Skip to main content

It’s been three hundred years since I’ve seen a bald man.

Star Trek: Insurrection
(1998)

(SPOILERS) I recalled very little about Star Trek: Insurrection, other than it being a mostly inoffensive plod that had something to do with the fountain of youth. That part is pretty much correct, although revisiting it, I was pleasantly surprised by how serviceable the opening section is, effectively setting up a mystery (even if the antagonists are disclosed too soon) and even more so at the twist ending, which I had entirely failed to remember. Most surprised because it’s virtually the same one used by Star Trek Beyond.


Perhaps Beyond writers Simon Pegg and Doug Jung had no reservations about repurposing it because they knew most audiences would be just like me and completely fail to recollect the content of an 18-year old movie in a second-gen franchise that never really got much groundswell behind it; until Nemesis scraped the bottom of the barrel, only The Final Frontier had performed worse. Unfortunately, Insurrection can never quite escape the sense that it’s an idea in search of a dramatic backbone, which leaves it flailing miserably in the mid-section (it’s unsurprising Marina Sirtis fell asleep during the premier).


The fountain of youth concept is an oft-used one but rarely satisfies (you’re never going to convincingly de-age your stars – at least, current effects haven’t got there yet – and the limitations of an ongoing saga make it pretty clear that everything has to reset at the end, so there’s little tension involved), so we can only hope Indy 5 doesn’t go in that direction (I wouldn’t be at all surprised…) It seems this core idea was always on the cards, although the script was initially in a much different form, until vetoed by Sir Patrick Stewart (with his associate producer credit), intent on getting some of that gun-toting, t-shirt wearing, chick-pulling action in. So not much like the one from the TV show (it seems he favoured a return the TV character, but his memory must have been failing if he thought he got it) This is the same Sir Patrick Stewart whose insight into the dramatic process and eye for good material saw him take on the recent role of a Poo Emoji.


Picard: Mr Worf, do you know Gilbert and Sullivan?
Worf: No, sir. I have not had a chance to meet all the new crewmembers since I have been back.

The producers wanted to lighten Insurrection up à la Star Trek IV (they already time-travelled à la Star Trek IV in the previous one: how much Star Trek IV riffing do you need? How about just being Star Trek IX?) What they entirely seemed not to understand is that The Voyage Home’s lightness was built on sprightly interplay and comic incident in aid of a clear goal and that there was constantly something for the cast to play off against (fish out of water, culture clash).


Insurrection, like so much of ST:NG, is left straining in its attempts to be funny. Actually, Fraker’s self-satisfied Riker is pretty funny, because he’s so insistently smug, and his pot shots at Worf do actually land (“Klingons never do anything small, do they” he observes of an enormous zit on the lieutenant commander’s face). However, an awful lot of the humour here plays like it’s aimed at a convention audience, entirely unselective about what they’re willing to laugh at, from Picard leading Worf (and Data) in a rendition of A British Tar, to Riker romancing Troi, to Picard doing a comedy rumba (Stewart is not a great comedian) and Data playing innocent about boobs firming up and androids’ bottoms (“In the event of a water landing, I have been designed to serve as a flotation device” is amusing, though).


The picture stops in its tracks whenever Picard’s unconsummated romance with Anij (Donna Murphy) is to the fore; this, like the undynamic main plot, is the sort of thing that can sit happily (sleepily) in 45 minutes, but is plain comatose translated to a movie. Underlining those small screen roots, the setting entirely resembles something out of a TV episode, a model village shot with consummate blandness by Frakes. The would-be idyll of the Ba’ku would carry a whole lot better if they’d found someone with the imagination to make their home vaguely exotic, utopian or paradisiac. Instead, it looks like a slightly tacky designer resort on the edge of a lake. 


There’s a moral quandary at the heart of the picture, of course, but it isn’t given enough leverage to make it satisfyingly complex (what if there was a specific threat/disease that meant the Federation needed access to the metaphasic particles with immediate urgency?) Stewart has apparently said he wouldn’t have made Picard’s choice (help 600 people versus billions) and would have relocated the Ba’ku, evidently being a utilitarian type, but we know in the first five minutes that Anthony Zerbe’s Dougherty is shifty and can tell just by looking at them that the Son’a are a bad lot (they’re ugly, so they must be!), so there’s little moral tension to chew on.


So too, the execution. If Frakes were a more accomplished director, he’d have made more of the various reveals (the holodeck is actually used well on this occasion, but having introduced it as a means to hoodwink the Ba’ku into thinking they are still on the planet, it elicits little more than a shrug when the same plan makes the Son’a think they are still on their spaceship).


