This Doesn’t Feel Right – Star Trek: Nemesis (2002) 4K Ultra HD

I distinctly remember seeing Star Trek: Nemesis during its opening weekend in a mostly empty theater auditorium. That experience was all too common for those few other fans who likewise made the effort. The film remains, to date, the lowest grossing Star Trek movie and the only one to lose money at the box office. As a result, it marked the end of the Next Generation crew’s tenure as feature film stars, and would make a very underwhelming halt to their stories.

At the time, the studio and producers blamed its failure on a release date too close to the blockbuster The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. In reality, Nemesis opened a week earlier to no direct competition for the action-adventure audience and should have cleaned up nicely for at least that first weekend. The hard truth is that Star Trek had simply fallen to one of the lowest ebbs of its popularity, and nobody had much enthusiasm for another movie at that moment, especially not after the lackluster Insurrection had left viewers questioning whether these characters really belonged on cinema screens at all.

Star Trek: Nemesis (2002) - Scimitar vs. Enterprise
Title:Star Trek: Nemesis
Year of Release: 2002
Director: Stuart Baird
Watched On: 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
Also Available On: Blu-ray
Various VOD rental and purchase platforms

Nemesis is not as poor a film as Insurrection. In many respects, it’s a marked improvement. Even though I left the theater disappointed with the movie and hadn’t given it much thought in the years since, a rewatch leaves me feeling that it’s better than I remembered. Regardless, it’s still mostly a middling effort for the franchise and has a number of qualities that leave me more frustrated than entertained.

2002 was a big year for clones. Star Wars: Attack of the Clones dominated the box office that summer. Following the theme, Nemesis finds Capt. Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) facing off against a younger clone of himself created by the Romulan Empire as part of an abandoned plot to infiltrate Starfleet. Moreover, Nemesis itself is, in large part, a clone of another, better movie – the Trek franchise’s most acclaimed entry, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. It’s no coincidence that both films climax with a starship battle inside a nebula and (forgive the 20-year-old spoiler) the death of a beloved character who was nevertheless fully expected to return later. The android equivalent of a mind-meld even factors into those events. Concerned that the Next Gen crew hadn’t yet found their own Wrath of Khan, the producers basically decided to make a carbon copy of it. Their efforts are painfully transparent. I recall walking out of my first screening feeling deflated.

Nemesis has other problems as well. An early scene finds our heroes blithely violating the Prime Directive to have a dune buggy chase and phaser battle with the natives of a pre-warp civilization on a planet that unmistakably looks like the California desert seen on a TV with the contrast blown out. A major storyline finds android Data discovering that he has a simpleton twin “brother” named B-4 just to allow star Brent Spiner the chance to do a Rain Man routine in the dual role. Several ridiculous action scenes involve armies of alien baddies who must have learned combat from the Star Wars Imperial Stormtroopers and are totally incapable of hitting a target, while unstoppable killing machine Picard single-handedly mows them down dozens at a time. The diabolical super-weapon that threatens the Enterprise is hilariously slow to deploy. As a movie from 2002, most of the CGI visual effects have aged pretty poorly (though less badly than those in Insurrection, admittedly). Perhaps most problematic, one story beat has Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) getting mind-raped by a psychic alien, to which Picard encourages her to suck it up and go through it as many times as necessary if it might help him to set a trap.

Despite all that, Nemesis ultimately pulls together into an adequate Star Trek adventure. I’m sure it would’ve played better as a TV two-parter. The cast rapport is strong. The main actors had inhabited these characters for a long time by this point and still seemed to enjoy the roles. Lead villain Shinzon is played with both charisma and suitable menace by a young and barely-recognizable Tom Hardy before he hit big-time fame. Ron Perlman is buried under a lot of makeup as his intimidating henchman, and Dina Meyer from Starship Troopers makes a fetching Romulan agent.

