Thursday, January 24, 2013

Star Trek: Insurrection

The crew of the Enterprise-E are pulled away from a diplomatic mission by Admiral Dougherty (Anthony Zerbe) in order to deal with a seemingly malfunctioning Data, who during  a clandestine operation observing the primitive Ba'ku people on a remote world, revealed the presence of the mission to the Ba'ku.   The crew travels to the planet and manages to deactivate Data, but their suspicions are aroused by the Admiral's insistence that they leave the system immediately after completing their mission.  While on the planet, they discover a Starfleet plan to remove the Ba'ku, who are in truth a technologically-advanced species who have been granted immortality by the planet's unique properties, from the surface without their knowledge.  The Federation are working with the Son'a people, a race that engages in a grotesque skin stretching ritual that seemingly keeps them alive.  They are led by Ru'afo (F. Murray Abraham), and plan to harvest the immortality-granting rings of the planet in order to use its gifts for the good of the wider galaxy, but the success of their plan means the desolation of the planet.

Picard, who has become close with one of the Ba'ku, Anij (Donna Murphy), has moral reservations about this plan, and also suspects that it is not endorsed by the full Federation, so rather than complying with the Admiral's order to leave the system he and the bulk of the command crew (everyone but Riker and Geordi) go down to the surface of the planet to help the Ba'ku defend themselves against the Son'a/Federation plan.  While the Enterprise travels away from the planet in order to deliver a message to Starfleet, the crew on the planet learn that the Son'a and the Ba'ku are the same race, the Son'a having left the planet as rebellious teenagers who balked at their elders' insistence that they not engage with the wider galaxy.  They have returned because they desire the planet's healing properties under their own control, and are using the Federation to achieve that end.  Picard and company manage to stop the Son'a and restore the Ba'ku to their  bucolic existence through a bunch of convoluted plot mechanics that, quite frankly, I don't feel like detailing.

I feel like I have less to say about this movie than about any of the other Star Trek films thus far.  It's not a successful film like Star Trek II.  It's not a noble failure like Generations.  It's not a spectacular, epic failure like Star Trek V.  It's just a run-of-the-mill failure.  A bunch of shit happens, our heroes get in and out of a handful of scrapes, then they complete their mission and it's over.  In some ways it's possibly the most Bond-like of all of these films, albeit one of the lousy Roger Moore ones - there's A Girl who our hero romances, there's a deformed bad guy who is a complete lunatic, and there's a pretty decent amount of action.  Even the two women in the cast get to shoot guns at things in this film, which I guess is a decent consolation prize since first place, "developing interesting characters who the audience can identify with," is off the table.  You'd think that all that action would lead to a film that was exciting, but you would be 100% wrong.

The biggest problem here is that there is just nothing remotely cinematic about this film.  Oh, it has all the trappings of cinema - a sizeable effects budget, location shooting, Oscar-winning guest stars (sure, F. Murray Abraham is more of an answer to a trivia question than a major film star but, still, he did win the damn thing). But the plot is so wafer thin, and so padded out by extraneous nonsense that the film is absolutely anchored to the Earth as "a movie based on a TV show" rather than an actual film that can stand on its own.  Insurrection is an episode of TV.  There is nothing at stake here really, and the reset button is liberally deployed at the end of the film.  Among everything that happens in this movie, the thing that will probably have the most lasting effect is Riker shaving his beard.  Three movies in to the Next Generation's run on the big screen and creative bankruptcy has already set in; the film series ended after the next one because people stopped showing up, but you can see the seeds of its destruction here.  This movie reflects a tired and bored creative team that was out of ideas.

Bullet pointing:

The scenes of the idyllic Ba'ku planet are something like The Lord of the Rings shot by James Cameron on a shoe-string budget.

When we first meet the Enterprise-E crew in this film, they are doing some diplomatic work, meeting with some alien race or other.  The aliens put some weird beaded thing on Picard's head as a sign of honor and respect, and Riker and Troi roll their eyes because they are racist xenophobes I guess.

