- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 14, 2002

NEW YORK CITY — It seems reasonable to anticipate a swan song when a movie sequel, namely "Star Trek: Nemesis," No. 10 in the cycle of features rationalized by the enduring appeal of the original television series and its descendants, adopts the following advertising slogan: "A Generation's Final Journey Begins."

The original 1967 cast, anchored by William Shatner as Capt. Kirk and Leonard Nimoy as the estimable Mr. Spock, re-enlisted for six features released between 1979 and 1991. The cast of the first successor series, "Star Trek: The Next Generation," which began seven years of TV episodes in 1986, inherited the feature franchise in 1994 with "Star Trek: Generations." Its consensus triumph was "Star Trek: First Contact" in 1996; its consensus disappointment, "Star Trek: Insurrection" in 1998.

So, has the group headed by Patrick Stewart as Capt. Pickard and Brent Spiner as the estimable android Data reached journey's end? After all, the casts of the "Deep Space Nine" and "Voyager" series have yet to be entrusted with a feature film of their own, and the fifth edition, "Star Trek: Enterprise," now in its second season, adds another reserve crew to the surplus while also accommodating stories that belong to a futuristic time frame a mere century ahead of ours.

During a press junket hosted by Paramount Pictures at the Regency Hotel, the key performers seemed to regard "Nemesis" as a probable last hurrah. However, producer Rick Berman, who supervises both the television and motion-picture continuations of the saga, insisted the question would remain an imponderable for several months.

"I would think they'd have a pretty good idea by Saturday," Mr. Stewart replies when asked about the finality of it all. That would be today. "Star Trek: Nemesis" opened in North American markets yesterday.

"I want to take responsibility for the fact that four years have passed since the last movie," Mr. Stewart adds. "Nobody will give it to me, but I felt everybody needed a time apart. Not Rick, of course. He has to go on filming the TV series every week. But I benefited from the longer period between features, and I think Brent feels the same way.

"He was responsible for developing this movie. He brought our writer, John Logan, to Rick's attention after they had met four or five years ago. I played a similar role in the previous two features, but this time, I wasn't a formal part of that process. Rick and John and Brent worked out the story and kept me regularly informed about their progress."

Mr. Stewart will not lack for franchise opportunities if Capt. Pickard is facing big-screen retirement. He just completed the first sequel to "X-Men." The director of that spectacle, Bryan Singer, a "Star Trek" enthusiast from boyhood, makes a bit appearance on the bridge of the beleaguered Starship Enterprise in "Nemesis." Mr. Stewart made the arrangements with Mr. Berman.

He also reveals, "I had Bryan and Bill Shatner to my home for dinner at the same time, without letting Bryan know that Bill was coming, too. It was quite a thrill for him."

Mr. Stewart dubbed a voice in the animated farce "Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius" last Christmas, and it's possible he will be available for sequels. During the Regency round-table interviews, he confirms the report that he is interested in the Dumbledore role, vacated by the recent death of Richard Harris, in future "Harry Potter" movies. Mr. Stewart also expresses second thoughts about speaking candidly on the subject.

"I've not been approached," he says. "I would be interested, very much so. I'm a big fan of the books and of the first film. I haven't had a chance to see the second one yet. But, you know, this line of speculation seems somewhat slightly disrespectful. Richard has only just gone.

"We shouldn't even be talking about it."

Mr. Stewart's leverage on television, where he already has played Capt. Ahab in a remake of "Moby Dick" and King Lear in a Westernized adaptation titled "King of Texas," soon will be enlarged by a Showtime remake of James Goldman's play "The Lion in Winter," with Glenn Close co-starring.

Mr. Spiner, who enters doing a cheerfully bombastic impression of Mr. Stewart's Pickard, claims to be at the other end of the professional spectrum.

"I have nothing whatever on my plate," he announces. "You'd be surprised how few offers I get. I have a rule of thumb. If someone makes an offer, I accept, as long as I don't have to tap-dance. If tap-dancing is required, I have strict demands. I need to know who I'll be working with and how much I'll be paid. If one of those demands is satisfied, I'll take the job."

When asked about reviving Data beyond the current attraction, Mr. Spiner replies, "Never say never, but obviously, I have no choice over the matter. If this movie makes some money, we'll be back for one more. If it doesn't, then you've seen the last of us.

"That's Hollywood for you.

"They have a sort of rule of thumb for what the opening-week box-office receipts translate into over the long run, so we should know pretty quickly. I'm ambivalent about it. If this is the last one, so be it. If not, so be that."

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The groundwork for "Nemesis" was laid when Mr. Spiner played John Adams in a 1997 Broadway revival of "1776." The actress cast as Abigail Adams, Linda Neeman, had a friend named John Logan, a former Chicago-based actor and struggling playwright who was on the verge of catching on as a screenwriter. His initial breakthrough was a co-writing job on Oliver Stone's "Any Given Sunday" in 1998. He went on to rewrite "Gladiator" for director Ridley Scott and share the 2000 Academy Award for best screenplay.

"John came to the show," Mr. Spiner recalls, "and we all went out afterward. He and I became friends, and he let it be known, gradually, that he was a huge 'Star Trek' fan and would love to write a 'Star Trek' movie. To have an A-list screenwriter reveal that was such a godsend. I took him in to meet Rick, who was immediately impressed and concluded by saying, 'Why don't we write a story?'

"It's hard to remember who thought of what, so I like to say that I thought of everything and carried those guys through the whole development process. But, seriously, John wrote the script by himself after we had decided on the story together. Then Rick produced it by himself. I played the roles of Data and the new, but primitive, android named B4 all by myself."

Mr. Logan recalls that when he bagged the "Star Trek" job, a friend cautioned him, "You know, when it's a franchise movie, you're expected to leave all the toys in the toy box."

Mr. Logan had another approach in mind.

"I told Rick Berman right from the start that I wanted to shake things up," the writer recalls.

Mr. Logan was keen on pleasing "Star Trek" fans, first and foremost, while making sure newcomers didn't feel left out.

"It was all flying by the seat of our pants," he says. "I laid out some things, including some kind of radical things, during the first meeting with Rick. From that point, it was Brent and Rick and I kicking around ideas for about a year. We decided it would be an autumnal story. This crew is breaking up. Will Riker and Deanna Troi are getting married."

"Will is getting his own command, and Deanna is leaving with him. Beverly Crusher is leaving, as well, to supervise Starfleet Medical. Her departure was one of the subplots that didn't make the final cut."

Mr. Berman wearily acknowledges that the succession question is uppermost in the minds of junket reporters.

"Because of the departures and the fate that befalls one of our principal characters, people want to know if this is the last film with the 'Next Generation' cast," he observes.

"There is some degree of finality to it, certainly, but nothing has been decided. We won't be talking about the next film at Paramount for another few months. Honestly."

According to Mr. Berman, numerous options are in play.

"This cast might be back," he says. "They might be combined with members of another cast or completely new crew members. We just haven't decided. If you look at the Kirk-Spock films, you could jump to the conclusion that each of the last three would be the last in the series. Spock died in one chapter. That seemed kind of final at the time but anything is possible with 'Star Trek,' including resurrections. The background to all of that was that the actors kept saying, 'Nah, I don't want to do another.' Then they reconsidered.'"

Mr. Berman detects little sentiment among the "Next Generation" group to call it a day.

"These actors would be happy to keep going," he says. "There will be 'Star Trek' movies until we're all at the home. What changes is the amount of money Paramount is willing to invest in the next sequel. It's not really a gamble. The films will do substantial business between points X and Y.

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