Star Trek franchise lost in space

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

The warp coil has melted down, the dilythium crystals are depleted, the phaser banks emptied, and all shields are down.

"Star Trek: Nemesis," the 10th in the series of movies based on the popular "Star Trek: The Next Generation" TV series, is convincing evidence that the venerable franchise needs to be mothballed in space dock and not come out for another mission without a major refitting.

Even though the plot centers around the two most compelling characters from the series, the wise and brave Capt. Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) and the Pinocchio-like android Data (Brent Spiner), "Nemesis" explores an awfully familiar part of the galaxy. It gives a nod to some of the enduring questions posed in the series, like the nature of individuality, identity, and friendship. But the previous films and television shows have already boldly gone there. Even the apparent death of a cast regular packs little emotional punch: The way the character (and the actor) could stay involved in the future is made achingly obvious.

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The story begins as the latest version of the starship Enterprise (with a more aggressive, armored outer hull) is sent to find out what's happening inside the militaristic Romulan Empire, the biggest threat to peace and tranquility in the quadrant. A coup has put an unknown young leader in charge. But soon it becomes apparent that Praetor Shinzon (Tom Hardy) is not Romulan, but human, with a mysterious tie to Captain Picard.

The inevitable battle between the ever-sturdy Enterprise and Shinzon's "predator" ship has all the intelligence of "WWF Smackdown": The good ship Enterprise is pummeled and appears to be hopelessly beaten. If not for the courage of her fearless crew, the Enterprise will be lost.

In the several "Star Trek" TV series, the background of each major character is slowly revealed over many episodes, even many seasons. Individual story lines are given the spotlight, set aside, then (when the device is working at its best) mixed in a fresh way with other plots. Keeping all of the familiar ensemble cast busy in a single film has always been a challenge for "Star Trek." This time around, Commander Riker gets a totally irrelevant and egregious action sequence. Shipmates Gordi LaForge and Worf suffer a worse fate: They must stand around with very little to do.

That's because the story is really about Picard and his nemesis. And some drama is stirred up by their confrontations, along with some momentary doubt as to just how events might play out. But "Nemesis" never veers for long from a numbingly familiar course.

At one point Data decides to pull the plug on his newly discovered "brother." His android double, Data realizes, is just too flawed to be loosed on the galaxy until he can be repaired.

It's time for the "Star Trek" movie franchise to follow Data's lead.

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