Thursday, September 13, 2018

Star Trek: Insurrection Trek: Insurrection
Release Date: December 11, 1998


After their encounter with the Borg, the crew of the Enterprise hopes to settle down with some diplomatic escort functions. Those plans are dashed, however, when Data goes berserk on a small backwater planet while observing a tiny tribe of backward people - who may just have discovered the fountain of youth.

In other news, they also try out their saucy new "Maitre d'" ensembles.


Kevin: Matt and I sat down to watch this some time ago to record the podcast and it's just been sitting on the computer for a couple of years now. That kind of speaks to how urgently I remember it. I honestly can't say that I've rewatched it more than once outside the theater and reviewing it for the podcast. I do have one fond memory attached to this particular film, though. The week it premiered, my high school social studies class took a field trip to the Terra Museum, a now closed museum in downtown Chicago, and I got special dispensation to leave directly from the museum instead of returning to the school with everyone else so I could go to the nearby theater on Michigan Avenue and see Insurrection. It's a small thing in retrospect, but it felt very adult at the time. So with that back drop, let's dive in.

My reaction to the film at the time was that it would have made a decent season 7 two-parter, and thus a fairly mediocre to average movie, and my rewatch did not dislodge me from that assessment. The core of a good story is there. Pressed by the war, the Federation starts to play a little fast and loose with its morals in the name of the war effort. It's a story that DS9 used again and again to excellent effect. I even like that they attenuated the problem to be displacing a small group of people, in a way. I liked Picard asking at what scale 100, a 1,000, a 1,000,000, would it become wrong. It's constructed the question to avoid obvious moral prohibitions like murder to really dig into the core question or whether the ends justify the means. So what went wrong?

Matthew: Yes, the basic ethical question of the movie is solid. In hindsight, I especially like the notion that humanitarian tragedies are the invariable result of forced relocation - an idea that has especial currency today. As per usual, Picard gets the best dialogue when it comes to fleshing this question out - as you say, bringing up the essential Kantian point that an action is just as wrong when it affects 1 or 10 as when it affects 1,000 or 1 million. I would have liked Dougherty to get a better response from the script. There are ways to push back on the Kantian argument from a Utilitarian angle. Dougherty is only allowed to pay lip service to this in the script.

Kevin: None of the additional players get the space they need to develop into something I really care about. The internal political divisions of the Son'a (enough with the apostrophes) and the Ba'ku (I just told you) are only discussed late in the film in the worlds weakest twist, and without the seasons worth of episodes that lead up to In the Pale Moonlight for example, the Admiral's desperation feels out of nowhere. A casual fan, or a TNG diehard that never watched DS9 would really have no grounding for the urgency.

Matthew: For me this is the biggest problem in terms of credulity. Both the Baku and the Sona (see?) seem to be tiny groups of people. How then could the Sona "absorb two other cultures" into their own as a working class? How could they develop such a technology base? At the end of the day, these sorts of questions could have been answered in dialogue and by reformulating the relationships a bit (I would have made the Sona the originating culture, and much larger, with the Baku being an offshoot), but overall there is a "small" feeling that the movie and its stakes have overall.

Kevin: The larger problem with the main plot is that, beyond being a substrate for some light moral discussion, is that it doesn't make a ton of sense. The fountain of youth stuff is magic of the highest order. Only here and it can't be replicated...okay. Wouldn't a better solution just be building hospitals on the 99.9999999999999999999999999% of the surface not being used by the 400 weaving villagers? Also, isn't the secret out? As I say above, I kind of actually like the attempts to sculpt the problem into a grayer area. I mean, I think you could ask if 400 people who stumbled accidentally into immortality could ethically withhold access to it when it could save literally countless lives. That's a fun question but not one the movie really asks.

