Down the Ballot

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

GSY Review: Star Trek Insurrection

The last Go Screen Yourself Review about Star Trek Generations got me dusting off my Star Trek TNG dvds and the other night I sat down and watched Star Trek Insurrection. 1998 seems so long ago. 14 years is a long time, and I was surprised at how well the story holds up in those years. Out of the four TNG era movies, this film seemed more like the television show than the others. Now, don't get me wrong this is not a high action paced film like First Contact or Nemesis. This is one of those classic Star Trek, struggle with the prime directive, philosophical issues kind of story. Which is perhaps why it did not perform as expected at the box office. 

Just because this film is more thought provoking than action packed thriller does not detract from it being an enjoyable film. For those that have not seen it, here is the trailer. 


The Federation discovers a planet that is natural fountain of youth. In desperate move the Federation and a race called the Son'a work together to harness this energy for their own selfish needs. The one roadblock to their plans is of course the crew of the Enterprise. Captain Picard and company rally the Baku and help fend off the Son'a and the evil Federation Admiral that are plotting to destroy the Baku's home.

Let's look at the good things going for this film. The first being it is a bit lighter than Star Trek First Contact. Some within the Trek community had been feeling that Star Trek had started to drift a little to far away from the bright, hopeful future that Gene Roddenberry had envisioned for humanity. Dark and grittier is fine, but it is nice for a break.  Michael Piller and Rick Berman would placed in charge of writing and planning this film. Jonathan Frakes was brought back to direct after his successful feature film directing debut in First Contact.

Piller to me embodied the kind of  Hollywood producer you would want to work for on a project. He was brought in to Star Trek to bring the writing team of TNG into focus and he also created the open door policy on scripts, giving new writers a chance to show their work. He launched both DS9 and Voyager. Having him behind the reigns of a Trek film seemed like a natural thing.

The story itself blends several classic Star Trek TNG episodes in a new approach. If you are a good Trekker, you may see some aspects of Who Watches the Watchers and Journey's End in this film. Both of these episodes deal with the idea of studying cultures and the forcible moving of a people from their homes. Some will then point out the contradictions of Captain Picard's behavior in STIN and Journey's End. In Journey's End he goes out of his way to help Starfleet forcibly remove a group of Native American settlers from a world to be given away by a treaty to the Cardassians. He even lectures young Wesley Crusher on the need to follow orders from superiors. The Picard of Insurrection has apparently changed his perspective on 'just following orders' and he and the crew actively help the Baku fight back against the Son'a. Perhaps, the good Captain learned something from Wesley Crusher between Journey and Insurrection.

All in all, a classic Star Trek prime directive story. Full of conflict and will likely cause a good conversation or two after the film is over in the audience.

While the story is interesting, it could have been delivered a lot better. The action is slow to build at times and really detracts from some key moments towards the second half of the film. Picard loads up the shuttle with all these cool weapons and you only see him and his four other crew members use any of them. The Baku never pick up a phaser. Worf reads off this list of cool weapons and we barely see them used once they are on the planet. Picard packs for bear and ends up using the B.B. guns the whole time.

The space battles were better, but not by much. The Son'a ships looked pretty neat, and seem like they would have had some maneuverability, but the Briar Patch changed the nature of the battle. The silliest thing of course was that the Enterprise had a joy stick for manual steering. When did the Enterprise become so simple that you can pilot it with what you would fly the Microsoft Flight Simulator game with?

F. Murray Abraham as Ru'afo
Casting of F. Murray Abraham as the villain Ru'afo was nice. Star Trek TNG movies had very cool villains (with the exception of Tom Hardy). He really was able to portray his characters hatred for the Ba'ku. I did find it odd that his bridge had a couch on it.  The rest of the TNG cast performed to their usual abilities. Stewart as usual found a way to get a little bit more out of his character than the other cast members. The budding romance seemed more like just a tease to viewers. What was the nature of Picard and this strange older lady's relationship? It seemed just to be simple intrigue. It wasn't that interesting. He seemed more or less interested in her because of her strange ability to find a 'perfect moment'.

I suppose that where the film failed was in making the story bigger than just a prime directive plot. Having Admiral Doughtery be a member of that secretive Section 31 might have added a great plot development. It just seemed like after Riker got the communcation out the Federation decided "oh, perhaps working with the Son'a wasn't the greatest idea. It just felt like there was something larger missing from the story.

Overall, my largest problem with the TNG movies is the lack of an larger than life story arc, like we saw in Star Trek II, III, and IV. The films naturally flowed into each other and the stories were interwoven enough to reward fans who returned to the theaters film after film as well as keep bringing in new fans. Perhaps one of the great tragedies of the cutting room floor on this film was cutting of the Quark scene. If you wanted a lighter film, add Quark! We already had Worf going through puberty, Data playing in hay, Picard dancing, Riker and Troi in a bathtub...why not add Quark? He did have a scene, but so far it has been lost in the vast memory banks at Paramount Pictures. Only this photo has been released, and can be seen in the photo gallery of the dvd.

 If you want a more lighthearted, but still great Trek story, this movie is for you. Think of a great two-parter TNG episode. This would be right in there with the rest of them. As with First Contact, this TNG movie highlights the strong casting and excellent story that we are accustomed to seeing in Star Trek. I would watch this film over Nemesis any day.

Here is my quick preference list of all Star Trek Movies starting with #1-11

1. Star Trek II
2. Star Trek V (believe me, I get more flak for this than any other)
3. Star Trek First Contact
4. Star Trek IV
5. Star Trek VI
6. Star Trek Insurrection
7. Star Trek III
8. Star Trek Motion Picture
9. Star Trek Generations
10. Star Trek (2009)
11. Star Trek Nemesis

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