Judge Eric Profancik's review of the ninth Trek film is positively metaphasic!
Our reviews of Star Trek: Insurrection (published May 21st, 1999), Star Trek: The Next Generation Motion Picture Collection (published October 19th, 2009), and Star Trek: The Next Generation Motion Picture Collection (Blu-Ray) (published September 28th, 2009) are also available.
"How many people does it take before it becomes wrong?"
Star Trek: Insurrection has received much critical and fan disdain since its release. Billed as nothing more than a glorified episode, Insurrection is often lumped into the negative column of the "odd/even" curse of Trek movies. I don't think that this ninth movie in the franchise is the best, yet I'm one of the few who finds it quite charming and nowhere near the bottom of the pile. Following the logic of The Voyage Home, Insurrection is a much lighter movie after the dark First Contact, and I enjoy this change in tone. I don't think many people liked the switch to Trek-lite, but I think there's also a subtle, unknown, subconscious reason why Insurrection rubs so many people the wrong way.
Besides, if we were to list this film as a bad one, that would give The Next Generation crew only one good movie out of four, and that's just not right.
Facts of the Case
In a region of space called the Briar Patch, a ringed planet with a small populace of just 600 lives in paradise. It is an ideal place, and they are content about their ways. Little do they know that just up on the rise Starfleet has stationed a "duck blind" to observe this apparently primitive culture. As the Starfleet observers use their invisibility suits to stroll through and around the village, a problem arises: Lt. Cmdr. Data, on loan from the Enterprise-E, begins to run amuck through the village. He eventually reveals himself and the observers to the stunned inhabitants of the Ba'ku village.
Admiral Dougherty (Anthony Zerbe, The Matrix Reloaded), at the behest of the Federation Council, is in charge of this joint operation between Starfleet and the race who located the planet, the Son'a, led by Ru'afo (F. Murray Abraham, Amadeus). The Admiral contacts Captain Picard to get Data's schematics to shut him down, as he's taken the observation team hostage. That information is sent, but Picard decides he needs to go to the Briar Patch to discover why Data has violated his orders and his programming. Picard soon discovers a sinister plot that violates the core principles of the Federation, and he must decide whether he will obey Dougherty's orders to leave the area or stay behind and defend the Ba'ku people.
Insurrection is a movie with quite a few flaws. Most notably, it feels nothing more than a glorified episode that may have played a bit better on television. It doesn't immediately carry the dramatic scope of Wrath of Khan, Undiscovered Country, or First Contact, yet it's far from being a complete loss. In fact, in watching it again, I realized that the movie is bigger than it appears, but having half the movie take place in a village makes it feels unfairly small. Within the movie itself are other blunders and flaws, yet when all is said and done, Insurrection is a better movie than it's given credit.
What most don't seem to appreciate with the film is its overall tone, which is decidedly lighter than the previous two. While there is a heavy looking to cause some major destruction that could have dramatic ripples throughout the Federation, the movie itself doesn't feel like an all-out nasty battle between good and bad. (I can't even say "evil" as Ru'afo doesn't muster enough menace for such a label.) Many critics of the movie focus on the "fountain of youth" aspect of the film, entirely overlooking the related action and drama. Their feeling is that the core theme of the movie is too fluffy to take seriously, and isn't worthy of making into a movie. They appear to have carried that dislike with them into the theaters, prejudging Insurrection. Perhaps it's time for them to give this one another try.
Insurrection has many hits and misses, so let's take a quick look at some of the things that do and don't work:
• Trek is not known for its acting, but once again kudos go out to Patrick Stewart for another great turn as Jean-Luc Picard. In this outing, he gets to show a more relaxed and jovial side of the captain. He's very comfortable in this role, and he nicely plays the romance, the comedy, and the drama throughout the film. Additionally, I was quite impressed by Donna Murphy (Spider-Man 2), who portrays Anij. I was not familiar with her work, and this was my first experience with anything she's done. She comes across almost elegantly in her role, and I can easily understand why Jean-Luc would become interested in, as he would say, such a handsome woman. Lastly, F. Murray Abraham takes a nice turn as Ru'afo. This role is certainly not the most involved and difficult in his career, but you can tell how much passion and effort he infused into his character. Besides, how many bad guys have you seen scream out in frustration?
• Though Worf tried to "butt in" during "All Good Things," Deanna realized that a Klingon probably wasn't the best route to happiness. So while in the Briar Patch, old feelings once again blossomed for Troi and Riker. I enjoyed seeing these two tease and play. They have great chemistry, and it's easy to believe that they did have a relationship and could once again give it a try. Top that with some cute but corny dialogue ("I kiss you and you say 'yuck'?"), and it's another charming layer to the light tone of the film.
• Pushing the "fountain of youth" idea to the side, the real chewy moral center of the film becomes apparent. As quoted in "The Charge" above, the film reminds us that we must respect everyone and not discriminate or harm anyone. No one should be treated unfairly. It doesn't matter if it's just one person, six hundred, or thousands, every person has rights that cannot be trumped for the potential betterment of others. This is a glowing reminder of the idealism of Roddenberry's original vision, which has somewhat darkened over the years.