Matthew: They also leave completely unexamined whether the Baku planet will become the new Risa. Picard even avers that he has nearly a year of shore leave coming to him. Why doesn't everyone do the same? Basically, the whole Sona angle could have been left out of this story altogether. I think this would have been a much more interesting story if Starfleet or Federation personnel had been the antagonists. The Sona "reveal" was a bit toothless, and only served to underscore how "small" the stakes feel. I mean, I liked the reconciliation between mother and son just fine,

Kevin: The other problem is the humor falls really, really flat across the board. The biggest problem is they basically borrowed Data from Season 1. Almost all his jokes were a failure to understand idiomatic English. It's wasn't the best stuff in Season 1, and it's aged really badly. It's not as bad as say, Masks, but that whole G&S scene was just weirdly uncomfortable. This feels like the endgame of the problem Matt identifies in late TNG, over-reliance on Brent Spiner to carry a story by his mere presence. Spiner is a gifted actor, but the material has to be there too. And everything here felt like a deflated retread. Even the stuff about the crew feeling their age and then not their age was largely reduced to some boob jokes.

Matthew: Data knows what playing is by now, folks. All of this groan worthy Data stuff could have been rectified, however, by saying that he was reset somehow when his ethical.... ah, fuck it. It was just bad storytelling in the service of cheap humor. The whole notion of his "ethical subroutine," at least as it is employed here, is pretty stupid. If damaging or tampering with him resets him to acting on his ethical subroutine alone, why was he not acting in accordance with it before said tampering? Can he just willy-nilly choose to... not act ethically?

Kevin: The relationship stuff in the movie is...something. As a kid, I responded much less to Troi and Riker getting back together than I did as an adult, just because straight people's romances were not super interesting to 15 year old me. That said, I'm glad they pulled the trigger. The one redeeming scene in Nemesis is the wedding. They honestly could have made that opening scene this one's closing scene and skipped Nemesis altogether. As far as Picard and Anij, I liked her fine. She's a redheaded MILF with a smoky voice and an heir of quiet competence. Who else does that remind me of? Who....? I can't think of, wait. I can. I don't mind Picard having relationships with other women, and I appreciate he has a type, but I can't but imagine the casting call didn't read "A Doctor Crusher type." Especially if you wanted to dive in to how Picard is feeling his age and looking at his life, putting Crusher in that cave makes way more sense. He knows his Starfleet career is at least winding down, and he'll have a good 40 years left to live. Maybe marry Crusher and go be an archaeologist for a while. Not that I'm pitching story ideas for the new Picard show. It just would have tied up a narrative thread for Picard rather than introduce a new character we'll never see again.

Matthew: TNG giveth, TNG taketh away. It's about time Troi and Riker got together, it's just too bad it didn't happen fifteen pou-- I mean YEARS ago. But yes, the constant fluctuation between blue balls and complete ignorance of Picard/Crusher remains a source of great annoyance to me. Picard and Anij just didn't do it for me. The time-slowing aspect of the plot was just a half-baked contrivance that failed to stimulate my imagination, my brain, or my emotions. What were they trying to say? That living for so long gave rise to that level of mental discipline? If so, why would that make Picard's pants feel tighter? There are probably answers to these sorts of questions. But this story left them both unasked and unanswered. And then they basically leave it at that, with Picard lamely referencing his upcoming shore leave time. Sorry, honey, he's not calling you back and he's just not that into you.

Kevin: Still, the end result isn't...bad. It's just not...great...either. This feels like trimmed of some fat for time, we would get a decent two-part episode out of it. Solid, but not exactly memorable.

Matthew: That's the thing. We've raked this over the coals pretty thoroughly, I think. But the nuts and bolts of the story are basically sound, if not taken in directions we think would better aid drama and deeper investigation. The ethical nugget is there. It's just kind of mediocre.


Kevin: Much in keeping with my story assessment, in the acting department, everyone was...fine. I don't think any molds were broken, but no one was bad certainly. F. Murray Abraham chewed the scenery, but I didn't dislike it. I didn't have enough of a narrative hook to care that much, but he did the job he was asked to. I also think Anthony Zerba was perfectly adequate as Admiral with an Ulterior Motive.

