Star Trek: Insurrection is the third film in the saga with the crew of The Next Generation led by Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart). It was released in 1998, two years after what is unanimously considered the best post-Kirk film, Star Trek: First Contact, again with Jonathan Two-Takes Frakes directing, but this time with Michael Piller at the screenplay supervised by the ubiquitous Rick Berman. But we’ll talk about the script soon on this blog, since I read Piller’s book on the nightmarish process of writing this specific screenplay.
Now let’s talk about the finished product, Insurrection. The film opens with the classic bucolic TNG village where a primitive civilization lives a simple life in contact with nature. The Federation is studying the natives from a hidden location and some researchers are even in the village itself in cloaked suits (where does this technology come from?). At one point, Data (Brent Spiner), with a conspicuous wound in the neck, rebels and reveals to the inhabitants that someone is spying on them. Picard, who’s doing other things with his Enterprise E, is contacted by Admiral Dougherty (Anthony Zerbe) and decides to go in person to see what happened. He won’t like what the Federation is planning together with the horrible Son’a, and will stand for the 600 inhabitants of the planet. This is in a nutshell the plot of the film.
First of all, if you have seen the TNG series, it will be familiar to you because it’s similar to that of two episodes of the third and seventh season, respectively: Who Watches the Watchers? and Homeward. There’s a moral dilemma for which the good of many requires the sacrifice of a minority, in this case the peaceful Bak’u, only 600 people on a planet rich in substances which, if exploited, could bring huge benefits to billions of people. Is it fair to value the needs of the many more than the needs of the few, as Star Trek II’s Spock from Star Trek II would say? There are only 600, after all … But, Picard wonders, what would be the limit, then? One thousand? Ten thousand? Or more? In the past, a lot of damage has been done with a similar logic…
But while the underlying question of the film is certainly interesting, the development of the idea is not as great. First of all, once again Picard is the absolute protagonist of the movie: after losing the only family he had in Generations and looking for revenge against the Borg in First Contact, here he has a love story while he leads an armed insurrection. Sharing the scene with Picard is Data who, after dismissing in a second the emotional chip issue, does more or less everything himself on the Bak’u planet (and also develops a friendship with a child like he did in the episode Pen Pals, from the second season of TNG).
The others officers, not surprisingly, are only glorified extras. There’s even Worf (Michael Dorn) for reasons that aren’t even explained to us: he tries to explain why he’s on board the Enterprise, but he’s quickly interrupted. Nobody cares to know why he’s not on Deep Space Nine (why maintaining continuity with the TV series in a film whose target audience largely doesn’t even know that these TV series exist?).
Well, if you like Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner, all this won’t be a problem for you. And I like them fine, but I have issues with the Picard character being completely different from the one I had come to love with the TNG series.
Another problem with Insurrection is the tone. At times it’s very serious, dealing with elevated moral issues and with extremely evil villains (who closely resemble the Vidiians of Star Trek: Voyager). At times, there are jokes about pimples and firm boobs. It’s difficult to combine the two, especially since the humorous parts aren’t very funny.
And then there’s plenty of plot holes… Why should the Shon’a collaborate with the Federation? Why studying the Bak’u and setting up the complicated holodeck ship, since the Bak ‘u would notice straight away the trick once the beneficial properties of the planetary ring particles wore off when taken away from the planet? Among other things, why is everyone aboard the Enterprise immediately affected by the beneficial and rejuvenating effects of the area, while the Son’a are not?
More generally, Insurrection feels bland, and were it not for the spectacular final space battle with Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and LaForge (LeVar Burton) using in a spectacular way the Enterprise, it could even be considered a soporific movie. Also, the final struggle between Picard and Ru’afo (F. Murray Abraham) is practically identical to the one with Soran in Generations, but it takes place in a much less inspired setting (and with so much blue screen that I still don’t understand if it was forgotten there or if was a desired effect).
In short, I don’t like Insurrection very much. The love story between Picard and the Donna Murphy’s character doesn’t seem credible to me, and even the one between Troi (Marina Sirtis) and Riker seems to be there just to entertain the actors who no longer had any desire to respect the nature of their characters. And how to blame them, when the protagonist of the movie was the first not to do it?
On the bright side, there’s some beautiful music by the usual Jerry Goldsmith, Frakes is an excellent director, and the special effects are still good, even if entirely digital: this was the time in which the gorgeous model ships used in all the previous Star Trek products were abandoned. That’s all, I’m afraid. Ciao!