Star Trek: Insurrection (1998) (part 8 of 9)

There’s more running as the Head-Stapler ships drop several rather shakily matted CGI probes. These probes shoot Whatever Devices at the villagers, allowing more of them to be transported away. Data shoots down a few probes, while Haystack Boy looks on from afar. There’s more shooting (even some from Troi and Crusher. So I’m guessing their patients always pay their bills on time) and running as they head for a cavern.

Caption contributed by Ed

“You think my shooting you is bad, wait till you see the bill!”

Out in the Briar Patch, the Enterprise is duking it out with the enemy ships, sort of. For some reason, space battles with this particular crew are always 85% Treknobabble and 15% battle footage. You’d think they’d realize by now: you can’t go wrong with enemy ships blowing the shinola out of each other. But maybe after they blew the budget on the shaky sets, there was no money left for CGI battles.

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More Treknobabble on the bridge, where the obligatory “venting of plasma steam” is taking place. This is generally meant to indicate the Enterprise is taking an ass kicking, which brings up another problem I’ve always had with this particular crew. This is the frigging flagship, folks. Why is it that, for the most part, any enemy can knock the crap out of this ship with a few well-placed shots? Hell, in the seventh movie, they take a beating from an antique. And here they’re essentially getting their asses handed to them by a bunch of Beverly Hills matrons.

Riker gets a report from Geordi in Engineering (which is bad, as usual) and decides to go into the most unstable part of the patch he can find. In a move that not even Shatner had the balls to attempt, he takes over the helm and guides the ship in himself.

Back on the planet, there’s more running and shooting as they get to the caves. Picard orders everyone inside. Worf tries to shoot a probe, but his rifle jams. Or whatever they call “jamming” in the Trek universe. This happens for the sole purpose of giving Worf a movie trailer moment, because he then smashes the probe with the rifle, like Barry Bonds aiming for the centerfield bleachers.

Caption contributed by Albert

Somewhere, Bud Selig is standing with his hands in his pockets.

Back in space, the Head-Staplers detonate a weapon that, according to all the Treknobabble, has opened up a tear in space that’s following the Enterprise. Down in Engineering, everybody’s getting tossed around. LaForge says they can eject the warp core and seal the tear. As exciting as this may sound, it’s about as dull as everything else in the film. The ejection of the core is mostly represented by the obligatory “ship gets knocked around by shockwave of huge explosion” routine, complete with smoke and sparks, and crew members being hurled over high rails.

Caption contributed by Ed

“Oh, sorry for grabbing your boobs. I’m afraid I’m blind… Damn, I can’t use that one anymore.”

Caption contributed by Ed

Oh good, rail kills!

The tear is sealed, but Geordi warns the enemy can do it again, and “we’re fresh out of warp cores!” Suddenly, Riker turns into John Wayne. He growls, “We’re through running from these bastards!”

Meanwhile, the Head-Stapler ships have started firing on the mountains, in an effort to smoke out the villagers. Data reports the cave is unstable. Glad you’re here, Professor. The shaking and falling rocks didn’t tip me off at all.

He goes with Worf and Picard to find an escape route. They blow out a wall, revealing… more caves! Which Picard suggests they head for. In screenwriting, this is generally known as “padding”. For those less than cinematically inclined, just picture this: term paper due in thirty minutes. 100 words away from the minimum length. You get the picture.

I should also note that Haystack Boy’s turd-pet sneaks off early on in this scene. Oh yes, they certainly are shameless enough to use the “kid holds up escape to find pet/stuffed animal” cliché. Did you really doubt this?

Back in the interesting part of the film (comparatively speaking), the Enterprise cruises along and Riker decides to collect some of the unstable gas in the area. He declares in his macho voice that he’s going to use it against the Head-Staplers. Just then, we get a shot of the cute Trill chick at the helm giving Riker an admiring look. Okay, Frakes, don’t think we don’t know exactly what you’re doing here.

