Star Trek: Insurrection (1998) (part 2 of 9)

Our film opens with the familiar fanfare from the original TV series, over the Paramount logo. Here we get our first hint that the film will be phoned in, because composer Jerry Goldsmith apparently decided to simply rework his theme from the last film and plunk it down here. Goldsmith’s score is still good, but when he decides to shift into auto-pilot, it really shows.

The film then cruelly sets us up for a good experience when it lets us know that Jonathan Frakes, our beloved Commander Riker, is directing, just as he did for the superior First Contact. Wow, the all-embracing power of Riker’s Beard finally failed him. (Isn’t Riker’s Beard a goth-punk metal band?) As we’ll soon see, the presence of a good director can often mean… Well, not a damn thing, actually.

Unlike most title sequences in the series, which take place in space, the title sequence for this film is set entirely on an idyllic looking planet. Interesting choice, but it does start the film off on a rather soft, “Hallmark Channel presents” sort of note. That’s probably not ideal for a sci-fi adventure flick.

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Our first glimpse of this paradise (over which a Battle has already presumably Begun) is a bunch of rather sloppy looking haystacks. A young boy pokes his head up. It turns out he’s playing hide-and-seek with his friends, and just made himself a moving target. Evidently, on this planet, the hiding part of hide-and-seek is still a revolutionary concept.

Caption contributed by Ed

A still from the new movie Attack of the Killer Haystacks.

This aside, we get a good look at the small village in which our plot points… sorry, our peaceful inhabitants reside. Currently, they’re doing what all peaceful inhabitants of idyllic small villages do: Irrigate crops, farm, make bread, etc. What we’re looking at here is basically a low-key Renaissance Faire, minus the dopey costumes, dancing, and dorks insisting on being called obscure Tolkien-esque names. In other words, welcome back to Vortex 4.

As the credits end, we get a glimpse of random-alien-name-generator victim Anij (Donna Murphy) walking over to Sojef (Daniel Hugh Kelley) and his son Artim (Michael Welch). Artim was the kid “hiding” in the haystack, so I’ll just call him Haystack Boy to make this easier on everyone. We know we’ll be seeing all of these nonentities later, because otherwise, Anij (Jesus, my spell-check is gonna have a fit with this recap) wouldn’t be getting the “John Woo slow motion intro”.

I should also note that this culture is a return to the old Trek chestnut of an alien species that looks exactly like regular humans. It’s as exciting here as it ever was. Only now, it’s actually another example of Trek’s secret, paradoxical xenophobia. By which I mean, even though the message of the show is we should respect all alien cultures regardless of appearance, 99% of the time, the “good” aliens are attractive, while the “bad” aliens are hideously ugly.

This movie is no exception: the villagers are young and beautiful, and look like they came straight from the Eddie Bauer catalog central casting office. And the bad guys? Well, you’ll see them shortly, but just think about making a Halloween mask from assorted roadkill and you’ll get the general idea.

As the credits end, our happy, happy view of our happy, happy idyllic community shifts to an observation deck where a group of Starfleet officers are watching the community on a big viewscreen. And the worst part is, it’s a rerun. Yes, this is more recycling, because we saw this kind of observing-the-natives scenario in the Next Generation episode “Who Watches the Watchers”.

In addition to the Starfleet personnel, there are also a few guys here who just scream out “Guest Alien Villains of the Week”. They’re gray-faced, with sinister looking hoods, and faces that look like the result of too many Botox injections. Darth Maul was less obviously a villain than these guys.

Through a small square in the viewscreen, we can see a figure in what looks like a hot pink hazmat suit. The Sinister Low Notes of Danger start up as more pink hazmat guys appear in the square. As they move out of the range of the square, they disappear, indicating that the suits make the wearers invisible. That’s useful.

Caption contributed by Ed

“Man, this new version of Where’s Waldo is way too easy!”

Suddenly, an alert sounds and a blast of laser fire is heard. We quickly learn that an android working with them has gone nuts, and is heading for the village. Hmm, I wonder who this could be.

Data (really, who else could it be?) is in a pink hazmat suit being chased by two other guys in pink hazmat suits, who are firing indiscriminately at him. Well, that’s one way to make an invisible suit pointless. There’s also a little bit of bad F/X work, when at one point a laser beam looks like its coming from about six inches from where the guy is aiming. So unless these dudes have really impractical guns, I’d say the visual effects guy needs to see the eye doctor real damn fast.

Caption contributed by Ed

This is the sort of vigilante behavior that occurs when the fashion police fail!

The head Botox victim, who we’ll later learn is named Gallatin (Gregg Henry), tells the shooters to hold their fire. Now we get an invisible chase scene, as a bunch of flowers are knocked over. Guess Data couldn’t find a fruit cart anywhere. A female Starfleet officer tries to contact Data, but he comes back with some Treknobabble about secondary protocols. All I can gather is that it basically means he’s shifting modes, or something.

Caption contributed by Ed

When the invisible man says he wants red roses, he damn well means it.

Another officer reports that Data is trying to remove his headpiece, so Gallatin orders his men to stop Data. Through the square in the viewscreen, we see Data fighting off the pink hazmat guys with his patented Android-Fu.

Caption contributed by Ed

“Ha ha! Bastard! Your Pink Haz-Mat Suit Fu is inferior to my Android Fu!”

Haystack Boy runs to Haystack Boy’s Dad, as Data tosses a pink hazmat guy into the water. This causes the obvious “splash from nowhere” effect that, oddly enough, doesn’t get much of a reaction from Haystack Boy’s Dad. Hmm, he must be hard to impress.

Suddenly, Data’s head appears out of nowhere, and he looks at the shocked villagers, twitching a little bit as a long wound on his neck becomes visible. So his secondary protocols require him to twitch like Norman Bates on a caffeine rush, and come off like a low-rent Terminator? Interesting programming.