As for the discovery that the Son’a are actually Ba’ku who split and left their adopted home, choosing technology over a simple, tech-free idyll, it’s one of the few aces up Michael Piller and Rick Berman’s sleeves, but like the holodeck, it never quite carries the dramatic impact it should. So no wonder Star Trek Beyond borrowed it wholesale for Idris Elba’s metamorphosis.


Data: My last memory is going into the hills, following some children.

But the opening of Insurrection is really pretty good. Beginning a story midway through a mission is a potent hook, and rogue Data is effectively disorientating. Unfortunately, he’s used considerably less well later, given a really rotten subplot as the dodgy uncle type you really don’t want to be letting your kids go anywhere near (“I am the personification of everything they rejected”) as he continues to try and learn what it is to be human (just give it up already). “Do you like being a machine?” asks precocious oik Artim (Michael Welch). “I aspire to be more than I am” Data dutifully replies. Then “You need to learn to play. You need to know what it’s like to be a child”. Good grief, throw rocks at that kid, someone. Instead, we’re treated to the sight of our over-friendly android frolicking in a haystack with said moppet (“Data, don’t forget, you have to have a little fun, everyday”).


Geordi: Captain, how could I look at another sunrise knowing what my sight cost these people?

Among the rest of the crew, Geordi continues to be defined by his eyes, which I guess is a small improvement over being defined by the colour of his skin (how things have moved on in three centuries). Troi is defined by not liking Riker’s chin whiskers and Crusher by her boobs starting to firm up. Worf is mostly good value, though, because Dorn is permanently deadpan (“I’ve an odd craving for the blood of a live kolar beast”; I understand his re-experiencing of adolescence isn’t exactly fans’ favourite thread from the picture, but Dorn is mostly able to extract the chuckles from the scenario). Picard, inevitably, muscles up for the action-showdown yawnfest.


Guest cast-wise, Zerbe is as dependable as always, but given little to chew on. F Murray Abraham fares better, because Abraham is simply great, but Ru’afo doesn’t really stand out on the villainy front (Gregg Henry is similarly solid as deputy Gallatin, but he can be downright great when given a great role).


The design work is suitably grotesque, clearly heavily indebted to Brazil, complete with blood squirts (“Lie down, Admiral. The girls will take twenty years off your face”). The Son’a were rewritten to beef up their villainy (early drafts featured the Romulans, who in part were nixed by Stewart), but there’s still a sense of them being half-developed. With Trek, if you’re relying on a weighty idea, rather than all-action, you need to make it sufficiently cinematic (The Motion Picture), and if you’re relying on traditional villains, you need to make them sufficiently dramatic. Insurrection has neither going for it, so it’s no wonder it’s largely forgotten.


Still, it features a llama. And it’s most unobjectionable, apart from the Data and the small boy subplot. And some of the strained attempts to be funny. And the bit where Frakes lingers on a shot so as to get the entire stuntman fall in, like this is a ‘70s TV western. Star Trek: Insurrection is less irritating than Generations, and actually has a couple of decent ideas at its core (the relocation of and mutation of a race that is, rather than the fountain of youth). The ST:NG movies ran roughly parallel with the Brosnan Bonds, and both franchises were similarly mixed in their creative fortunes at this time. Insurrection, in those terms, is the equivalent of The World is Not Enough, an attempt to deliver a traditional, character-based plotline without too much heavy artillery undone by a listless director and bereft pacing. Of course, that means Nemesis is Die Another Day


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Dude, you're embarrassing me in front of the wizards.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
(SPOILERS) The cliffhanger sequel, as a phenomenon, is a relatively recent thing. Sure, we kind of saw it with The Empire Strikes Back – one of those "old" movies Peter Parker is so fond of – a consequence of George Lucas deliberately borrowing from the Republic serials of old, but he had no guarantee of being able to complete his trilogy; it was really Back to the Future that began the trend, and promptly drew a line under it for another decade. In more recent years, really starting with The MatrixThe Lord of the Rings stands apart as, post-Weinstein's involvement, fashioned that way from the ground up – shooting the second and third instalments back-to-back has become a thing, both more cost effective and ensuring audiences don’t have to endure an interminable wait for their anticipation to be sated. The flipside of not taking this path is an Allegiant, where greed gets the better of a studio (split a novel into two movie parts assuming a…

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.

Just make love to that wall, pervert!