After the unstable gas is collected, Riker introduces us to a new feature of the ship. This is perhaps the stupidest feature ever seen on this Enterprise, any other Enterprise, or any other starship in any other film or TV series: a joystick pops up, and Riker uses it to drive the ship. I’m not sure what purpose this serves, other than giving whomever is in charge an “action hero moment”. And also, the opportunity to relive his days kicking ass at Zaxxon. It even has a bright red trigger button, like this is actually something the set designer picked up over the weekend at Target.

Caption contributed by Ed

“Soon as I beat this level of Tetris, I’m gonna kick somebody’s head right off his freaking shoulders!”

The maneuver works, mainly because the Head-Stapler ships apparently aren’t run by the best and the brightest. One of them fires right into the gas, causing an explosion that blows up one ship and damages the other one. And the filmmakers make even this bit of action look routine and dull. It’s amazing, really: This film has successfully managed to bore me with stuff getting blown up real good. And considering how much I enjoy stuff getting blown up real good, this is quite an accomplishment.

Back on the planet (it’s like a contest to see which plotline can be handled in as drab a way as possible), everyone is moving towards the second set of caves. Suddenly, Head-Stapler soldiers come up over a ridge, firing at will. Um, alright. I thought they wanted to take the villagers alive. I guess they decided that the whole thing was taking too long. So, might as well thin the herd a bit, right?

One guy takes a shot at Worf, which misses by a truly ridiculous distance. And then Worf fires a huge bazooka, which takes out several soldiers. Well, at least he’s getting to kill some folks in this one. Beats just being humiliated and standing hunched over at his station like a hung-over drunk. Data and Troi are ordered to go out in front, and keep everyone moving. I guess if you’re going to make targets out of your crew, you might as well start with the most annoying and useless members, respectively.

Haystack Boy, still in the caves, notices his turd has flushed itself—um, I mean run off. So he heads back to find it. Told you they had no shame. Back outside, Crusher is given her one single, solitary moment of usefulness in the entire movie, where she scans a wounded Head-Stapler and finds something unusual about his DNA. So unusual, in fact, that Picard remarks it’s impossible. Um, yeah. if you haven’t guessed by now what the big twist is, then you should take a refresher course on predictable storylines. (And if you’re wondering why she’s only discovering this now, when we know a whole bunch of Head-Staplers were being held on the Enterprise for a while, remember that Crusher earlier said they refused to be scanned. That was our first clue, apparently.)

Caption contributed by Ed

“Hey, Jean-Luc, I’m gonna send a photo of this guy dying to Wesley’s phone through mine! Cool, huh?”

Back in the caves, Haystack Boy finds his turd, while Anij frantically tries to usher him out. Well, sort of. Her energy level communicates not so much “urgency” as “recently awoken from surgery”. As Picard has everyone rounded up, ready to keep on moving, Random Villager #1 tells him that Anij went to look for Haystack Boy. Picard heads for the opening just as our favorite cross-breed of woman and tree sloth emerges with Haystack Boy.

The cave keeps collapsing. Data gets Haystack Boy out, and it seems that now, suddenly, Haystack Boy wants to stay with Data. Well, that was out of the blue, seeing as there’s barely been any connection between them outside of that one brief bonding moment. And even then, it was hardly friendly. Regardless, it seems that Picard and Anij are now trapped in a cave-in. Thanks, kid! No, I mean that, actually.

Troi wants to shoot through the rocks, but Worf stops her, opting to team up with Data and move the rocks by hand. Back in the cave, Picard comes to, and finds Anij badly injured. Honestly, I have no idea how she’s hurt. Is it really that hard to throw a few prop rocks on an actress’ legs? Regardless, it turns out her injuries are quite serious.

After being told by Worf that they’re coming to the rescue, we get another rendition of the magical Idyllic Villagers time-stopping trick. Only, this time it’s more dramatic and emotional, because Patrick Stewart delivers his contractually obligated Acting Moment* while Anij gasps from the pain of her vague injury.

