Jonathan Frakes

Star Trek: Picard (2020) s01e04 – Absolute Candor

Let’s get the elephant out of the way: show co-creator, episode single credited writer, and Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Michael Chabon. He’s really, really, really bad at writing dialogue. At some point in this episode, I realized Akiva Goldsman—the profoundly hacky screenwriter of Batman & Robin, iRobot, and I Am Legend who is also a “Picard” co-creator and co-wrote Chabon’s previous episodes… helped Chabon’s writing. Left alone, Chabon’s truly atrocious.

I thought the dysfunctional crew banter—between Patrick Stewart, Michelle Hurd, Santiago Cabrera, and Alison Pill—would be the terrible low point, but Chabon keeps finding new depths. The banter’s bad—and reveals Hurd might end up being one of the show’s biggest liabilities unless someone gets her performance under control—but nothing compared to the big romantic dance sequence between Isa Briones and Harry Treadaway on the Borg cube. It’s not even Treadaway’s worst scene, which comes later and implies a sadomasochistic (no kink-shaming) incestual (okay, kink-shaming here) relationship between Treadaway and sister Peyton List, but the dancing on the Borg cube scene? Real bad. Real, real bad.

But actually nothing compared to where Chabon’s taking it with Stewart this episode. The title, Absolute Candor, refers to the guiding principle of this convent of Romulan warrior nuns. They’ve got a name straight out of a Dune book, which is fine since apparently Briones’ synthetic android has a hidden home world as well as a Plan. Really hope the home of the fabled Thirteenth Tribe ends up being a place called Earth. Could they seriously not come up with anything original. Like, there’s a Terminator 2 rip in here where Stewart has to tell his newest Musketeer (Evan Evagora) he can’t just go around killing people. It’s a lot.

And it comes right after Stewart has a meltdown on the failed Romulan rescue planet—where the Federation stopped transporting the Romulans so they could all die out instead—about how the Romulans there don’t appreciate him as their great White savior.

Chabon writes Picard as an egomaniacal dilettante (who didn’t even keep up with interstellar political news in the last decade and a half); it’s actually surprising Stewart came back for this series given the writing.

Picard’s obnoxious and kind of playing a parody of himself but if William Shatner were doing it on “SNL.” Again, real bad.

Also bad—Jonathan Frakes’s direction. Frakes directs the Stewart stuff like it’s an episode of “TNG,” only with the wrong music—Jeff Russo does some lousy work here—and the wrong kind of sets. “Picard”’s not cheap enough for how Frakes is directing it. Then there’s the action, which is poorly edited to the point the battle music starts not just before the battle but before the enemy ship even shows up. It’s incompetent, which it really shouldn’t be.

What’s good? Amirah Vann as the only warrior nun with any lines.

Really not sure about all the holographic clones of Han Solo-wannabe Cabrera on the ship, especially since they’re used for laughs and rather broad caricatures.

This episode does move better than the previous two… is moving better through worse material a good thing?

The White savior stuff needs to be seen to be believed, but shouldn’t be.

Also the end special guest star reveal is badly executed.

Yuck.

Star Trek: Nemesis (2002, Stuart Baird)

Even though Star Trek: Nemesis is pretty dumb–and it is dumb, not just as a Star Trek movie, but as a movie in and of itself–and it has a lot of problems, the cast gets it through. The cast, the vague “train wreck” quality to some of its missteps (like Jerry Goldsmith either recycling his score from the not “Next Generation” Motion Picture or doing bland action movie music), some surprising pacing competency from otherwise inept director Baird and editor Dallas Puett (Puett’s no good at cutting the action scenes though, which is awkward), it all comes together to be occasionally painful, but ultimately watchable.

The problem with John Logan’s script is the stupidity. There are no good ideas in Nemesis, not Patrick Stewart having a young clone (played, poorly, by Tom Hardy–but, really, he’s acting opposite a bunch of vampires in Dune costume homages), not Brent Spiner discovering a “beta” version of his android character; maybe Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis playing newlyweds is cute, but only because of their chemistry, not because of the writing.

Oddly, Nemesis looks really good. The CG is excellent. Baird’s one attempt at a planetary action sequence–involving dune buggies–is awful, with shockingly bad photography from Jeffrey L. Kimball (who does fine otherwise). The space battle stuff is good. The space establishing shot stuff is terrible.

All the acting is good. From the regular cast, anyway. Stewart’s excellent, Spiner’s good, LeVar Burton’s got a few rather good moments. Even when no one gets anything to do, like Michael Dorn and Gates McFadden. I think Whoopi Goldberg gets more to do in her cameo than McFadden gets to do in the entire picture.

It’s a weird movie, simultaneously hostile to the Star Trek franchise while entirely dependent on the viewer being interested in that franchise (and its characters). And, even though it’s bad, it’s not all bad. Stewart’s perseverance is admirable.