• Giving Insurrection a fresh, new feel to Trek films, the numerous outdoor locations are a wonderful change of pace. The grand vistas, the lush grounds, and the clear blue skies don't feel like any other film in the Trek franchise. It's wonderful to not be cooped up on sets the entire time.
• Jerry Goldsmith is the father of Star Trek music. Everyone knows Alexander Courage's theme, but Goldsmith has scored most of the films. He's not my favorite Trek composer, as I think the best are James Horner's score for The Wrath of Khan and Cliff Eidelman's score for The Undiscovered Country. When I first saw First Contact and Insurrection, I was greatly disappointed by the scores; they felt flat and uninspired, missing the dramatic cues from, say, Horner's effort. But over time, Goldsmith's work has grown on me, and now I can appreciate how the scores do their work by augmenting what's onscreen. The music may not work alone, listening to it on CD, but it does work for the film.
• Perhaps it's a shallow reason for praise, but the special effects in this movie are top notch. I love great effects, and Insurrection is filled with them, from simple "drone chases" to grand battles in a nebula. And this ninth film marks the first time all the ships were done with CGI—no models. This allowed for some greater movement in the vehicles, giving us visuals we've yet to see in Star Trek. Remember the shuttle chase? Watching the two ships locked together, plummeting towards the planet, only to break away at the last second? How about the realism of the fake Briar Patch? The movie looked great yet didn't have that unrealistic CGI-feel as some other big blockbusters, like the new Star Wars films.
• The title doesn't really fit the movie. While the actions detailed do follow the definition of an insurrection, that word seems to imply something far grander. And though the subsequent actions of the film could have galactic consequences, the events of the movie are actually "intimate," as they are confined to one planet inside the Briar Patch. Perhaps another title like "Captain's Orders" would have been better, giving a tighter-feel to the film. You say "insurrection" and I'm waiting for Picard to single-handedly attack Romulus.
• What's with this "secondary protocol" of Data's? Where did this come from? Oh yeah, another convenient creation of the writers. (At least it wasn't a transporter malfunction this time.) Regardless, it's lame. They get a grazing shot by his neck, and he turns into a terminator, with a one-track mind of stopping the bad guys? I'm not quite buying that one.
• Another thing I'm not buying is the Son'a revenge angle; it's pretty weak. You have a group of Ba'ku who get kicked off the planet, and they're ready to commit genocide because of that? It really seems a bit extreme. As evidenced by the ending of the movie, after living there for 200 years, they should have known they would have been welcomed back and all that rigmarole would not have been necessary. But, then again, we are supposed to believe that they are really bad now, conquering two races and using subspace weapons. Eh. And unfortunately, Ru'afo isn't the greatest villain either. Abraham does his best to flesh out his character and give him menace, but he feels small in the grand scale of the Trek universe.
• Once again our secondary characters get the short shrift in the film, and, again, it's poor Dr. Crusher that gets the least play out of any of them. At least Geordi gets eyes, Troi gets Riker, and Worf get a gorch, but what does Crusher get to do? Nothing. She's just in the background, nothing more than a glorified extra. The Next Generation has never known what to do with the good doctor. I personally am tired of Data getting all the glory.
• And while Crusher is pushed into the background, the Ba'ku child Artim (and his silly pocket pet) get more lines and screen time. I really could have done without this subplot with the kid and Data; it's frivolous and boring. Go play in a haystack in your own time. It may be light, but it's bordering on stupid.
• Without a doubt, there's one scene that is so stupid that it's practically painful to watch; it's the singing of Gilbert and Sullivan's "A British Tar." While the chase itself is fun to watch (noted in the good section above) and the line of Worf not re-familiarizing himself with all the crew yet is funny, the singing really needed to be cut. You need to distract Data to latch onto his shuttle? And this is going to be done via song? Let me quote Troi here, "Yuck!" Mr. Positronic Brain can't fly a shuttle and sing at the same time? Right. Cut the song and give us more action.
• Tucked into the middle of a great action sequence is perhaps one of the worst Trek moments of all time, the "Riker Maneuver." First, it's a sad ploy to try and give Riker his own maneuver; that's Picard's gig. It's worked for years now, and you don't need to mimic that for Riker. The actual maneuver itself was only slightly clever, but decent enough for the movie, yet labeling it as such just ruined a perfectly good action moment. Further, popping up a joystick for manual control of the Enterprise? I don't think anyone's eyes didn't roll into the back of his or her head on that one!
• "Saddle up. Lock and load." Who wrote this, George Lucas?
Now with all that said and done, let's rewind to my earlier statement about something subtle hidden in Insurrection; something subconscious that has kept many fans and critics from enjoying this film. What is it? It's the chewy moral center of the film, as I described earlier. Insurrection says that every person must be respected. On the surface, who would disagree with such a sentiment? But, this message slams against the very foundation of Trek lore:
"The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few…or the one."
