Star Trek: Insurrection

First, you cry
★★
☆☆☆☆
Released: 
1998
Director: 
Jonathan Frakes
Starring: 
Patrick Stewart, Brent Spinder, Donna Murphy, F. Murray Abraham, Jonathan Frakes
The Setup: 
Some paradise planet whose people are going to be relocated gets up the ire of Picard and co.
Discussion: 

There really is some special sub-circle of hell with a screening room that only shows Star Trek: Next Generation movies. WHY are they so awful? Well, we could speculate on that for as long as it takes to say “Rick Berman and Brannon Braga,” but the fact is they’re truly dreadful and only get worse with the passage of time. I personally thought this one was “not so bad” at the time it was released, which only shows you what an idiot I was—and makes me reassess what I consider to be a decent movie now—because under re-examination, this is revealed to be an utter piece of tedious CRAP! But you know, sometimes you need shitty sci-fi, what can I say?!

So we begin on this peaceful planet with a village built in a kind of Greco-Medieval style [?] where they are all peaceful and content to wear burlap sacks [not quite, but let’s just say one step down from garments you might find at a local outdoor craft fair], bake bread, farm organically, and play in piles of hay. The whole place sounds like party central, right? We got shots of hardcore nauseating Donna Murphy striding contentedly through the place, placid smile frozen on her face, rigidly “carefree” hair hanging in loose ringlets.

We then discover that into this paradise some intruders have come—basically Starfleet is watching the people from an invisible observation booth, and there are Starfleet people walking among then in invisibility suits. Then there’s talk of someone going crazy and rampaging, and it turns out—it’s Data! He reveals himself, which is a big shock to the natives who are called the Baku, then shoots the observation booth, revealing it and all the invisible people walking around. Everyone is shocked, including you, because that observation booth is SMALL. There’s barely enough room to move around. Starfleet couldn’t spring for anything more luxurious than THAT?

Meanwhile, on the Enterprise, Picard has to attend some diplomatic function that requires him to wear this idiotic thing on his head and to kiss these blue pig people or something. It’s that old Next Generation humor! Oh boy, what a hoot. I’m still chuckling. Funny, funny. Yep, sure is. Hoo boy. He gets pulled away to find out that Data has gone haywire and blown up a schoolbus full of Starfleet’s developmentally disabled, groped Troi, gotten a tribal tattoo and has installed a new receptor allowing him to mainline Meth. So, even though he’s told not to, Picard takes the ship and goes to pick up Data himself. It’s that insurrection spirit, showing itself already! And demonstrating why, when the real insurrection starts, it carries no dramatic weight.

Meanwhile, F. Murray Abraham is bad guy Ruafo [his name, like everyone’s in this film, has numerous apostrophes to make them seem more “otherworldly”—I hearby (in the spirit of insurrection) announce my intention to ignore them], who is in bed [not literally] with Starfleet in the form of Admiral Dougherty. Apparently Botox was discontinued in the early 22nd century, as Ruafo gets his skin stretched over his face and stapled to the back of his head. If you are not ready to face such searing social commentary, PLEASE do NOT watch Star Trek: Insurrection. He must be a real scrotum-face if you let all those staples in the back go. Then—their ship is under attack! By Data!

But! The Enterprise is on hand, and Picard and Worf takes the Captain’s Yacht [or whatever] which is embedded in the underside of the Enterprise’s saucer, to get Data back. By the way, Worf’s presence on the ship is given the most cursory, literally MUMBLED explanation, given that he was supposed to be stationed on Deep Space Nine during this time. But he can just go off on this random mission, sure. Starfleet believes in flex-time schedules. Anyway, they have a minor space battle—again one has cause to wonder at how amazingly unexciting a Next Generation space battle can be—then—and here is where your tears of heartbreak, devastation and loss will begin to flow—Picard realizes that once more, the answer to his troubles lies in enticing Data to sing Gilbert and Sullivan. I don’t know who is responsible for Data singing in every Next Generation venture—I suspect it may be Brent Spiner himself—but it MUST BE STOPPED. But they didn’t stop. Supposedly in this case they “have to” do it to try to break through to Data’s pre-Meth mind, and, well, it’s unendurable. One other little detail you might also note is that apparently the highly-sophisticated Captain’s Yacht’s computer is only TWO clicks away from the Gilbert and Sullivan selection of your choice. You might think navigation and life-support systems might be on top, but no, the priority is essentially iTunes, Facebook, THEN life support. So Picard attaches his ship to the bottom of Data’s, and they both go plunging toward the earth, narrowly escaping certain death, and it is BORING. Like, mind-blowingly boring.