Back on the observation deck, a member of the Captain Obvious Squad notes that Data is now visible. So Gallatin once again tells nobody in particular to stop Data (what were they doing before?). One last pink hazmat guy attacks the android from behind. Data takes him out quickly, in the process ripping his own suit apart. As Data steps out of his suit, he is ordered to stand down by a female Starfleet officer. For some reason, director Frakes decides to have the camera tilt as it moves in on her. Um, John? The scene is working just fine as is, no need to go artsy on us.

Data picks up a ray gun (well, what else would you call it? And to answer my earlier question, it actually is an impractical design) and starts shooting at the observation post. Turns out the post is hidden in some rocks, evidently cloaked like the pink hazmat suits. Data’s weapon causes it to become visible, so I guess these guys have a “reveal hidden observation post” setting on their weapons. The upshot is, Data reveals the post to the village and just glares.

Caption contributed by Albert

“Hasta la vista, baby… Whoops, wrong film. My bad.”

Caption contributed by Albert

“Dudes… You’re gettin’ a Dell!”

This takes us to space, where we get a nice shot as the Enterprise-E flies overhead. Personally, I was never wild about either of the Next Generation Enterprise designs. The one for the show was decent, but it always seemed to look more like a futuristic version of the Love Boat than a starship. And this one just has a rather generic-starship look to it.

Also in this shot, the starfield looks pretty fake and flat, which will unfortunately be a recurring motif. In fact, the whole movie has a rather un-cinematic feel to it, and feels like an extended two-part episode of the TV series, a problem all of the Next Generation films shared. Remember how deep and rich and mesmerizing the stars look in great science fiction movies like 2001: a space odyssey? Yeah? Not here. Here, they look like pinpricks in black construction paper mounted on a Lite-Brite.

Cut to Captain Picard’s quarters, where Doctor Crusher is helping him get gussied up in a formal dress uniform for some sort of official ceremony. In the series, his dress uniform was just a fancier version of his normal uniform; here, it’s an all-white number that makes him look like Elvis in his Vegas years, only thinner and slightly balder.

Troi, meanwhile, is impatiently quizzing him on the people he’s meeting and frantically giving him tips on the alien greeting which will be repeated throughout the forthcoming scene. Yes folks, it’s the obligatory Humorous And Completely Irrelevant Opening that pretty much every Next Generation episode was required to have. At least it doesn’t end with a “fairy dust settling” sound effect.

Riker enters and casually reports that the guests have arrived. He then says they’re eating the flower arrangements at the banquet table (ha, ha). This leads Troi to suddenly turn into Jennifer Lopez from The Wedding Planner, delivering this inane line as she holds up an information pad:

Troi: Oh my God, are they vegetarians? That’s not in there!

And the pain that is this film’s sense of humor begins. One would imagine that the eating habits of an alien society is something that would have been discussed, oh I don’t know, before the folks arrived on the ship, but then again, I’m not the ship’s counselor. Trek has almost never been good at humor, and even when it’s moderately decent, there’s still a fine layer of cheese covering the attempt. For the most part, this film will keep up that tradition. Picard finishes up the gag with a crack about having the chef fix something that goes well with chrysanthemums. Geez.

For some reason, the next two scenes play out very hectically, with overlapping dialogue. Maybe Frakes thought he could shove some French farce into this bloated, regurgitated excuse for a Trek movie, or maybe he was trying to be David Mamet, but all it does is overwhelm the audience with information they won’t need, in an allegedly funny manner that doesn’t work. So let me try to get through this as fast as the film does.

During a walk-and-talk, Picard is informed that they have to mediate a territorial dispute. But Picard doesn’t want to delay an archeological expedition, because delaying it would mean they would get there during the planet’s monsoon season. After more griping, Picard asks if they remember when they used to be explorers. So, I guess archaeology doesn’t count as exploration in the future, then? Bummer.

Caption contributed by Ed

The rest of the cast indulged Patrick Stewart as he told yet another “funny” story about the making of Dune.

On the turbo lift, Troi exposits that their visitors are less advanced, and have only achieved warp drive recently. After some exposition that’s completely meaningless if you weren’t watching Deep Space Nine at the time (galaxy in turmoil, Federation needs more allies, blah blah blah), and irrelevant in any event, they head for the party. As they walk along, Troi gives more protocol info that I think she could have gone over earlier, like the fact that Picard will be expected to dance with the head alien, Regent Cuzar.

Caption contributed by Ed

Gunmen wasn’t that bad. It has Christopher Lambert and Denis Leary! Come on!”

After some more joking around, Commander LaForge is on the communicator, reporting that he needs to talk with Picard. As we hear this, we see Commander Worf has shown up. He greets the others, but Picard is running late and blows off Worf’s explanation of what he’s doing there. Like it even matters in the first place.

(In the draft version of the script, Worf explains how he was working on a project in the area, and heard the Enterprise was in the neighborhood, so he just popped by. Not the greatest way to get him back onto the ship, is it? At least in the previous film, he was on a ship that was about to be blown to smithereens, and in the next film, he came for Riker and Troi’s wedding. But I kind of like that they cut his explanation. Everybody was expecting some lame reason why Worf was back on the Enterprise, so instead they gave us nothing. Beautiful.)

Then comes lots of cross chatter as Picard relays a message to Riker who relays it to LaForge, blah blah blah blah. Finally, we get an island of Plot in the wilderness of Expendable Unhumor, when LaForge says that Admiral Dougherty has reported there’s been an incident with Data.

Whew! Got all that? I guess the writers of the film watched a lot of Moonlighting and were under the impression that people talking over each other is inherently funny. It isn’t.

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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