Spock's dying words, which reverberate greatly across all that is Trek, are categorically slammed in Insurrection. With only a few Ba'ku, it's posited that it's more important that they survive instead of using the wonders of their world to benefit the billions in the Federation. Hence, the needs of the few outweigh the needs of the many. Is this why so many fans don't like this film? Is it this subtle contradiction that rankles their feathers? How can Trek play both sides of the fence? How are fans supposed to mesh these contradictory concepts into the larger fold? Whose needs are more important? Was the Federation correct in working with the Son'a to harvest the metaphasic radiation from the rings of the planet?
This latest Trek double-dip is my favorite of the bunch. Much to my surprise, I found more satisfaction in this set than in any other of the movies. That has to do more with the bonus features than the transfers, but we shall, as always, start with the latter. Sporting what appears to be a new (or freshly cleaned) 2.35:1 anamorphic print, Insurrection looks better than it did on its first bare bones release (in my unscientific visual comparison of the two). Many of the slight errors weren't noticeable this time around, most notably the shimmering in the haystack scenes. Colors are rich, bold, and accurate, with excellent details and sharpness; the blacks are true, and the space and cave scenes are not muddied. You have several audio options this time around including a new DTS track and the original Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 mixes (and a French DD 2.0 track). The new DTS track is a marked, albeit slight, improvement over the robust DD 5.1 track. As we've come to expect, the DTS provides a richer, wider, more realistic and aggressive sound than DD 5.1, and is the preferred track. Yet each has dialogue that is crisp and clear, with surrounds that are used very well, and the subwoofer kicking in powerfully for the action sequences. You won't be disappointed in whichever audio option you choose.
As with all the new Trek movies, this two-disc release is loaded with special features. On the whole, this set has the best bonus items to date. That's not because they break the mold on what to expect, but because, for me at least, most of the information contained was new. No one ever really talks about Insurrection, so I learned a lot about the film. Filled with great stories, little asides, and excellent behind-the-scenes footage, the bonus material pleased this finicky Judge. Three things of note before I give a quick rundown of everything included. First, this is the first double-dip not to include a commentary track. What? Frakes, what were you doing that you couldn't record one here? Granted, your track for First Contact was, shall we say, boring, but I've come to want and expect one on each disc. Secondly, the disc fails to mention the inclusion of deleted scenes. That's a shame because I think they are a key selling point for Trek DVDs. Lastly, the sticker on the packaging boasts "over two hours" of bonus material. That's not true, and they are selling themselves short. Not including the text commentary track by the Okudas (one of their best efforts, filled with classic nuggets of trivia), there are nearly three hours of bonus material included. And now for the specifics, grouped by categories as found on Disc Two:
• "It Takes a Village" (15.5 minutes): An overall look
at the film focusing on the idea Insurrection is a "big film"
with big sets.
The Star Trek Universe:
• "Westmore's Aliens" (16.5 minutes): It starts with a
quick look at Michael Westmore's numerous creations for the Trek
universe, and then it focuses on his newest aliens in Insurrection.
Creating the Illusion:
• This is the weakest section of the bonus features, talking about three key special effects sequences in the film: "Shuttle Chase" (8.5 minutes), "Drones" (3.75 minutes), and "Duck Blind" (3.5 minutes). Not much new information is shared on the creation of the scenes, and they are even too vague on what exactly was done. Further, we really didn't need to see the final sequence here again; those of us who are already watching the bonus items have the scenes memorized.
• Seven deleted scenes, including the original alternate ending (12 minutes), are available, with a "play all" option. A few scenes have brief introduction, and all the cuts were wise decisions.
• In this section are some storyboards and a photo gallery. I'm not a big fan of either of those options, on the whole, though there are some interesting behind-the-scenes photos available in the gallery.
• In this last segment, you will find the teaser trailer, the theatrical trailer, an "Original Promotional Featurette"(5 minutes), and the omnipresent Borg Invasion trailer. I'm a big fan of trailers and I enjoyed these; the promo featurette is fluffy but not bad, yet has nothing new in it by this point; and I've practically memorized the Borg trailer by now. Yes, I know. I'm coming to Vegas soon; stop bugging me!
And scattered throughout the menus are some Easter eggs. I could only find three, which is below average for these discs.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
As I've adequately covered many of the flaws of the film already, I'll just mention one last thing: Why are the Son'a in such bad shape? Are we meant to imply that the metaphasic radiation, after some time, becomes necessary to live? If you leave the planet, then you're going to shrivel up and face an ugly death? If that's the case, then this really isn't the best option for the Federation to be exploring.
Star Trek: Insurrection does not get the credit it deserves. It is not a bad movie, and it does have many redeeming qualities to it. While it may feel nothing more than a glorified episode, its positive qualities are so natural and so well done that most viewers miss them. If you haven't seen Insurrection since it was released in 1998, then you need to give it another chance. The charm and warmth mixed with great action and suspense come together for a unique feel for a Trek film. Don't let the "fountain of youth" theme mislead you for this lighthearted yet dramatic film. It's classic Trek that strives to refresh and rejuvenate Gene Roddenberry's optimistic vision of the future. This latest double-dip set from Paramount is a winner and is very highly recommended.
All charges against Star Trek: Insurrection are hereby dismissed. All parties are remanded to give this movie a second viewing.
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Scales of Justice
• "It Takes a Village"
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