A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 330 – Star Trek: Insurrection

Star Trek: Insurrection – January 24th, 2011

Last night as I was going to bed I kept trying to remember what this movie involved. I knew I’d seen it and I knew that I’d been able to remember it earlier in the day, but I’d totally blanked on it by evening. It just didn’t make much of an impression on me, I suppose. Rewatching it tonight, I can sort of see why. I mean, it’s not bad, honestly. Take a dash of Thine Own Self, a touch of Who Watches the Watchers, a bit of First Contact (the episode) and a plot tool from Homeward and then toss in some unnecessary fiddling with time and baste it with sinister overtones vaguely reminiscent of Coming of Age and Conspiracy (though without the parasites) and you’ve got this movie. And really, when the best way to describe a movie is to list the middling-ish episodes of the show the movie is based on that are similar in feel? That should tell you something.

I’ll come right out and say it: I don’t dislike this movie. Take out the time fiddling and the super wise 12 year old kid and honestly? I’m totally fine with it. It’s just that, like the episodes I mentioned above, it’s not really super outstanding. Sure, those episodes have some good moments (and the Data-centric Thine Own Self stands out for me as above the rest), but do they really stack up against the best of the series? It would be impossible. I can even see some hints of The Inner Light being attempted, with a romantic storyline for Picard and the idyllic setting that he can’t stay in. But it just doesn’t succeed like that episode did. For one, there’s too much action. For two, it tries too hard. And it doesn’t fail completely. It just doesn’t hit the mark it’s aiming for.

I blame the time fiddling. See, the plot revolves around a botched attempt by the Federation and new allies the Son’a to relocate the Ba’ku, a group of 600 or so people living on a remote planet in a cluster of nebulae known as the Briar Patch. The planet has a concentration of a particular type of radiation that has regenerative and restorative powers on organic life. The Son’a have found a way to harvest it but it means making the planet uninhabitable. Since the planet is in Federation space they’ve managed to enlist the Federation’s help. But the mission goes awry when Data learns of what’s really going on – not the simple observation mission he was led to believe it was – and tries to interfere. The Enterprise comes running and soon the crew figures it all out too and decide to help out the Ba’ku, who are also not what they appeared. Turns out the Ba’ku have warp capability. They just don’t care to use it or any other form of technology, preferring to live simple agrarian lives on their amazing planet that slows down their aging process. When you barely age, why not take decades to perfect a skill such as weaving or carving or whatnot? Oh, and they can make time stand still.

What’s that, you say? They can do what? Yeah, they can make time stand still. There’s some babble about it from one of the Ba’ku, Anij, whom Picard has rather fallen for, and she goes on about how it took the Ba’ku centuries to figure out that they don’t need centuries to appreciate a single moment and single moments can last as long as a century or something like that. It’s nonsense. It’s ridiculous. And it has no purpose in the plot other than to save Anij herself later in the movie when there’s a thoroughly unnecessary cave-in and Picard has to stop time where they are so the rest of the crew can save them. Yeah. I know. I wish I could explain it. I kept thinking I’d forgotten it being used during the climax or something but it never came up. It’s just sitting there mid-film, padding out the romantic plot and taking up space. It’s like making a point to set one’s phaser to kill and then never firing it (that would be Pavel Chekhov’s Phaser, ha ha).

I’m of somewhat mixed opinion when it comes to the larger plot and mood of the movie. For one, I think it’s uneven. After all, on the planet’s surface you have the paradise, as proclaimed by the movie’s poster, with Georgi’s eyes suddenly working and Worf going through Klingon puberty again, Riker and Troi acting like teenagers in love and so on and so forth. And there’s the romantic plot, with Picard and Anij and the time stopping. And then up in space there are battles and ships fighting and tricky maneuvers through the nebulae and the two plots just don’t fit together terribly well. They aren’t balanced like the surface/space plots were in First Contact (movie this time). Maybe without the romantic plot it wouldn’t feel like the two parts are so opposed, but it got shoehorned in anyhow, like trying to wedge Lessons into Journey’s End and then tacking the mess that made onto any episode involving a space battle.

I’m also conflicted about the mood because of the sinister overtones I mentioned earlier. The Federation and Starfleet in this movie are far darker and less noble than the organizations we know from earlier material. These are not organizations still upholding the ideals they were founded on. Or rather, they are, but only in public. Behind the scenes they’re shown to be as ruthless as their enemies, willing to ally with rogues using banned weapons and destroy civilizations if they’re in inconvenient places. I admit, I never got into Enterprise and I lost track of Deep Space Nine before Section 31 was brought in, but everything I’ve heard and read about it makes me think that this movie was pointing in that direction. And in just about any other universe I’d be all over the morally gray stuff that entails. But in the Trek universe I want my ideals. I want the gray moral areas to be more about specific situations, not about entire organizations going gray from the inside.

