“Does anyone remember when we used to be explorers?”
“Counselor, do you thinks it’s possible for two people to go back in time, fix a mistake they’ve made?
On this ship? Anything’s possible.”
Welcome back, nerds! This week’s entry is looking at a movie that isn’t that great but it has potential. Insurrection is very much in line with the Trek aesthetic, but compared to the sleek awesomeness that was First Contact, this one seems a bit weighed down by its own self-importance.
After First Contact and the sixth season of Deep Space 9, which many writers and some fans felt were too dark, the writers wanted to return to the optimism of Trek’s earlier days and present a lighter story. The end result feels very much a part of the Trek universe, but the presentation would have definitely worked better as a more tightly written television story rather than an inflated two hour movie.
My other issue (that stems from its less aggressive style of story) is the conflict. The ethical dilemma that runs through the story is great, but it’s never presented as an actual dilemma. From the first moment when we meet Admiral Dougherty, we know he’s capital “E” Evil and his plan is capital “W” Wrong.
Ethical dilemmas make for good storytelling when the decision is genuinely difficult to make, but the script doesn’t allow for that. Even when the unique qualities of the planet give Geordi his sight back, he makes a speech about the price being too high. It’s not an ethical dilemma at all. It’s a clash between Valiant Goodness and Corrupt Evil, and Star Trek has always worked better when it explores less clear-cut issues.
Star Trek: Insurrection (1998)
The Ship: The Enterprise E, being all cool and amazing. We also get to see the captain’s yacht, which has never been mentioned before, but I guess it’s a cool addition to the Enterprise’s design.
The Captain: Picard, of course. Riker gets a chance to command the ship, too, and has some explode-y fun as he fights bad guys.
The Premise: Picard and Data (and friends) stumble onto a conspiracy to forcibly relocate a peace-loving community from a fountain-of-youth planet and they decide to do something about it.
*shot of Picard putting on glasses*
*shot of Data priming a phaser rifle*
*shot of Picard, Data, Riker, Worf, Troi, Crusher and LaForge walking towards the camera in slow motion, all clad in black leather while a metal theme song starts playing*
If only it had been that cool…
The Best Moments: for a movie that had the potential to be an awesome blend of kick-ass action and good old-fashioned Starfleet principles, it decided to lean too heavily on the Starfleet principles. But it still has some good moments.
Worf going through Angry Violent Klingon Puberty.
Troi and Riker FINALLY making things official. It took literally a million years of “oh we were involved once, but we’re just friends now” before the cosmic youth vibes of the Ba’ku planet stir up their old feelings. I was so convinced they were actually over that, when they teased a Worf/Troi thing, I was ALL OVER IT because they were adorable together. But when they decided not to (I guess when Worf transferred to DS9), it seemed silly not to get Riker and Troi together. They’re adorable and delightful and I’m very happy that they become an item once more. My only concern is that Troi SHAVES OFF RIKER’S BEARD! (What the hell, Deanna?? What sort of MONSTER would do that??)
The “British Tar” scene is goofy, but I rather enjoy it just because of Worf’s look of horror when Picard tells him to sing. And then we see Worf’s growing acquiescence as he joins in the sing-along. Also, fun fact, it’s a reference to an Isaac Asimov story (I think “The Runaround”) where scientists on a Mercury station have to find a way to recapture a malfunctioning robot that is caught in an ethical dilemma whilst singing Gilbert and Sullivan!
The space fight is pretty cool, too. This is the first time we get to see the Enterprise E in a true fight (the one at the beginning of First Contact doesn’t count because they join the fight late).
One scene which could have been amazing, but wasn’t was the scene where Worf oversleeps and gets chastised by Picard. Let me explain. In terms of Trek Chronology, this film takes place right after the season 6 finale of DS9. In that finale, a crazed, possessed Gul Dukat uses freaky Pah Wraith powers to destroy the wormhole (non Trek folks, I’ll explain all of this in the next entry, I promise). In the process, he meets Jadzia Dax and the evil creature possessing him kills her.
Jadzia Dax was Worf’s wife.
Worf oversleeps because he is having a horrible grief-induced nightmare about losing Jadzia (this was actually written into the script but cut, so I’m not making this up). The writers wanted to show the fallout of this tragedy, but were unable to fit it in without heaping lots of DS9 exposition into the scene. All we get are offhand comments about the Dominion War now and then, but no one really seems that concerned about it aboard the Enterprise.
The scene would have been amazing for the character, and fans would have known what was happening, but it would have had no bearing on the movie’s plot unless it was made into a whole subplot. So, I get why it was cut, but it could have been so powerful. No one offers condolences for Jadzia when Worf comes on board, and Picard just thinks Worf is being negligent, but beneath it all, Worf is still really hurting, and I wish we’d gotten to see that.
That was long, I’m sorry. Moving on.
Why It’s Awesome: A better way to word this would be to say why it could have been awesome. The cast rocks, but they’re all written pretty shallowly. F. Murray Abraham is a magnificent actor, but his character seems like a more clumsy version of general Chang from The Undiscovered Country. He has two settings: cliche villain who uses phrases like “my dear” and “eliminate them,” or angry villain who loses his temper and yells a lot. I wish we’d gotten to learn more about him as a person rather than a cardboard cutout. This is, after all, the man who brought to life Salieri in Amadeus, one of the best movies ever.
Donna Murphy’s character, Anij, is given more character development, thankfully, because Murphy is a terrific actor who you should all know as the voice of Mother Gothel in Tangled! In this movie, she’s sort of the serene angel-like character with the wisdom of the ages who introduces Picard to the Ba’ku at a level beyond planetary population censuses. She’s a bit too perfect in places, but she has a rebellious streak and a scientific curiosity that keeps her from being just a flat archetype. I totally see why Picard is so attracted to her (though he sort of blows it when he asks her how old she is. I get that it’s a plot point, but geez, you don’t ask people that). She’s no Vash, but I do like the thing she and Picard have. Though obviously he doesn’t stay with her because he’s CLEARLY still pining after Vash. That’s what I tell myself.
A plot point that I do like is Data’s friendship with Artim. Data has many meaningful friendships with young folks (because he himself has always been rather childlike in his desire to be human and, in essence, “grow up.”) He saves Sarjenka in “Pen Pals,” and he helps Timothy cope with the death of his parents in “Hero Worship,” so it makes sense that the writers would want to revisit this theme by having Data learn about how to play and have fun as a child from Artim. First Contact took Data to a dark place, and so I like that he’s able to reclaim his innocence in this one by reconnecting with the childlike wonder that characterized him early on in the series. It’s probably a bit cheesy, but I don’t care. Data is one of my favorite TNG characters, and I love how he’s developed. This subplot also has more impact following the events of Nemesis where Data is returned to a dark point in his life. This movie gives him a moment to breathe.
This is still a fun movie, even if it gets a bit preachy. It’s not as satisfying or tightly written as First Contact, and the characters can be a bit uneven, but it is true to Star Trek’s aesthetic and ethos, something the next feature film seems to completely ignore.