*I would assume it’s contractually obligated, at least. I mean, hell, you don’t get to go from performing Shakespeare to a big-budget sci-fi TV franchise without making some concessions in the negotiations.

Hilariously enough, there’s still no trace of energy in Donna Murphy’s performance, nor is there any chemistry between her and Stewart. Needless to say, this makes a supposedly touching, romantic moment into hollow and meaningless filler.

Cut to later. Crusher finishes treating Anij, and says it’s safe to move her. Which really makes me doubt her injury was that bad in the first place, but who am I to judge? Then there’s more walking footage of the whole Enterprise gang heading over the hills with Anij. There’s no sign of any other villagers in this shot, though honestly, at this point, should I even care?

Tense action music comes out of nowhere. Five probes appear over a ridge and—man, this is probably robbing me of a few IQ points, just typing this—the probes have a honest-to-goodness stare down with the Enterprise gang. Complete with extreme close-ups on members of the Enterprise crew. No, really. It’s like a scene from a Spaghetti western, only not, you know, any good.

Worf and Crusher take out a few probes, while Data leaps around like he’s in a John Woo movie and shoots another probe. Unfortunately, Anij and Picard get tagged and are forcibly beamed away.

Caption contributed by Ed

“What did I say about calling me goldenrod?”

On Ru’afo’s ship, he and Dougherty enter the area where all the villagers are being held. Dougherty finds Picard and Anij, and threatens Picard with court-martial. Then Ru’afo reports Riker’s ploy, and somehow (psychically, I guess) Picard knows Dougherty allowed the Enterprise to be attacked.

Dougherty says there’s nothing more to be gained from this, and Ru’afo agrees, stating that he’s going to begin harvesting the rings while there are still people on the planet. Picard then drops the last plot twist, which is…

And the “Saw it coming a mile away with the sun in my eyes” award goes to…

Picard revealing that the Head-Staplers and Idyllic Villagers are actually the same race!

Haystack Boy’s Dad pops out of the crowd to confirm this, and exposits that a century ago, some of the younger villagers wanted to explore the outside world, and tried to take over the colony. They failed and were exiled, where eventually they became the Head-Staplers.

Anij tries to get all touchy-feely with Ru’afo and Gallatin, talking about how she bathed them as kids, or whatever, but Ru’afo storms out in a huff.

And now, the problems with this plot twist. To keep things organized, I’ll just go point by point.

  1. So, if I’m understanding this right, the Head-Staplers wanted to be off the planet, but once they got what they wanted, they decided to get revenge. Just read that again and realize how stupid this plot truly is. This film didn’t need a rewrite; it needed a bullet between the eyes.
  2. So, just because some of the younger Villagers dared to be curious about the outside world, they were forever exiled from the planet? Given that living on the planet means eternal youth, this seems pretty harsh. Couldn’t they have just split into a separate colony elsewhere on the same planet? This doesn’t make the “good guys” look particularly sympathetic.
  3. If they’re all the same race, it makes even less sense that it takes “ten years” for the Head-Staplers to experience the effects of the planet. Especially since the effect on humans (and Klingons) is almost instantaneous. (I guess you could argue that the planet has an instant effect on androids, too, but I’m inclined to think that’s just Data being an idiot.) The “can’t share the planet” argument, which basically drives the whole story, has now become so hopelessly convoluted that there’s no possible way for this movie to come to a satisfying resolution.

All in all, the writers would have been better off if they’d kept the races separate. They could have set it up so that the Idyllic Villagers had done something else harmful to the Head-Staplers, to motivate the Head-Staplers’ desire for revenge. But then, that would have taken some actual thought, instead of some silly “twist” ending. So let’s just move on, shall we?

Ed Harris

A fan of less than great cinema since childhood, Ed divides his time between writing scripts, working an actual paying job and subjecting himself willingly to some of the worst films society has produced.

Multi-Part Article: Star Trek: Insurrection (1998)

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