The 1998 Star Trek film ‘Insurrection’ was the third of four films based around the crew from ‘The Next Generation’ TV series and I was intrigued to see how it would rate in what was an erratic series of pictures. The second of these films – 1996’s First Contact – was a terrific film by any measure but 1994’s Generations was patchy at best and 2003’s Nemesis was downright lousy. So where did Insurrection fit in?
The plot has Admiral Dougherty (Anthony Zerbe) leading the Federation (which the Star Trek ship Enterprise is part of) in observing the advanced and peaceful Ba’Ku people on their home planet. However, Enterprise captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) learns to his shock that the Federation’s real aim is to remove the Ba’ku from the planet so they can utilise the planet’s advanced natural resources, supported by the devious leader of the Son’a tribe (F. Murray Abraham). As the title of the film implies, the response of Picard and the Enterprise is to rebel against the Federation and save the Ba’ku people.
After a rather slowish start, the film builds up its central plotline nicely as a battle of beliefs as much as anything else. Alas, the second half of the film largely wastes this potential and the film fizzles out to a harmless, forgettable experience. Why is this?
Above all else its failure lies in the inability to seriously or interestingly examine the film’s central topic of whether the livelihood and needs of a tiny minority (the Ba’Ku population totals barely 600) should prevail over the essential needs of the majority. It’s a fascinating topic but apart from a scene where Picard and Dougherty debate it, it’s never analysed in any detail except for some generic platitudes from Picard. It’s an inditement that I found more interesting debate about this within reviews on the film than I did within ‘Insurrection’ itself.
In terms of sustaining narrative interest, ‘Insurrection’ is only moderately successful. There are some pleasing aspects, including a romance between Picard and one of the Ba’Ku that is deftly handled. And the holodeck being pivotal both to the plan at the start of the film to deceive the Ba’ku and then being central to their salvation towards the end has an impressively subtle sense of irony to it.
But on the debit side, the film becomes increasingly less interesting in the second half. The characterisations of the ST crew (especially Picard) are far less compelling than they were in the previous series entry ‘First Contact’. Also the way the fate of Dougherty is resolved is crude and regrettable.
With the philosophical base of the film so weak, the standard weaknesses of the ST films become more pronounced. There are plenty of action scenes that are respectably done but none of them are memorable and in anycase, who watches a ST for the action scenes? Also, humour has never been a strong suit of ST and as per usual all attempts to create laughs are heavy-handed, clunky and DOA. It’s always baffled me how a series so renowned for its intelligence always resorts to a child-like mindset when it comes to comedy.
When I reviewed the J.J. Abrams Star Trek ‘reboot’ on here back in 2009, I wrote of my disappointment at how the best features of ST (sophistication, thoughtfulness, a genuine debate of ideas and perspectives) had been largely jettisoned for action and flashiness.
But after watching ‘Insurrection’, I realised that this process was already well under away during the series of films made with the crew from ‘The Next Generation’ TV series. Indeed, ‘Insurrection’ feels like a somewhat milder, half-baked imitation of Abrams’ Star Trek.