So Picard goes down to chill with the Baku where he meets Donna Murphy’s serene and sanctimonious self, and sees that the kids play this like X-Treme Hacky Sack, and that there’s textiles where the needlework is astonishing [dude needs to visit more craft fairs, obv], and, you know, they bake their own 9-grain bread and are all vegan and buy organic or whatever. Donna and friend inform Picard that they are both hundreds of years old and that the rings of the planet have a radiation that keeps them young and essentially make it so they can stop time. And here’s the best part: They supposedly keep up with technical knowledge—they know all about warp drive and beaming and what have you—but without USING or STUDYING the technology. This would be the equivalent of me knowing how to build and manage a nuclear reactor by just reading about it in a book. Anyway, Picard goes back with an appreciation for their simple ways and a stiffy for that serene chick with the iron hair.

While this is happening, Troi and Riker are flirting above, and it’s not too long before we are forced to witness them in a HOT TUB together. Then Geordi has analyzed the situation and it turns out that the reason Data freaked out at the beginning was that he found out the evil Ruafo and company were spying on the innocent, hacky-sack playing Baku [pretty boring spying, no?] and his ETHICAL AND MORAL INSTINCT took over! So you see, it’s not that Data really freaked out and was a danger to life, but acted out of his robo-CONSCIENCE and is actually TOO GOOD to play along with all those corrupt Starfleet orders. Which. Is. Nauseating. Come on, fellas, have some balls and have Data ACTUALLY go crazy. Ugh. Anyway, Data's penance is to befriend the cringeworthy little boy who has this kind of pocket-sized hippo-thing for a pet.

Then for some reason Picard and Data are on the planet and there’s something darn weird about this lake [here we have a scene where Data walks into this lake—obviously a swimming pool—and says toodle-doo to this passing fish. PLEASE. FUCKING. STOP.] so they drain the lake and, whaddya know, there’s a big cloaked ship inside. Amazing how those cloaked ships are always so visible. Anyway, inside is a holographic replica of the Baku village [with armed guards, necessitating a pointless laser battle] and basically the idea is that Ruafo, with Starfleet’s help, is going to put all the Baku on the ship without their knowledge and jettison that shit into space. Please do not stop to wonder how the Baku are going to eat holographic plants or any of that stuff. Thanks.

But back to the lighthearted crew humor! Troi has gotten Riker to shave his beard! Worf has a pimple! Oh boy, isn’t that a cut-up. Then Picard goes into his room and starts DOING THE MAMBO. Okay, let’s just agree that there will be NO non-orchestral music OF ANY KIND in Star Trek, okay? Can we just agree on that now? All this is to show us that the planet's rings are affecting the Enterprise crew as well, and making them younger. Picard is so frisky he goes down to Donna and inquires whether her many ancient skills include mastery of the skin flute, and by the way, you and your people are about to be forcibly relocated. She says, at one point, “Nothing is more complicated than perception.” Oh? Is that supposed to be enigmatic and wise? Because actually it sounds pretty fucking spacey to me, ya fuckin’ hippie bimbo. He spends the night in the desert, and meanwhile Geordi has popped out his hi-tech contacts and seen a sunset with his real eyes for the first time. Then—tie-dye party!

Meanwhile Ruafo wants Picard and friends out of there so he can start relocating the little folks, and at one point—this might be the only moment of the movie that might get a reaction from its audience—his forehead abruptly starts bleeding, due to his fruit acid facial peel. Good thing he doesn’t have kids that might start playing games of “Let’s make dad mad so he’ll bleed from the face.” Anyway, logic is presented to Picard that only 600 Baku will be relocated—and really, they are SOOOO boring anyway—but billions will benefit. Now, while some might argue that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the 600, Picard spouts off with “How many does it take before it becomes wrong?” Well, in this case, 601, obviously. Now, you might be wondering why any number of people can’t come live on the OTHER areas of the planet [and after however many billion years of this amazing, once-in-a-universe phenomena, ONLY 600 are taking advantage of it?], oh, but the movie has a cursory explanation for you. You see, when they “harvest” the radiation out of the rings, it’ll kill all life on the planet. Yeah. Sucks, that. So they order Picard to get the hell away from there, but—it’s time for INSURRECTION!