Like I said, I don’t dislike this movie. But I am conflicted about it. I like a lot of the components to it. I like the blocks it’s built from just fine. They’re not my very favorite blocks, but they’re solid and all. It’s just that they don’t quite come together to form a good movie. I know I’ve named a lot of episodes in this review and that’s really quite intentional. I think this movie is an episode. It’s a perfectly fine middle-of-the-road episode. It’s not one I’d come back to over and over and over, but it’s also not one I’d go out of my way to avoid. If I passed it on television I’d stop on it, but at the next commercial break I might flip away from it, just like quite a few episodes. If it wasn’t for that ridiculous time stopping thing I might stick around, but hey, if they can stop time then maybe they’ll still be there when I flip back.

January 24, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Star Trek Insurrection

January 24, 2011

Star Trek Insurrection

I remember being underwhelmed by this movie when I first saw it. This was the first Star Trek movie since Star Trek IV which I had not seen in the theater, so maybe part of the problem is that I’ve only ever seen it on the small screen. As I watched it tonight, however, in the context of having watched all the other Star Trek movies in this past week or so, I couldn’t figure out quite why I was so down on this movie. The truth is that it has some good action, many of the best special effects in any of the Star Trek movies, and some fun comedic moments for all the members of the crew. Perhaps the issue is that after the adventure of First Contact this movie has much smaller stakes – it feels less epic and more intimate.

This movie starts out with a mystery. Why has Data suddenly gone haywire and sabotaged the observation of a pre-warp society? Who are the Son’a – the sinister race that the Federation have allied themselves with and just what is going on with them? Why does everybody have so many parentheses in their names? I have always liked being thrown into a story and having to figure out what’s going on, and this is the only Star Trek movie that really takes that route. In keeping with the mystery theme there are secrets to be revealed as this movie plays out. Nothing is precisely as it seems, and that’s probably my favorite part of this movie.

There are no universe-ending stakes here. This is a story of the Enterprise bridge crew defending six hundred Ba’ku from forced deportation from their planet, which the Son’a and Federation crave for some reason. Against direct orders from a superior officer. It’s pure simple fun, but it doesn’t have the same tension or power as First Contact.

As a result the movie feels smaller, less grand and more intimate. It’s perfect for the small screen. It’s like going back a few years after the TV show ended to see what our old Next Generation friends have been up to since we last saw them. When we catch up with Picard and the rest of the Enterprise crew they are swamped with work, buried in ambassadorial work with hardly a moment between missions (as wonderfully conveyed with a great shot of Picard and crew walking through the corridors of the Enterprise hashing out schedules and preparing for a big reception they’re hosting for a newly inducted race in the Federation.) Worf shows up from nowhere with no real explanation as to why he’s not on DS-9 except that he needs to be in this movie, and Data is off on his mission on the Ba’ku homeworld.

There are a lot of great special effects in this film. More than in most of the other Star Trek movies. Particularly the chase through the nebulous gasses that surround Ba’ku and all the cloaked operatives on their observation mission, who are visible only through monitors in the duck blind where the Son’a and Federation have been watching from. Jonathan Frakes once again shows himself to be a competent action director, and his familiarity with his cast makes for a great collection of performances. There’s nothing as demanding as the powerful emotions in First Contact, but still everybody gets a chance in the spotlight. There’s a nonsensical but fun duet between Picard and Data as they sing a song from HMS Pinafore. There’s fun flirting between Riker and Troi which feels reminiscent of Encounter at Farpoint (even more so when Riker shaves off his beard.) Data forms a bond with a child on the planet’s surface. Picard forms a bond with a woman on the planet’s surface. Worf goes through puberty. Geordie watches a sunrise and Beverly talks about her boobs. (I suppose Gates McFadden has the smallest role here – maybe she had other commitments at the time?)

One problem with the Next Gen movies is that they’re each a sand-alone piece. They have no continuity or mythos that builds from one film to the next. If it were not for the destruction of the Enterprise D in Generations, the change from visor to implants for Geordie, Data’s emotion chip, and the “character death” in Nemesis these films could be watched in pretty much any order. I think they suffer because of that. There’s no evolution for the characters. As a result this movie, while fun to watch and perfectly acceptable is not particularly memorable. At least this one is an odd numbered Star Trek movie that didn’t completely suck. Tomorrow: an even numbered Star Trek that wasn’t particularly overwhelming either.

January 24, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | 1 Comment