It has become an axiom among Trekkies that the even-numbered films are good, and the odd-numbered ones, well... they suck. This theory was borne out by 1998's Star Trek: Insurrection. One wonders why the producers didn't attempt to beat the system and try something new. But no; Insurrection, the ninth ST film, was - much like the worst Trek film ever, The Final Frontier (#5) - nothing more than an extended episode of the TV series. Even those involved with the production of the film, from the director to several major cast members, thought the moral premise of the film - that it's wrong to move a few hundred colonists in order to save billions, perhaps trillions of lives - was unsound.
All of this, I suspect, influenced the production of next month's Star Trek: Nemesis, which looks to have the potential to be - yes, I'll dare say it - the Enterprise-E crew's Wrath of Khan. The trailer features an intriguing villain, sex(!), not one but two Datas (and no, it's not Lore), and lots of explosions. It's also rumored to be the last Star Trek film for a long time, and perhaps ever (presumably because Star Trek: The Next Generation was the last Trek to achieve any kind of mainstream popularity). Nemesis also represents a potential milestone in geek history: for the first time, a Star Trek film may be more exciting (much more exciting) than a Star Wars film released in the same year.
I became a Star Trek fan at the tender age of 10, watching the Next Generation in its rather terrible first season. My father had been a big fan of the original series, so the generational analogy was fitting. It's difficult to estimate the effect ST:TNG had on my adolescent development. I read literally dozens of TNG novels, and Peter David swiftly became one of my favorite authors (as all males tend to latch on to a pulp author in their youth [no, just the geeks --ed.]). Captain Jean-Luc Picard was one of my childhood mentors - for better or for worse. Between his sanctimonious lecturing and that of Optimus Prime and He-Man, it's no wonder I didn't have my first real drink until four or five days before I turned 21. Picard was a paragon of virtue, a man who always did the right thing and exuded repressed, European reserve. Captain Kirk ran around laying miles of galactic pipe and shooting whoever tried to stop him.
But I'm still quite fond of old Jean-Luc, so it was with pleasure that I read Art Asylum, makers of such fine action figures as the original Space Ghost: Coast to Coast figure and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Digger & Co., who have already released figures based on the current Enterprise series and have plans to release Kirk, Spock and friends from the original show, have given Picard, Data, and two villains (Shinzon and Viceroy) the royal treatment they so richly deserve.
Star Trek had a long and lucrative career at Playmates Toys throughout the '90s, but it was always a collector's line, and the production costs of so many figures soon outweighed the profits. Playmates dropped the line, and AA picked it up. Digger has since taken a more reasonable approach: releasing small numbers of figures and characters directly to the collector's market, rather than trying to tempt children in any way. I'm actually somewhat disappointed that we only get Picard and Data in the Nemesis line; if the Enterprise and original series lines are a success, perhaps we may get more TNG figures.
I have my doubts that the Enterprise line will ever be that popular - the show would have to be first. But if the original series figures are anything like these figures, Trekkers are in for a treat.
The Nemesis figures are easily the most detailed and accurate Star Trek figures to date. This is McFarlane-level sculpting, from the folds in the jacket to the seams in the shoulders and the maximum setting on the phaser. But what's most amazing is the head sculpt. In the past, I've been a critic of Gentle Giant Studios' RealScan technology, which laser-scans an actor's head, then produces a mold based on it. Many of the scans used on JAKKS' wrestling figures are terrible, and in my review of Gimli I made much of how Phil Martinez's head sculpt was superior to any of the RealScanned LotR figures. But the problem may be one of scale. At 6", the details captured by RealScan made simply be too fine to come out. That's why Martinez's sculpts look so good - he exaggerates the features, much like an actor on a stage must make large facial expressions so as to be visible to the people in the nosebleed seats.
But it appears that the magic number is 7". Picard has, quite simply, the best head sculpt I have ever seen. It's amazingly accurate, right down to Patrick Stewart's lips, which are beginning to curve inward at the hoary old age of 62 (and by the way, it turns out Jean-Luc is still a young'un' compared to Kirk; Shatner, believe it or not, is nine years older than Stewart). Of course, it must have helped that Stewart was apparently the best scan Gentle Giant has ever taken.
If anything, the head's a little too thin, but I think that's more an effect of the camera and perspective of the picture on the left, and my own inadequate photography on the right. Trust me, it's a great head sculpt. My only complaints are that the eyebrows are a bit dark, and my particular Picard had a spot of paint chipped away on his head (but it's okay - I'll just think of it as a liver spot).
The rest of the sculpt, as mentioned above, is accurate, but it also suffers from the same kind of quality control issues that many McFarlane figures do. It doesn't quite look as slick as it should; it has that touch of "garage kit" that McFarlane has never been able to shake. Also, Picard himself seems a bit thin, but perhaps Stewart's just getting older (okay, so how many old man references does that make...?). The jacket, by the way, is made from a more pliable, rubbery material than the rest of the figure.
The articulation is pretty good. The ball-jointed neck is key, allowing Picard to look down sternly at all my figures when their morals aren't quite up to snuff. Ball-jointed shoulders are always a plus. I wish he'd had ball-jointed hips, but sometimes you've got to make the trade-off for sculpt over articulation. Finally, I'm not much of a fan of the 7" scale (I prefer 6"), but given the quality of the head sculpt, I'll forgive them. I'm looking forward to having my Picard stand next to Captain Kirk sometime in the near future.
Of course, Jean-Luc's only accessory is the phaser, which is a bit of a disappointment. He can't quite hold it correctly, either; his thumb should be over the button, but he has a rather generic pistol-grip instead.
But while I seem to have spent a lot of time on faults, I really do like the figure. It's an excellent sculpt of Stewart and has enough articulation to warrant being called an "action figure." AA has always been more generous (in terms of articulation) to their licensed properties than McFarlane Toys; here's hoping they continue that streak, and bring us even more Next Generation figures.
Agree with this review? Disagree? Don't care about Star Trek? Discuss it over at The Loafing Lounge.