Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Review: Star Trek: Insurrection

Directed by: Jonathan Frakes
Produced by: Rick Berman
Screenplay by: Michael Piller
Story by: Rick Berman & Michael Piller
Executive Producer: Martin Hornstein
Cinematography by: Matthew F. Leonetti, A.S.C.
Production Designed by: Herman Zimmerman
Edited by: Peter E. Berger, A.C.E.
Costumes by: Sanja Milkovic Hays
Associate Producer: Patrick Stewart
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith

Cast: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, Donna Murphy, F. Murray Abraham, Anthony Zerbe, Gregg Henry, Daniel Hugh Kelly, Michael Welch, Mark Deakins, Breon Gorman, Stephanie Niznik, Michael Horton, Peggy Miley

1998 / 103min / Rated PG (for sci-fi action violence, mild language and sensuality)

A planet inhabited by the peaceful Ba'Ku turns out to be a veritable Fountain of Youth. When the Son'a and the war-torn Federation seek to exploit the planet in order to rejuvenate themselves, Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise rebel against their own people in order to defend the Ba'Ku.

Following on the heels of Star Trek: First Contact is no easy task. And Insurrection had the unfortunate position of being the follow up to one of Star Trek's best films. Insurrection isn't a bad film per say. It's entertaining and lightweight, but maybe a little too lightweight and too thin on plot and story. Not only does it play things too safe, there's never any feeling that this was a story that needed to be told, at least as a movie, as it feels like an extended episode of the series.

There are things that work about Insurrection, which I must add, is a very overstated title for what takes place here, as there is no real insurrection to be found in the story. Perhaps "rebellion" would have been a more fitting title. There are good ideas that could've been exploited to make a very dramatic film, especially the possibility of a "fountain of youth" that is discovered on the planet of the Ba'Ku, but the drama is played down in favor of lightweight comedy. Unfortunately, comedy was something the crew of The Next Generation wasn't good at.

There are too many attempts to force comedy instead of allowing it to flow naturally from the story. This is TNG's attempt to make their own verision of The Voyage Home, but what made TVH work was it was a fish-out-of-water story (pardon the pun) in which the crew was in an unfamiliar situation. The humor tries to come from the crew being rejuvenated by the fountain of youth, resulting in youthful tendencies. But when Picard, Data and Worf break out into song, Worf developes Klingon acne, Picard breaks out into dance, and Beverly and Deanna discuss the firmness of their boobs much to the puzzlement of Data, it all falls flat.

The performances from the Next Generation crew are fine. They're definitely having fun with what they're being given, and Jonathan Frakes always seems to know how to get the best out of his shipmates. It's the additional cast that is lacking. Patrick Stewart's love interest is found in Donna Murphy's Anij, but Murphy is bland, wooden and seems uninterested. And Anthony Zerbe's Admiral Dougherty is so naive, you can't help but wonder how he reached such a high rank.

F. Murray Abraham delivers a performance that is so over-the-top as the film's villain of Ru'afo that it's too comic book-like. There isn't much depth or dimension to this character. He has motivation, but that motivation is never explored until the closing act, but even then it's touched upon so briefly that it's almost as though it's an after-thought. Ru'afo turns out to be one of Star Trek's weakest villains.

There are worthy attempts at doing things with the crew that weren't done previously, but the attempts are a mixed bag. The Picard-Anij romance is never given room to bloom. It would've been interesting to see Picard with a deeper romance, but that never goes anywhere. The Riker-Troi romance is revisited from the series. I'm a big fan of the Riker-Troi romance, with Imzadi being one of my favorite novels. Unfortunately, it's not given much time here and feels like it's coming out of the blue. If these were another entry into a weekly series, it would be fine. But this is a film where we only see the crew every couple of years. There's not enough revealed here to make it substantial enough to hold any water.

Data's exploration of what it's like to be a child feels too much like we've been there before. Unfortunately, it also ignores the progress Data has made over the last two movies. It's almost as though the filmmakers needed to give Data something to do and couldn't come up with anything else. His story is probably the weakest of all the character threads. And unfortunately, Worf, Geordi, and Beverly are once again very little to do. Worf is used as awkward comic relief, bumping his head and breaking out with zits, while Beverly is almost ignored. Geordi develops natural sight for the first time in his life, but other then dumping the warp core, he's not given anything to do.

There is plenty of action for the mainstream appeal, although seeing Picard, Data, Worf, Troi and Crusher battle robotic drones isn't very interesting, although is technically done well. The best action is the space battles between the Enterprise and the Son'a ships in the midst of the Briar Patch nebula. The battle is fresh and new, departing from the normal TNG battle formula. The ejection of the Enterprise's warp core is fun, and seeing attitude from Riker is a real joy. The Son'a step on his feet, and he's ticked off about it. It's real fun!

For the most part, though, while the special effects aren't bad, they are too cartoony for a Science Fiction film franchise like Star Trek. The best effects are in space, but when placed against the natural vistas, they don't work as well. The climax is real pleasure to watch, though, as the Enterprise races across the exploding hull of the Son'a collector. The effects aren't the strongest in the franchise's history, but they work.

The ever-reliable Jerry Goldsmith delivers another very strong score, with a light, innocent theme for the Ba'Ku, and some of the series' best action music.

Michael Piller's script is a mixed bag. It feels as though there are ideas there, but they are never given time to be explored. Insurrection could've been ripe with deep, heavy drama but too much time is spent trying to make it funny that the movie nevers reaches its full potential. Jonathan Frakes proved himself a strong director in First Contact, and he does well here once again, especially with the action, but the material he has to work with is weaker then he previously got to work with. It's still solid direction, but it fails to rise far above the source material.

Insurrection isn't bad, it's just very mixed. It's entertaining, but it's thin. It has the potential for a great Star Trek movie, with plenty of heart and stays very true to the principals of Star Trek, but too much forced comedy, a weak villain and the story never opening beyond the feeling of an extended TV episode leads this to be not only one of Trek's weakest adventures, but TNG's weakest.

1/2 (of 4)


Dave said...

Thank you for your cogent thoughts.

Evie said...

I enjoyed this movie, but, you're right about the weaknesses, especially the forced humor.