Star Trek: Insurrection (1998) (part 6 of 9)

Picard, Data and Worf walk down a corridor and are intercepted by a now clean-shaven Riker. He reports that Admiral Dougherty wants to know why they haven’t left orbit yet. Picard replies with a steely “We’re not going anywhere.” Worf then symbolically hands the title of “Walking Prop for Patrick Stewart to Act Against” over to Dr. Crusher, when he tells Picard she wants to speak with him.

In Sickbay, Crusher reports that while the Head-Staplers are refusing to be examined, the Starfleet personnel seem to be fine, even better than they were before. Picard says not to release the Head-Staplers until he speaks with Ru’afo. Then we get some limp humor about Riker’s new beardless look, where Riker even says the line, “Smooth as an android’s bottom, eh, Data?” This may be the most repulsive line of dialogue I’ve ever heard.

Caption contributed by Albert

“No… no, my bottom is smoother. You should know that, lover—I mean, commander.”

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Picard enters his quarters, and requests that the computer put on some music. After rejecting the first selection, he requests a mambo, and begins to dance. Yes, this is really happening. We are really watching Patrick Stewart dance the mambo. What were you expecting from a Star Trek movie anyway, action and adventure? Oh, right.

Caption contributed by Albert

“All this time, they were right! The rhythm was gonna get me!”

He then catches a glimpse of himself in the mirror. He stops, perturbed because (I guess) he’s looking a bit younger. Honestly, it doesn’t show. I’ll admit that he does look like he went to the Bahamas for a month and got a tan, but as far as looking younger goes, I don’t see it. Even odder, the music in this scene takes on a tone usually reserved for horror movies, specifically for the scene where a man transforms into a horrible monster. Oh my god, he’s becoming… George Hamilton!

Back on the planet’s surface, Picard knocks on Anij’s door. When she answers, Picard asks how old she is. Okay, not my first choice for an opening line, but you go with what works, I guess.

Cut to later inside Anij’s house, where Haystack Boy’s Dad and Haystack Boy have turned up for some exposition. In a nutshell, the Idyllic Villagers arrived on the planet 309 years ago, after their previous world had created some heavy duty WMDs capable of destroying all life on their planet. A small group set off in search of a place isolated from the threats of other planets, hence their current digs.

Anij explains that their youthful appearance comes from radiation generated by the planet’s rings, and Picard tells them that there’s great value in this (wow, you don’t say, Jean-Luc). He tells them this is why somebody is trying to relocate them.

An unnamed man, who I will refer to as Random Villager #1, asks how they can defend themselves. Haystack Boy’s Dad suddenly goes a bit aggro, saying the moment they pick up a weapon is the moment they become just as bad as their enemies. Not that anyone brought up weapons. For all we know, Random Villager #1 was just talking about the possibility of getting sued.

Picard says he won’t let it get to that point, and then we cut to Picard and Anij out for a nighttime stroll. Here we get a rather meandering philosophical exchange, where Anij notes that while isolation is necessary for their survival, the younger members of the colony are getting curious about what’s out there. (Remember that for later, it’ll be important. Although, that does depend a lot on your current definition of “important”.)

Picard agrees that bringing the gift of perpetual youth to the galaxy is tempting, but it shouldn’t involve a forced relocation. And then he brings up the forced relocation of Native Americans on Earth, for roughly the eight billionth time in TNG history. The scene really drags here, to the point where Picard just drops the whole conversation to admire a quilt. You know, generally speaking, it’s considered bad form to have long stretches of dialogue with little to no point.

There’s more oblique dialogue, which boils down to Anij telling Picard to stop being so inquisitive. And then she implies that her people can actually slow down time, and stretch out a single moment over a long period of time. Which makes no sense, but we’ll see it happen later on. After this, there’s a mildly amusing joke from Anij about how, in 300 years, she hasn’t gotten around to learning to swim, and then the scene ends.

Wow, never in my life have I seen a sequence more desperate to be deep and meaningful, and end up missing the mark so badly. From what I can gather, the effects of the planet have basically lulled the Idyllic Villagers into a state where they have no curiosity, prefer to be isolated, and assume all outsiders mean trouble. Also, they’ve found a way to slow down time in some vague, metaphysical way. Unfortunately, all of this only makes sense if you take the serious shit that Timothy Leary would have passed on.

The depressing thing is that Star Trek should be able to handle this kind of thoughtful sci-fi stuff effortlessly. It really says something that I, Robot, starring freaking Will Smith, handled serious sci-fi better than this. All we get here is diffuse dialogue, lame analogies, and actors who think barely speaking above a whisper indicates great wisdom.

What makes the preceding scenes worse is that the following scene perfectly encapsulates why the planet is so unique and special, and does it in an effective way. In other words, the last two scenes could have been cut completely, and I doubt we would have missed a single thing.

In this scene, Picard comes across Geordi. He explains that the effects of the planet’s rings have caused his eyesight to return, and he watches a sunrise for the first time with normal vision. Stewart and Burton play the scene well, and the only flaw I can find is that this kind of robs LaForge of his one distinguishing quality. His entire gimmick was “the blind guy”, and taking that away, though effective, unfortunately makes him as generic as everyone else. Still, it’s a good moment in a film that really needs more. It’s simple, to the point, and drives home what makes the planet special. Not vague, metaphysical bull crap, but clear evidence of something very cool.