Seinfeld 2.10: The Statue
The Premise
Jerry employs a cleaner, the boyfriend of an author whose book Elaine is editing. He leaves the apartment spotless, but Jerry is convinced he has made off with a statue.

Never compare me to the mayor in Jaws! Never!

Ghostbusters (2016)
(SPOILERS) Paul Feig is a better director than Ivan Reitman, or at very least he’s savvy enough to gather technicians around him who make his films look good, but that hasn’t helped make his Ghostbusters remake (or reboot) a better movie than the original, and that’s even with the original not even being that great a movie in the first place.

Along which lines, I’d lay no claims to the 1984 movie being some kind of auteurist gem, but it does make some capital from the polarising forces of Aykroyd’s ultra-geekiness on the subject of spooks and Murray’s “I’m just here for the asides” irreverence. In contrast, Feig’s picture is all about treating the subject as he does any other genre, be it cop, or spy, or romcom. There’s no great affection, merely a reliably professional approach, one minded to ensure that a generous quota of gags (on-topic not required) can be pumped out via abundant improv sessions.

So there’s nothing terribly wrong with Ghostbusters, but aside from …

I think my mother put a curse on us.

Hereditary (2018)
(SPOILERS) Well, the Hereditary trailer's a very fine trailer, there's no doubt about that. The movie as a whole? Ari Aster's debut follows in the line of a number of recent lauded-to-the-heavens (or hells) horror movies that haven't quite lived up to their hype (The Babadook, for example). In Hereditary's case, there’s no doubting Ari Aster's talent as a director. Instead, I'd question his aptitude for horror.

I don't like bugs. You can't hear them, you can't see them and you can't feel them, then suddenly you're dead.

Blake's 7 2.7: Killer

Robert Holmes’ first of four scripts for the series, and like last season’s Mission to Destiny there are some fairly atypical elements and attitudes to the main crew (although the A/B storylines present a familiar approach and each is fairly equal in importance for a change). It was filmed second, which makes it the most out of place episode in the run (and explains why the crew are wearing outfits – they must have put them in the wash – from a good few episodes past and why Blake’s hair has grown since last week).
The most obvious thing to note from Holmes’ approach is that he makes Blake a Doctor-substitute. Suddenly he’s full of smart suggestions and shrewd guesses about the threat that’s wiping out the base, basically leaving a top-level virologist looking clueless and indebted to his genius insights. If you can get past this (and it did have me groaning) there’s much enjoyment to be had from the episode, not least from the two main guest actors.

Reindeer-goat cheese pizza?

Hudson Hawk (1991)
A movie star vanity project going down in flames is usually met with open delight from press and critics alike. Even fans of the star can nurse secret disappointment that they were failed on this occasion. But, never mind, soon they will return to something safe and certain. Sometimes the vehicle is the result of a major star attaching themselves to a project where they are handed too much creative control, where costs spiral and everyone ends up wet (Waterworld, The Postman, Ishtar). In other cases, they bring to screen a passion project that is met with derision (Battlefield Earth). Hudson Hawk was a character created by Bruce Willis, about whom Willis suddenly had the post-Die Hard clout to make a feature.

I love the combination of Gummi Bears and meat.

Despicable Me 3 (2017)
(SPOILERS) The Illumination formula is at least reliable, consistently and comfortably crowd-pleasing where DreamWorks often seems faintly desperate (because they are – who's their distributor this week?) Despicable Me 3 ploughs the same cosy, affirmative furrow as its wholly safe predecessor. When I saw Despicable Me 2, I mentioned that it reminded me of Shrek 2 in its attempt to continue a story that was complete in itself. Despicable Me 3 is similarly redundant, suggesting the most airless of brainstorming sessions – Gru has the kids, the wife, the job, how about now he gets a sibling? – although this time I was put in mind of the Lethal Weapon sequels and their ability to continue churning out/expanding on the family vibe long after Riggs had become a (relatively) well-adjusted member of society.

This entire edifice you see around you, built on jute.

Jeeves and Wooster 3.3: Cyril and the Broadway Musical  (aka Introduction on Broadway)
Well, that’s a relief. After a couple of middling episodes, the third season bounces right back, and that's despite Bertie continuing his transatlantic trip. Clive Exton once again plunders Carry On, Jeeves but this time blends it with a tale from The Inimitable Jeeves for the brightest spots, as Cyril Basington-Basington (a sublimely drippy Nicholas Hewetson) pursues his stage career against Aunt Agatha's wishes.