It’d just have been nice if the director had any idea how to shoot any of it, with the exception of the space battles, which were probably all done by the special effects people.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Stuart Baird; screenplay by John Logan, based on a story by Logan, Rick Berman and Brent Spiner and on “Star Trek” created by Gene Roddenberry; director of photography, Jeffrey L. Kimball; edited by Dallas Puett; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Herman F. Zimmerman; produced by Berman; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Patrick Stewart (Picard), Jonathan Frakes (Riker), Brent Spiner (Data), LeVar Burton (Geord), Michael Dorn (Worf), Gates McFadden (Beverly), Marina Sirtis (Troi), Tom Hardy (Shinzon), Ron Perlman (Viceroy) and Dina Meyer (Commander Donatra).


Star Trek: Insurrection (1998, Jonathan Frakes)

Star Trek: Insurrection has a lot of problems, but they’re peculiar ones. None of them affect the film’s overall quality. Sure, it’d be nice if the sci-fi action sequences worked out better, but they aren’t the point. Even though director Frakes clearly has some set pieces in the film, he always relies instead on his actors instead of the effects.

Given Insurrection has some terribly pedestrian CG, it’s a good move.

Characters disappear for long stretches of film–Gates McFadden gets a couple lines at the beginning, a kicker later on, and does hang out, she has nothing to do. LeVar Burton gets a tiny bit more. Michael Dorn gets to hang around Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner. Frakes does give himself an amusing romantic subplot with Marina Sirtis. But, in the end, Insurrection gives everyone enough to do. The characters are appealing, have chemistry, make the plot work well.

Michael Piller’s script is this gentle, “extended” episode of the “Next Generation” show with Spiner going renegade and Stewart and company showing up to figure out what’s going on. It all leads to Stewart going renegade too (and cavorting around with the fetching Donna Murphy). Stewart and Murphy are great together, though Stewart’s just strong throughout. He has a fun time with the film. The light tone helps the film get through some of its other problems, like Herman F. Zimmerman’s questionable production design and Matthew F. Leonetti’s too crisp photography, which never matches the digital composites.

And villain F. Murray Abraham isn’t good. He’s goofy. Gregg Henry’s good as his sidekick though.

The film moves. It never runs long, never has to hurry through anything. It’s not good because it’s likable, it’s likable because it’s good. It’s just a shame the production values are so wonky, because Insurrection would be one heck of a Star Trek picture if the visual tone were right.

Jerry Goldsmith’s score, regardless of it heavily borrowing from his previous Trek scores, is good.

Insurrection stumbles all over the place, but always ends up firmly footed.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Jonathan Frakes; screenplay by Michael Piller, based on a story by Rick Berman and Piller and “Star Trek” created by Gene Roddenberry; director of photography, Matthew F. Leonetti; edited by Peter E. Berger; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Herman F. Zimmermann; produced by Berman; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Patrick Stewart (Picard), Jonathan Frakes (Riker), Brent Spiner (Data), LeVar Burton (Geordi), Michael Dorn (Worf), Gates McFadden (Beverly), Marina Sirtis (Troi), Donna Murphy (Anij), F. Murray Abraham (Ru’afo), Gregg Henry (Gallatin), Daniel Hugh Kelly (Sojef), Michael Welch (Artim) and Anthony Zerbe (Dougherty).


Star Trek: First Contact (1996, Jonathan Frakes)

First Contact works out well for a number of reasons. The script’s structured beautifully, it’s well-cast, Frakes knows how to direct for both humor and action… but also because it’s not a possessive picture. The film involves time travel, sending the “Star Trek: The Next Generation” crew into the past (but still the future) and introduces James Cromwell and Alfre Woodard as locals. In the third act, I realized they’re the only ones with anything at stake. The Enterprise crew… well, sure, the franchise could be in jeopardy, but not the actual characters. Frakes and screenwriters Brannon Braga and Ronald D. Moore obscure that situation quite well.

The film also gives Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner a lot to do. After some lengthy exposition at the open, the script splits into three parts–Stewart and Woodard on the Enterprise, Spiner and villain Alice Krige on the Enterprise, Frakes and Cromwell on Earth. It might even be fun to sit down and time how the film handles passing from one subplot to the next. It’s always rather well done, possibly because the pairings are so good.

Frakes–the director–doesn’t give Frakes–the actor–much to do. He just gets to be amused at Cromwell’s fun performance as a drunken, reluctant genius. Meanwhile, even though Stewart’s great, it’s because Woodard’s there to act off him. She’s wonderful. Krige’s good, Spiner’s pretty good.

The special effects are good in space, less so in the action scenes.

Contact is a fine time.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Jonathan Frakes; screenplay by Brannon Braga and Ronald D. Moore, based on a story by Rick Berman, Braga and Moore and on the television series created by Gene Roddenberry; director of photography, Matthew F. Leonetti; edited by John W. Wheeler; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Herman F. Zimmerman; produced by Berman; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Patrick Stewart (Picard), Jonathan Frakes (Riker), Brent Spiner (Data), LeVar Burton (Geordi), Michael Dorn (Worf), Gates McFadden (Beverly), Marina Sirtis (Troi), James Cromwell (Zefram Cochran), Alice Krige (Borg Queen), Neal McDonough (Lt. Hawk), Robert Picardo (Holographic Doctor), Dwight Schultz (Lt. Barclay) and Alfre Woodard (Lily).


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