Caption contributed by Ed

“Twice as high might be pushing it. That butterfly is way up there.”

The film then returns to unintentionally sabotaging itself. In this case, by introducing the main twist in the story, which is that the Federation itself is behind the plot to relocate the Idyllic Villagers. Even if it wasn’t telegraphed a mile away, which it is, I’m pretty sure the entire ad campaign was based around this “twist”, so it’s really not much of a surprise.

But it wouldn’t be a bad idea if it were handled properly. E.g., Picard uncovers a plot that undermines the Federation from within, and ends up going against his orders to save it. But instead, there’s more meandering, unconvincing dialogue in this scene, along with a central argument that doesn’t make a strong case for either side.

Picard is in his ready room when Ru’afo enters with Dougherty, complaining about Picard not releasing his men. (The reasons behind this are rather vague, making Picard look mostly like a vindictive prick.) Picard answers by saying they found the holographic ship with the replica of the Idyllic Village.

Dougherty winces and asks to speak with Picard alone. Ru’afo yells out “No!” so forcefully that he tears the skin in his forehead, causing blood to trickle down his face.

Have you ever watched a really good, award-winning actor turn in a horrible performance, and wondered what went wrong? Specifically, have you ever seen a good, award-winning actor give as bad a performance as F. Murray Abraham is delivering here? In all frankness, if this were a baseball game, the manager would have benched him by now and let the third string relief pitcher take the mound. But just you wait: If you can believe it, he’ll top this slice of overblown ham later.

Dougherty is rather nauseated by the trickle of blood, but with the amount of time he’s spent on the guy’s ship, you think he’d be used to it by now. Ru’afo complains some more about the Federation, and then threatens to destroy the Enterprise if his men aren’t returned. And now that the overacting has passed, we finally get to the meat of the scene. Granted, it’s a bit gamey and hard to digest, but hey, meat is meat.

After our bleeding mad villain exits (I know, it’s a bad pun, but would you honestly expect anything less?), Dougherty and Picard have their big showcase acting showdown. And I gotta tell you, it plays a hell of a lot better when cut into pieces and strewn throughout the trailers. In the previews, this moment was built up as a huge, dramatic scene promising a big moral crisis for our heroes. Considering what we get, it’s highly possible that Movie Trailer Voiceover Guy also sells billions of dollars worth of used cars and swampland real estate every year.

Dougherty keeps going back to the fact that they’re only moving 600 people off the planet, and how he’s under orders from the Federation Council. Meanwhile, Picard keeps going on about the Prime Directive and how it’s so important, which is really funny, considering the number of times on his ship alone the directive has been used as toilet paper.

And here come all the trailer sound bites: “Who the hell are we to determine the next course of evolution for these people?” “How many people does it take Admiral, before it becomes wrong?” But in the end, it’s just Patrick Stewart’s theatrical training versus Anthony Zerbe’s mellow delivery. Not a very good match, I’m sad to say.

Then we finally get an actual explanation for why the Federation is working with our plastic surgery addicted villains: The Head-Staplers have the technology to harvest whatever the hell is in the rings, and the Federation doesn’t. Since the planet is in Federation territory, a partnership was formed. We also learn that the harvesting will make the planet uninhabitable. And if the Head-Staplers just establish a colony of their own on the planet, it’ll take ten years for the rings to begin to take effect. Is it just me, or is this script roughly 90% about plugging up all its own plot holes?

In the end, Dougherty orders the Enterprise to leave. He adds that by the time Picard files a protest, it’ll be too late. Picard goes to his quarters and begins dramatically removing his Captain’s pips.

Alright, where to begin? The debate between Picard and Dougherty is fine in concept, but all they do is throw out sound bytes and get completely sidetracked. The excuses Dougherty uses are weak, but Picard’s argument is even weaker; You’d think a man of his experience wouldn’t be so naïve as to presume Starfleet to be absolutely altruistic. It really weakens the character and makes him look like an idiot.

Also, the script dodges questions, such as why wouldn’t the Idyllic Villagers go for sharing the planet? The dodging comes via a rather obvious twist ending (the next scene telegraphs it) that keeps the Head-Staplers as villains, while absolving the Federation of most of the blame. It’s truly gutless storytelling.

Transition to the Head-Stapler ship, where, in nauseating close-up, a tooth is placed into the open mouth of a random Head-Stapler. Charming. So I guess they have, like, the Reverse Tooth Fairy on their planet? That fairy must be cleaning up with all those nickels and dimes he’s collecting.

Gallatin appears, freshly released from the Enterprise. He has a talk with Ru’afo that pretty much gives the filmmakers an easy way to end the story, while at the same time also short circuiting the entire thing. Ru’afo tells Gallatin to never forget what the Idyllic Villagers did to them. Hmm, what could it be? “Never forget, Gallatin, how they pompously lectured 300 of our people to death!”

Ru’afo says they don’t need the holoship anymore, and says to get the holding cells ready. He sits back for another face stretch from an alien babe (who looks way too cheery to be part of a slave labor class). Just as an aside, this is about the point where the first half of a two-part episode would end. It plays too closely to the way a TV show would, which is not really a good sign when you’re opening in 2,000 plus theaters.

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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