Matthew: He certainly perfected his officiously dick-wad "Dougherty OUT." Now look, I know F. Murry Abraham is a "Big Deal." but he got even less to do than previous big deal Malcolm McDowell. I just didn't care about him, and the read he gave it was too transparently villainous for me to maintain my credulity with resepect to the Federation ever signing on with these jerkos.

Kevin: I love Donna Murphy full stop. She is a legendary Broadway performer. I wish she had more to do here. What she was asked to do, she did fine, but in the back of my head, I know I'm never going to see this character again, so any proto-romance is going to fall flat. Still, I bought her as the kind, competent leader of these people.

Matthew: Frakes and Sirtis have settled into the lovable chemistry they've always had, and it is a joy to watch here. I also really liked Burton's fun (albeit recycled) takes on "seeing for the first time." Worf provided one liners adequately. Spiner recapitulated Season 1-2 Data in a manner which, although fine for what it was, speaks to a certain lack of care for the character. Three movies in, I think Data is the character who has come off the worst.

Production Values

Kevin: There are a lot of action sequences and I can't find technical fault with any one of them, per se. This was the first use of purely CGI ship model and I think they did a good job with it. The nebula got a little soupy, but it was sufficiently lit to not make that a problem. I think the problem was that while adequate, the visual weren't as inspiring from a story perspective. The Son'a design sits somewhere between generic and evil. Not to overly harp on the comparison to WOK, but there was something stately in the choreography that this one lacked. They weren't bad, and certainly not the chaotic lens flare fest of movies that shall not be named, but not bad.

Matthew: I pretty much unequivocally liked the cloud stuff. I think they lit it gorgeously, and it ends up being some of the best "astrophysical" imagery we've gotten from Trek. The Sona made no goddamned sense from costumes to set designs to FX exterior shots. Their ultimate weapon was pointlessly constructed. Their bizarre divans on the bridge were not well done - I am not opposed to the concept of a chaise lounge on the bridge. But it has to make sense aesthetically with the surroundings, and here it did not. It was as if someone had plunked a lawn chair down on to the Enterprise bridge set.

Kevin: The outdoor scenes were gorgeous. The Ba'ku village was nicely if, again, not amazingly done. It all felt like a riff on a Bajoran village if Bajor had a movie instead of syndicated budget. The array served its purpose as Nakatomi Plaza in outer space, a superstructure for a climactic final sequence.

Matthew: Hmm. I am conflicted on the Baku village. On the one hand, it clearly was detailed and well constructed. But it did not look lived in. It didn't look dirty. It looked like a set that had been dropped down into a location just a day before. I think this was part and parcel of a general lack of development with the Baku ethos. THIS is what they came up with after 200 years of self exploration? Now, I'm not saying everything has to be gleaming and futuristic. But there needed to be some visual means of exploring the progress these people have made exploring inner space, after eschewing the exploration of outer space.


Kevin: This is almost the definition of a 3. This movie is undeniably a piece of Star Trek. The actors and their characters are competently and authentically portrayed, and even via Riker and Troi experience some long term growth. There is a moral conundrum that is at least passingly discussed from more than one side. The problem is it never rises above merely ticking off the boxes of the checklist. The problem is not sufficiently engaging, and the villains too two-dimensional to really sing. I'm currently rewatching The Good Place in advance of its third season, and I think if I am ever sent to the Medium Place, this is the movie that would be on for me. It's not as good as Wrath of Khan or First Contact, but not bad like Final Frontier or the Abrams stuff. I could hang out with Mindy St. Claire and have a warm beer and watch this move for eternity while feeling neither punished nor rewarded for my actions on Earth.

Matthew: Yup. This is a 3 for me as well, for a total of 6. This is a concept and set of questions that could have been much more fruitfully developed. It looked great and had some fun stuff in it, but it ultimately left me unsatisfied as to the depth of its exploration of said ethical questions, and the plot felt very loose and half baked. Soggy bottom-ed, if you will.


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