

RELATED:Star Trek: How TNG's First Contact And DS9 Mocked Each Other (& Why)

After the cinematic high point of Star Trek: First Contact in 1996, TNG itself - which used to be the centerpiece of Star Trek - felt increasingly isolated from the main happenings of the franchise on TV, which was DS9's epic Dominion War storyline and Voyager's journey to return home. Captain Kathryn Janeway's (Kate Mulgrew) series even co-opted the Borg and the Borg Queen, who were Picard's greatest and most popular enemies. Star Trek: Nemesis was a bid to reassert TNG as the focal point of Star Trek (with the hopes of delivering a 5th TNG movie), but the oversaturation of the franchise created overall fatigue and malaise since so much of Trek felt like it had become redundant. All that Star Trek: Nemesis did was remind fans that TNG's best days were behind them.

Nemesis' Failure Made DS9 And Voyager Movies Impossible

Once Star Trek: Nemesis became the lowest-grossing film of the franchise, it was over for the Trek movies. But this didn't just end any chances of another TNG movie, Nemesis' collapse also soured Paramount, Star Trek's studio, on any possibility of a big-screen version of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine or Star Trek: Voyager. The fanciful idea that each Trek series would follow TNG's course and graduate to a feature film after a seven-year run - if it was ever even seriously considered by the studio - was shot down immediately when the TNG movies began to falter, starting with Star Trek Insurrection. Star Trek: Nemesis's failure simply confirmed the studio's worst fears that the Star Trek franchise needed to be mothballed.

It doesn't seem like there were ever serious plans to bring Star Trek: Deep Space Nine or Star Trek: Voyager to the big screen. Instead, the producers decided to include cameos in the TNG films as nods to the spinoffs, such as DS9's USS Defiant and Voyager's holographic Doctor (Robert Picardo) appearing in Star Trek: First Contact. Because of her popularity, Jeri Ryan was asked to cameo as Seven of Nine in Star Trek: Nemesis but she refused because her reclaimed Borg heroine had never met anyone on TNG and it didn't make sense. Instead, Kate Mulgrew did the honors and made a brief appearance as Admiral Janeway in Nemesis. This is very likely going to be the only times the characters from the TNG era spinoffs make movie appearances.

However, Star Trek has found new life in recent years and the franchise has been creatively reinvigorated, with multiple TV series in production and even the possibility of another Star Trek movie in the offering, proving that not even the catastrophe of Star Trek: Nemesis could keep Star Trek down forever.

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