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Thursday, February 06, 2014

Fishing in the Discount Bin - Star Trek Insurrection

Welcome back to Fishing in the Discount Bin, my weekly re-watching of something in my DVD, Blu-Ray, and VHS library.  Back in the spring of 2013, I got it in my head that I was going to watch every Star Trek movie before Into Darkness came out.  We're about 2/3rds of the way through, as we get to this week's entry, Star Trek Insurrection.  This is dated in my notes at May 4, 2013.

Star Trek Insurrection Movie Poster

I’ve already lamented that most of the Next Generation films felt more like 2-hour special episodes than movies, and you really start feeling that with Star Trek Insurrection. You can tell that the bosses of the Star Trek franchise were starting to treat the films like just another series that they were in charge of. So, when First Contact hit, it was all like, “Well, time to get to work on the next episode,” and to work they got.

Some new blood was called for in making this one, though. The dynamic duo of Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga were now busy overseeing Deep Space Nine and Voyager respectively, so to write the next installment of the big screen franchise, franchise boss Rick Berman turned to another long time Star Trek writer, Michael Piller, who co-created DS9 and Voyager. I think that Piller’s basic pitch for Insurrection still has merit, and it’s a tale I’d like to see in the Star Trek universe. Piller pitched his tale as “Heart of Darkness meets The Magnificent Seven.” When one of the Enterprise crew goes rogue, the Enterprise is sent into a mysterious expanse of space (“up the river,” if we are to follow the Heart of Darkness part), with orders to take him out with “extreme prejudice,” and they have all kinds of mysterious encounters in this expanse. When they finally catch up with the rogue crewman, they see he went rogue to protect the indigenous people, so the fellow Enterprise crew decide to join him and save the natives (the Magnificent Seven part). Sadly, though, through multiple rewrites, the Heart of Darkness part started getting minimized in favour of The Magnificent Seven.

They decided to create a new villain for the film. In the grand Star Trek tradition of satirizing a current event on Earth, they came up with the Son’a. The Son’a were obsessed with recapturing their youth, and doing so through all manner of science. Their faces were designed to be all stretched out of shape, like they had far too many facelifts. Of course, living in Hollywood, I’m sure they came up with that just by looking out the window.

By the time this came out, I had finally discovered the Internet and was following the developments of movies online. And from what I was reading online, Paramount was making a lot of hype about the new characters in the film. Our main villain, Ru’afo, is the leader of the Son’a, and he has become obsessed with unlocking the secrets of the Ba’ku homeworld. But then, as the big plot twists are revealed, and we see he’s just another guy consumed with revenge, he becomes another stock villain. Too bad, too, because to play him, they got Oscar winner F. Murray Abraham.

Next up, we’ve got Anij, Captain Picard’s girlfriend and leader of the Ba’ku. Again, another character I just find frustrating. I know she’s supposed to be all ethereal, but she just comes across as sleepy. Seriously, why aren’t people from higher planes of existence allowed to show emotion? Is coming down to our level just so tiring that they can’t enjoy being here? Donna Murphy played her, and she was a bit better as Mrs. Doctor Octopus in Spider-Man 2.

And the final heavily-hyped new character from back in the day is Admiral Dougherty, continuing the long tradition of Starfleet admirals learning that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. He’s just there to be all morally conflicted and bark orders at Picard.

That being said, though, this is probably my favourite theatrical experience of going to see Star Trek films in the theatre. This came out when I was still in college, and now, having fully asserted myself as the Alpha Geek of Augustana, I was leading the charge to go see it on opening day at Camrose’s newly opened Duggan Cinemas. “This is our dry run for Episode I,” I was telling everyone, as we had already made plans to be among the people who stood in line for hours on end to see Episode I when it came out the following May. Opening day for the film, there must have been at least 30 of us who all gathered up at the Duggan Cinemas to see it. We all went up after class at around 4PM and stood in line until the first showing at 7PM. Man, was it crowded in that tiny lobby. I remember when a showing of A Bug’s Life ended, and all the families started walking by us. We had all seen it by then, and we could tell by the end credit music that the infamous bloopers in the end credits hadn’t played yet. We started yelling to the people leaving the theatre, “Go back in! You’ll miss the bloopers!” but all that did was make them walk faster. When the people who did watch the bloopers finally came out of the theatre, we applauded them.