SPOILERS > > >
Picard goes to his room and takes off his pins denoting his command, and changes into a simple T-shirt and leather jacket ensemble. He’s down gathering up his weapons [um, I believe those guns belong to Starfleet, no?] when the whole rest of the crew, who were apparently spying on him and gossiping amongst themselves the whole time, meet him there, ready for some insurrection. Of course, we have already had two minor insurrections in Picard going to the planet in the first place and Data’s psycho binge, not to mention that the Next Generation crew NEVER seem to take their Starfleet orders very seriously, so this one just doesn’t carry much dramatic weight. Data finds reason to intone “Lock n’ load,” which may induce vomiting in some viewers, and Riker says something to the effect of “No uniform… no orders,” although dude… you are WEARING your uniform. Anyway, that turns out to be convenient, since Riker is going to STAY on board and try to make others think the Enterprise has left the area.

So Picard and company go down and take the Baku out into the hills while they get attacked by ships from above, while Riker takes the Enterprise into this big nebula, where some other ships try to blow them up. Again, it’s just stupefyingly unexciting. I really don’t even know how they do it. So Riker has the idea to suck up all this flammable gas and blow it back onto the attacking ships and eject and blow up the core [aren’t they ALWAYS ejecting the core? Can’t they try to go one day without ejecting the core?] and when Riker utters his intentions, LeVar Burton manages to get out, with a straight face: “I have a feeling this might come to be known as ‘The Riker Maneuver,’” which might cause you to throw something at your screen and shout “Oh yeah? Well I FUCKING DON’T!” because it’s all so nauseatingly precious and obviously programmed for the purpose of giving fans something to talk about at conventions. You know, maybe Rick Berman should be best friends with my Mom, because my Mom is all about how this or that would be “just so cute.” Like it would be “just so cute” if the dog and the cat lay down together while wearing matching knit sweaters, or wouldn’t it be “just so cute” if the fireman saved the little girl’s kitty or whatnot, and it seems to be the same thing with Rick Berman: Wouldn’t it be “just so cute” if we had a battle where Riker invented something that would come to be called “The Riker Maneuver.” Wouldn’t it be “just so cute” if Picard HAD to save Data by singing Gilbert & Sullivan. Wouldn’t it be “just so cute” if Worf had a pimple. And on and on.

By the way. I forgot to mention that when Geordi says “The Riker Maneuver” we have a quick shot of a crew member making a face like he’s internally saying “Fuck YEAH!”

OH BUT WAIT. I almost got through this whole description of the battle that will no doubt have you ramming red-hot pokers in your eye sockets if you have then handy so PLEASE DO NOT HAVE ANY RED-HOT POKERS OR ANY OTHER EYE-GOUGING OBJECT AROUND WHILE YOU WATCH THIS SCENE. In order to perform “The Riker Maneuver,” it is vitally imperative that Riker open a special compartment that shoots up a JOYSTICK [IMDb trivia tells us that it IS, in fact, a video-game console joystick] that he uses to fly the Enterprise with. Okay, my beef is not that the actual maneuver doesn’t seem to require any skill or special dexterity whatsoever, or the fact that Riker has a trained pilot sitting right in front of him whose JOB it is to steer the ship and who seems to have been doing a quite capable job so far, no, my beef is that it is SO OBVIOUSLY trying desperately to be a “cool” moment for the fans and so obviously trying to appeal to the gamers and teenagers in the audience. Wouldn’t it be “just so cute” if Riker used a joystick to steer the Enterprise. Oh God, I couldn’t stop, and now I have gouged my own eyes out. I will never see again.