I couldn't begin to explain whatever hurdles were jumped through in order to bring Worf aboard again.  He was putting in time on Deep Space Nine but they obviously had to find a way to bring him back around for every one of this cast's films.

Picard's ploy to stop Data involves singing some of the score from the HMS Pinafore and I mean really.

The Baku are really off-puttingly precious.  They're like hobbits, but instead of being endearingly earthy, they're pretentious and self-righteous.

Data: "In the event of a water landing, I have been designed to serve as a flotation device" (blowing up a balloon sound).  Funny jokes!

Worf has a pimple.  Everyone in the cast gets "younger" in some fashion due to their proximity to the Ba'ku planet's rings, but Worf comes out by far the worst.  Riker shaves his beard, Geordi's eyes get fixed, Picard's equipment starts working again I guess because he's all up on that Anij lady, but Worf really gets put through the adolescent ringer.  Mood swings, bad hair, the whole nine yards.  He came back for this shit?

Picard dances a mambo on the Enterprise all by himself, which I guess is also a symptom of the rings turning everyone's clock back, but could just bit a bit of contractual wrangling that Patrick Stewart insisted on.  Maybe he was learning the mambo during breaks in filming and wanted to show off.

Picard and Anij have a bit of chemistry, it's not bad.  All things considered, their interactions are perhaps the best part of the film.  They're not great or anything, this is pretty standard romantic drama territory, but they are better than most of the lazy shit around them.

I think the morals of this film are kind of ass-backwards, but I don't really care enough about the topic to detail why.

F. Murray Abraham's performance stays pretty close to 11 the whole way through.  At one point, it gets so hammy he starts bleeding from the exertion.

During the initial Son'a attack, as the Enterprise crew evacuates them from out in the open, a Ba'ku kid and his pet space gerbil trip and he screams out "Father!" because it's important to stack the deck here.  Data has a long conversation with this tow-headed youth and it is truly dreadful.  Has there ever been a little kid on Star Trek that everyone didn't immediately want to punch in the face?

The Baku can slow time for some reason, which Anij demonstrates to Picard.  You almost get the impression that no one working on this film gave a shit about it.

The two women of the crew have a brief conversation about the planet making their boobs more firm and I should probably complain but honestly, at least it manages to allow the two women a chance to interact.  Would've been nice if it was under less stupid circumstances but whatever, you take what you can get.

"I wouldn't be surprised if history remembers this as the Riker Manuever" is a phrase that Geordi says during the Enterprise's big battle scene with the Son'a.  I mean, this is fan-fiction.  This is not a real script.

F. Murray Abraham kills Admiral Dougherty by putting him in their face-stretching machine, and it's pretty gross in a PG-13 way.

The dumb Son'a face-stretching thing makes significantly less sense once the big reveal is made, even though the movie thinks it explains it.  The Son'a broke away from the Ba'ku 100 years ago, and the movie posits that they were so upset about losing the benefits of the Fountain of Youth planet that they went to any means (meaning face stretching) to hold on to their youth.  But the face-stretching mutilates their appearnce into something so grotesque that it's pretty hard to believe that the entire group of them went along with it.  No one said, hey guys, maybe we should either say sorry and return to the magical immortality world or, failing that, grow old like normal people rather than, you know, turning ourselves into freak-show horrors?  Their face stretching made sense when it was just some dumb cultural thing.

Lol, holodeck'd.  I really can't explain exactly what happens in the climax of this film - Picard et al. make use of a holoship (a ship with a giant holodeck that could replicate a large space) that the Federation had planned to stuff the Ba'ku into as a way to get them off the planet.  They get the Son'a on that ship through plot wizardry so that when the Son'a think they've succeeded with their ring-harvesting plan, they've actually just been inside a mock up of their ship's bridge, and it's all fake.  When F. Murray Abraham finds this out, his performance goes from 11 to 1 billion.

A bunch of shit happens after this, including the final confrontation between Picard and Ru'afo, but it's all so lazy and uninteresting that I'm taking the rest of the review off.  See you back here for Nemesis.

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