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

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

In a few moments, you will have an experience that will seem completely real. It will be the result of your subconscious fears transformed into your conscious awareness.

Brainstorm (1983)
(SPOILERS) Might Brainstorm have been the next big thing – a ground-breaking, game-changing cinematic spectacle that had as far reaching consequences as Star Wars (special effects) or Avatar (3D) – if only Douglas Trumbull had been allowed to persevere with his patented “Showscan” process (70mm film photographed and projected at 60 frames per second)? I suspect not; one only has to look at the not-so-far-removed experiment of Ang Lee with Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, and how that went down like a bag of cold sick, to doubt that any innovation will necessarily catch on (although Trumbull at least had a narrative hinge on which to turn his “more real than real” imagery, whereas Lee’s pretty much boiled down to “because it was there”). Brainstorm’s story is, though, like its title, possibly too cerebral, too much concerned with the consciousness and touting too little of the cloyingly affirmative that Bruce Rubin inevitably brings to his screenplays. That doesn’t mea…

You keep a horse in the basement?

The ‘Burbs (1989)
(SPOILERS) The ‘Burbs is Joe Dante’s masterpiece. Or at least, his masterpiece that isn’t his bite-the-hand-that-feeds-you masterpiece Gremlins 2: The New Batch, or his high profile masterpiece Gremlins. Unlike those two, the latter of which bolted out of the gate and took audiences by surprise with it’s black wit subverting the expected Spielberg melange, and the first which was roundly shunned by viewers and critics for being absolutely nothing like the first and waving that fact gleefully under their noses, The ‘Burbs took a while to gain its foothold in the Dante pantheon. 

It came out at a time when there had been a good few movies (not least Dante’s) taking a poke at small town Americana, and it was a Tom Hanks movie when Hanks was still a broad strokes comedy guy (Big had just made him big, Turner and Hooch was a few months away; you know you’ve really made it when you co-star with a pooch). It’s true to say that some, as with say The Big Lebowski, “got it” on fi…

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.

You can’t keep the whole world in the dark about what’s going on. Once they know that a five-mile hunk of rock is going to hit the world at 30,000 miles per hour, the people will want to know what the hell we intend to do about it.

Meteor (1979)
(SPOILERS) In which we find Sean Connery – or his agent, whom he got rid of subsequent to this and Cuba – showing how completely out of touch he was by the late 1970s. Hence hitching his cart to the moribund disaster movie genre just as movie entertainment was being rewritten and stolen from under him. He wasn’t alone, of course – pal Michael Caine would appear in both The Swarm and Beyond the Poseidon Adventure during this period – but Meteor’s lack of commercial appeal was only accentuated by how functional and charmless its star is in it. Some have cited Meteor as the worst movie of his career (Christopher Bray in his book on the actor), but its sin is not one of being outright terrible, rather of being terminally dull.

I mean, I am just a dumb bunny, but, we are good at multiplying.

Zootropolis (2016)
(SPOILERS) The key to Zootropolis’ (or Zootopia as our American cousins refer to it; the European title change being nothing to do with U2, but down to a Danish zoo, it seems, which still doesn’t explain the German title, though) creative success isn’t so much the conceit of its much-vaunted allegory regarding prejudice and equality, or – conversely – the fun to be had riffing on animal stereotypes (simultaneously clever and obvious), or even the appealing central duo voiced by Ginnifier Goodwin (as first rabbit cop Judy Hopps) and Jason Bateman (fox hustler Nick Wilde). It’s coming armed with that rarity for an animation; a well-sustained plot that doesn’t devolve into overblown set pieces or rest on the easy laurels of musical numbers and montages.

So credit’s due to co-directors Byron Howard (Bolt, Tangled) and Rich Moore (of The Simpsons, Futurama, and latterly, the great until it kind of rests on its laurels Wreck-It-Ralph) and Jared Bush (presumably one of the th…

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(1982)
(SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek, but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

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.

I can't lie to you about your chances, but... you have my sympathies.

"Predalien" The Alien-Predator-verse ranked
Fox got in there with the shared universe thing long before the current trend. Fortunately for us, once they had their taste of it, they concluded it wasn’t for them. But still, the Predator and Alien franchises are now forever interconnected, and it better justifies a ranking if you have more than six entries on it. So please, enjoy this rundown of the “Predalien”-verse. SPOILERS ensue…
11. Alien vs. Predator: Requiem (2007)
An almost wilfully wrongheaded desecration of both series’ legacies that attempts to make up for AVP’s relative prurience by being as transgressive as possible. Chestbursters explode from small children! Predaliens impregnate pregnant mothers! Maternity wards of babies are munched (off-screen admittedly)! It’s as bad taste as possible, and that’s without the aesthetic disconnect of the Predalien itself, the stupidest idea the series has seen (and that includes the newborn), one that was approved/encouraged by ra…

Supposing I help you fix the bishop?

The Avengers 3.20: The Little Wonders
More memorable for Steed (undercover, naturally) planting a smoocher on a surprised Mrs Gale than its plot of Mafia-esque “clergymen” electing their new leader. This isn’t bad, and Macnee’s having a lot of fun as the Vicar of M’boti, but you can’t help feel it should have been a lot more lunatic.

Beardmore: What if he’s a phoney, and doesn’t know Harbottle was playing a double game?
The mob organisation is known as Bibliotek, and Steed is replacing the deceased Reverend Harbottle who, we learn, has been involved with another group led by Sister Johnson (Miss Moneypenny Lois Maxwell, who strikes a very Bond-esque image at one point, blazing away with a machine gun in a nurse’s uniform). She’s posing as the carer of the Bishop (David Bauer), the head of Bibliotek, while attempting to bring about his demise with Dr Beardmore (Tony Steedman of Citizen Smith). Complicating matters in a way that fails to really elicit interest is a German doll containing mi…