Meanwhile, on the planet, the baddies are trying to jump the gun and get the whole evacuation started, while Picard and the crew are evacuating the Baku into the hills. Having conveniently erased this whole tedious section of the film from my memory, I decided to just fast-forward through it, and lucky I did, as it just goes on forever. Data bonds with the kid, Crusher and Troi discuss breast firmness, then there’s an attack [and endless battle] where they have to shoot at these flying laser-things. It’s just so tedious, especially because you realize they’re always trying really hard in the movies to have the crew shoot things and have space battles, rather than just stand around in committees or whatnot, and this one just seems really arbitrary. The Baku escape into this cave, blah, blah, Picard and Murphy get trapped, ugh, and it all just goes on forever and generates no compelling drama. Anyway, in here, they start to deploy the thing that’ll collect all the immortality-givin’ goodness, which unfurls and looks like a big butterfly, which is pretty cool although obviously CGI. And in here Ruafo has thrown Doughtery in the face-stretching machine, marking this as perhaps cinema’s first homicidal facelift.

So Ruafo is settling down on his large ornate setee to observe the collection process with a few close friends. By the way, in the whole part I skipped we learned that the bad guys are actually Baku who left years ago to go learn about science and shit, then got all old and ugly, and now want to kick off the people—literally their parents and people they knew while youngsters—and take the planet they once left back for themselves. It’s not a bad idea, but like everything it just gets lost in the soft mushy narrative molasses that deadens everything in a Berman-Bannon production. Like the other cool idea, coming up here: that Picard transports Ruolofo and pals seamlessly to the holo-ship without their knowledge, while he tries to disarm the now-abandoned ship. But Ruolfo figures it out in time for them to have a big hand-to-hand combat scene [it always HAS to end in hand-to-hand combat] and there’s some reason Enterprise HAS to fly super-close to the ship in order to transport Picard out in the very nick of time, then the rest of Starfleet is appalled at the whole plan and everything is back to normal. It ends with Data playing in the hay with the little kid with the fuzzy pocket hippo—wow, Data’s learning to PLAY! How HUMAN! You run to the bathroom to vomit, and by the time you’re back, the credits are rolling.
< < < SPOILERS END

Before we rip on this particular movie, allow me a brief rant. I DO NOT GIVE A SHIT IF DATA EVER BECOMES MORE HUMAN. Okay? So stop going on as if I, or anyone else, does care, because no one does and it’s just an idiotic concept to begin with. The robot that wants to become human—snore! This idea was interesting, for maybe 3-7 minutes, when it appeared in Pinocchio, and that was 1883, okay? Other than that, I simply find this whole issue STUPID and every time the Next Generation veers into it—which is a significant portion of every movie, at least—I am sitting by bored to tears and rolling my eyes. Plus, why is it so great to be human? Why is that the be-all and end-all? Data surely has many capabilities which are superior to that of humans. Maybe he should just be proud to be an android. I was struck by the pro-human prejudice of the original series, but shouldn’t we have gotten over that by now, where everything human is just intrinsically better? Besides, the added bonus, as specifically pertains to Data, is that if you drop this “Oh I wish I was human” shit, we’d also lose all the most nauseating elements of the films, like the Gilbert and Sullivan [ALL singing would be gone], and trying to bond with little boys over their fuzzy pocket hippos or the moronic “humor” of him trying to understand comedy or whatever.

Anyway, the film as a whole? Yeah, it sucks. Whether it is actually worse than Nemesis is open to debate, but—it occurs to me that the only pertinent question about the Next Generation films is: Which one is the worst? Here the story is not that bad and actually has a few cool elements, it is just, like everything in the Rick Berman/Bannon Braga catalog, rendered utterly unexciting by the… well, who knows exactly HOW they do it? There is documentation indicating that Berman would restrict directors from including camera moves or editing that were too distinctive, and composers writing any music that was exciting and stood out, as any of those would distract from the perfectly beige cream-of-wheat quality that unites the entire series. And that’s the case here, as there are chases and battles and plot twists and shocking revelations and they all just proceed without anything raising a pulse or standing out.

That’s really the big problem. Sure, we can nit-pick all of the tiny things, and we have, but the main issue is just the Berman Smothering Effect [BSE] described above. Is there any reason to watch it? Not really. I mean, if you were a Next Generation fan you’ve already seen it by now, and if you’re a fan of the old series or new Abrams movie… this still isn’t going to be what you want. So unless you’re some kind of sci-fi masochist, like me, I think the best course is probably just to forget that this exists.

Should you watch it: 

Nah, not really. I can’t think of any reason you would want to do that.