Oh, that poor usher. When he announced “The theatre’s now open for Star Trek!” the whole crowd took one step forward. The look on his face as he thought he’d be trampled. We all rushed into the theatre, got our favourite seats, and let out a cheer as the titles came up on screen. As the end credits rolled, I started soliciting opinions from my friends. I asked my friend who was twice the Trekkie I am, and the one who loathed Star Trek: First Contact because of the drunk Troi scene, what he thought. He looked at me and said, “That was the BEST STAR TREK MOVIE EVER!”

I did not share his enthusiasm. I felt it was just...average. I had already read some reviews derisively calling it “the rom-com of the Star Trek films,” and I kind of had to agree. I was really feeling the “2-hour special episode” vibe from the film.

There was stuff I liked about it. Jerry Goldsmith, the legendary composer, was back for his fourth Star Trek film, and his score is amazing. He came up with such angelic themes for the Ba’ku. I forgot how good this score is.

And I also want to give a shout-out to the special effects. Fun trivia fact: this was the first Star Trek film where no models were used for the space scenes. Everything was computer animated. ILM, the favourite effects house for the Star Trek films, was too busy working on Episode I to do the effects, so the special effects house was Blue Sky Studios. Shortly after this film came out, Blue Sky decided to get out of the special effects business and make movies, where they went on to give us the Ice Age franchise. But they did pretty good work.

The film opens on an idyllic village where the people lead a simple life. But, there’s sinister stuff afoot, as the spooky cues on the soundtrack inform us, as the village is being observed by a joint mission of Starfleet and Son’a. And then, all hell breaks loose as a member of the observation team goes nuts and starts shooting the other observers with a phaser, eventually destroying the holograms hiding their bunkers, exposing the operation to the natives...the Ba’ku. Oh, and the member of the observation team who went nuts and started shooting up the place is Data.

Time to catch up with the Enterprise, whose welcoming a new member of the Federation. They get the call from Admiral Dougherty asking if they can get Data’s schematics so they can take him out. Naturally, Picard won’t sit idly by while one of his own is in danger, so the Enterprise goes to the Ba’ku planet, which sits in a hostile region of space dubbed “The Briar Patch.” The Enterprise arrives, much to the dismay of Dougherty and Rua’fo, and Picard and Worf hatch their plan to capture Data.

I’ve got to admit, I do love this scene. There’s some great spaceship aerial action as they subdue Data and eventually subdue him by singing show tunes.

With Data subdued, Picard and the rest of the crew go to rescue the Starfleet and Son’a personnel from the Ba’ku village. But the Ba’ku are totally mellow about the whole deal, aren’t hostile at all, and really quite at peace with everything. They also reveal that they are warp-capable, but they choose to abandon technology and live the simple life. Taken aback at how chill everyone, Picard apologizes, collects everyone, and leaves.

With this done, Rua’fo and Dougherty are eager for Picard to get going, but Picard is still troubled. He wants to know why Data went nuts in the first place. Data is repaired, but his memory was damaged, and also wants to know why he started behaving oddly. So they go to the planet to investigate, and find a hidden ship...essentially, a gigantic flying holodeck. It looks like Dougherty and Rua’fo were planning to abduct the Ba’ku in their sleep and relocate them to another planet on this ship.

Leading to corny Data line #1. The ship is hidden in a lake. Anij falls out of it and can’t swim. Picard and Data dive in after her. Data utters the line, “In the event of a water landing, I can be used as a floatation device.” We hear an inflating sound effect, and Data rises out of the water.

While all this is going on, the Enterprise crew has begun acting oddly and younger. Riker and Troi get all hot and horny for each other again, and Riker even shaves off his beard. Worf starts going through Klingon puberty again. Geordi’s eyes begin regenerating, and his sight is restored. And Dr. Crusher notes that her boobs are getting firm again. (Actual line from the movie.) Picard confronts the Ba’ku about this, and they reveal that the radiation emitted from the planet’s rings has a remarkable regenerative property, much like a fountain of youth. In fact, most of the Ba’ku are several hundred years old, thanks to this radiation.

Corny Data Line #2: When Riker shows off his newly clean-shaven face and remarks to Data, “Smooth as an android’s bottom, eh, Data?” Data asks permission to stroke Riker’s cheek. After doing so, Data just shakes his head, “No.”

