Friday, November 19, 2010

The Moral of the Moment Is . . . Big Ending! Star Trek: Insurrection Succeeds Until It Devolves!

The Good: Decent Plot, Good Philosophy, Good Acting, Decent Character Development, Balance of Humor
The Bad: Resolution, Subplot with Artim (the boy) and Data
The Basics: In Jonathan Frakes' second Star Trek The Next Generation film, the crew of the Enterprise explores and deals in philosophy, until Hollywood intervenes.

The ending to the movie Wizards is infuriating. It's stupid and it debases the entire rest of the film. If you've never seen Wizards (click here for my review!), it's an animated fantasy film wherein an evil thing sets about destroying the kingdom of a good thing and Good's stand is to remain principled and pacifistic. Right up until the moment it counts most. I mention this because Star Trek Insurrection is about principles and philosophies and yet somehow manages to degenerate into a special-effects heavy battle sequence to climax the film. It's disappointing in its resolution, but, ah, let's get there first.

With the Dominion War steadily going against the Federation and its allies, Captain Picard and the U.S.S. Enterprise are dispatched to invite a somewhat more primitive planet into the Federation as a protectorate. The diplomatic mission is soon cut short when Data, on assignment elsewhere, malfunctions and takes hostages on a distant planet.

When Data is rescued, but wounded, the Enterprise crew begins to unravel the mysteries surrounding the planet Baku. Its inhabitants are quite old and their planet has given them virtual immortality. Unfortunately, this has made their planet the target of nasty pillagers who want immortality for themselves. The Son'a have made inroads with some of the highest levels of StarFleet and when Picard and crew learn that the Federation may be abetting the potential genocide of the Bak'u they take matters into their own hands to save the innocents.

Some seem to complain that this would have made a fine episode of Star Trek The Next Generation, but that it makes a poor movie. I disagree. In the history of the Star Trek movie franchise, there has never been a Star Trek legal thriller (like "The Drumhead"), a straight-out romance (like "Lessons"), a murder mystery (like "Suspicions") or an incredibly first contact situation (like "Clues" or "Q-Who?"). My point here is that Star Trek The Next Generation was a science fiction television show that had quite a bit of plot depth and varied the types of stories it told. Unfortunately, the cinematic Star Trek adventures since Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan have all been action-adventure, kill the villain stories.

Star Trek Insurrection is the closest film in the franchise to challenge that and, frankly, it's about time. The problem is, while much of the movie is rousing speeches and philosophy, romance and ethics trumping violence, the film degenerates in its last quarter into a blow everything up science fiction shoot-out. What's even more disappointing is that, as we see in the DVD extras, it did not have to be that way. No, the original ending stayed much more philosophically true to the film and would have been better. Instead, well, it's Hollywood . . .

What works well, though, is a story where the characters are familiar for a change. In Star Trek: First Contact, Picard acted like a raving lunatic for an experience he already made peace with during the television series. Devoid of his evolved humanity, Picard was a screaming action-adventure hero and that did not read right for who his character was. In Insurrection, the poet and explorer and man of words has returned. It's refreshing.

Picard is faced off on two sides this time out. On the romantic front, he finds a Baku leader named Anij to be to his liking and the two share a brief romance. Picard is evenly matched with her wisdom and experience and the viewer is instantly drawn into the relationship.

As his romance with Anij grows, Picard is pitted against the villainous Son'a leader Ru'afo. Ru'afo is a megalomaniacal leader who seeks to wipe out the Baku and take their homeworld for himself and his people, who suffer a debilitating disease. Picard combats his violent plans with impassioned speeches on the importance of sovereignty and doing the right thing. Sure, he's shot down, but he makes a decent stab of it.

In the negative column, Data spends much of the movie occupied with Artim, a local boy who seeks to teach him how to have fun. This witless subplot is completely overshadowed by the rebirth of the romance between Riker and Deanna Troi.

While most of the characters are given something to do this go-around, it is the acting that is superlative in Star Trek Insurrection. Most notable is Patrick Stewart who gives Captain Jean-Luc Picard a nice balance of strength and articulation. Stewart never gives us the impression that he is anyone but Captain Picard, which is impressive considering how many other roles he has played.

F. Murray Abraham portrays Ru'afo and he does an excellent job. While fans have longed for a villain who is at least as good as Khan was (though I think Kruge from Star Trek III is the standard), Abraham gives a performance that is superior to Montalban's. Abraham has motion and deadly charisma that make his character interesting and more dynamic than Khan was.

In short, this is a Star Trek film unlike the other Star Trek films up until the end, when it becomes exactly like the others. If one prepares for that disappointment, Insurrection is enjoyable and likely to please more people as general entertainment as opposed to simply Star Trek.

For reviews of the rest of the Star Trek feature films, please click here!

For other science fiction and fantasy romances, please check out my reviews of:
The Twilight Saga: Eclipse
Star Wars: Attack Of The Clones
The Nightmare Before Christmas


For other Star Trek film and episode reviews, please be sure to check out my index page by clicking here!

© 2010, 2008, 2006 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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  1. You had me up until the part about Montalban.

  2. :) Thanks for the comment! I think F. Murray Abraham was actually given more to work with. Montalban is amazing, don't get me wrong, but I think Abraham actually had a less monolithic canvas to work with! Thanks so much for reading and thanks for the comment!