Having directed the last two installments, Jonathan Frakes steps back into just an acting part this time. (He’d made the forgettable kids’ flick Clockstoppers a few months earlier.) Replacing him in the director’s chair is Stuart Baird, a veteran film editor who’d had some success helming the thrillers Executive Decision and U.S. Marshals, but who also admitted to not knowing much about Star Trek when he took the job. I’m not sure if that’s necessarily a problem in itself, but some of the cast definitely took issue with his work – especially Sirtis, who called him “an idiot” at a Trek convention years later.

Be that as it may, the movie is competently assembled, with some well-staged starship battles. Baird and screenwriter John Logan also dial back (though not totally eliminate, unfortunately) much of the dopey humor that so weighed down Insurrection.

Star Trek: Nemesis may not entirely work, but it almost does. That’s progress of some sort, yet not quite enough to make a fitting swan song for this cast or their characters. Captain Picard and crew deserved a better exit. They wouldn’t get that until the more satisfying television revival two decades later.

Star Trek: Nemesis (2002) - Tom Hardy as Shinzon

The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray

Star Trek may be a core brand for Paramount, but the studio continues to treat it with frustrating inconsistency. Within the Next Generation 4-Movie Collection 4K Ultra HD box set, only Generations and Insurrection were actually granted new film scans, while First Contact and Nemesis recycle older scans last used for Blu-ray in 2009. In both cases, this is easily apparent by checking the aspect ratio. All of the Blu-rays in 2009 measured 2.35:1 on screen. In 2023, the newly scanned Generations and Insurrection now measure 2.39:1 with slightly more picture around the edges, while First Contact and Nemesis are frame-to-frame identical to the old copies at 2.35:1 – but now with new color grading and less Digital Noise Reduction processing.

For Nemesis, the old Blu-ray was the least burdened by DNR in 2009. As a result, the new 2023 Blu-ray edition barely changes anything. Image brightness has been bumped a very small amount, and sharpness is perhaps marginally improved, but the difference is hardly noticeable during playback on a home theater screen. The two discs are basically equivalent and I wouldn’t bother to “upgrade” to the new copy if I weren’t equipped for 4K yet.

Star Trek: Nemesis (2002) Comparison - 2009 Blu-rayStar Trek: Nemesis (2002) Comparison - 2023 Blu-ray

For its part, the 4K disc also looks to be upconverted from 2K. It has a negligible difference in image detail over the standard Blu-ray. The biggest change is that it’s a hell of a lot grainier, distractingly so. In most of the first half of the movie, the grain has a noisy texture that looks to be sharpened and is quite ugly. For whatever reason, that tames down quite a bit during the second half. The low-resolution CGI and digital composites also stand out a lot more in the 4K transfer. I wouldn’t necessarily consider any of these to be improvements, per se. An argument can be made that the Blu-ray copy is more watchable overall.

Where the 4K edition does benefit is its HDR grading. Contrast looks richer in general on that disc. The intentionally dim lighting on Shinzon’s ship is better conveyed, with darker blacks yet good shadow clarity.

Note that the desert planet where B-4 gets found is meant to have blown-out contrast and clipped brightness details. That’s a cheesy effect, but was deliberate. Both the Blu-ray and 4K copies suffer color banding during a lens flare at the first appearance of planet Romulus at the beginning of the movie. The issue is slightly reduced in 4K, but not much. I assume that problem was baked-in to the original visual effect.

Star Trek: The Next Generation 4-Movie Collection 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray

The Dolby TrueHD 7.1 soundtrack is unchanged from the 2009 Blu-ray. The mix has some nice bass action, aggressive surround usage, and good fidelity overall. Ron Perlman’s deep voice also growls with authority.

The 4K disc itself includes three legacy audio commentaries, plus a text commentary last seen on DVD. The accompanying Blu-ray disc holds the remaining supplements, all likewise recycled from older video releases.

The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray edition of Star Trek: First Contact is available either separately or as part of a 4-Movie Collection box set with Generations, First Contact, and Insurrection.


Note: All screenshots on this page were taken from standard Blu-ray editions of the film and are used for illustration purposes only.

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