With his investigation complete, Picard confronts Dougherty and Rua’fo. They admit that their plan is to use a giant collector the Son’a have built to collect the particles in the planet’s rings and harness this regenerative radiation. But to do so will leave the planet uninhabitable. Rua’fo’s all like, “Fuck you, let’s just nuke the planet anyway,” Dougherty is all like, “Sorry, Picard, you can’t do anything because the Federation’s on board with this,” and Picard’s all like, “Fuck you, I quit.” Picard goes rogue, loads up the Captain’s Yacht with weapons, and sets out to defend the Ba’ku. Of course, the whole crew is with him. Riker and Geordi are going to take the Enterprise out of the Briar Patch so they can inform the Federation council of Dougherty and Rua’fo’s true plot, while the rest defend the Ba’ku on the planet’s surface, preventing the Son’a from beaming them out.

(Lots of us Trekkies geeked out at finally seeing the Captain's Yacht.)

The movie just becomes one long chase, with Picard leading the Ba’ku to safety on the planet’s surface, while the Son’a hunts them down. Meanwhile, up in space, we get some pretty good space battles as the Enterprise battles the Son’a to get out of the Briar Patch. And I still remember the laughter in the theatre when Riker ordered the Enterprise go to “manual helm control,” and a joystick popped out of a console. Meanwhile, Picard and Anij make kissy-face at each other, hence the derisive “rom-com of the Star Trek movies” tag.

But, this can’t last forever, as eventually Picard and Anij are captured by the Son’a. And there, thanks to some of Dr. Crusher’s medical investigating, Picard reveals the big plot twist of the film: the Ba’ku and the Son’a are actually the same race. The Son’a don’t want to harness the radiation for medical purposes, they want to re-conquer their homeland. Dougherty has dragged the Federation into the middle of another culture’s civil war. Dougherty has finally seen the error of his ways, but Rua’fo kills him before he can call the whole thing off.

Now unchained, Rua’fo gets to go to his original plan of, “Let’s nuke ‘em all,” and starts to fire up the collector. Picard finally gets through to Rua’fo’s right hand man, whose starting to have doubts about wiping out his countrymen. With the help of Rua’fo’s right hand man, Picard takes control of the Son’a ship, and traps Rua’fo and his crew on the holodeck ship. Of course, this infuriates Rua’fo, and he decides to beam over to the collector and re-activate manually. Picard beams over to stop Rua’fo, they have a battle all throughout the complex while the timer ticks down, but Picard manages to sabotage everything, defeat Rua’fo, and is beamed to safety just in time by the Enterprise, who have returned from illuminated the Federation and the project has been shut down.

The Ba’ku return to their village, the Son’a and Ba’ku finally being talking about a reconciliation, Picard vows to Anij that he’ll come back on his next shore leave, and the adventure continues.

Actually, because my friends were so eager for this film, I do remember all the obsessing over it, and therefore, I know a lot of the deleted scenes. I was so thrilled to get the 2-disc special edition and see them. There was one scene where Riker and Troi go to the ship’s library to research the Son’a and Ba’ku and get all frisky, only to be shushed by the librarian. I remember that because I had a friend who had the Star Trek Insurrection trading cards and got an autographed card of the librarian. There was Rua’fo’s original death, where he’d get away in an escape pod, but the overdose of regenerative radiation causes him to grow younger and younger until he fades from existence. And Quark’s cameo! Quark from Deep Space Nine was originally going to have a cameo. At the end, he was just going to pop up and announce that word about the planet’s regenerative effects have reached the general public, and he’s going to open a luxury spa on the Ba’ku planet. The Ba’ku tell him to fuck off, and the Enterprise crew goes, “Oh, Quark!” and rolls their eyes. It was cut because the scene felt awkward and forced. It was so awkward and forced, it didn’t even make the DVD’s deleted scenes.

But that’s Insurrection. I guess its biggest crime is it’s just so bland. There’s nothing really memorable about it, or sticks out, it just is. I originally said Star Trek Generations was the worst offender for the Next Generation films for feeling like a 2-hour special episode, but I hereby give that title to Insurrection.

But as bland as it was, it wasn’t disappointing. It didn’t give me huge expectations, only to pull the rug out from under me so thoroughly. That special honour goes to the next one on the list, Star Trek Nemesis.

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